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:
- Clay on Survival Foods for COVID-19 Crisis (How to Avoid Eating Your Pets)
- Clay on Staying Fit and Sane During Quarantine
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part II: Holsters & Slings
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part III: Flashlights & Broadswords
- Clay’s COVID-19 Gun Buying Guide for Noobs Part IV: Dinosaur Tech and Space Age Sights
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!