The Different Types of Rifle Sights and When to Use Them

No matter what type of you hunting you do like to do, it’s imperative that you learn how to use your sights correctly. Accurate shots are a necessity for making a kill, and just importantly, for making a clean kill. A shot that’s even a few inches off target can lead to unnecessary suffering for the game animals and perhaps a lengthy pursuit for you. Below are some of the most common types of rifle sights and the types of environments that you’re most likely to use them.

Open Sights 

Also called iron rifle sights, the is the classic sight setup that has been around since the rifle was invented. There’s a rear sight on the rifle’s receiver that consists of some sort of window for you to look through; sometimes it’s a notch in a rectangle, other times its a ring. The point is that you look through the rear sight to see the front sight located at the end of the rifle barrel. The front sight is usually a narrow pin that needs to be lined up with the target.

These types of sights provide no magnification and can be difficult to use in low light. However, their simple design allows you to keep both eyes open while using them. They don’t need batteries to function and are incredibly durable, making them popular with hunters that desire a low maintenance rifle.

Dot Sights

Dot rifle sights work by projecting a small laser beam onto a piece of glass or clear plastic (complete breakdown here). This dot functions similarly to the front pin on the open sights design – put the dot over the target and take the shot.

Their biggest advantage is that, just like the open sights, they provide no magnification and you can keep both eyes open while using them. They also allow for quicker target acquisition as the eyes have an easier time focusing on a bright light over the target than lining up a dull piece of metal to it. They do require batteries to function, so it’s always a good idea to keep a spare at the ready when using a dot sight. Commonly know as red dot sights, they relatively are easy to use but you would benefit from reading up about them first. I recommend you check out ShrewdHunter’s Red dot scope guide for more info.

Laser Sight

You’ve probably seen these used in the movies, where a sniper hundreds of meters away puts a little red dot on his target’s chest. In actuality, the laser sights functionality is quite limited. They’re not commonly used for hunting because the laser isn’t very visible in strong lighting or at much of a distance. They’re much better suited for indoor use. You’ll occasionally see them attached to a varmint rifle where the distances are shorter and hunting can take place closer to dusk.

Telescopic Sights

More commonly referred to as a rifle scope, these are the most popular type of sights for hunting. They look like a small tube attached to the top of the rifle’s receiver and provide anywhere between 1.5 and 80 times magnification, which makes them incredibly useful for long distance shots.To use a rifle scope it’s necessary to close your non-dominant eye and then look through the scope with the dominant one. What you’ll see is a highly magnified view of your environment where it can be can be somewhat difficult to find your target.

These are some of the features of telescopic sights that you’ll need to take into consideration based on your hunting style.


This is the whole point of using a rifle scope, so it’s also the first thing you should consider when buying one. Many novice hunters will choose a scope with high magnification, thinking bigger is always better. Experienced hunters know that you should always buy the scope for the environment you intend to use it in though. If you’ll be shooting antelope across a vast open field, you might want more magnification. It will be harder to get on target as your field of view is quite limited, but that extra magnification can help when making a long shot. If you hunt dense forest though, stick with a lower magnification as the extra zoom won’t help you and it will take too long to get on target. If you’re not sure about the distances you’ll be hunting, it’s better to go with a lower powered scope.

Objective Lens

The objective lens constitutes the front section of the scope. A larger objective lens lets in more light, which means a brighter and clearer sight picture for you. Choose a larger one if you think you’ll be hunting in low light conditions like a dense forest. Keep your budget in mind though, scopes with larger objective lenses are pricier.


While you might not think the way your crosshairs come together in the sight picture is a big deal, it can change your hunting experience significantly. A number of scopes utilize a crosshair design where the lines thin as they reach the center; this helps to guide your eye toward the target without blotting out the animal. Others have a dot design where the dots represent minutes of angle, which can be used to compensate for wind and bullet drop on long range shots. If you’re someone that like to hunt late in the evening or in low light conditions, consider getting one with an illuminated reticle. They function similarly to a red dot sight, but with the advantage of magnification.

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Justin Archer
Hi, I'm Justin Archer a family man with 2 boys and a wife. I'm an outdoorsman who loves hunting, fishing, hiking and lots of other outdoor activities. I love testing new outdoor gear, learning new things and passing on the knowledge I have gained. Feel free to contact me anytime -

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