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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Many (most? all?) guns from way back have sights that are very thin. For example I was handling an old Marlin 1895 at a gunshow this past weekend and the front sight looked like a single piece of paper turned edgewise on the end of the barrel. Old Colts show this same feature, mostly. Why was this case with so many guns from 100+ years ago?
 

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I don’t know why, but I will certainly second your observation. I have a pair of 100+ year old Army Special revolvers, and the front sight blades are paper thin. They’re accurate shooters, though, and I suppose that’s what counts.
 

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My eyes are quatsch but I really like the sights on my prewar OM revolvers. I actually shoot well with them.
Certainly not 100 year old paper thin but far from modern patridge and wide white dot moderns.
Interesting observation OP.
In a similar vein, early cars had minimalist tail lights.
Maybe in part as a nod to style but I always figured it was an intellectual assumption like, "a signal is a signal, get on the ball and pay attention".
 

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Many (most? all?) guns from way back have sights that are very thin. For example I was handling an old Marlin 1895 at a gunshow this past weekend and the front sight looked like a single piece of paper turned edgewise on the end of the barrel. Old Colts show this same feature, mostly. Why was this case with so many guns from 100+ years ago?
This is a great question and I feel all of us have wondered why revolvers (working type) of the mid to late 1800s had such small sights. I know I have wondered about this since the mid 1960s when the "gun bug" stung me GOOD! Today, I still wonder why and here is my opinion........

During that period of time, most men that lived out side the cities and towns always carried some type firearm for protection and hunt food. For the most part, the rifle and shotgun were probably the most common to carry as it was ubiquitous for protection, food, "warning" for help, etc. Now, back to the revolver; it is smaller than both a rifle and shotgun and easier to carry being in a holster on the hip. My feeling is the revolvers of the day were very prevelent, but not to the point we see from Hollywod. The regular folks of the day just did not have the money to afford a Colt SAA revolver at $16-18 each. This was about 1 months pay! Think about going to your local gun shop and pay for a nice firearm that cost todays average of your months proceeds. Yes, some of us here can do this and most can't, so we wait until we save to buy that special firearm. Now with all the preliminary done, why the small sights........

My feeling was that most Old West folks were not "target shooters", just the regular rancher, cowpoke, or a townie. Firearms of the day were a "Tool" for uses stated above. The rifle and shotgun were most used for hunting, the revolver was more for protection. When the owner got his first handgun, he had to learn to shoot at close ranges rather than hunting ranges. By close, I mean about 20 feet and closer. The time to remove a revolver for protection adds up to how fast can you get the revoler out a pocket or most likely a holster. Once it is out of the holster, the heavy Hammer pull on these revolvers are not like the "lightened" actions of today, but they had a heavy pull on the hammer so when the trigger is pulled it has enough energy to ignite the primer of the day; yes the early ones had to have a "hard hit" to ignite the powder. The time from the holster to bring the revolver up to eye level, then get the sights aligned took too much time when a fast shot is needed. The folks of that day had to learn to draw from the holster, cock the hammer, and get it to waist level and fire. They had to practice this to learn what we call today "Point Shooting"!!!

Take a look at photos from post Civil War to the late 1880s of the Old West towns; most do not show everyone carrying a holstered revolver like Hollywood has indocternated into us. I feel the folks in those days were just like us today, they wanted a job to make money and live a nice happy life in whatever vocation they worked in. Yes, there were some "shootist" of the day but not as prevalent as again Hollywood shows us. Modernization is different today than in the Old West, but the people today are for the most part the same; honest hard working folks. There are those today that carry a firearm on their hip hidden away. do we use them often, NO, but we have it as a "just in case"! The same as the Old West! We practice with our CCW firearm so we will be ready if needed. If ever needed, you don't have time to take aim as you do shooting at a target, so you practice some "combat moves" to stop whatever is coming to you at a fast speed and close to you! Again, this is "point shooting".

To sum up what I mean is shooting in a "situation" requires speed and you are not target shooting. I use "point shooting" and don't need any sights. My carry firearms is a Ruger LCP and this sights just as well not need to have been put on. My other carry firearms is a Colt Combat Commander with set of Novak white dot sights. I don;t use those either! Today, many CCW firarms have minimal sights as at close ranges you don't have time to use them. I guess Colt felt the same way with the minimal sights of the day too!
 

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My opinion is that the front sights at that time were thin in order to more easily regulate the point if impact by bending the sight slightly left or right.

But the truth is, it could be that it was simply a result of the evolution of firearms themselves. There were somewhat significant differences in manufacturing variation, hand-fitting, and ammunition. As manufacturing precision has improved over the years, the need for individual fitting and adjustment have decreased.

After all, the firearm has gone from no sights, to a simple front bead sight, to a front/rear sight, all the way back to simple reflex sights to give the fastest target acquisition - and literally "everything in between".
 

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I suspect most people used the point shooting technique. Think about the old FBI shooting stance in photos from the 30's to the 60's. They were crouching with their sixgun out at waist level. Perhaps the sights were more of an afterthought.
 

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All sights were thin, instinctive shooting was not done with rifles. They didn't make a thin sight purposefully to be hard to see to assist rapid shooting. They made a thin sight because there was a perception that it was more accurate, more precise. Hunters didn't want to obscure the aiming point so wanted thin. Target shooters too, wanted to "put the ball on the post." They didn't want a giant post wider than the tiny dot of a distant bullseye. Actually, even today when I shoot long range target, I select a front post that is about the same width as the bull. If it's wider, it's hard to tell if the round bull is slightly left, or right. Your eye want's to naturally line things up, and thin works well. But they're not good for low light, and rapid acquisition. So hunters started using a gold or silver bead or blade. But pistols, even target ones, started appearing with wide notches that your eye can easily even up the white space on each side of the blade. Blades got wider.

Almost all guns except military ones had thin front sights. Little tiny bead sights were used on Colt target pistols too. Everything was thin up until the 1930s when gun writers and researchers started to realize you can be more accurate with a thicker blade and wider notch. Sight design was evolutionary. Nothing to do with "point shooting."
 

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All sights were thin, instinctive shooting was not done with Winchester and Sharps rifles. They didn't make a thin sight purposefully to be hard to see. They made a thin sight because there was a perception that it was more accurate, more precise. Almost all guns except military ones had thin front sights. Little tiny bead sights were used on Colt target pistols too. Everything was thin up until the 1930s when gun writers and researchers started to realize you can be more accurate with a thicker blade and wider notch. Sight design was evolutionary. Nothing to do with "point shooting."
Evolution is probably one important reason, but it could also be in the philosophy of shooting. If you look at early military magazine fed rifles, you will find a cut-off mechanism that blocks the magazine and, in effect, makes the rifle a single shot. The reason for that was to conserve ammo, and make the soldier know that every shot counts. Combat was more like target shooting than modern "keep lead in the air", and smaller sights will suffice for this. In some cases they may even be more accurate than modern "blocky" sights. With that said, I do indeed find it very difficult to aim with some old pistol sights but like somebody said: It may have something to do with the shooter's age as well. :rolleyes:
 

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Almost all guns except military ones had thin front sights.

Take a look at 1903 Springfield rifles...especially 1903A3's. Those thin blades might be good for the range but not for combat. Then again...fine shooting was a prime concern of the military at the time...and the '03 was and is a fine target rifle. It took the introduction of the M1 Garand with effective combat sights for the thought process behind what the rifle was actually intended for to change. Thicker front blades and a peep sight closer to the eye was the ticket. Thinner National Match sights were made for target shooting for the designated match rifles.
 
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I agree with Ab, very few people were concerned with precision accuracy back then. If you were shooting, it was predominantly close range and you just needed to put the barrel on target.

Even hunting, which far far more people had a rifle than had a revolver, they weren't trying to be fancy with their shot, they knew a deer didn't have to be hit perfect to bring it down.
 

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I agree with Ab, very few people were concerned with precision accuracy back then. If you were shooting, it was predominantly close range and you just needed to put the barrel on target.

Even hunting, which far far more people had a rifle than had a revolver, they weren't trying to be fancy with their shot, they knew a deer didn't have to be hit perfect to bring it down.
History doesn't agree with that statement. From the Minutemen who won battles by being more accurate than the British, through the Schuetzenfests when entire towns would close for a day of shooting, to turkey shoots and Sgt York, marksmanship was taken VERY seriously in frontier America. Many, many examples are in the books. Look up Creedmore, and how American riflemen were called to beat the Irish and British target shooters. Look up Camp Perry. Read about Wild Bill Hickock's accuracy. Our language, books, movies, and oral history are full of how an accurate shot was looked up to. Some were the "sports heroes" of the day, and target matches were written about in newspapers. We were, more than any other country, a "nation of riflemen". Meaning accurate shooters.

If a hunter wasn't a good shot in the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s, they wasted precious ammo and were considered a poor woodsman, soldier, man. Billy Dixon's "Shot of the Century" in 1874 is just one example of how accuracy was revered. Every hunter, from a boy with his .22 helping fill the family stewpot, to an old man at deer camp NEEDED to hit a game animal cleanly, or was ridiculed.

It's TODAY where people don't care about shooting skills, and follow the pray and spray method. Most people today haven't a clue how accurate our forefather's could shoot.
 

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Also, consider that the sights on percussion revolvers apparently were sighted for long range (75 yards or more).
 

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Finally dug deep enough to find this old target. It was shot with an 1873 Winchester in .38-40 with a like new bore. The sights were a Beaches front sight which was a two position sight. With the sight folded down you had a blade front sight, and with the sight raised you had a globe type sight with a very fine post with a tiny ball on it. The rear sight was a Winchester 62-A (no kin to the .22 rifle) which was a stamped steel tang sight with a tiny aperture. With the combination it was possible to put the tiny ball of the front sight exactly in the center of the target. (Also, my eyesight was much better then.)

The target was shot at 100 yards from bench rest with handloads. One was a semi-wadcutter pistol bullet not really intended to fire in a rifle and had to be loaded directly into the chamber. The other was using the Winchester 180 grain soft nose jacketed. Four of the wadcutters are in less than 1".

 

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All sights were thin, instinctive shooting was not done with rifles. They didn't make a thin sight purposefully to be hard to see to assist rapid shooting. They made a thin sight because there was a perception that it was more accurate, more precise. Hunters didn't want to obscure the aiming point so wanted thin. Target shooters too, wanted to "put the ball on the post." They didn't want a giant post wider than the tiny dot of a distant bullseye. Actually, even today when I shoot long range target, I select a front post that is about the same width as the bull. If it's wider, it's hard to tell if the round bull is slightly left, or right. Your eye want's to naturally line things up, and thin works well. But they're not good for low light, and rapid acquisition. So hunters started using a gold or silver bead or blade. But pistols, even target ones, started appearing with wide notches that your eye can easily even up the white space on each side of the blade. Blades got wider.

Almost all guns except military ones had thin front sights. Little tiny bead sights were used on Colt target pistols too. Everything was thin up until the 1930s when gun writers and researchers started to realize you can be more accurate with a thicker blade and wider notch. Sight design was evolutionary. Nothing to do with "point shooting."
I've been doing instinctive shooting w/rifles for a little over 60 yrs. When I lived in the Cave Creek area I used to hold classes once in awhile out @ Cowtown.
 

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History doesn't agree with that statement. From the Minutemen who won battles by being more accurate than the British, through the Schuetzenfests when entire towns would close for a day of shooting, to turkey shoots and Sgt York, marksmanship was taken VERY seriously in frontier America. Many, many examples are in the books. Look up Creedmore, and how American riflemen were called to beat the Irish and British target shooters. Look up Camp Perry. Read about Wild Bill Hickock's accuracy. Our language, books, movies, and oral history are full of how an accurate shot was looked up to. Some were the "sports heroes" of the day, and target matches were written about in newspapers. We were, more than any other country, a "nation of riflemen". Meaning accurate shooters.

If a hunter wasn't a good shot in the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s, they wasted precious ammo and were considered a poor woodsman, soldier, man. Billy Dixon's "Shot of the Century" in 1874 is just one example of how accuracy was revered. Every hunter, from a boy with his .22 helping fill the family stewpot, to an old man at deer camp NEEDED to hit a game animal cleanly, or was ridiculed.

It's TODAY where people don't care about shooting skills, and follow the pray and spray method. Most people today haven't a clue how accurate our forefather's could shoot.
I have to agree with "azshot" to the accuray some folks could get from old weapons, and there are exceptions to all rules. There were many well known, superb shooters with revolvers or rifles of the day. I was speaking of the average man, not some of the exceptions. Today, the average shooter is still not a "tackdriver" with a handgun, but we have today, shooters like Jim Martin, who IS one of the exceptions! Me, I consider myself one the "average" shooters.
 
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