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Fixed sight (esp. SA) - LOADS, POINT OF AIM GUIDE

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Jim March, Nov 14, 2006.

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  1. Jim March

    Jim March Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    SF Bay Area
    I've seen confusion on how fixed-sight guns (esp. SAA/clones/near clones) should be dealt with in terms of load.

    Here's how the matter should be dealt with:

    1) Figure out your horsepower needs based on what you plan on shooting FIRST. That gives you a starting point on the caliber. You're better off with a single caliber instead of multi-cylinder on fixed-sight guns. (Whether or not you're going to handload and your budget might factor into caliber selection too. My New Vaq is in 357 for reasons of shooting cost and it's as much power as I need.)

    2) Buy a good gun. Spend what you can, run "the checkout" regardless. Pay particular attention to anything that could throw the windage off - look for any evidence the front sight is "off kilter" and pass on the slightest question.

    3) Shoot it with a variety of loads. Check the windage. If the windage is dead on, EXCELLENT. If it's slightly off, you may be able to correct it by filing the inside of the rear sight channel a hair, "centering" the sight picture. If windage is just screwed up but the gun groups well, you can send the gun to a gunsmith for a barrel turning job...OR if you're not into CAS/SASS see item 7 below for another option.

    The elevation will be God only knows where at this point. Don't worry so much about that yet.

    4) Look at your group sizes with various loads. You need to pick a "standard business load" for your needs, WHATEVER that is. This load should have these characteristics: it should be accurate in your gun, it should be something you can afford to shoot at least small amounts of, it should have a cheaper alternative no more than 5 or 10 grains off for practice, and it should not shoot so high that it is beyond your current front sight height. And it needs to get the job done.

    Note that regardless of power level, loads in the same weight class tend to print to about the same elevation in the same gun.

    In my case, my thinking went like so: my primary goal is personal defense. The Speer Gold Dot 135gr "mild 357" shot the most accurately in my New Vaq. The same projectile in 38+P grouped to the same point of aim, slightly less accurate. There are scads of good practice loads in 130gr FMJ ball in 38+P and 357, for cheap. And if I need to wick it up, CorBon has a higher-power 140gr load that will print near a 135, or there's the widely available Winchester 145 Silvertip.

    Let's look at another "set": you're using a 45LC Beretta Stampede for "woods carry", home defense and CAS/SASS gaming. 250gr "Cowboy" mild lead loads are available, Speer has a 250gr big-nose hollowpoint that functions well at 850fps - 1,100ish, and several ammo houses load hardcast flatnose 255gr at about 1,000fps. All three loads will be dialed into the same sight.

    5) Once you have loads selected, you file the front sight to dial the elevation in. Colt SA and clone sights are traditionally oversize to allow this tuning to your loads. If you have multiple "business loads" in similar weights, they may print a hair off from each other so select the one you care about most for dial-in.


    Those are the standard steps to running respectable performance out of fixed-sight revolvers.

    There are two "advanced level" steps beyond this:

    6) The "Keith graduated front sight": for longer ranges, Elmer Keith carved horizontal lines across the face of his front sights. He did this by shooting at known distance targets, establishing how far the front sight needed to poke up out of the rear sight channel, and THEN carved the lines. The ballistic trajectory of his loads were a factor in this. If you ever see one of Keith's guns so marked, the lines will not be "even" as bullet drop rates are not exactly linear. There are vendors that will sell you front sights that already have neat, clean lines at fixed intervals across the front. This is somewhat useful but...it's not following the real Keith recipe for this process. Only YOU can do proper Keith sight lines on your gun with your loads in your hands. Such lines are not found on my gun - yet. But when I have the time available for some long-range outdoor shooting, I think they will eventually find their way to my front sight.

    7) A custom dovetailed ramp and blade: my New Vaquero's original front sight is completely gone, replaced with a wider, square-top dovetailed blade on a bolted-down base. I have windage adjustment, and if I wanted a different front blade for something like the Penn Thunderhead 200gr lead slugs for the 357 I could go there. My rear sight channel was hogged out by the same gunsmith and matches the front sight's new wider profile. This was about a $200 set of mods and really transformed the gun's handling. If you're going to shoot a load abnormally heavy for the caliber, your stock front sight may not be tall enough and you may be forced into a base'n'blade set similar to what I'm running. This setup is also a way of doing a "desperation save" on a gun that groups well but has the windage way off. You end up with much better sights and any windage problems completely vanished.
  2. Majic

    Majic Member

    May 3, 2003
    One more point is the chosen load should be readily available. Whether bought locally, online in bulk, or reloaded. No need in choosing a load that may prove difficult to find. Even the alternative load is second place for a reason.
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