Wonderful Contraptions


Tough ... and not so tough.

I don’t have much use for adjustable sights on a handgun. Now that’s not the same as saying adjustable handgun sights don’t have much use. They do. Adjustable handgun sights are wonderful little contraptions that add much to precision shooting. They are especially useful on things like target pistols, and big game hunting revolvers.

For handguns that live in the world of hard knocks, they’re considerably less wonderful. That said, let’s make sure I’m clear about one thing. I’m not talking about law enforcement work. I know absolutely nothing about such things, as I’ve never been one. But, back in my younger days I traveled the mountains and backcountry of Montana and Wyoming many hundreds, perhaps even thousands of miles on horseback. Much of that time I wore one or another type of revolver, because my haunts contained most of the lower 48’s grizzly population.

Short of sustained combat use, I doubt if there’s anything that will beat up a handgun more than that. Weather is the most pas-sive factor. Then there are things like branches snagging the sights, or being dumped by a horse and landing on it, or even the horse falling and rolling over you and the gun. I’ve had all that happen. Got the arthritis to prove it.

Before going on, though, let’s draw a line. Target sights are almost always referred to as adjustable sights, but there is a dif-ference. In my opinion all handgun sights are adjustable. I’ve never met a set I couldn’t adjust, albeit at times some effort is required. Target sights are meant to be screwdriver-adjustable, and almost always for both windage and elevation. And they also usually set up high and prominent. That’s how they should be for they are intended for precision shooting.


Istrive to have my “using” handguns well sighted in, and did so back in my younger days too. Often on checking them after returning from a trip — they weren’t. Sometimes, I had to remove debris from the sight blade just to shoot, but admittedly that’s more a problem with holster design than the sights. Still, all those sharp edges collected crud. Sometimes I would throw a stirrup over a saddle to tighten the cinch and it would flop back and whack my handgun — right on the rear sight.

By the late 1970s I began to smarten-up and carry fixed-sight handguns. And, I never did have one come “un-sighted-in” on me. Since these were Colt SAAs they usually didn’t start that way. I read in an old magazine article by Charles Askins, he used to sight in Border Patrol issue revolvers by bending the front sight, so I started to do the same to my Colt’s. If you don’t believe me just ask Clint Smith. He has a Colt .45 with pliers’ tracks on the front sight. I gave it to him as a present on our mutual birthday a few years back. And I’ll bet he’ll tell you it still hits right to point of aim too.

Speaking of Clint, in a year’s time he sees more handguns fired there at the school than anyone I know. Here’s what he says about the matter, “True adjustable sights, like older Bomars and S&W revolver sights are somewhat fragile and often a ‘box of razor blades’ to handle. Hard, drift-able sights are best and it’s a simple equation — the more parts on the gun the more stuff falls off while being worked hard in training or fighting. Adjustable cranks on them and moveable sights are forpeople who shoot different loads or tinker with ammo. Fixed-sights are truly best on fighting handguns and the more they are fixed, the better they are.”

Duke likes to collect twigs in the field.

Load Tinkerers

Here’s the main difference. If you’re a reloader, then adjustable is right for you. If you are a dedicated fixed-sight shooter, then you’ll have settled on a darn good load before ever worrying about the sights. Then you’ll sight that gun in and never change the load. Perhaps our High Editorship Himself will allow me a future column on sighting-in techniques for fixed-sight handguns. Heaven knows I’ve got enough of them around here.

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