Standard open sights found on most rifles and handguns do a pretty darn good job. These sights are usually a combination of a post of some sort for the front sight and an open-notch rear sight, and shooters have used them for hundreds of years. Sure, there’ve been a lot of changes over the years to the shapes and sizes of the sights, but the basic concept and form have stayed remarkably consistent.
Open sights, also known as iron sights, have a lot going for them. They tend to be more rugged and durable than any other form of sight, such as a scope or optical sight or even most commercial receiver or peep sights. Iron sights can be very compact, which can be of great value on handguns that will be carried concealed. In addition, in their simplest form, they are inexpensive compared to virtually any other type of sight. Consequently, you’ll find them on most rifles and handguns.
On the negative side of the ledger, iron sights can be more difficult to see clearly and use properly than most scopes or optical sights. This can be especially true for older shooters like me. As we age, it becomes harder for our eyes to adjust quickly as we try to focus on the front or rear sights. It can also become harder for senior shooters to pick up, or even find, the front sight when shooting quickly.
This is especially important because the front sight is far and away the most important sight on the gun. Years ago, an old Army sergeant I knew made the point that there were only three things you should keep in mind and focus on when shooting in a stressful situation. They were front sight, front sight, and front sight. If you can’t find your front sight, you’ll never be able to make a good shot.
While it just makes sense to change over from iron sights to a scope, electronic-dot sight, or laser on some guns, it isn’t as practical or as desirable on many other guns. And there’s also the expense to consider. In tough economic times when you may need to watch every penny, it can be tough to shell out a lot of bucks for sights that in some cases can cost as much as the gun.
Fortunately, there is a way to make iron sights more visible that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and you can do it right in your own shop. Basically, I’m talking about painting your sights. Paint is inexpensive, and you can easily experiment and customize your sights by trying the various color options until you find the ones that fit your needs the best. I’ve used a variety of different types of paints, ranging from nail polish to paints for plastic model kits. These all worked to a degree and were definitely better than a poke with a sharp stick, but they were less than ideal. Most of these paints were simply too dull, and many didn’t stick to the metal all that well.
But there is hope. The good folks at Truglo offer two paint kits specifically designed for application to iron sights. The colors are very bright, and the paint is designed to provide the maximum adhesion to a steel surface. In addition, the Truglo products are available in both a standard paint kit and in a kit that actually glows in the dark. These kits make customizing your sights super simple, and using them is well within the capabilities of virtually any gun owner.
Before I get into actually using these paints, it’s important to understand that like chocolate cookies, you can have too much of a good thing. You want your sights to have enough color contrast to be seen easily and show up against the target. One of the problems of black sights is that when used against a black or darkened target, you sometimes just lose the sight. You can’t tell where the sight ends and the target begins.
Sure, I understand that if you have a black front-sight post superimposed over the white or tan color of a bullseye or silhouette target it’ll show up pretty well. But if you move the post on up into the black bullseye, you may have problems seeing it.
That’s one place where a contrasting color can be helpful. But too much contrast can be just as bad. You could coat your sights with high-gloss white paint, and you would surely be able to see them, but out on the range with lots of bright sunlight, you can often get a heck of a lot of glare. There can be so much glare that it’s literally impossible to determine exactly where the top of your front sight is located. All you’ll see out there on your front sight is fuzzy white glare.
Determining the optimal color for your particular application will often take some experimentation and a trip or two to the range. For many shooters, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; any excuse to head for the range is a good one.
With sights, you need visibility as well as definition. The Glo-Bright kits from Truglo will give you just that. Truglo currently offers two kits, the Bright Sight and the Ghost Glow kits. The Bright Sight kit contains a cleaner and small jars of red, white, green, orange, and yellow paints. The Ghost Glow kit has containers of green, orange, and yellow paint as well as light activators for these three colors. And yes, the Ghost Glow paints really do glow in the dark after a brief exposure to a light source.
Applying The Paint
The basic application technique is pretty darn simple. You first remove any gun oil, grease, and dirt from the sight. You can do this with the cleaner provided in the kit or with alcohol and a cotton swab. Once the surface has been cleaned, let it dry for a few minutes.
Then select the color you want to try. Shake the selected container for a few minutes to mix the paint. If you’re using the regular Bright Sight paint on a dot front or rear sight, you can use a toothpick to dip into the paint and then apply a drop to the existing dot. You can add paint to make the dot larger or to change its position a bit.
If you’re working with a plain post or blade sight, you can use a small artist’s bush to apply the paint. Once you have it on, just let it set up and dry for about 24 hours. Then you’re in business and ready for the range.
The Ghost Glow paints are very similar in how they are used. Here, you have three colors plus three colored light activators. The application process is basically the same except that you mix two drops of the Ghost Glow light activator with one drop of the regular sight paint.
Keep in mind that you can vary colors and shades by mixing the various basic colors. There is no rule as to what color or shade of color you should or must use. If you like it and it works for you, then that’s great!
While you can color just your front sight, you also have the option of working with your rear sight as well. If you have a white-outline rear sight on a handgun, for example, you can change that white outline to green, orange, yellow, etc. You can even make the outline glow in the dark. You can put dots or bars on it. You are limited only by your imagination and willingness to experiment.
By the way, the individual containers hold about 1 ounce of paint. That may not sound like much, but I would tend to believe that unless you are doing something very unusual or you are darn sloppy, you’ll have enough paint for a lifetime. The paint kits retail for about $25 for the Ghost Glow light-activated kit and about $15 for the standard Bright Sight kit. Both are available from many retailers as well as gunsmith suppliers. If your local dealer carries Truglo products, he can probably get these kits for you if you just ask.
One note of caution about sights: You can get so creative that it becomes counter productive, especially with a personal-protection firearm. Don’t make your sights so “busy” or distracting that if you have to use the gun in a life-or-death situation, you spend critical time lining up dots, bars, or other sighting gizmos. You want to see your front sight, but you also want to shoot quickly and accurately.
Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!