Most shooters are well aware that proper alignment of the front and rear sight are key to shooting accurately with a rifle. But how do you get the best sight alignment? Is it to use the smallest rear aperture available and center the front sight post within it? While this method has its merit and is useful at times, I find that it is way over used and misused. It seems that many think or have been taught that they need to be using the smallest rear aperture possible in order to shoot accurately. What this belief often leads to is shooters squinting through a tinnier hole than necessary, trying to center the front post on a target they can hardly see. If using a front sight with only a post and nothing else, larger apertures are faster, and smaller ones may be needed for long range accuracy. However, if your sights have protective wings, the front post is not the only part of the front sight that can and should be used to align the sights. Most military style rifle front sights and even many commercial ones have some sort of protective wings or hood. In the best designed sights, these are not meant only for protection of the front sight post, but are also meant to assist in sight alignment. The military wing style front sight like that on an M-1 Garand, M-14 or M-16 rifle uses the wings to curve out to the inside edge of the rear aperture when the top of the sight post is centered. When using the smallest possible aperture, you can only see the post so the wings can’t assist in the alignment. The military post and wings sight picture is very familiar to most military veterans and I’m sure they remember that visual image.
Hooded front sights sometimes make the best sight pictures of all with the hood around the front sight post forming an aperture that fits perfectly within the rear sight aperture. So you have a post within a circle within another circle. I personally think this is the best arrangement. Nothing is simpler than a circle within a circle for ease of alignment in every direction. Another variation of this is a semi-hooded front sight, often referred to as HK style even though HK sights are often complete hoods. Many aftermarket AR-15 sights have this arrangement such as those by Troy, Midwest Industries, Yankee Hill Machine, LWRC and many more. Some AK-47 sights with rear apertures also use this design.
When using the wings and hoods to help align the sights a larger rear aperture size can be employed. Since you’re centering the whole front sight assembly in the rear aperture instead of just the post, you can center it very precisely while using a larger rear aperture. This has several advantages. It is easier to see the sight picture and the target since you’re looking through a larger hole. More light gets to your eye through that larger rear aperture, so the front sight and target will appear brighter. This is an easy enough concept to understand, but it goes farther than just the size of the hole. There is light distortion around the edges of a sight, so when looking through an aperture, light does not pass through it very well around the edges. Only through the very middle does a full amount of light pass through. This means on a small aperture there is normally only a very tiny part in the center getting full light to your eye. With a larger rear aperture, the area of undistorted light is larger allowing you to see the whole front sight with full light and less distortion. To see this for yourself, take a rear aperture sight alone and hold it up against a light background like a white wall or the sky where there is enough light and you will see a distorted, darker area around the edges of the inside of the aperture and a small hole within that which is brighter where full light is passing through.
For these reasons, I recommend using a front sight design with wings or preferably a hood or semi-hood and using a larger rear aperture for aiming when possible. This will make your whole view of the front sight and target brighter and more appealing. Plus, if shooting in a tactical scenario or a 3-gun match, this has the added benefit of less tunnel vision and better view of the target area. If you have a rear sight with a large and small aperture, a good arrangement is a smaller one that the front hood just fits perfectly within and a larger aperture that allows some light between it and the front hood for faster, close range shooting. Using this method, you’ll find that you can see your sights and targets better, there will be less eye fatigue and less squinting and your accuracy will not suffer. Give it a try and see what you think.