Why do old guns have such bad sights?


January 19, 2003, 12:18 AM
Has anyone else noticed that so many older guns just have terrible sights? I mean, you look at a modern pistol and you usually have great big sights with some sort of dot or triangle, or glowing vial of radoactive goo that just screams 'look at me! Don't forget, front site!'

But then you look at a lot of older guns, even nice ones, and it seems like back in the day, the sights were pretty chincy. You get a thin blade for the front sight (usually the same color as the rest of the weapon) and not a whole lot in the way of a rear sight.

What gives? Surely the art of shooting hasn't changed that much in the last 50-100 years. Has it just been a matter of continual refining of weapon design, or something more?

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January 19, 2003, 12:32 AM
People used to learn how to shoot, not use gadgets and gizmos to make up for a lack of practice. Instinctive shooting used to be an established form, too bad it went away. Those "poor" sights are actually all a guy needs at ranges a handgun is suited for, inside of 20 yards sights should not even be a part of the equation.

Just my opinion.

January 19, 2003, 12:55 AM
Think of it this way. If you learn to shoot well...really well...with two humps and a bump like on a GI 1911, think of how well you'll do with better sights.

January 19, 2003, 01:12 AM
Bear in mind, too, that a handgun was considered a weapon of last resort by the military. In a combat zone, rifles and SMG's were standard issue: heck, the US Army even developed the M1 carbine as a REPLACEMENT for handguns, to give rear-echelon troops something better with which to defend themselves! The handgun was carried by those who weren't expected to do much shooting (e.g. senior officers). It also had to stand up to the rigors of a combat environment, without machine shops to fix broken parts. Most of the modern combat sights would not fare well, methinks, on a Pacific island of volcanic rock and dust, going for five to six weeks without anything but the most cursory cleaning, being banged against the ground as the person carrying the pistol took cover, being sprayed with rock chips from exploding artillery and mortar rounds, etc., etc... The minimalist sights on the GI 1911 stood up well to that kind of treatment. My guess is that today's tritium-insert sights would go dark by day 2 or 3 at the latest, and the larger, more protruding sights would be shifted sideways out of alignment within 24 hours!

January 19, 2003, 02:10 AM
Learn to shoot
No gizmos and gadgets
Murphy's Law

Less is more. be it a model 10 or a Mil-Spec

January 19, 2003, 02:37 AM
"Why do old guns have such bad sights? "

Because old people have such bad eyes.
:D :D

January 19, 2003, 03:22 AM
Because old people have such bad eyes.

I just thought my arms had become shorter...that's what I was told when he handed me the bi-focals.

January 19, 2003, 05:42 AM
Why do so many new guns have bad sights?

Winchester, Remington et al still do not supply satisfactory sights (read that as aperture) for thier rifles.

I think it is due to an ill educated shooting public, all other factors being equal.

January 19, 2003, 08:57 AM
I'll go with 11xRay on the new gun bit, anyone bought a Winchester L/A recently and noticed the same sights on it that they were using 100+years ago?

January 19, 2003, 10:30 AM
Case in point: look at the battle rifle sights of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Mostly tangent ladder rears, using an inverted notch, coupled with a narrow front blade. The rear tangent ladders often flipped up to become either a notch or peep vernier ladder for ranges past the battle zero, like the Springfield 1903 and Swedish Mauser.

Speaking of battle zero, note what the range was on those guns for their battle zero:

M-96 Swedish Mauser - 300 meters
M1911 Schmidt-Rubin - 300 meters
NoIMkIII Lee-Enfield - 200 meters
M95 Dutch Mannlicher - 400 meters
M1903 Springfield - 500 yards

That's the battle zero. For volley settings, they go out to 1800-2000 meters on the tangent settings.
Can you imagine how a rear peep sight set for those ranges would have to adjust? It would be more like the mid-range and long-range vernier tang sights of the Sharps and Rolling Block rifles. Not exactly combat rugged.

That probably explains the narrow front blade sights of the time, also. When you're sighting on a man-sized target past 300 meters, you don't want a fat front sight obscuring your target.

Which leads me to believe that the shooters of old really knew their stuff. I just read an interview with a former Boer War Commando, who mentioned he favored German Mausers in that war, because they had no problem picking off British soldiers at 500 yards. This was in February of 1900. :eek:

4v50 Gary
January 19, 2003, 11:04 AM
What we call bad sights they called state of art back then. Ivory or brass beads where considered the "in" thing when it came to picking up the front sight. They didn't have tritium like we do. They didn't have fibre optic cable either. That's a gift of our generation. Shooting styles were different back in the old days. Most folks shot "Olympic" target style and "combat" wasn't something folks prepared for - even among the cops. It was reasoned that if you learned to hit your bullseye, you could do the same when it came to saving your life. That's what made Fairbairn of the Shanghai Municipal Police so revolutionary for his time. He taught practical pistol and made his own shoot house.

Times change, people change and technology change. The one thing worse today than when Gramps was around is our laws SUCK!

January 19, 2003, 11:04 AM
IMHO, the quality and usability of the sights on my older guns varies just about as widely as on newer ones. The sights on my Smith and Colt 1917s, Colt Police Positive from the 20's, Colt Army Special from about the same time period are all usable and pretty functional. They are not adjustable but then who would have time to adjust sights in a shootout.

On the other hand, the sights on my Smith & Wesson Model 3, 38DA are about as big a joke as you can imagine. To call them useless would be overstating their worth. They are tiny and there is absolutely no way I can see them adequately. But at the ranges the pisol was meant to be used, they are also pretty much unneeded. It's one of those guns that is near perfect for point and shoot, and that is exactly what it was designed to do. No one ever planned on the Model 3 being a target pistol, it was meant for self defense and little else.

January 19, 2003, 12:33 PM
in 5, 10, 20, and 200 years.


January 20, 2003, 12:23 PM
Those sights were just fine for them back then. They hadn't ruined their eyesight watching tv and playing video games.


January 20, 2003, 12:46 PM
I don't believe that back in the day, handguns were considered to be the accurate weapons we consider them today. I have a 1903 Colt and a couple S&W revolvers that have sights that are difficult to pick up while sitting in the Lazy Boy in the house. This same philosophy is still practiced with mouse guns. Today's mouse guns have very poor sights and the logic is that they are only going to be used at close range as a last ditch effort, so they don't need decent sights. A second school of thought believes that because they have a short barrel, they arn't accurate, so why have good sights ? I have read about bullseye shooting back in the early part of the 20th century and the winning scores they shot could probably be duplicated today by most of us here. This was almost certainly due to the poor sights they had to work with. As late as the early 80s when I "qualified" with the 1911 in the military this same philosophy reared it's ugly head. We were lined up in front of a 25 yard bullseye target and given a couple mags to familiarize with. Then came the "qualification". They didn't change the targets. I asked why ? They said, these pistols arn't accurate, so you guys won't hit anything anyway. When I put all my shots in the black, almost everyone there was amazed.
Another example of the perceived role of the handgun is that 50+ years ago, handgun hunting was unheard of (in the sense we think of it today, of course animals were shot with handguns). When some of the pioneers of handgun hunting began their exploits, many people thought they were crazy.

January 20, 2003, 01:05 PM
I have found that big dots, orange ramps etc. actually make it more difficult to shoot a handgun really well, so far as shooting groups on a static target are concerned. You should be focusing on the target's relationship to the top edge of the front sight; so long as ample light is available on both sides of the front sight and the notch is deep enough for meaningful alignment. You don't need anything else. Flat black has long ben recognized as the best color for fine shooting with handgun sights. Like you, I have always found the Colt DA's (Army Special, Official Police, etc.) pretty easy to get along wih as-is.

That being said, I still understand the need for quick sight visibility on a combat handgun. The factory night sights on my old Sig 220 seem to be about the best conpromise I have run across. In daylight, they look almost black like bullseye sights, but in even dim light the tubes light up and you get the dots for night shooting. Plenty of notch available too, which is a blessing for older eyes.

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