Hunting is made rather easy today by the
availability of super accurate rifles, powerful scopes, range
finders, premium-grade bullets and competent hunting guides who
almost always guarantee that hunters get the animals they go after.
Whenever I hunt, I try to make the most of the
experience and have therefore been using open sights for many years.
To me it is all about the challenge and the enjoyment of the hunt.
If my sole purpose is to fill the freezer I’ll use a scoped rifle
and shoot from 250m, but I hunt as much for pleasure as for meat and
therefore want more than just a mere "shopping" experience.
When using open sights you often need to stalk
within 50 to 75m – distances at which you can see the animal well
enough for accurate shot placement. One can of course shoot
accurately at much longer distances with open sights but animals do
not always pose obligingly in the open in good light like targets do
on a shooting range.
dense bushveld animals often blend in so well with their surrounds
that it can be difficult to line up the sights and pull off an
accurate shot, even at short ranges. But even if you can see the
animal well, trying to get as close as possible, is part of the
game. Stalking close makes the hunt more personal and requires of
you to pit your stalking skills against the animal’s survival
instincts – often in terrain that makes stalking very difficult.
There are of course other reasons why hunting with
open-sighted rifles appeal to some hunters. Such rifles are lighter,
less bulky and better balanced. And in general, open sights are more
robust than scopes and normally do not lose their zeroes easily. I
must also confess that open-sighted rifles, especially Mausers built
in the classic style, please my eyes more than scoped ones.
most of those who regularly use open sights are professional hunting
guides, guiding clients for dangerous game and purists using
muzzle-loading rifles. Some critics (often game farmers or
professional guides) feel that we should leave the use of open
sights to these specialist hunters, but the so-called average hunter
can also master "the art" if he is prepared to put in sufficient
effort. Many hunters find big bore rifles fascinating and stories of
big game hunters using them have lit fires in many a hunter’s heart.
They want to relive the romance of old Africa and
hunt with open-sighted rifles. Unfortunately not all have the
financial means to go after stuff like buffalo, but they can always
hunt plains game species. Animals such as blue wildebeest and kudu,
as well as impala and warthog are very popular.
To use such rifles the prerequisite is off course to
have good eyesight or to wear spectacles that correct your eyesight.
Things do get a bit complicated though when we age and need reading
glasses. Anyway, if the prospective hunter can sort the "eye thing"
out he must be prepared to put in a lot of range work. Before he
ventures out to practise though, he must find out what type of open
sight suits his eyes.
Open sights come in many different guises. The most
common are leaf sights consisting of bead foresights and notched
leaf or rear sight blades for various distances. Most big bore
custom rifles are fitted with express-type sights – a bead up front
and a single blade sporting a wide, shallow "V", normally sighted in
to hit point of aim at 50m. Peep-sights are also fairly popular for
hunting, especially the so-called ghost-ring which has a large
peep-hole in a ring so thin that you are only vaguely aware of it in
your peripheral vision. This is the type of open sight I prefer.
a ghost-ring you have a very wide field of view and when using a six
o’clock hold the bead obscures very little of your target. However,
show the uninitiated a ghost-ring and they will tell you it cannot
be accurate at all because you see "the whole world" and centring
the bead precisely seems impossible. Well, don’t knock it until you
have tried it. When using a ghost-ring, as with any open sight, you
focus on the foresight and thus look through the ring, not at it –
the eye then naturally centres the bead in the ring. Remember that
the aperture is also far from the foresight and the longer sight
radius is a great aid to practical accuracy.
Open sights require the eye to try to focus on three
objects simultaneously which is impossible (therefore the need to
concentrate on the foresight). The peep-sight removes one object,
the rear sight, because you look through it. Peep-sights with small
apertures are not suitable for hunting as they do not allow a wide
enough field of view and cut out too much light.
When I first started using ghost-rings I could not
find one in any gun shop in South Africa and at the time custom
gunsmiths’ prices were too high for me. I then decided to make my
own using a spare Lynx scope mount base. The first step was
obviously to determine the size of the aperture. I plinked with a
friend’s rifle which had a 3.5mm aperture, but found it too small
for my liking. So I made up a ghost-ring out of cardboard which had
a 5mm aperture. I stuck it onto my 7x57 with a piece of Prestik and
found that the 5mm aperture worked like a charm. All I had to do was
determine more or less the correct height and then use a front sight
element of the correct height (fortunately I had several in my
I cut a thin metal disc with a 5mm hole, soldered it
to the Lynx base at a predetermined height and shaped it into a
ghost-ring. In no time I had the 7x57 shooting about 50mm high at
75m and accuracy tests off a bench proved that I could easily put
three shots into about two inches at 100m with monotonous
regularity. That was all the accuracy I needed. After using
home-made ghost-rings for some years I had proper ghost-rings made
for my 7x57 and .375H&H rifles by Danie Joubert of Pretoria, rated
by many as the best metal smith in South Africa. Up front I use a
white bead and have found that one of at least 2mm in diameter works
best for me – my eye rapidly picks it up and it remains visible for
longer in low light than smaller ones.
aiming with open sights I do not cover my intended target with the
bead. The best way to aim is to perch the bull’s-eye or the animal’s
vitals on top of the front sight. This method allows the best
visibility and gives the shooter a precise aiming point. Although
open sights are normally sighted in to shoot to point of aim at 50
to 75m, professional guides going after dangerous game also need to
know where their rifles shoot at 10 to 15m because charges are often
stopped at very short ranges.
It is often said that open sights are faster to use
than scopes. While open sights might be faster than high-power
scopes, many modern day shooters are actually faster with low-power
scopes (1.5x to 2x magnification) because they have learned to shoot
using scoped rifles instead of open sights. When I started using a
ghost-ring I thought I was faster with it than with a scope, but
proper time trials showed that I was not only faster with a scope
but also more accurate. Those who are used to open sights on their
big bores are initially faster with them than with a scope but as
they get used to the scope some become faster with it. The fastest
sight I have ever used is a red dot from Aimpoint. We will never
settle the debate as to which type of sight is the best or fastest
because too many variables come into play. A good number of hunters
who have grown up with open sights find it difficult to adapt to
scopes and will always be faster with iron sights.
can think of one specific reason why open sights work better on
dangerous game rifles. A scope actually gets in the way when you
cycle the bolt. When cycling a bolt slowly or even a medium speed
you might not even notice the scope, but try chambering a round as
fast as you can and you will invariably find that some part of your
hand catches the scope somewhere and slows you down or prevents
proper chambering of a round. For that reason alone, I would prefer
carrying an open-sighted rifle when going after dangerous game.
When hunting antelope in semi-open country where
visibility is good I have found that a ghost-ring can hold its own
against a scope out to about 100m.
Barnard is an ex-professional hunter and a full time gun
writer, having published hundreds of articles. He was
born in Namibia and has been a keen hunter since his
Unfortunately I have now reached a stage in my life
where my eyes are beginning to fail. In good light and when the
animal is not camouflaged by vegetation, I can still use my
ghost-ring sights effectively. However, in dense bushveld I
sometimes struggle when the range exceeds 40m. When hunting with
open sights, accept the fact that they limit your shots and that you
might come home with empty hands at times.
Anyway, those who still have good eyes should accept the
challenge and give open sights a go. And if you have never used a
ghost-ring before, try it, its effectiveness will surprise you.