When we were kids we were taught that open sights were very fast to use, much quicker than a scope, and actually ideal for “bush” shooting. The pundits claimed that scopes were fine for open country and long ranges but iron sights were easier to use in the bush and more durable than scopes. I used open sights for my early deer hunting and they were fine.
Then I got a good scope and found it to be noticeably superior to the open sights. I used scopes exclusively till I went to work in the Manganuiohau. There I found the frequently wet foliage or, heaven forbid, rain or snow, coated the lenses of my scope with water. I had tried several methods of keeping the lenses free of water. Scope caps were next to useless. The best system was to cut a fifty mil wide strip from a car inner tube and stretch it over the lenses like a big rubber band. Even this had its drawbacks. The first time you took it off the scope, water got all over it and, when you reinstalled it, the water trapped inside the band migrated onto the lenses making them blurry. I gave up the scope eventually and installed my backup aperture sight. That cured the water problem, you could just blow the offending moisture off the sight. I didn’t feel at all disadvantaged with that setup in those conditions but I found the low light in the bush made open sights very difficult to see. I found the open sights distinctly slower to use than a scope would have been.
The other problem with the open sights was it was more difficult to correctly identify your target. A flicker of movement could be a deer or it could be a flicker of movement. I found myself taking extra time in making sure that it was a deer and then more time again to align my sights on the deer's vitals. In other parts of the Urewera I was far more comfortable with a scope.
The open sights on my 30-30 were fine in open country of the South Island up to the effective range of the combination, about 150 yards.
The next time I used open sights was while hunting wild cattle on horseback. For continuous carry on a horse any rifle is a real pain. If you sling it over your shoulder it tries to break your back and kidneys, weaving your way through dense scrub is a recipe for disaster, and mounting and dismounting is awkward. The rifle should be in a scabbard. A local horseman, Kingi Neho, showed me his rig copied from the NZ cavalry of the South African war and WW1. The scabbard is tied to a D up near the pommel and straight down to the girth in front of the right knee. A scoped rifle simply doesn’t fit onto your horse when carried this way and I was concerned that there was a possibility of bending the scope which could result in a miss. That was unacceptable when you considered the potential for things to go pear shaped when tackling wild bulls. So back to the trusty Sako aperture which was built rock solid.
Another consideration was when making your shot you needed to be totally aware of what was going on around your intended target. Dogs or musterers may be where you didn’t expect them, you were on the trigger so you were responsible. The owner of the cattle, Uncle Nuk, was very relieved that I took over shooting duties from him.
The question of durability of a scope versus iron sights is an interesting one. The only scope failure I can recall was on my brother-in-law’s rifle while we were hunting in the Kaipo. The early model invariably fogged up so I gave him my rifle and used his one after taking the offending scope off. Fortunately, the rifle was fitted with the original open sights. We both got a deer that trip.
I’ve had the iron sights fail once. I had a job out at North Cape. I tried to avoid carrying a rifle while at work but this time I needed it for another job so I had my 30-30 along. Finished the job so started back for my vehicle. I had had a report of a cannabis cultivator staying at a derelict dwelling at Tokotoko. I decided to look for any sign of occupation on my way home. As I climbed down a steep kikuyu grass slope I slipped and dropped my rifle. It landed on a rock. Checking it, I noticed that the arm of the Lyman aperture sight had been bent down till it touched the receiver. I was in a bit of a pickle. I don’t like having a rifle when talking to people, I’ve had things get very tense in those situations, but now I had a rifle which may be useless to me. I couldn’t just abandon the rifle. I was very thankful that there was no one in occupation at the time.
Open sights certainly have their place but I would far prefer to see hunters using scopes on their rifles because the magnification helps significantly in identifying your target.
One caveat here. I hear some people comment that scopes can be used in low light, morning or evening. I have real difficulty accepting this as a virtue. I think that when the light gets low enough for you to need extra assistance in identifying whether something you see is either a person or a deer then it’s time to question your wisdom in taking a shot. While the animal may be plain enough, can you be sure there is no person in the vicinity? I have come back to camp often enough in the dark or semi dark and know the feeling that I hope no one is out for a last minute shot; everyone should be back in camp by now having their dinner.