Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Initial Response

Scopes are better than iron sights!   REALLY???

When former hunters said they were buying a new scope and wanted my opinion, I said, “Why do you need a scope?”

The normal answer was that they could shoot better with a scope.

That is a common misconception, and in many instances people shoot worse with scopes than with iron sights.

Look at the experts.  In 1995, the Leech Cup winner was Nancy Tomkins-Gallagher with a score of 199-8x and a shoot off score of 100-9x.  The Leech Cup is the Iron Sight 1000 yard match shot at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio every summer.  That same year, Nancy’s husband, Middleton Tompkins won the Wimbledon Cup with nearly an identical score of 199-9x and a shoot off score of 100-8x.  The Wimbledon Cup is the Any Sight 1000-yard match at Camp Perry.  By rule the Wimbledon can be shot with iron or scope—hence, “any,” but is usually shot with a scope.

Comparison of results of scopes and iron sights at 1000 yard National Matches for years 1995 and 2008.  You may have to click on it to enlarge.

The chart shows results for the winners of the Leech and Wimbledon in 2008, again with similar scores.  Also included are the shooters who won the lowest NRA classification, Marksman/Sharpshooter.  Although the Leech and Wimbledon are shot on different days—meaning differing weather conditions—the Marksman/Sharpshooter Anz, shooting iron sights, outshot Captain Ryan who used a scope in 2008.  I chose 1995 because it is the last results bulletin I have.  I chose 2008 because the information was easy to obtain.

Those figures should demonstrate that the experts can’t shoot any better with scopes than with iron sights.  What about those who are not experts?

Their results are even worse.

When a junior shooter starts shooting smallbore they are restricted to iron sights.  That is not a punishment.  New shooters have unsettled positions and relatively large wobble areas.  (See here for wobble areas)  If a person with those characteristics shoots a telescopic sight, there shooting won’t improve.  The scope not only magnifies what is seen, it also magnifies the wobble area.  A magnified, uncontrolled wobble area forces the shooter to not let the sights settle, but shoot during those milliseconds the sights are “perfect.”  That leads to jerking.  That leads to a loss of confidence, and the cycle repeats.

A similar situation develops for most highpower shooters.  Those shooting match rifles with aperture front sights think that a tighter line of white between the front sight ring and the aiming black will result in more accurate aiming.  The tight line of white works like a telescope and transmits any unsettled wobble to the brain, resulting in snatching shots, jerking, and of course loss of confidence.

Soon, the new shooter learns to shoot like the pros, they use larger apertures at all ranges.  Those that change apertures from one position to another use much larger apertures during offhand than on sitting and prone.  The larger apertures allow the mind to relax and not make the shot perfect, bringing higher scores and an increase in confidence.  That cycle repeats as well.

There are other reasons to not use a scope but I will cover them later.

A scope will let you see better, but not shoot better.  The less you practice the more reason there is to use iron sights.  Or, at the very least, chose a low-power/fixed-power scope.

You’ll shoot better.


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Caleb Pearce said...

lots of good points. thank you once agin for sharing you knowledge with us.

hodgeman said...

Good post. I used to shoot irons exclusively and agree that you can shoot as well or better than with a scope. At least in good light.

However with aging eyesight and bad lighting a scope makes a big difference for me. I prefer a low powered scope (2.5 or 4x) or a low power variable(1-5x) simply to put everything on a single focal plane. My favorite is probably a plain Jane 4x.

I think its a pity that the majority of factory rifles either don't come equipped with sights or at best, poor ones.