HITHERTO we have been studying the rifle and its ammunition simply as engine and power, independent of the man behind the gun. Enter, now, the man, with his personal factor to be considered.
Cartridges, gun barrels, and breech mechanisms treat everybody alike. Not so the sights, trigger, and stock, which give one control over his weapon; these require adjusting to the individual, because men differ in eyesight, coordination, and build.
In very quick work, at close quarters, a rifle may be pointed like a shotgun, without seeing the sights at all. This kind of rifle shooting is so rare that we need give it scarcely a thought. The rifle, properly, is an arm of precision and must be handled as such, or we will miss. To hit a small object at short range, or a large one at long range, it is essential that the sights be exactly aligned and that the tip of the front sight barely touches, or does not quite touch, the lower edge of the precise spot that one wants to hit.
A fine fore sight, covered by a hood, such as is made for target shooting, is not fit for hunting. It cannot be seen distinctly in varying light, nor in the shade of forests. A hunter's front sight must be open, strong, and firm, and its tip should be of some white or colored material that will show up plainly against a neutral or murky background.
The plain german-silver front sight generally sent out with a cheap rifle does not suit anybody's eyes. It is sure to glitter in sunlight. Take a rifle so fitted, stand out in the open, swing the gun to all points of the compass, and aim at various objects as you go. Besides the annoying glimmer, the appearance of the sight will vary according to the direction or angle at which light impinges on it. One side will show up clearer than the other, and you cannot well help aiming off to the clear side. The eye strain, too, will be excessive.
A black front sight is better, in good light, but it cannot be made out distinctly when the light is poor. A tip faced with platinum shows up fairly well, and it will not glitter like german silver. An ivory bead can be seen still more clearly, so long as it is new and white, but it will turn yellow from the inevitable oiling, and then must be pared. One or two parings, and it is done for. Moreover, an ivory bead is brittle and easily damaged. The best all-round fore sight is a "gold" (alloy) bead. This shows up well, over snow as well as in dim places, yet does not glitter in the sun.
Fore sights with changeable beads are generally too frail and disconcerting for wilderness work. An exception may be noted in favor of what may be called a day-and-night sight. This consists of an ordinary " gold " bead sight to the base of which is hinged a steel standard bearing a large bead, or rather a small disk, faced with white enamel, which may be thrown up so that the white disk covers the ordinary bead. Such sights are made in Europe and should be copied or improved here, for there often come times in a hunter's experience when a sight that can be seen in the dusk would be appreciated. Imagine yourself with a bear or cougar treed at nightfall. If a luminous chemical can be found that will stand the weather, it might be better still for a facing.
In any case, a bead is preferable to a barleycorn, or knife-edge, or plain vertical bar, because, when aiming over an open rear sight, a round bead shows more clearly just how much front sight is taken. Size of bead will be governed somewhat by length of rifle barrel and by local conditions. For general hunting, it is best to use the smallest bead that can be seen distinctly.
The rear sight usually attached to an American rifle of over .22 caliber, unless otherwise ordered, has two radical faults: first, its high wings cut off the view, not only below the thing aimed at, but on both sides. This is never desirable, and always is a nuisance when shooting at moving game. Second, the buckhorn is attached to a long, flat spring that runs back from the sight slot. This spring, in connection with steps (that never are adjusted for any range in particular), serves clumsily to elevate the rear sight—it takes two hands to operate the thing. Thereby the sight is brought too close to the eye for clear definition.
Any open rear sight will blur, more or less, because no eye can focus simultaneously on rear sight, fore sight, and mark aimed at. The closer it is to the eye, the more it will blur. Take the buckhorn out, tie it on the barrel three or four inches forward, and note the improvement. It is true that this shortens the sighting radius, but, of the two evils, blurred vision is much the worse.
A plain folding leaf sight, set directly in the rear sight slot, is in better position, and is quicker to reset, than a buckhorn. The slot should be at least eleven inches ahead of the trigger, and preferably twelve. The reason that a military rear sight is only seven inches ahead of trigger is that it is generally used with the peep instead of the bar; in fact, I do not know any expert military shot who ever uses the bar, unless it be for quick firing.
The best of open rear sights is a plain, flat bar, with perhaps a small notch marking the center, and with one or two folding leaves for longer ranges than " point-blank.5' The bar should slant backward and have its top edge beveled, so as to offer a clear, clean outline in all lights. Its corners should be rounded, to prevent catching in gun case or other obstacles. The leaves should be held stiffly upright by springs, when in use; otherwise they will soon wear loose and can easily be jarred forward.
Whether the top of a bar sight should be plain or notched, with or without vertical line, and whether a notch should be wide or narrow, square, semi-circular, V-shaped, or U-shaped, are matters of personal choice. I can only state my own preference and the reasons for it.
To my eyes, a vertical line to mark the center is unnecessary. If I pay any attention to it at all, I must change eye focus to do so, and this distracts me from my proper business of watching the mark. A triangle of ivory or platinum is worse, because it blurs with the bead of the fore sight. A deep notch is objectionable for hunting, because if I draw down into it (military " half sight ") a great deal of the light is cut off. In the forest we need all the light we can get. Drawing half sight has this serious defect, for a hunter, that it is hard to do in quick aiming and may be impossible in dim light. Hence, if the rifle is adjusted for half sight, one is prone to overshoot.