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Old April 3, 2015, 05:16 PM   #1
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Mastering irons before optics?

For a while now, I've held a pretty firm belief that a shooter must learn to shoot with irons first and learn how to shoot with irons well, before graduating on to use optics.

However, there are times where I wonder "what exactly constitutes shooting well with irons?"

Does this mean shooting off hand and creating solid groups at 100 yards or more? Is it simply hitting the target off hand or at the bench?

There is no doubt that the use of irons is a fundamental skill every shooter must know how to do, but I'm wondering whether or not I'm helping myself or hurting my progress by not allowing myself to use optics at all until I'm satisfied with how well I shoot with irons.

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Old April 3, 2015, 05:23 PM   #2
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People used to worry about such things with manual and automatic transmissions. The thinking was that folks needed to learn 1st on a manual before using an automatic. I don't think it matters especially if you're talking about rifles. Optics do everything better, so why handicap yourself is my thought on the issue.

I can see enough negatives with optics on handguns in that they are far less concealable to be an issue.
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Old April 3, 2015, 05:57 PM   #3
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There is no doubt that the use of irons is a fundamental skill every shooter must know how to do
According to whom? If someone wants to become proficient with irons, good for them, but if someone can meet all their needs with optics, I don't see why they need to somehow graduate from irons first.
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Old April 3, 2015, 07:19 PM   #4
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there will always be those who will marginalize fundamental skills by saying.. eh, they are simply not needed in this instance. I think it is a perfect example of static thinking as opposed to a more dynamic view of fundamental skills as part of a overall process. Its the same kind of thinking that lends itself toward the idea that since google exists, people dont need to learn as much. I disagree with the idea that people should focus on minimal skill, minimal learning, minimal preparation, minimal experience. I think a person should learn how to properly use irons before they begin to rely on scopes. I think a person should be able to field strip and clean a firearm before they begin shooting it.
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Old April 3, 2015, 09:25 PM   #5
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For rifles, I am not sure why one needs to come before the other. If you were going by an incremental scale of difficulty, the logical choice would be to go with optics before irons, and probably low mag optics at that.

People often learn to drive better if they first learn with an automatic and get the mechanics of driving down before being burdened with the complexities of driving a stick.
"If you look through your scope and see your shoe, aim higher."
-- said to me by my 11 year old daughter before going out for hogs 8/13/2011
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Old April 3, 2015, 11:21 PM   #6
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People often learn to drive better if they first learn with an automatic and get the mechanics of driving down before being burdened with the complexities of driving a stick.
At first I had to laugh at this, because if the car is not moving then there is nothing you can learn except to turn on the engine. (LOL)

But to not belittle this, they are two DIFFERENT skill sets. While each has things in common they are two different and unique. (my first car was a manual transmission, 1955 Ford, my second an automatic 1962 Chevy)

The same is true of using irons or scopes on rifles. Pistols I would never use a scope on since the distances are so much shorter.

While some may think that shooting with a scope might be easier it is not. You will have to take into consideration, magnification, distance (since scopes are zeroed at a set distance), mirage, wind drift, first focal plane or second, amount of light available. While shooting with irons may seem less complicate, you have less view of your target (unless you are really close in), less view of the effects of wind drift, less accurate ranging of how far away your target is, greater acceptance of larger MOA's of your groups and in some cases less light or definition of the target you are shooting at.

Both are different SKILL sets and should be learned by every shooter, as to which is better is like asking someone if they like Apple pie or Blueberry pie. Me I like Blueberry but that's just me maybe you like Apple.

However I will never turn down either one or the other pies.

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Old April 4, 2015, 08:03 AM   #7
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Like Jim243 says, two different skills. I personally think both are valuable to know. A shooter who has a good grasp of how to shoot well with irons can probably pick up a scoped rifle and get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Having said that, the majority of my rifles have been iron sighted. Either by choice, design or to comply with competition rules. Right now the only scoped rifle I have is a Ruger 10/22. In all honesty I need to practice with it more, as I find seeing my unsteadiness magnified to be a bit freaky. Last time I had it out I was actually able to shoot better offhand groups with my iron sighted M4gery.

So both require practice to retain familiarity in my experience. It's just different kinds of practice.
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Old April 4, 2015, 09:03 AM   #8
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Iron sights do have one advantage. They are less likely to break. Sort of like a manual transmission versus an automatic transmission.
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Old April 4, 2015, 09:37 AM   #9
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Without well developed shooting skills, nothing else matters.
The chosen equipment is less important.
That's why rimfires with open sights have historically been so popular.
They provide the least complicated and expensive way to learn.
But use whatever you have.
It's the practice and training that counts most, not the gear.

As to what constitutes shooting well,
A hard question to answer.
That all depends on what you expect from yourself.
Hunting accuracy or Olympic accuracy?
Slow and deliberate or fast and effective?
Only you can decide how good you need to be for your interests and needs.
And, of course, the amount of effort you're willing to put into it.
Lock the doors, they're coming in the windows.
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Old April 4, 2015, 10:34 AM   #10
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OP - Just wondering if you are thinking in terms of one rifle; as in "I must learn to shoot this rifle with iron sights BEFORE I put optics on it"?

You should be working with both systems if possible.

For real kicks, take all sights off and build that skill also.
A lack of planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an emergency on my part.
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Old April 4, 2015, 11:29 AM   #11
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I learned both in parallel. I find that a few rounds a week works better than several hundred rounds once a month.

I also learned that having two of the same rifles one with irons and one with optics requires less ammo than constantly swapping back and forth. At $0.50-$1.00 per round you quickly pay for that second rifle. Especially if you shoot more than 30-40 times per year like I do.
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Old April 5, 2015, 07:00 PM   #12
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If anything I'd go the other way. A low powered scope or red dot is easier to line up on a target than irons, and allows new shooters to focus on breath and trigger control.
With quality optics/mounts the chances of failure are basically nil, so i just don't see a point on forcing it.
I learned to shoot on irons because that's what I had, but I don't think there was any particular advantage doing it that way.
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Old April 5, 2015, 09:53 PM   #13
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This argument has been going on a long time. Probably started shortly after the first optic was mounted on a firearm...

There is a degree of aptness to the standard /automatic transmission analogy, but modern technology has lessened the completeness of the match.

"Back in the day" people were taught to use a manual transmission, first, because, it was, after all the "standard" transmission. And the odds were extremely high that in an emergency, any vehicle they might need to use would have a manual transmission.

The same for iron sights. Odds were (a virtual certainty at one time) any gun they needed to use would have iron sights on it.

The other way this applies is that for both the manual transmission and iron sights, the user has to do something, correctly, in order for them to work. Clutch/gas, front/rear sight alignment, you have to do something right, for things to work right.

Automatic transmission and a scope, you do one thing (put it in drive, look through the optic) and away you go.

Today, we have shooters who have never used (or needed) iron sights (or a manual transmission!). It boggles my mind. Also have even seen POLICE who did not know how to operate (safely unload) a revolver! Tech is wonderful, but learning the "old school" stuff still has benefits.

I think beginners should learn to use iron sights, first. Not master class skill, but understand how they work, and how to use them. Then move on to optics. And while I understand about how good today's optics are, there are still things that can keep them from working for you.

Knowing how to use iron sights might not be a skill you think you need, and it is possible you won't ever need it. But, if things happen just the right way, you will need that skill, and need it badly.

Its NOT an either or situation. One should learn how to use both. If you are an optics only shooter, no need to learn all the minutia of iron sights, but you should know the basics of how to use them. Just in case.
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Old April 19, 2015, 05:16 PM   #14
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As a rifle instructor, my concern would be that someone who relies exclusively upon optics would suddenly experience a serious degradation of practical skillset if the optic lost power, became damaged or lost its zero and they weren't able to run the gun effectively without them.

I see optics as being a good way to enhance the use of existing skills and abilities, but it's still important to be able effectively run it with irons.

This reminds me of the problem faced by some martial arts instructors regarding training with weapons first, or after a student attains a certain level of skill unarmed.

Well, what's the most pressing need for imparting whichever skillset?
Retired LE - firearms instructor & armorer
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Old April 19, 2015, 05:23 PM   #15
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I grew up irons only and the switch (addition) of optics on some of my more recent rifles has been easy.
I am not so sure that if I'd grown up staring through a scope that I would be able to make the transition to lining up tiny irons against a tiny distant target as easily.

I see the auto/manual analogy, but what about that darn column shifting technology? That crap just baffled me....
I'm right about the metric system 3/4 of the time.
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