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Ghost Rings

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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.

In 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.

Today 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.

With 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 spares box).

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.

When 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.

I 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.

Koos 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 youth.

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.

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