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Gunfighter Moment – Frank Proctor

Back up Iron Sights

I wanted to share my thoughts based on my experiences regarding back up iron sights. In short I think they are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and many shooters hinder their rifles capabilities just to have them on the gun.

I’ve spent a lot of time behind an M-4 or AR-15 in a lot of different environments, combat, competition, training etc., and have also done so in the company of many other shooters. In all that time I have not seen a primary optic fail and a back up iron sight become necessary. Not saying it can’t happen, but I haven’t seen it; here’s what I have seen: many shooters who have back up iron sights on their rifles hinder their ability to shoot the rifle well and operate the things they WILL use just to have BUIS on the rifle. Many shooters with magnified optics on the gun will have to mount the optic forward on the receiver because the rear BUIS is in the way. That causes a problem with eye relief and most shooters will collapse the stock to get the correct eye relief and view through their scope. Collapsed stocks are not a better way to shoot a rifle. I’ve written several articles and have several videos about the subject of shooting the RIFLE with the stock extended for better control.

The next problem is where to mount lights and lasers so that they are accessible and still have a front BUIS. It can be a challenge. If a shooter is going to work at night they WILL need the flashlight and or laser, they MIGHT (once again never seen it happen) need the BUIS. As a Green Beret and a shooter I made a decision based on experience to stop fighting with BUIS problems and I don’t run them on my rifles. I have found it much easier to operate the rifle with he stock extended and without the BUIS I can mount every magnified optic I’ve seen and have a shootable, maneuverable RIFLE and use the optic with the correct eye relief. I’ve also found that it is much easier mount all my lights and lasers in very usable positions on the rail without BUIS interference. These are my thoughts based on my experiences and observations. Think about these when you are setting up your rifle and hopefully you end up with a really shootable rifle!

Take a look at the attached pictures:

Picture 006

The one on the ATV was my first SF deployment to Afghanistan. Based on the mission and I chose to run an ACOG over a red dot. You can tell in the pic that I had a rear BUIS on the rifle and had to mount the optic forward and collapse the stock; I also was just like other shooters and thought that the stock was supposed be collapsed because it was cool etc. I didn’t know enough about shooting then!

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The picture out in the desert was my last SF deployment to Iraq. You can see the stock is extended, the Elcan Spectre DR 1-4 was mounted all the way back and no BUIS. The Spectre DR was a great solution to everything I might encounter from working in urban areas to open terrain. You’ll also notice the rifle has a longer free float rail, a CMC trigger, more ergonomically correct pistol grip and some other items that offered increased performance and solid reliability. In the time between these 2 deployments I got involved in competitive shooting and learned a lot more about shooting and how to set up my gear to be more effective! You’ll notice I have plenty of room on the rail for my flashlight and laser to go anywhere I needed them to be. You’ll probably notice there’s not a laser currently on the rifle. My TTP was to keep my LA-5/PEQ15 (laaaaaaaser) and NODS together, when I put on NODS, I put on the LA-5/PEQ15. The LA-5 was super easy to zero without shooting also.

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The other picture you see of how my current rifles are set shows continued development as a shooter. A common them is they all have variable power scopes either 1-4 or 1-6. I have found that I can do everything I can do with a red dot with a variable power scope on 1x but when targets get small, are at distance or are hard to see……the 4x or 6x really shines and a red dot can’t give you the same capability. My current philosophy is ;if I’m going to put an optic on my rifle and add weight and spend money, its’ going to be a 1- something variable optic. Well that’s all I’ve got for now, I hope you all enjoyed this article. Take care and I wish you the best in your shooting!

-Frank Proctor

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Frank Proctor has served over 18 years in the military, the last 11 of those in US Army Special Forces. During his multiple combat tours in Afghanistan & Iraq he had the privilege to serve with and learn from many seasoned veteran Special Forces Operators so their combined years of knowledge and experience has helped him to become a better operator & instructor. While serving as an instructor at the Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course he was drawn to competitive shooting. He has since earned the USPSA Grand Master ranking in the Limited Division and Master ranking in the IDPA Stock Service Pistol division. He learned a great deal from shooting in competition and this has helped him to become to become a better tactical shooter. Frank is one of the few individuals able to bring the experiences of U.S. Army Special Forces, Competitive Shooting, and Veteran Instructor to every class.

All this experience combines to make Frank Proctor a well-rounded shooter and instructor capable of helping you to achieve your goal of becoming a better shooter.

Gunfighter Moment is a weekly feature brought to you by Bravo Company USA. Bravo Company is home of the Gunfighters, and each week they bring us a different trainer to offer some words of wisdom.

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53 Responses to “Gunfighter Moment – Frank Proctor”

  1. Paul McCain says:

    Frank makes a lot of great points, but I still can’t help but think it’s better to have and not need, then need and not have. This is one of those debates that will simply never end.

    • Dellis says:

      Right.

      My first real carbine class I went to I was told to remove everything on my rifle but iron sights. It was drilled into my head that my Aimpoint was (as are all scopes/red dots) a luxury tool and that they will fail. Your BUIS will always be there, short of operator error, as in not properly attaching them.

      So that whole day it was nothing but iron sights, how to zero and engage targets from 15 yards to 100.

      So now I read this, and it’s not like Frank is a slouch or some Youtube commando, he has been there and done that and I have loads of respect for that man and follow his advice a great deal but this has me scratchin my cranium, I reckon it comes down to “What works best for you” eh?

      All my rifles have some sort of scope or red dot but all have BUIS…but then again the only rail mounted items I add are lights. No magnifiers, no lasers or range finders….nor any NVG…I’m just a civi so I can’t see any need for NVG.

    • Dan says:

      I agree with Paul – everything is a trade off. I’ve seen red dots go down plenty of times at LE rifle qualifications. We don’t use 1x? magnified optics because if we have to engage at ranges farther than 200m, we’re getting in vehicles and driving up. Patrol rifles get knocked around a lot – if it has a battery it will fail eventually and likely at the worst possible time. Something else BUIS do is confirm zero close enough for field expedient government work should an optic get taken off or get loosened up.
      If I used 1×4 or 1×6 and laser, I’d give consideration to Mr. Proctor’s article but for as long as I’m carrying a SBR patrol rifle with red dot, I’ll keep my BUIS.

    • Tungsten says:

      The article says “if it messes up your basics better don’t use it.”
      It does not, in any way, contradict “it’s better to have and not need, then need and not have.”

  2. jbgleason says:

    Heresy!!! Get the torches and pitchforks out.

  3. john smith says:

    A few of my guys switched to AP Micro’s a few years ago and we had some range day failures with them (I think it was the risers they were using (?) Either way, it was the first failure of a primary optic that I had ever seen….that said….it only takes one. I am partial to having a good second option but I’m sure thats because my base of experience starts back when electronics were never to be completely trusted… Thanks for the perspective.

  4. John M says:

    I’ve had a red dot go down, not once, but twice. The second time was during a multi day class in another state. A) my back up sights got me through the day until I could switch to my backup rifle B) after doing so much shooting with my irons, I rolled with them the next day as well, just because I felt confident with them and much preferred my primary rifle to my backup.

    Do all my AR15s have backup sights? No. But anecdotally, they’ve come in handy for me twice, so they aren’t just dead weight.

    I do agree with you Frank that when it comes to variable power optics, eye relief and ergonomics take precedence over BUIS.

    • bob says:

      John, what kind of red dot did you have go down on you?

    • Drew says:

      I’ve seen many EOTech’s (big surprise) go down over the years on our mk18’s. I think it mostly had to do with the battery orientation/compartment. I never had issues with my aimpoint though, but because guys had issues with their EOtechs we always maintained and trained with BUIS. I just translated that to my personal rifles, but recently realized if I have a 1-NX scope, I don’t need BUIS.

  5. Patrick Bateman says:

    My glass fogs up when leaving a/c to hot and humid outsides. My irons don’t. Until I figure out that issue, I’ll have to keep them on. Are there perhaps any good applications I can put on them?

  6. Chuck says:

    Finally someone speaks the truth.

    At $200+ a pair, there is a lot of interest to keep that “it’s nice to …” and “you never know …” going.

    I used to have a bunch of KAC BUIS that cost me over $3K. Sold them and get a couple of more Aimpoint T1s to carry as backup.

    There are effective solutions to foggy or dirty lens.

  7. Wider says:

    I know one common situation where optics fail – it´s rain. When your red dot or ACOG lenses get wet, it´s impossible to take proper aim. Wiping them every minute is doable on the range, but not on the patrol outside the wire. I tried to apply some water repellent stuff (“liquid wiper” I use on vehicle´ s my front window), it works a bit.
    Last time we were on the range on rainy autumn day, we got to take off all optics and use iron sights, because our Aimpoints, Trijicons, Eotechs etc. got so drained we couldn´t aim properly. They worked, but we just did not see anything through them.

    • Ben says:

      You don’t need to be able to see through an aim point/eothech in order to use them properly. Just open both of your eyes when shooting. Thought that was common knowledge; guess not

      • Wider says:

        You are a ninja dude:-)

        • Paul J says:

          Ben is right. You can actually use every kind of sighting system both eyes open. And if you believe this is bullshit, there are optics were you can’t see through like the OEG.

      • Tim says:

        And depending on your eyes you may experience phoria and significant POI shift even at 25 yards.

    • DAN III says:

      Wider,

      I’m a recent convert to the ACOG, a 2x, TA-47. I mounted it on the carry handle of my ARmalite SBR. The TA-47 mount has a sight channel running through the mount allowing use of irons if need be. Your rain-on-lense scenario appears to be a moot point with the ACOG setup I describe.

      Thoughts ?

      • Tony says:

        You have no cheek weld with that set-up. If you do have a consistent cheek weld with any carry handle mounted optic I would be impressed.

  8. Red says:

    I have to say I really like BUIS on my carbine, but that’s my personal preference.

    I have been running an Aimpoint for quite some time, and get two advantages out of having co-witnesses irons:
    1.) I have Astigmatism, so I do not see a crisp dot. (It’s rather bad with the T1s, but not so bad with the CompM4 with Killflash.) So for a precision shot, I would flip up the rear BUIS, which let’s me see a crisp dot.
    2.) I had a training experience, where we were working in bad light, so I had my Aimpoint brightness turned down quite a bit. When someone decided to use a flashlight on the target area, I could not see my dot. Therefore now when dailing down my brighness, I always flip up my BUIS, just in case there is a sudden change in ligh conditions. (Of course that’s not a problem with optics where one has a reticle.)

    However, I am now in the process of switching to a 1-6 scope. One thing I am going to try out for that are BUIS on top of the rings, which are available from the German manufacturer Recknagel on their ERA-TAC line. I really like that idea, because it gives me back up irons where I do not have to remove the optic and that do not use any rail space. I am a bit sceptical though, on how it will work with just a minimal distance (from ring to ring) between front and rear sight, but I guess you never know until you try it…

  9. dan phillips says:

    I am a huge fan of redundancy. With the advent of super low profile BUIS such as the magpul PRO, and spikes tactical sites, they sit low enough to get under your variable optic. Offset BUIS are another option.

  10. Joe says:

    Great article. Hard to argue with your points and your exstensive experience. I have had and seen multiple failures of EOTECH’s and seen BUIS used because either the optic or batterys were dead, or the mounts had shaken loose. My current fix is to run the rear BUIS forward of the optic with the 0-200 aperture set, and the front BUIS at the forward most point on the rail. I then have approximately 14″ of uninterrupted rail to run whatever I need on my Rifle.

  11. P.J. says:

    I see a good bit of self fulfilling prophesy in this area. Guys too cheap to buy a quality optic buy one that’s “just as good” to save $200, then put $200+ buis on. Sure enough they get plenty of use out of the buis.

    Not that quality optics can’t and haven’t failed, but I agree that it’s not worth sacrificing proper employment (or quality) of your primary sight to add buis.

    • SamHill says:

      I have seen this a lot as well. Guys with 1-2k rifles and $50 red dot sights. Yes, they need backup sights.

      My acog never runs out of batteries, and my MRO has been running on “3” since the day I got it. I’ll change the battery every 2 years and be fine with that. I still have some BUIS on there, but that’s just because I have been strongly advised over and over to use them. I do not really think BUIS are always needed.

  12. Tzintzuntzan says:

    If the lens fogs then you won’t see through your scope or red dot. Not much of that in arid countries but in some areas of the world it can happen. It doesn’t happen all the time it is dependent on the weather or the dew point that day. I’d personally just leave them on if I was headed to an area with high precipitation or humidity. Otherwise a good aimpoint and mount should be “bulletproof” but obviously in a methaphorical sense and not ballisticly.

  13. mike says:

    I learned the importance of back up irons because of a crap company called eotech. After my 552 took a dump and I was left in middle of no where with flip up irons. I will never not have back up iron sights on a primary rifle after that. I understand the issue with sights on scoped rifles though. I have a couple where I can not raise the rear sight with the scope on the rifle. To address this issue I have the optics on quick detach mounts. So if I ever did need to switch to an irons only rifle because the optic was damaged to the point it was unusable I could do so in a few seconds.

  14. John C says:

    With quality ultra low profile BUIS sights like the Bobro Lowrider that weigh only a few OZs and fit under even a low mounted scope why not run them?

  15. Bill says:

    One of our guys had showed up for quals yesterday with a dead battery in his RDS. It shouldn’t have happened; he should have been checking and replacing the battery routinely, but the only thing that got him through his quals were the BUIS.

    Fortunately it happened on the range and not the road.

  16. SLG says:

    I don’t think there is a correct answer to this issue. I currently and for some time now, run a NF scope as primary, and a T1/2 as backup. No irons. If an Aimpoint is my primary, then I run BUIS – no brainer. I have seen Aimpoints, Eotechs and ACOG’s all fail on the range or on an operation. An ATPAIL can make a nice tertiary backup, but I have never seen a NF scope fail, and it seems unlikely to me that both my optics will fail at the same time. Regardless of how good NF scopes are, I would never run a long gun without a back up sighting system. I learned on irons, but today a T2 makes more sense to me.

  17. CAP says:

    The irony is that on the last picture, there’s plenty of room on all three of those rifles for a micro buis under the scope…

  18. Billy says:

    While I certainly discount nothing Frank offers in the article, I keep coming back to the thought that unless downrange as a contractor, where is a civilain going to need a 4x or 6x power optic to engage hostiles in the 50 States or Territories?

    Now if in 3 Gun or some other gaming scenario, sure.

    Knowing how to use a 1-4 or 1-6 optic is advantageous and should be a basic skill. But, I’d wager that 99.9% of the variable optic using public has no idea how to set magnification for human pupil dilation in low light conditions, let alone range a target.

    But, I know of no defensive situation where any law abiding citizen can engage a hostile at the ranges where the 4x or 6x shines. It might even be problematic for an LEO to engage at these distances unless specifically trained and authorized to engage a specific target by higher command authority. Unless of course, imminent loss of innocent life is an immediate factor.

    Interestingly, Vickers recently published commentary regarding using a 1x, red dot sight on his some of his AR rifles mostly due to societal and legal reasons.

    If 1-4x or 1-6x does it for you, GFI. But, the political and legal winds that blow today, don’t bode well for “self defense” shots out to the ranges optimum for 4x and 6x magnification.

    It comes back to the basic premise, “train like you fight, and fight like you trained”.

    Sadly, today, we must be very conscious and choose wisely, the tools we carry (EDC) and use to defend ourselves, our loved ones and property.

    And I like my Trijicon AccuPoint 1-4×24 and my RM06. Both reside permanently on a rifle.

    • Bm says:

      How well can you identify a threat at a given range? Thus the need for magnification.

      • P.J. says:

        This. If you read Vickers commentary on the Short Dot he talks about the lessons from Mogadishu and the need for proper target identification even within 100 yards.

        • Billy says:

          Mogadishu? Not a word about that event here in Vickers’ latest “Gunfighter Moment”.
          https://soldiersystems.net/2016/07/23/gunfighter-moment-larry-vickers-48/

          Vickers states, “On my primary BCM training carbine I use an Aimpoint Micro instead of a magnified optic. I have BCM rifles setup with variable power optics but I have weighed the pros and cons and for me a red dot makes more sense.”

          I have to believe his training rifle is also his EDC in the back of his truck. I don’t know.

          He further states, “If you honestly believe any realistic shot will be within 100 meters then a good red dot sight will most likely do fine. If you expect to take shots beyond 100 meters and those shots are morally and legally justifiable then a 1-4 or 1-6 magnified optic has real merit.”

          You’d should interpret Vickers’ 100+y shot comment as your defense attorney successfully selling it to a jury.

          I’m in the Vickers’ camp on this one for my home defense carbine optic.

          • Mr.E.G. says:

            I don’t disagree with you, but consider this. I will in all likelihood never use my rifle against a person. If I ever had to do so, it would probably be within 100 yards. But I own a rifle in case things go so bad that I do have to engage a human target outside of pistol ranges, and if such an “end of civilization” scenario were to ever happen, as incredibly unlikely as it may be, then the legal concerns you mention are either secondary or nonexistent.

            Now, I’m just playing devils advocate. I rarely use an optic of any kind.

          • P.J. says:

            http://www.vickerstactical.com/short-dot.html

            As an aside if your self defense claim hinges on what kind of optic you had mounted on your rifle you’re already screwed.

    • Chris says:

      The average hallway length in new schools being built in my area reach well to the 100-200 yard range. The average length of a discount warehouse? 300-400 yards. Being able to PID a threat at range or, if necessary, take a precision shot during an active assailant incident is paramount for LE and responsibly armed citizens.

      Could I hit minute-of-bad guy at 200 yards with an aimpoint? Sure! Would I much rather be able to obtain a solid shooting platform, dial in, PID the threat and take a much more precise shot? Absolutely.

      • Billy says:

        And as a civilian, you can legally carry your long gun with any optic into a new school with 100-200 yard long hallways or at big box warehouse/stores?

        Citizens enjoy concealed carry and open carry handgun (in most counties) laws in my state. But, no jurisdiction allows/permits the open carry of a long gun in a school. Many retail big box stores lawfully ban the carry of concealed handguns on their premises. Sad, but true.

        I think we get wrapped around the axle with the desire to carry kit similar to our active duty days. As a civilian, that simply isn’t legally defensible in most jurisdictions. LE is going to call you out pretty dog gone fast if kitted up as such.

        In today’s 2A storm where political and legal headwinds are fierce for gun rights advocates, I don’t think I’d bank my freedom and rights on taking a that long range shot.

        Of course, if the bad guy shoots first, all bets are off. But, looking at recently released FBI statistics (2003-2013) for LEO assaults, except for the five officers assaulted in 2013 ambushes, injuries and fatalities from long range engagements are nonexistent. So, as a civilian, unless you are specifically hunted/targeted at long range by a bad guy, I think you have a better chance of winning a big Powerball then needing a carbine with a 1-4 or 1-6 optic on your EDC (every day carbine) AND actually needing high magnification for ID or engaging. I simply do not know if any such long range (100+y) bad guy engagements upon a civilian in the US. There might be a few cases, but they do not pop up in a NCIC search.

        Frankly, I advocate use the optic your most comfortable using. Taking the 100+y shot as a civilian, you’d better have plenty of witnesses behind your table, regardless of the circumstances.

      • Bill says:

        In malls, schools, cruise ships and a number of other environments finding ranges in excess of 100 yards is possible, and for those of us working in rural areas they are routine. That said, I use a RDS basically because it’s what I have the most training behind.

  19. Mark says:

    Two is one. One is none.

  20. Kevin says:

    If you are a three-gun guy, do whatever you want.
    If you’re going to combat, you better have back up sights.
    Saying you have never seen a sight go down is very narrow point of view.
    In 26 years of SOF I have never seen someone take off their laser only to put it on when they put on their NVGs, but apparently it happens.
    Back up iron sights were born from the cut-down carry handle to allow co-witness of the original Aimpoint. Still extremely valid, but the options are way better now. Makes it too easy to cover down on a possible optic failure.
    I agree with Mark…Two is one, one is none.

  21. Chand says:

    Frank Proctor is a gamer. He also looks like he’s over 6′ 2″ tall. For guys who are shorter, I would shorten the length of pull to a size more comfortable so you don’t have to run around with your upper body constantly bladed to the side.

    What surprises me is that he has an adjustable stock on his rifle in the first place. Heck, he should just run an A2 stock on his carbine if he wants a long length of pull. No better yet, the Choate E2 super-long stock with the Choate extended butt pad would be the best choice for him. Oh and he should also wear a plate carrier with the thickest plates possible all the time because that would push the rifle out away from his body even further. He needs to get with the program and get those 10′ long arms out there.

    No actually better yet, he should put his rifle on the tip of a javelin and pull the trigger with a really long candy cane. I kid.

    Gamers don’t need a BUIS, because if their precious gamer optics go down mid-stage, they can grab another gun from their dorky rolling gun strollers. They also get a chance to shoot the stage over sometimes with an alibi if their gun goes down.

    Not so much in the real world. Yeah I know he was SF and all. But I’m pretty sure while he was in the teams that his Team Sergeant kept him in check with his gamer-rific ideas.

    Oh, and the ELCAN Spectre DR has a built-in BUIS. It’s right on top of the optic. So this no-BUIS assertion in picture #2 is pure irony.

    • Tim says:

      What was the point of all the length-of-pull comedy? Do you want to explain your opinions about stock length and blading vs squaring off, or do you just want to make fun of peoples’ opinions without offering one of your own?

      As for the real world there are a lot of SOF guys shooting guns without BUIS, sometimes even with the dreaded Eotech. I’m firmly in the BUIS-whenever-possible camp but pretending that BUIS are mandatory to be a “real world” operator is not intellectually honest.

      Also laughing a little at the gamer hate. What, did one of them bang your wife or something?

  22. Whit says:

    IMHO, anything electronic or battery powered will fail. Optics will go bad – I had a scope fail on me once.

    If I’m staking my life on a weapon, I’m going to have a backup iron sights if my red dot fails.

    I was taught years ago, “Two is one. One is none.”

  23. Mr.E.G. says:

    I’ve just learned to remove all sights from my gun and just sort of gold my thumb up at the end of the rifle to aim. Problem solved.