Backup Sights and Dangerous Game Rifles

A gunsmith friend of mine, building a .375 H&H, asked if backup iron sights are necessary, and if so, what’s best. My answer is that I’ve never owned a dangerous game rifle without iron sights, and would not own one, and have never seen an African professional hunter who used a scope. D’Arcy Echols, who builds as fine a heavy rifle as you can get, flatly refuses to mount a scope on anything that kicks as hard as a .458 Lott.

I think that the fastest type of sight—the one that allows you to shoot both with precision and maximum speed—is a red dot in a scope that cranks down to 1X, or else a straight red-dot scope. However, I think that if you're talking about shooting very close, and not aiming precisely (in other words, getting a slug into a critter in the split second before it begins gnawing on your skull) that good iron sights have a slight edge. What happens, I believe, is that your eye picks up the front sight, and that's enough.

Most of the iron sights I’ve seen are junk, or close to it. They’re either not visible enough, or too fragile, or too complicated. You want something that you can pick up instantly, even in poor light, and which will not shift zero even when subjected to extreme abuse. No scope exists that can stand up to the beating a PH hands out, which is why they opt for iron sights, but what they use is not what comes on a lot of rifles.

So, what’s good? The best dangerous-game iron sights I know of are made by New England Custom Gun Works. What you want is the Classic Ramp with Folding Hood and a fiber optic bead up front. I like this one because the hood that protects the bead pivots out of the way and does not come flying off the ramp to be lost forever, as do the sliding hoods.

For the rear sight, I recommend the Sweat-On Base with the Forward-Slanting Fixed Rear Sight. (Both of these are inexpensive, but that’s not my fault.) When they’re installed, your gunsmith goes to the range with your rifle, the ammo you’re going to use, and a file, a hammer, and a drift. He will cut an aiming notch in the sight blade and tap it into position, right or left, for windage. Then it will not move, ever, which is what you want. Have him regulate it to shoot dead on at 50 yards; that’s about the maximum range at which you’ll use it.

You’ll also want a set of quick-detachable rings to get the scope off if the need should arise. The best ones are made by Talley. Just check from time to time to make sure the levers are tight; the recoil from a big rifle can work damn near anything loose if you shoot it enough.

Happy Myles, your thoughts.