The Joys (and Otherwise) of Aperture Sights
Rifle|January - February 2021
Still Useful After All These Years
Terry Wieland

It the tender age of 15, cherishing my first high-powered rifle and determined to be prepared for any eventuality that might arise when hunting deer, I found myself at the gun counter in Pilon Marine trying to explain to the salesman that I wanted to order a Williams 5D receiver sight for my spiffy Marlin 336.

The year was 1964, and hunters in my neck of the woods (the rather remote woods that comprises central Ontario, Canada) could be divided into two groups: The Avant Garde who could afford riflescopes, and others whose level of ballistic sophistication was so low that they used the primitive open sights that came on every factory rifle. These, they believed, were good at any range to the limit of their eyesight. For that matter, those who bought scopes and had them mounted in the store assumed that they, too, were sighted in. It’s a wonder anyone ever hit a deer at any range.

There was no way I could afford a scope, but I was a dedicated reader of hunting magazines and they all insisted that a good receiver (aperture) sight was almost the equal of a scope in most circumstances for most hunters, regardless of what the local gun dealer might say. It took some persuasion, but my salesman finally agreed to order one.

As it turned out, just having this exotic device on my 336 paid off, but not in the way someone might expect. Although I desperately wanted to go deer hunting, and it was legal for me to do so, my parents would allow it only if our deer-hunting friend, Clare Irwin, could be persuaded to take me. He was understandably hesitant, but asked to see my rifle. When he saw the Williams sight, he nodded approvingly. Clare being several cuts above the average hunter in our area, he had a Lyman tang sight on his ancient Winchester 94, and took the Williams 5D as evidence that I was serious about all this. That fall, I went deer hunting for the first time.

Thus was born, in a roundabout way, a lifelong interest in non-optical sights of all kinds – an interest shared by a wide range of enthusiasts that includes gun collectors, black-powder target shooters, Olympic competitors and the arcane substratum of the collecting world that dotes on mechanical gunsights. While the rest of the world chases the latest in glass, we cast our eyes back a century and more to an era when American inventiveness was at its height.

By the time I bought my Williams 5D, there were very few new receiver sights available, not just for the 336, but for any rifle. For years, Lyman sights had dominated the market, challenged by Redfield and, to a lesser extent, Williams, and that was about it. They were mostly similar – a base that attached to the receiver, with a platform that moved up and down in a dovetail. Both Lyman and Marble’s also offered traditional folding tang sights for such as the 94, 336 and Savage 99. Over the course of 50 years, however, from 1918 to 1968, the available models dwindled steadily as riflescopes and mounts improved and took over the market.

The one event that might have breathed new life into aperture sights was the introduction in 1967 of the single-shot Ruger No. 1 rifle. After all, fine single-shots had been the primary use of the elaborate and precise tang sights of the previous century. For whatever reason, however, Ruger designed its rifle without the long tang necessary to provide a solid base. From the beginning, it was intended for use with either a riflescope or the open sight on the barrel. Some years later, an aftermarket receiver sight became available, but it had its own problems.

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