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Types of Gun Sights: The Most Common & Right One For You

Alice Jones Webb | Updated February 23, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
Rows of different sights on a wooden table

I know how important it is to find the right type of gun sight. 

If you choose the wrong one, all you’ll be getting is poor accuracy and misses when it counts. 

But don’t sweat it. 

Here, I’ll be going over every type of gun sight you’ll come across on the market and what each of them excels at. 

In no time, you’ll know which ones are right for you and which ones you don’t need to waste time thinking about.

For specific scope recommendations after reading this see our post on the best holographic sights of 2024.

Key Takeaways

  • Selecting the right gun sight is absolutely important, but the common choice for most people might not be the right one for you.
  • Each gun sight is designed with a specific purpose and shooting style in mind.
  • Choose the right gun sight for your preferences and shooting needs.

The Different Types of Gun Sights

Open Sights/Iron Sights

A person holding a pistol with iron sights

I find iron sights – also known as open sights – to be the most basic type of gun sight. It’s also the most common. They usually consist of a front post and a rear notch, which you align to aim at your target. 

I particularly like the increased sight picture you get with these sights, but wind corrections and precise alignment can be challenging.

Iron sights, while simple, require practice to master them.

Peep Sights

Peep sights on a gun

Peep sights are another variation of iron sights. What you’d do is look through a small hole in the rear sight and center the front sight on the target. The sight radius is longer in peep sights, which helps improve accuracy.

Fiber Optic Sights

Fiber optic sights use brightly colored fibers to create a visible sight picture. I find these helpful in low-light situations, although they do not glow like tritium does.

That said, these sights work great for fast target acquisition, are superior to iron sights in accuracy (even at longer ranges), and work better in bright light than night sights.

Essentially, these are upgraded iron sights that glow.

“If you can’t handle a gun properly, hang it up over the fireplace empty.”

Robert Fuller

Reflex Sights

Hand holding a pistol with a reflex sight

Reflex sights are great for fast target acquisition with both eyes open. The illuminated reticle really makes aiming easier in different lighting conditions, and it’s best suited for short-range applications.

Red Dot Sights

Side view and sight picture of a red dot on a rifle

Red dot sights also use an illumination reticle that provides a clear aiming point for targeting. These sights do not have magnification, making them ideal for close-range shooting as well.

Think quick tactical shots.

Laser Sights

Quite a simple concept, laser sights project a laser beam onto the target. I find these sights especially useful for low-light conditions. Green lasers tend to be more visible than red lasers.

Holographic Sights

EOTech holographic sight and a sight picture in the corner

Holographic sights are similar to reflex sights, but they use laser-generated reticles in combination with holographic technology instead of just standard illumination. 

So, what you end up with is a reticle that looks like it’s on the same plane level as the target. I find it convenient that they can also co-witness with iron sights if necessary. It doesn’t retain any magnification, but it does pair really well with magnifiers.

Telescopic “Scopes”

Vortex telescopic scope mounted on a rail

Telescopic sights, or scopes, are used for close to long-range shooting. They offer magnification, precision, and adjustments for windage and elevation. 

With these scopes, you’ll find tons of different options that can do the job at any distance you may need, whether that’s 100 yards or 1 mile away. Typically, I use the duplex reticle in rifle scopes. Simple, straightforward, and great for hunting.

Thermal and Night Vision

ATN ThOR 4 thermal scope mounted on a gun

These sights are designed for low-light or nighttime use. Thermal sights detect heat signatures, while night vision sights amplify the existing light

Depending on the application and budget, these sights can be quite useful for specific shooting scenarios.

Fun Fact

Hunters are the biggest direct supporters of wildlife preservation, funding a range of programs by paying billions of dollars in excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and other hunting-related equipment, as stipulated in the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. Source: littlbug.com

Which Is the Right One for You?

When it comes to choosing the right gun sight for me, I consider a few key factors: application, budget, and shooting preferences

For example, if I’m mainly using my firearm for long-range shooting, I might opt for a high-quality scope. However, if my primary focus is home defense, a red dot sight or holographic sight could be a better fit.

Budget plays a role too. Mid-range scopes can offer good value, while high-end options can be a considerable investment. Be sure to keep in mind that sometimes you get what you pay for.

Zeroing in on a sight also depends on how much practice you’re willing to put in. Iron sights require more skill and practice, while electronic sights can offer faster target acquisition and easier use.

Ultimately, the right gun sight for you depends on your personal preferences and shooting goals. I highly recommend exploring different options and finding what works best for your individual needs before making huge investments in one type of sight.

“When the first armies were formed, combat took courage, which women share equally with men, and strength, which we do not. But though I am only 4 feet 7 inches tall, with a gun in my hand I am the equal of a soldier who’s 6 feet 7 – perhaps even at a slight advantage, as I make a smaller target.”

Ruth Westheimer

Types of Open Sights

Now, let’s clear up some confusion you might have.

Open sights, sometimes called “iron sights,” are standard tools you’ll find on firearms for accurate shooting. 

Typically, there are two main types: notch sights and peep or aperture sights.

Notch sight and peep sight side by side

Notch sights consist of a rear sight and a front post, and aligning these helps the shooter aim. Peep sights have a circular rear aperture which naturally centers the front sight, providing increased precision. 

Both types require a keen eye and steady hand, but they can significantly enhance your shooting accuracy once you’ve mastered them. Choosing between them boils down to personal preference and what the situation requires.

Types of Red Dot Sights

Red dot sights are an exceptional aiming tool, mainly used for rapid target acquisition

They generally fall into two categories: exposed and tube sights.

Vortex reflex sight and tube red dot sight side by side

Exposed sights, or mini reflex sights, have an LED projected onto a lens, giving you an aiming point. They’re compact and excellent for handguns. 

Tube sights, on the other hand, are more akin to traditional scopes but with an illuminated reticle. They often have protective housing and can handle more robust environments.

Both types offer unlimited eye relief and can significantly improve shooting speed and accuracy, especially in dynamic situations.

Check out more of the differences between these two optics and another sight commonly compared to them, the holographic sight:

For more reading see our article on reflex vs holo sights.


What does iron sight mean?

Iron sight refers to a simple sighting system on firearms. It involves aligning a front post with a rear notch to aim at the target accurately.

What are the different sights for guns?

There are various different sights for guns, including iron sights, reflex sights, holographic sights, red dot sights, thermal scopes, night vision scopes, and telescopic sights. Each type offers different aiming advantages.

What is the most common gun sight?

The most common gun sight is the iron sight, as it’s found on most firearms. It’s simple, reliable, and doesn’t require batteries or electronics.

What are the different types of rear sights?

The two main different types of rear sights you can find are notch sights and aperture (peep) sights. Notch sights have a V-shaped or U-shaped cut, while aperture sights have a small hole.

What are the two types of sights?

The two primary types of sights are open sights and closed sights. Open sights consist of a front post and a rear notch, while closed sights enclose the aiming elements.

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