Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part IV: Dinosaur Tech and Space Age Sights

Correct use of two guns with red dots.

This week, we are going to conclude our Buying Guide for Noobs with the last piece of the puzzle. Well, that isn’t 100 percent true. The actual last piece of the puzzle is buy a metric gaggle ton of ammunition and practice for a few decades, preferably after some professional instruction. But we are talking about the last of the easy part, the stuff you can purchase during quarantine in case the worst happens.

Other episodes in this series:

LWRC brand H&K style front sight.

The ability to aim your weapon is absolutely important. This is something that many of us old shooters take for granted, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Even with an absolutely perfect trigger pull, you will not hit your intended target if you can’t aim (Ironically, you may actually hit it with improper aim and a bad enough trigger pull, but its akin to buying lottery tickets). And aiming well is really going to come down to two options. I often preach an LVPO (Low Variable Power Optic) for a carbine, but for noobs, I think we should rule that out. Which leaves us with iron sights and red dots.

An option for pistols too.

Iron Sights

Iron sights are often referred to as the stick shift of the firearms world. With good reason. If you grew up on them, peep sights are as natural as parking your truck in first gear. If you didn’t, deciphering how to use them is probably harder than Chinese algebra. However, you may not have a choice. Sights are pricey, as well as shipping may not get to you in time.

LWRC brand rear sight.

In my experience though, not all sights are created equal. Whether you can (or should) change them out depends on a number of factors. Did you get a shotgun, lever action or older semi-automatic that does not include a section of Picatinny rail? If so, congratulations. You already have all the sight options a noob can handle.

A-Frame front sight.

With a sight swap, we are really talking about an AR-15. And by that, we also mean an AR-15 that doesn’t have a built-in A-frame front sight. If you have what looks like a big steel letter “A” attached to the business end your barrel, you are also done upgrading irons. Now, onto everybody else.

Sight picture with irons.

In my experience, the H&K style sights are not only much easier for a noob to use, but they are also easier for everyone to use. While I am not an H&K fanboy, I will begrudgingly admit they absolutely got this one right.

I grew up on A-Frame standard M-16 sights and qualified with them for years. The first time I shot H&K sights on a SIG556, I was SHOCKED by how tight my group was. It sounds like snake oil BS, but there really is something to how they work. The experts say that the human eye lines up circles both easier and faster than any other shape.

Since a key component to using iron sights is getting the same sight picture every time, you can see how this starts to matter. For reasons unexplained, your caveman eyeball will naturally center the round front sight post in the round rear aperture. This makes repeatable shots and, therefore, accuracy more likely.

Troy tritium-insert front sight.

As with most things in life, not all “H&K style” sights are created equal. While it is often hard to hear, you get what you pay for. And in my experience, only two brands of aftermarket H&K irons are worth your money. This mostly has to do with dimensions. If the sizes of the front and rear aren’t cut right, the image your eye sees will also be incorrect. As an example, if the front sight hood is so large than you can’t see it through the rear aperture, it might as well not exist. Both brands I recommend are not cheap, usually about $200. But they are absolutely excellent, and you will only have to buy them once.

Troy also makes offset irons, for scoped rifles.

The Troy Micro Folding sights are incredibly durable, I have been running them for years. Troy also makes a tritium insert option, which does make shooting at night a bit easier. This is a hard set to beat.

LWRC rear is like no other.
You can switch from a small to a large aperture.

LWRC is the second brand I’ve found to always be dimensionally correct. While we might normally think of them just as a premium rifle maker, they do in fact also make and sell their own flip-up sights. The LWRC sights feature a unique rear aperture, with an awesome system to switch from large to small.

Trijicon MRO.

Red Dots

If you only have the cash on hand for one sight, this time I have to recommend the red dot. While irons are the most durable thing on Earth, high-quality modern red dot sights are a close second. I never thought I would be saying that an electronic device is close to steel in durability terms, but experience has shown that modern reflex sights are often as hard as a coffin nail.

Mounted on LWRC 6.8.

Red dot sights also have a couple of natural advantages. First, the use is absolutely instinctive. Since this type of sight is parallax free, alignment is a non-issue. Where the red dot is when the trigger is pulled is where the bullet goes (With respect to height above bore, blah blah blah. We are in a noob guide here. Inside of 100 yards, it’s close enough!)

Second, red dots work day or night. Even without a flashlight, a red dot can be used in absolute darkness. I hope we aren’t ever at a point where you are throwing rounds at muzzle flash three blocks over. But if we are, you’ll be glad you have it.

Two things we need to address here: 1) The red dot/ bullet strike thing is only true if the sight is zeroed. Which you probably don’t have a place to do. 2) Which reflex sight? As they are also not all created equal.

For the zero part, I have often found that out-of-the-box, most red dot sights are pretty close. Maybe not perfect, but good enough for minute-of-bad-guy at 100 yards. If you want to check or get a little closer, you can also bore sight your optic. This is a quick and free way to do it if you prefer video (see the embedded video above). It won’t be perfect at close range, but it will be better than nothing.

Lined up with front sight post. Rear sight folded for photographic purposes.

Another method you can do, if your gun came with iron sights, is co-witness the dot with the factory sights. Now, this also depends on your mount height, and whether the iron sights were previously zeroed. But essentially all you do is aim down your irons, with the red dot sight on. Move the dot to the top of the front sight post. Done!

Again, not absolutely perfect, but pretty close. (Because this has happened, in the Army no less. Outside of zero time, with perfect head alignment and sight picture, never try to use the front sight post with the red dot. The electronic red dot does not require a second point in space to hit a target. No matter your head position, the red dot is the impact point. The front sight post should be ignored if not using the rear sight aperture in conjunction with it.)

For a rifle, which red dot? Tough call. We have reviewed dozens of them here on GunsAmerica Digest. The highest-end, military-grade ones cost so much, it would almost take all your forthcoming Trump Buck$. At the cheap end, you’re going to spend around $150. The rub here is that you need an apocalypse-grade optic and likely don’t have a pile of money. I’ve been in that market recently too, and I found what I think is a happy compromise.

Ready to get some, should the need arise.

The Trijicon MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) has a lot of positives going for it. First, it is made by Trijicon. Trijicon has staked a reputation on hard as nails electro-optics, including the gold standard of durable pistol options. (That would be the RMR, which will also work on a rifle if needed.) It is made in the USA, another plus. And it has the battery life needed for this situation, with a single CR2032 capable of lasting 5 years. I’m still in early testing, but Trijicon is on a very short list of brands I trust implicitly. And at a real-world price of around $450, it is very reasonable in this category.

BOBRO left, Trijicon factory right.

I would also highly recommend an aftermarket mount. I prefer the one from Bobro Engineering. I have had one on an Aimpoint for 7 years, that I often used for teaching. That speaks to the durability, no question. The BOBRO mount is an ingenious design, that makes moving your optic between guns simple. They also don’t rattle apart and return to zero closely when you take them off. The best part is the ability to configure height, so that it will absolutely match your iron sights. (Options exist here, lower 1/3rd, absolute co-witness, low, etc. As a noob, get the absolute co-witness.) This isn’t an absolute necessity but is worth the extra $136.5 in my opinion.

Bobro throw lever, in my experience preferable to screws.

Let’s hope you don’t need any of this, and you don’t face your first firefight with a highly questionable level of training. But if you do, we can at least ensure your gear won’t let you down and will last a lifetime. And if this all blows over, for God’s sake, get to the range!!!

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • RudeBudda67 May 4, 2020, 6:34 am

    Great article and vid Clay… I appreciate you the stripping away the bs for us. Keep it up

  • Sean April 17, 2020, 9:55 am

    I have a dumb question why are flip up sights so tall? Usually I run a Sig Romeo on my AR rifle however I have an Angstadt Arms 9mm pistol which I have tried a RMR on but cannot seem to acquire the dot. I was thinking about trying the low profile CZ scorpion sights any thought as to those or do they need to be high such as those used in most flip up sights? I like the HK sights on my C308 and I am used to most old Milsup sights.

    • Clay Martin April 17, 2020, 3:36 pm

      They are built to either mimic 1) original spec A frame front/ built in rear of an AR15/M16, or 2) directly correlates to mount height . we will have a piece coming up on that pretty soon. look for an RMR Riser to alleviete your problem in the mean time.

  • Tim April 17, 2020, 9:12 am

    A laser bore sight is a decent item to pick up and you can use it to zero your rifle or handgun optic/iron sights in your backyard or hallway without firing your gun. Not ideal but will work good in a pinch.

    As far as cheap optics go you do get what you pay for but if its it’s only a home defense or range gun some cheaper red dots will work fine. I have a cheap tru glo red dot I picked up around 8 to 10 years ago that’s still running strong and survived almost a thousand rounds of 7.62×39 out of an ak pistol and stayed zeroed before I moved it over to a .22 pistol. It was horribly zeroed from the factory though. Like a foot to the right at 25 yards, so if you get a cheaper one make sure you zero it and use a bit of medium strength thread locker (usually the blue one) on your optic mount to ensure it doesn’t shake loose. If your going bushwacking or expect to do alot of moving training drills a better optic is a must as they are built for combat and being dropped on the ground, knocked around, and in all weather conditions. But if the gun is gonna sit inside on a shelf or in a drawer except for you taking it to a range to train and on the off chance you have to use it in self defense then you can get away with a cheaper one for minute of bad guy accuracy. As always. Check reviews and do your homework before dropping your hard earned cash.

  • Ron April 17, 2020, 9:09 am

    I enjoy your videos / instructions. BUT slow down your talking. I know the point to this was how quickly to get sights set up BUT,So much of what you had to say I was not able to understand.

  • James April 17, 2020, 8:23 am

    Troy?!?!?!

    Thanks for showing your true colors.

    • Clay Martin April 17, 2020, 9:09 am

      ?

      • DrThunder88 April 17, 2020, 10:49 am

        Maybe James is an Achaean.

        • James April 18, 2020, 9:46 pm

          Google “Troy Industries Controversy” if you don’t know that Steve Troy hires scum like rabidly anti gun Jody Weis (later ‘unhired’) and Dale Monroe (Lon Horiuchi’s partner at Ruby Ridge).

          Are you guys really this ignorant about your Liberty and it’s enemies?

  • Frank S. April 17, 2020, 7:30 am

    “For a rifle, which red dot? Tough call. We have reviewed dozens of them here on GunsAmerica Digest. The highest-end, military-grade ones cost so much, it would almost take all your forthcoming Trump Buck$. At the cheap end, you’re going to spend around $150. ”

    Opticsplanet.com lists over 100 for under $100. I have a ~$50 NcStar reflex red dot mounted on a Mosin Nagant (rail that takes the place of the leaf rear sight, no altering/drilling rifle). It takes the shock and stays true just fine! A pistol scope on the same mount kept working the mount loose, I believe due to the weight and position of the scope. The little light weight reflex site works perfectly. You don’t have to spend $150 on a site that is a lot easier to use, is more accurate, and easier to adjust than iron sights. In my case, I think the fact that it was adjustable to the range I was shooting (100 yards) was the most important factor.

    Red dots are not for long range shooting! 100 yards and under they are good and fast to get on target. Over 100 yards accuracy generally diminishes, especially if you can accurately shoot with iron sights. This statement is specifically from USAF training on red dots, and my personal experience. I was better with the peep sights on an M-4 all around, but not a lot of difference at 100 yards and under. I fell off noticeably when firing over 100 yards (simulated — we used a 50 yard range with silhouettes altered to simulate target sizes over 50 yards).

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