Iron sights: How far can you ethically use them on animals


oklahoma caveman
January 21, 2011, 07:02 PM
Personally, I have been shooting iron my entire life, and actually prefer iron (open and or peep) over scopes, but with that being said, I am only confident with them while hunting out to 100-125 yards. How far are you comfortable with them?

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country boy marksman
January 21, 2011, 07:45 PM
how big of an animal? Although I have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I would feel comfortable shooting a deer at 150 - 200 yards (if absolutely necessary), But I have younger eyes, and would not do so at that long of a range with smaller game. I want to ensure proper shot placement; and my name isn't Matthew Quigley, nor do I own a Sharps buffalo rifle!:-) With target shooting, on the other hand, the further the better/funner!

January 21, 2011, 08:00 PM
Using a capable rifle equipped with a good aperture sight - open sights are worthless in my opinion - using a tight sling and shooting from a good prone or sitting position at a deer sized or larger target, with ideal wind conditions, I'd be comfortable shooting out to about 300 yards, maybe 400 if I was feeling really lucky.

January 21, 2011, 08:20 PM
For a deer, as long as I can pick a spot on the animal's vitals window that is no bigger than an 8 inch dinner plate and not have the front site completely cover that spot, then I am fine. I would say that is on the order of 60-70 yards. I shot a deer at 50-60 yards with factory iron sites on a Winchester 94, hit it where I expected to hit it and it died within 30 seconds. I only use open sites when I am back in the woods where seeing a deer past 80 yards isn't likely to happen anyway.

January 21, 2011, 08:43 PM
38 years ago I used open sights on M-16s and M14s on large vermin. as a rifleman and marksman I was comfortable with 500 yard plus shots, that what we trained for. I can still do it. it's called marksmanship....practice, practice, practice...

oklahoma caveman
January 21, 2011, 09:08 PM
I know that 500 yard shots are possible, and I have made them at that range with my sharps, on targets. but I am talking an ethical kill shot on deer sized game. If you can honestly do that Texas Patriot then I applaude you. I in no way doubt your claim but would love to see you make that shot. I also know that my limitations are far under that. I would not feel comfortable shooting at any animal at that range with irons

Robert Wilson
January 21, 2011, 09:33 PM
I manage a good aperture sight nearly as well as the low-powered optics I typically use. I enjoy getting as close as possible to game animals, which means that I don't know how far I could actually take a game animal with either method, but anything under 200 yards is acceptable to me with both.

With really good open sights - something like the target sights Smith & Wesson puts on their revolvers - I limit myself to about 125 yards. With crummy open sights - like those found on typical mass-produced hunting rifles - maybe 100 yards. And the classic dangerous game combination of shallow V with bead front, well, I start losing confidence with them when the range grows much beyond 50 yards.

<edit> An interesting question might be "...and how far do you shoot with optics?" There are people at THR who brag about 500, 600, 700+ yard shots at game animals. It wouldn't be surprising if those folks were comfortable with very long iron-sight shots as well.

January 21, 2011, 09:35 PM
in the Marine Corps and for Army rifleman you use iron sights on a regular basis in training for shots of that range. it's what you learn in basic training.

January 21, 2011, 09:49 PM
Like Texas Patriot is saying. With good iron sights you can reach 500 very well but you have work it out. With so many aimpoints, acogs, NFs and the others people are forgetting how to do this but this is how you qualified for marksmanship.

I still mount a nice buis in almost all my systems and they are zeroed to 100yards.

Just keep practicing and after 200,000 rounds you will hit them blindfolded!!. Do not try little prairie dogs at 500 though! lol! Also make sure you visit the ophthalmologist as you age. I need glasses now. lol!


January 21, 2011, 10:17 PM
About 30 years ago I actually killed a deer with iron sights nearly 300 yds with a model 670 Winchester in 270... It was a fine shooting gun and I was deadly with it. I never used scopes until I got older and even now I will hunt with a levergun with just irons once in a while.

January 21, 2011, 10:24 PM
as far as the ethical part of the question.......

i would say as far as you are confident in your ability to make the shot.

i would also add as far as the effective range of your rifle, but most of us could never make a shot that far out on any wild game with iron sights.

January 21, 2011, 10:48 PM
any competent military rifleman can make that shot, back in the day (early 70's) I ruined a few peoples day at more than 500 plus meters. I think I can still do it. got an M1A on order, cant wait to see if I can still do it, got a feeling it's like riding a bike. acquire target, account for variables, squeeze goes down in a red spray. job done..I live to fight another day.

January 21, 2011, 11:23 PM
I can still shot irons out to 200 yds with no problem, coyote sized animals. As TexasPatriot and 1stmarine have stated, practice and shooting many thousands of rounds, one can feel confident about the shots. Today, my aging eyes have to have bi-focals, having qualified as marksman in the Navy many years ago, can't do it anymore, scope is my iron sights now.

January 22, 2011, 09:17 AM
I think I can still do it. got an M1A on order, cant wait to see if I can still do it, got a feeling it's like riding a bike.I have a feeling you still can...

I've been kinda revolving back to hunting with irons, there is a lot of hunters that ever never squeezed off a shot without a scope. Hunting with irons is a lost art it seems. Even squirrel hunters think they need a scope now days...

Loyalist Dave
January 22, 2011, 12:59 PM
Starting with the premis that "ethical" for this thread means you are going to place the shot in the heart/lung area of the animal, or the head/spine...,

in the Marine Corps and for Army rifleman you use iron sights on a regular basis in training for shots of that range. it's what you learn in basic training.

This is true..., but the area where one scores a 10 in the military at that range is much much larger than the ethical kill zone on a deer..., so what is applicable to humans in combat is not really applical to game animals when hunting. Now a Marine or Soldier who can hit the head of the 500 yard target on a regular basis could justify using iron sights at that range for deer..., but not most hunters.

It's not just the sights friends. Does the cartridge really have sufficient energy, simply arriving at 500 yards isn't enough. How flat is the trajectory, or is the shooter using a laser range finder, for estimating the proper range beyond 300 yards is very difficult, and knowing the range is important. Many rifle cartridges that one might use, and have zero'd out to say 300 yards are pretty low by 500 yards. Zero those same loads at farther ranges and they shoot pretty high if you have over estimated the range, and the target is at say 375, instead of at 500. It's not the same as on a known distance shooting range.

I think open sight silhouette targets give you a good indication. Steel Pigs are about as large an area that if the target was a deer you would place the bullet in the vitals, and they are shot at 300 yards. So if you can hit a steel pig target at whatever range you wonder about, and do it consistantly, you're good to go with the open or peep sights. If not..., you're not (imho).

For me, it's plain iron sights, not peeps, and I get the deer in at 110 yards or less..., I know as in the area that I hunt the farthest that I can see them and draw a bead on the vital area..., is 110 yards. My local range is only a hundred yard range too, so that's the farthest that I can practice.


Friendly, Don't Fire!
January 22, 2011, 01:03 PM
There is really no limit as far as I am concerned. What one person thinks is a comfortable quick, clean-kill shot, another person might need to be ten times closer, or more than ten times!

There is not really a correct answer.
There is, however, an incorrect answer and that would be far enough out to miss or graze the animal or hit the animal in the gut (stomach, intestines). For some people, that could be no greater than 50 yards.

Leaky Waders
January 22, 2011, 01:29 PM
I think alot of you would be surprised at how well one can shoot at random 25-500 meter pop-up targets that only yield themselves as a target for a few seconds, while the rifleman uses iron sites, some fogged up safety glasses, and is wearing 40 plus pounds of hot sweaty uncomfortable kevlar plates. One has to constantly shift positions and acquire targets and shoot quickly.

Compared, to a hunting situation where one can wear comfortable clothing, get a good rest and take their time on a called shot.

That's why people who did well with their military marksmanship feel comfortable about their shots. They are riflemen,

January 22, 2011, 02:24 PM
The question answers itself: As far as you can make a clean, ethical kill.

January 22, 2011, 04:41 PM
With open sights I am very comfortable taking deer at 175 yards. With peep sights about 225 yards.

January 22, 2011, 10:39 PM
I like iron sights for shotguns and maybe squirrel hunting with my old winchester 22 bolts.

I love to shoot open sights for the challenge, but when it comes to turkey or deer, I want an optic.

January 23, 2011, 08:40 AM
The question answers itself: As far as you can make a clean, ethical kill.

Good post.

Sav .250
January 23, 2011, 09:52 AM
Got to give it to you. You guys that are spot on with iron sights at 400-500 yds, you must be Olympic grade marksmen. More power to ya.

Me, 100 yds. Iron sights, woods, quick resolution of the target, mod range.

Here`s a question. Does everybody move the "ramp" up or back when shoots are other than the original sight-in set up? Your good say for 100yds
then you go for the 400 yd or longer shot . Do you just guess or move the ramp? Just asking.

Art Eatman
January 23, 2011, 10:13 AM
Varies with field position, but I'd say the limit is how far can you reliably hit the end of a beer can. IMO, that holds for any firearm that's used, irons, scope, whatever.

January 23, 2011, 12:28 PM
This inspires me to do some field research. I often shoot spent 12 ga shells with a .22 at about 50 feet. I aim for the bottom of the shell because that really sends them flying! I hit the target about 50% of the time but that's a pretty small target. I once hit a 16 oz water bottle full of tanerite with open sites on a very old 30-30 at 150 yards, so a deer would certainly be no problem for me at that distance, did the same thing at the same distance with a m-16. I think under the right conditions I could hit the kill zone of a deer at 250-300.

January 23, 2011, 02:15 PM
I can hit a man sized tareget out to 400. 3hats somewhere in the torso. Aiming for the vitals on a deer and as long as I can see it well, I can hit it. That's about 200 yards. I can't diferienate that area on a deer at that distance in anything other than perfect light

January 23, 2011, 03:00 PM
Minute of beer can, never thought of it like that!

35 Whelen
January 23, 2011, 03:02 PM
There are LOTS of variables here. the first and most important is shooter skill. If a person doesn't have the ability, the discussion need go no further.
Next is the size of the target. In the Slow Prone portion of matches, many High Power competitors are able to keep most if not all their in a 12" circle(the size of the "10" ring) on the 600 yd. target using open sights. But bear in mind, the target itself is 36" in diameter. That's alot of black at which to aim. I have a 600 yd. range here at my house complete with a 36" gong. Once my rifle's (a Swiss K-31) sighted for that range it's not terribly difficult to hit the target and I've even shot a decent score or two. BUT change that to a 24" or worse yet a 12" (the approx. size of a deers vitals) and it'd be near impossible to see let alone hit the target.

January 23, 2011, 03:32 PM
A 12oz Diet Coke can major diameter is 2.601in. A minute of angle equals 1.047XXXX in. So a shooter, rifle, and ammunition minute of angle accuracy is Diet Coke can capable at approximately 248yds. I think this correct?????

January 23, 2011, 04:39 PM
for me it depends on a lot of things. right now i would tell you 175-200 yards. that is with my own handloads in my marlin 30-30 (my deer/all-purpose rifle) under normal for me hunting situations, meaning i am walking or the deer are being pushed and are running. on a still deer and if i was able to get into good supported position i would push it out to 250ish but then again i wouldnt ETHICALLY shoot further than 200-250 with the 30-30 cartridge in general. so currently i would say i can ethically shoot with open sights out to the limits of my rifle.

if i could ever find a real hunting rifle, meaning true wood stocks and blued steel, that came with USEFUL iron sights in a larger caliber (30-06 and .308 come to mind) i am confident that i could easily extend that range.

for me, the type of sight makes a huge difference as far as hunting accuracy. on targets i dont see a lot of difference because shots are made at a rest and at the shooter's liesure, but in the field is a different story. as far as hunting is concerened i do not like open notch rear sights, i prefer an aperture, preferably on the reciever. for the front sight, a straight square post. too many front blades have a "ball" type shape to the top of them and for me at least, this takes away from precise shooting.

January 23, 2011, 04:42 PM
I feel comfy out to about 200 on larger game such as deer.

January 24, 2011, 12:17 AM
Any distance is ethical as soon as you feel confident of making a one shoot kill. I still can do it at 500 some can do it even longer and some when presented with iron sights cannot even hit a tractor at 50 yards.

Train, train, train..

oklahoma caveman
January 24, 2011, 09:34 PM
I suppose I worded the title wrong. I am aware that it changes with individual skill level, I simply was asking what each of you can do, as many have posted their effective range. That is all that was meant, but thanks for all the replies fellahs

Kentuckiana rifleman
January 25, 2011, 02:06 AM
If I am using the peep sights that I first learned on the M-16a2 rifle I was issued, then I know I can hit out 350 meters consistently. Using what I call the "rear notch" and "front leaf" sight that found on many hunting rifles I might have to admit my best day is only at 200 meters or less and that would be middle of the afternoon on a clear day.
But like 1stmarine lamented "train, train, train.."

February 1, 2011, 03:37 PM
In basic in the 60's M-14 to 600 meters, prone. 400 meters with the M-16 on pop-up upper body size targets. 400 was not too difficult with either, beyond that was difficult. Now, I could not do it. My eyes aren't that good anymore. Maybe 50-100 yards hunting. Somewhat Longer fom a bench with lots of time.

February 6, 2011, 01:11 PM
As an avid long range shooter, I am very much aware that extremely long range shots are easy to make on a range under good conditions. Put that trophy deer on the other side of the canyon at 500 yards and the environmental conditions play a big part. For example, -15 degrees F, 20 degree angle up slope, 8500 feet in elevation, 45% humidity, 15 mph cross wind at 2:00 from the right at the shooting position, variable down slope winds in the canyon and on the other ridge, target is back lit from the early morning sun. Easy heart shot with grandpa's old Garand. :)

February 8, 2011, 11:11 PM
The question is not whether you can "hit" a B-52 man shaped target at 500 yards. The question is whether you can hit the kill zone of a deer at 500 yards.

Those claiming to be able to hit the kill zone of a deer at 500 yards with open sights consistently are...optimistic.

For me, beer can accuracy with open sights is @100 yards. Extend that a little with good weather, good rest, nice sights

Bring it in a little bit with sun in the eyes, wind, cheaper sights.

BTW, I've won several friendly shoot offs open sights on cans at 100 yards. Several of those shoot offs went one go round. They all missed, I hit. I'm not a great shot but I know and practice good marksmanship fundamentals.

And from chuck hawks...

We've already said that an average whitetail buck gives you about a 10" diameter target. That deer measures perhaps 17" deep through the chest, measured from the top of his back to his brisket. Here are some top of back to bottom of brisket estimates for other common North American game animals taken from various sources, but primarily from Jack O'Connor's book The Hunting Rifle:

Pronghorn antelope = 14"-15"
Small deer = 14"-15"
Medium size deer = 17"-18"
Large deer = 18"-20"
North American wild sheep = 20"-22"
Mountain goat = 22"-24"
Caribou = 24"-26"
Elk = 24"-26"
Moose = 30"-36"
Given those external body measurements, here are some estimated "vital area circle" diameters that roughly correspond to the approximate (heart/lung) target area:

Pronghorn antelope = 8.5"-9"
Small deer = 8.5"-9"
Medium size deer = 10"-11"
Large deer = 11"-12"
North American wild sheep = 12"-13"
Mountain goat = 13"-14.5"
Caribou = 14.5"-15.5"
Elk = 14.5"-15.5"
Moose = 18"-21.5"
One thing that those numbers show us is that ordinary 9" economy paper plates can be used to simulate the size of the target that the deer and pronghorn hunter needs to be able to hit. These make inexpensive targets. The distance at which you can keep all of your shots on a 9" paper plate with your hunting rifle from field positions is your personal maximum effective range under ideal conditions (an easily visible target and a calm shooter).

end quote

All that means that shooting a deer at 500 yards you need to be able to do 2 moa with iron sights. Tough.

February 9, 2011, 02:46 AM
Depends on the critter.

I wouldn't shoot deer much farther than 125 yds and I'd think real hard about it first. Bear in mind my iron sighted rifles are in chamberings best limited to 150yds or less (357mag and 223)

A coyote, hog or similar varmint on the other hand if I can see it and I have a clear bullet backdrop I'm sending lead it's way be it 10yds or 400

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