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Iron Sights vs Scope Optics: Which Is Better for Hunting?

Iron Sights vs Scope

Worried about which equipment is better to help you in your hunts?

We’re here to distinguish TWO SIMILAR TARGET ACQUISITION hunting devices for you. Learn more about why someone would prefer an iron sight over an optic, and vice versa!

Iron Sights

Iron sights are a system of shaped alignment markers. They are usually composed of rear sights and a front sight for easy adjustment of your firearm’s elevation and windage.

Simply, these are meant to ASSIST YOUR AIM.

Advantages of Using Iron Sights: Why Should You Choose Them?

There are quite a few reasons for WHY you should prefer iron sights… and when compared to optics, iron sights provide the following KEY FEATURES as pros:

  • Affordability
  • Stability and durability
  • Lightweight
  • Ease of cleaning
  • Fast target sighting for rapidly moving targets
  • Effective for close-range encounter
  • Quality of sight picture

You can get a CHEAP, LIGHTWEIGHT, DURABLE, AND HIGH-QUALITY APERTURE iron for just around $100. It’s not a surprise that this is an attractive sight for a hunter who travels with a rifle for long distances.

While most people worry about a baggage handler damaging their scope, the GUARANTEED DURABILITY in irons effectively airs out such concerns!

We can also vouch for the user-friendliness of iron sights because of these distinguishable features that SEPARATE it from scopes entirely:

  • They do NOT require batteries
  • They do NOT easily fog up due to temperamental weather
  • They do NOT pose the problems of water intrusion

These are the features that provide irons with a MORE DESIRED BUILD.

More importantly, irons offer a decent point shooting reference through its PEEP SIGHT.

For you to visualize it better, the process of targeting and sighting system would be like this:

  • The human eye centers FRONT SIGHT through the REAR APERTURE
  • The shooter can then focus on the FRONT SIGHT while aligning it WITH THE TARGET

The peep sight makes the process of target acquisition in relatively close confines FAST and INTUITIVE.

Disadvantages of Iron Sights: Are There Downsides We Should Know About?

There are definitely drawbacks that could break the deal for you.

#1 Not Suitable for Hunting in Low Lighting Conditions

This type of sighting system unfortunately cannot gather as much light as a scope does, making aiming with iron sights difficult under low-light conditions (especially when hunting in moderately thick woods).

If you plan your hunting trip to be at dawn or dusk, or even in THICK cover, then consider rescheduling it or getting new equipment.

You simply will not be able to be a proper hunter with LESS shooting light.

#2 No Magnification

Simply, this also limits your MAXIMUM HUNTING RANGE.

Target shooters may be trained to make accurate and precise SHOTS from far distances, yes. However, GAME HUNTS requires the cooperation of your equipment’s features for an enhanced experience.

Other people can SHOOT from as far as 1000 yards, but you can only HUNT comfortably with irons from at most 300 yards.

Optic Rifle Scopes

An optic scope is a more complex device that is generally equipped with a RETICLE.

In fact, the accuracy of shots depends on how well reticles are mounted onto their respective firearms such as the AR-15.

Advantages of Using Optic Rifles: Why Should You Choose Them?

The complexity of optics does NOT refer to the way it is used. Rather, it is the complexity in its BUILD and DESIGN that eases a shooter during your hunts.

Almost all rifle sights have these KEY FEATURES that are guaranteed positives for both shooters and hunters alike:

  • Better wind and range estimation, making accurate shots more achievable
  • Addresses parallax error
  • Magnification for better targeting and long-range shots
  • Low light condition performance
  • Fast acquisition even at a long distance

An optic scope has SETTINGS and appropriate knobs to account for any variables within your environment: wind, range, and parallax.

This means you are able to CUSTOMIZE YOUR SCOPED RIFLE depending on what you need.

Likewise, it is easier to account for eye relief when hunting with a scope. Remember: eye relief is important for proper MARKSMANSHIP.

Lighting and Magnification In An Optic Scope

Hunting with a high-quality scope is almost imperative for many professional hunters… and this is often manifested through its combination of lighting and magnifying options.

As hunting is usually done during DUSK OR DAWN, an optic rifle needs to have GREAT LIGHT GATHERING ABILITIES.

Here’s why:

  • Productive hunts see more game during the first and last lighting hour of the day
  • An optic scope provides extra minutes of shooting light which benefits game sighting
  • Better visibility for the specifics and figures of an animal is also guaranteed

A first-rate scope with a large objective lens will gather much more light than irons will.

More importantly, this feature also goes hand in hand with INCREASED MAGNIFICATION.

  • You are able to SEE distant targets better
  • Less than ideal environments can also be overlooked thanks to the CLARITY of an optic

If you’re a shooter with POOR EYESIGHT, optics are definitely the right choice for you.

It also helps that with an optic scope: you intuitively FOCUS ON THE TARGETS and not the sight itself.

Disadvantages of Optic Rifle: Are There Downsides We Should Know About?

Simply, an optic scope is MORE EXPENSIVE and generally HARDER TO SET UP.

  • If you’re on budget hunts, an optic scope might be too much than what you’re bargaining for
  • They are also heavy to lug around if you are NOT on a deer stand

However, these are NECESSARY disadvantages as they guarantee a better hunting experience.

See if there’s anything you should keep in mind while on a hunt, it is to NEVER SACRIFICE EQUIPMENT QUALITY… this choice can make or break your role as a hunter.

Consider This Too: Red Dot Sights vs Scopes

If you’re still WARY about the decision, a ghost ring aperture sight or red dot sight provides an option for a decent job bridging between iron sights and scopes.

Some hunters prefer a red dot sight because of these features:

  • Faster target acquisition than a peep sight
  • High precision at short to medium ranges
  • Ability to be paired with an external magnifier
  • Spectrum of prices, builds, and feature
  • Widest field of view among sights and scopes

A red dot sight is ideal if you are after BETTER VISIBILITY. It’s especially great for beginners!

However, the device does come with its own share of disadvantages as well:

  • Red dot sights weigh more than irons. They are nonetheless still LIGHTWEIGHT.
  • They are usually battery-powered. Make sure these are charged before a long hunt.
  • Red dot sights are expensive. Some models are even more expensive than traditional scopes!

You should also consider that these factors (weight, battery life, and price) will cause more problems for every type of EXTERNAL ACCESSORY you will use it with.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Red Dots Better Than Iron Sights?

Red dot sights and irons are better than the other based on specific features.

However, what red dots are guaranteed to be better at is TARGETING ABILITY: it provides a clearer and more specific sight picture.

Can I Hunt With Iron Sights?

Yes, you can definitely go hunting with irons!

You just need to pay attention to your RANGE and LIGHTING CONDITION a little bit more than usual.

Be extra careful with dangerous game hunts when using iron sights!

Does the Military Use Optics or Iron Sights?

The Military uses BOTH optics and iron sights.

The traditional sights are part of training used for ease and familiarity, while optics are something used for military branches that require more advanced targeting.

Our Verdict

While both offer their own sets of arguments with pros and cons, we recommend a QUALITY OPTIC if you have the budget for it.

  • Choose IRON SIGHTS if you want an affordable, classic, and easy to operate accessory
  • Choose OPTICS if you have a little more to spend for more advanced and targeted hunts
  • Choose a RED DOT SIGHT if you have more budget to spend for an even more precise hunt

If you’re worried about settling less for irons, DON’T. You can definitely STILL FIND QUALITY IRONS at a generally cheaper price without worrying about their life cycle as they age either!

In the end, you may always consult professionals for their recommendations. Just remember to never spend on something cheap for any less of a quality device.

Did this article help address any of your concerns? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author

Christopher Wade

Christopher Wade is a true outdoorsman. After spending most of his career as a firearms expert and instructor in Nebraska, he retreated to the great outdoors to enjoy retirement.

Christopher’s expertise in handling firearms and hunting gear are what propelled him to create the Shooting Mystery blog. He hopes for all readers to gain useful and practical knowledge for enjoying their time outdoors.