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Ghost Ring Pistol Sights

by James Tarr   |  July 16th, 2012 21

A ghost ring sight was originally designed to be used with long guns. It takes a front sight of your choice and pairs it with a very large aperture that fuzzes out or "ghosts" when you aim the gun.

As a result of a recent article I did for Handguns Magazine on upgrading Glocks, I ended up corresponding with a reader, and he sent me a picture of his personal carry gun.  He had replaced the factory sights with an aftermarket set he really liked.  I’m all for personalizing guns so they are easier to shoot (cars come with tilting steering wheels and adjustable seats for a reason), and factory plastic Glock sights leave a lot to be desired, but I was surprised to see that he had ghost ring sights on his pistol.  I didn’t even know they still made ghost ring sights for pistols.

 

I don’t know if Jeff Cooper coined the term “ghost ring”, but he popularized its use, and he advocated the use of ghost ring sights on shotguns and dangerous game bolt action rifles.  I read all about them during my formative years (when I was old enough to buy gun magazines, but not guns).

 

What’s a ghost ring sight?  Pair the front sight of your choice with an aperture rear, and not a small aperture, a large one.  An aperture so large that it fuzzes out, or “ghosts”, when you mount the gun to your shoulder.  You can still see the aperture, but the focus is on the front sight (as it should be).  As your face is pressed to the stock, the ghost ring rear sight is fixed in its relation to your eye, so the only thing you actually have to “aim” is the front sight.

 

Currently I own a Remington 870 equipped with ghost ring sights, as well as a Winchester ’94 that for years has been my “truck gun”.  The sighting system works well on long guns designed to do most of their work well inside 150 yards.  On a lever action .30-30 they’re a good choice, but personally I think the sights are busier than you need for a shotgun, unless you’re going to be predominantly shooting slugs.  That said, it works–I went pheasant hunting in Iowa with that 870, and had no problems hitting the birds.

 

Ghost ring pistol sights hit the market about twenty years or so ago.  A number of different companies made them, and marketed them toward both the concealed carry and the competition shooting crowd.  Whatever buzz there was about ghost ring pistols sights died out pretty quickly, and I stopped seeing them on competition guns well over a decade ago, which is why I was surprised to find out that a few companies still made them.

 

I carry a gun every day, and shoot pistol competitions regularly, and will use whatever works.  I don’t have ghost ring sights on any of my pistols, and I will tell you why.

 

First, it is called a ghost ring because the design was originally for long guns, when the large rear aperture was close enough to your eye to fuzz out. That is not the case when you mount that big ring on the back of a pistol. That big rear aperture is out there, busying up the sight picture and drawing your eye away from the front sight.

 

Proper sighting technique involves focusing on the front sight, not the rear. The design of a ghost ring sight tends to draw the eye to it, because it is bigger and closer to the eye. Yes, I know all rear sights on pistols are bigger and closer to the eye than front sights, but for some reason the ghost ring designs (maybe because they have an arch over the top?) are harder to look past/through.

 

This looking past/through sights is also an issue. I am not going to get into a discussion of point shooting versus aimed fire using the sights, but a lot of quick and dirty shooting involves muscle memory and looking over the top of the gun—seeing the sights, but not necessarily looking through them. The more naturally your gun points for you, the easier it is for you to hit what you’re aiming at quickly. Gun design also helps here as well—the flat top of a Glock almost acts as a sight in its own right, drawing the eye down the gun toward the target. A ghost ring rear sight tends to inhibit looking over and down the sights to the target on quick shots.

 

If you think I’m making that last point up, that the taller top of a ghost ring rear sight tends to slow down close range “pointed rather than aimed” fire, I’ve observed the same thing at competitions when comparing iron-sighted pistols to those mounting red dot sights. Red dot sights on pistols are, all things being equal, quicker, because instead of lining up the front sight with the rear sight with the target, you just put the red dot on the target and go. However, when engaging full-size silhouettes at distances so close you’re just basically looking over the top of the gun (4 yards and in), red-dot-sighted guns are slightly slower—because the sight body itself prevents you from looking down the length of the gun.

 

No two people are the same, and I’m sure there are people out there who, for whatever reason, may find they can shoot better or faster with a ghost ring sights on their pistol.  Go for it.  You see something you like, that you think may help you, you should buy it and try it.

 

That said, for the majority of people, ghost ring sights are not faster than a traditional notch rear. While that is, yes, my opinion, I can support it with some evidence—if ghost ring pistol sights were faster, or even as fast as traditional sights, the people who shoot for a living would be using them.

 

Right now, I know of NO professional shooters who use pistols equipped with a ghost ring rear sight. When your paycheck is dependent on winning, you use what works, or at least (when it comes to paying sponsors) what won’t handicap you.

 

  • Aaron

    Many of the leo's I know use them on their blocks now. They all seem to like them.

    • dmdmx2

      I assume you meant to say Glocks instead of blocks? Well, I guess we'll see if they still like them after a few years. Only time will tell.

    • TGC

      Very true. This author is only addressing one sighting technique and one environmental factor for evaluating sighting systems. It does not surprise me at all that the "reader" has gun fighting rear aperture sights on his gun fighting pistol. I bet he has target grade sights on his target grade pistol!

      Leo's must train with all three sighting techniques in a multitude of environmental conditions, while under the influence of combat stress, while sighting/tracking moving targets while they are also moving. "Shootbetter" is definitely on the right track. For details on evaluating sighting systems for law enforcement use, listen to this. http://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/62916/on-amer

  • Shootbetter

    http://www.goshen-hexsite.com/pistols.php I like the way your article read and how you describe the "ghost" rear sight. Although the above link is to a hexagonal sight that is similiar to a ghost site only to a point. As described, the hexagonal shaped site creates angles that causes our eye to focus on the exact middle of the site. I found this site hard to use, having fired firearms for over 30 years using iron sights on pistols. But to my amazement, in my teachings, I have come across several new shooters who picked this concept up and shot extremely well, and much better than when they were using standard iron sights on pistols. I don’t know how the business (Goshen with Hexsite) is doing, but for a several shooters it has made them better.

  • Gobber

    "not going to get into a discussion of point shooting versus aimed fire using the sights, but a lot of quick and dirty shooting involves muscle memory and looking over the top of the gun"__….Aimed shooting is for target and competition. Under stress or threat your very likly not going to use "aimed" sighting. That radio link was very informative… more so than this author who admits he is a target/competitive shooter and not teaching or preaching from a life/death combat/self defense format which is far more more important. Aimed shooting on paper and competition is one thing. Defending yourself under threat and attack is another.

  • Craig Lawrence

    I have had Hexsites on my Glocks since the 90's now, and they do for pistols what red dot sights do for rifles. They allow you to look through the sight, maintaining target focus. Maintaining target focus is what your body wants to do under the stress of combat, and this is the only iron site that will allow you to do it. In a ghost ring, you have to judge the distance from the border of the circle in order to place the front site in the center. The shooter has to consciously and actively be engaged in sighting to do this- much the same process as with post and notch sites. The hexsite allow your subconscious to use instinctual vision to place the front site in the center of the hexagon- your brain draws the implied lines of the hex and naturally puts it there without it having to be in focus. When I compete in IDPA (where they let me) and Police combat leagues, I don't even remember seeing the sites or aiming. I maintain target focus and the site, in a very zen way does the rest. Far superior to ghost ring sites in my opinion.

  • Alan_T

    I am and always have been a proponent of whatever works and I'm sure there are those shooters that use ghost sights EXCLUSIVELY and …….. it works for them . The trouble comes in when they switch back and forth between types of sights .

    That being said , I believe Mr . Tarr is correct ( even if he does like " The Kingdom " better than '' Body Of Lies " ) when he says that most shooters are better served with regular iron sights .

    Oh ….. and by the way Mr . Tarr IS an LEO ( retired ? ) , so some of you like " Gobber " , don't know what you're talking about .

    • Wolvie

      I think you're right on point.

      The true Ghost Ring works on long arms because the rear sight is so close to the eye. I can't see why manufacturers think this would apply to handguns.

      A newer shooter "might" use them well, but on a handgun, even in the best of circumstances, you are giving up precision and blocking your sight picture with a larger sight (both front and rear).

  • Alan_T

    Wolvie , I'm " preaching to the choir " because I now that you already know this , but , if you get someone who's naturally gifted ( I'm not one of them , but I have encountered them ) , they can pick up just about anything and in a short span of time they can do well with it . In the past , I've seen people that can " hip shoot " ………. but most of us ( including me ) can't ………..
    ( Although I do suspect Jeepers Creepers / Jon D . Weatherspoon can , using a sawed off Barrett . 50 BMG equipped with a pistol grip ……..left handed ……….. with his eyes closed ………… and hitting his mark at 1200 yards ……….while arm – wrestling a Kodiak . Whatta man , Whatta Man ! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA )

  • Alan_T

    OR , you have a person who owns ONE handgun , say a Glock with ghost rings added to it and they practice , practice and then practice some more , AND that's ALL THEY SHOOT …….. they might get pretty damn good with it ……. maybe .

    That said , most people who do practice enough to become proficient …… also have more than one type of handgun , which just drop kicks that theory right off the back porch .

    • Wolvie

      And that, my friend, is precisely the point!

      Anyone who shoots a lot would do well to use more traditional sights that are more precise and translate to other firearms. Using Ghost Rings on handguns makes that translation more cumbersome, while still giving a less precise and more cluttered sight picture.

      Ghost Ring sights are good on short range carbines…great on shotguns…but I honestly can't see much use for them on handguns.

      They are a like an answer to a question that no one asked. A solution in search of a problem.

  • hornetfan

    I am something of a novice shooter having only started in about 1960. I have used various aperture sights including ghost rings on rifle/carbines, shotguns and pistols. Too many folks seem to focus on "the answer" e.g. what kind of sights work best rather than the important bit to my mind — "the question". The proper question seems to me to be how best to focus one's attention on the object which one desires to strike with the projectile regardless of the type of firearm. If you are focusing your attention on the sights rather than the target you better hope to hell that target cannot shoot back or you will be in trouble. You cannot miss fast enough to win a gunfight regardless of caliber.

    I tried Daisy's "Quick Skill" program and found it useful. have also found Goshen's Hexsites on a pistol to be useful as they disappear, allowing you to completely focus on the target rather than the sights. Target acquisition is faster and accuracy of the first round is improved. First round on target is what wins gunfights and cleanly kills game. Acquire the target and 'send it'. If the target is at 600 yards I prefer a US Optics 1.8-10x37mm scope. If the range is <150 yards the Hexsites seem to be quite quick and accurate.

    All the best —

  • Jugs

    First of all I guess I should start by saying I am an experienced competition shooter and an LEO. I am far from being a new shooter and I have Hexsites on my duty Glock 22.

    Recently I deployed my weapon in a high stress situation specifically 2 bad guys 1 girl 1:30am only street lights and flashlights and the girl had the gun. The girl had the gun. She was holdling the gun in her had in my direction, I found out later that she was holding it by the barrel, as I held lethal cover on her I was looking THROUGH my hexsites with them centered on her. The hexsites do not require focus on the front site but on the target with the sites super imposed on the target. This method of aiming allowed me to effectively maintain on target while being able to see the whole scene or the big picture. I was not focused on my front sight which saved her life. As I ordered her to put the gun down several times she failed to comply. My finger was on the trigger, the trigger safety was disengaged and the striker was being pulled back. I gave her her last warning which was drop the gun now. She dropped the gun and it discharged when it hit the ground. Moral of the story is had I been "focused" on the front sight as with blade and ghost rings I may have shot her simply because I would have heard the shot and not seen it. Being able to have my focus on the target allowed me to watch the gun fall from her hand and fire, in my direction, and therefore I knew it was an AD and not her shooting at me. I would say she owes her life to hex sites…which are not a ghost ring site and answer the question. I might add that after the gun discharged I noticed I was still sight aligned on her as I assessed for damage. Just my experience but maybe this helps.

    • CliffK

      Haha WTF is all this nonsense?
      Were you actually being serious?
      Allow me to point out the flaws in this “anecdote” (mostly because this story is exactly that).

      1. It doesn’t matter what kind of sight you have, it still won’t give you x-ray vision to see through your own gun at stuff that’s happening below it.
      In this case, it was viewing the gun she dropped on the ground.
      No sight on earth is going to give you 100% visibility all around the gun (and in this case, THROUGH the gun).

      2. For the sake of the previous point, this comes in second.
      It doesn’t matter how much visibility your sight has if you open both of your damn eyes!
      The other eye doesn’t have a pistol in front of it, blocking vision, leaving you an unrestricted view of what you’re pointing that gun at.
      Were you wearing an eyepatch?
      Is your non-dominant eye blind?
      Were you hiding behind your mom?
      If you can’t learn how to shoot a pistol with both eyes open, you’re a danger to all of the people you supposedly “protect” (of course, most LEO’s today only care about protecting themselves but that’s another discussion).
      Wow, the most basic lesson of all sight picture discipline, keep both eyes open, was completely lost on you.

      3. In a defensive scenario as you plotted out, you’re not going to be focusing on the front sight, you probably won’t even be focusing on the gun.
      You’ll be looking at the threat 100% and the gun should be instinctively trained on that threat WITHOUT the use of any sight.
      Long distance doesn’t really come into play in one of these “standoff” scenarios.

      4. You had time to order her to put the gun down several times, yet during this time you could not focus well enough to see that it was being held by the barrel.
      It makes me wonder if the situation would have played out any differently if she was holding a banana.
      Yet, with all of this confusion as to how she was holding this gun, you easily noticed that she dropped the gun on the ground, even so far as seeing that it discharged in your direction, due to magical “hex sights”.
      Seems like all the evidence is pointing to a work of fan-fiction, and we all know how those stories end up.
      For the well-being of the community you serve tickets and protect yourself at, I sure hope this is just a story and not an actual event that took place.
      We have enough Gestapo LEO copycats on the streets as it is.

      ………..in reference to pistol aperture sights in general……….
      Hex/ghost ring/aperture sights on a pistol are all just a gimmick.
      There is not enough focal distance between front and rear sight for the concept to work properly, unless you hold the gun close enough to allow the slide to smack you in the stupid face.
      On a rifle or shotgun, it’s a completely different ball game, but a pistol just doesn’t work.
      Trust me, I know, I used to ACTUALLY compete with pistols…I have a box full of gold medals from national championships and a USA shooting team jacket to prove it.
      They even sent me to Germany to compete on behalf of the US.
      Point is, we were limited to iron sights, and any sight that offered even a mote of improvement in target acquisition or sight picture clarity would be on every single competition pistol right this second.
      Honestly, these things have been around for decades, you’d think if they had any merit you’d see them on all sorts of pistols.
      All they really do is add more material to get in the way of your sight picture.
      Could a guy practice and train for the use of a hex/ghost ring/aperture pistol sight and do well?
      Well, I’m sure I could outshoot 90% of the country with one, so it would stand to reason another may do the same with enough practice.
      The device you use to align your gun with a target is only drop in the bucket compared to all of the other factors involved with making a good shot.
      The question that begs to be asked is this…If these sights are no better than traditional irons, even worse in fact, then why are you justifying the $100-150 price tag?
      It won’t make you a better shooter, it will hinder you in the long run, you’ll be out $100+, and you’ll be known as “one of THOSE guys” to people who know better.

      Just classify these types of sights as what they are…tactifool innovations…and find something else to spend your money on.

  • Craig

    Jugs, I had a similar experience in not seeing the sites with my G19 that had Hexsites on it. I was on a street corner conducting an interview in a not-so-nice neighborhood in Chicago when a full bottle of beer brushed past my nose and broke at my feet. I crossed the street at a low ready and saw a guy sitting on a porch with a 6 pack. The guy stood up, palmed a bottle of beer and was walking towards me while preparing for an overhead throw with the beer bottle. As I closed the distance on him I had target focus on his forehead, but don't remember even using the sites. Seeing that he was somewhat inebriated, I just instinctively rushed to close the distance on him and punched his forehead with the muzzle. He stumbled, and I gave him two more strikes with the muzzle and as he was going down on the last strike my front sight opened up his forehead. That put an end to the confrontation. It wasn't tactically the most savvy move to literally put my muzzle into his forehead, but because of the open rear aperture hex I was able to see everything and I felt that putting a bullet in his head for being a drunk idiot might have caused some to scrutinize it as a bad shoot. Bottom line is I don't even remember using the sites, even though my front site was clearly aligned between his eyes. It allowed me to maintain target focus under a time of extreme stress when a split second decision needed to be made.

  • Ken in Dallas

    Does anyone have a source for a nice pistol ghost ring rear sight? I backtracked to a dead end on the picture that was with Mr.Tarr's article and haven't found anything good after a number of hours searching the Internet.
    Any help appreciated —

    • Guested

      Hey Ken (& to whomever else it may concern) AmeriGlo sells a NIGHT SIGHT ghost ring set for Glocks and a couple other pistols which is where I first heard of ghost rings on a pistol. That being said I figured a ghost ring on a bedside pistol would be good for quick target acquisition and the close quarters of checking your house for what in the hell was that "bump." Never heard of the Hex till now and it does seem more effective then just a circle so now instead of the AmeriGlo version I might just get a Hex rear and tritium dot front and see how it does. Thanks guys!

    • daniel

      RAPS Rear Aperture Pistol Sight. Google it. East to install, easy to use. I love it on my Glock 19 with an XS big Dot night sight on front. Very accurate. Easy to install, and cheap.

  • Shutster

    This type of sight is better for older shooters. As your eyes mature they take longer to adjust and acquire the target and front sight. The ghost ring sight lets you pick up on the target quicker.

  • mbrosch

    I can think of lots of people who are trying to put Goast Ring sights on a pistol. Well actually a revolver. Why would they do that? Becuz a peep sight is an excellent sight to use on a carbine, and my S&W .460 is nothing if not a small carbine.
    I hate to say this because I know of so many people who will think I’m due to go back to rehab if I do, but not all handguns are used for competition, or even for self-defense. I know it’s hard to believe some of use prefer to hunt with a hand gun- and hunt big game at that- but now that the big magnums are here it’s more than a dream that a 200 yard revolver shot on a Mule Deer is actually a sporting and humane reality, providing your firearm doesn’t have silly target pistol sights.
    So guess whut boys and girls, V sights or peeps with itty bitty white post in front, well they are back!

  • Ken Kjer

    I can think of one good reason. I had to have artificial lenses because I was going blind from cataracts. The artificial lenses gave me back perfect sight at a distance, but I need strong reading glasses, With the reading glasses I have to use, I see the sights on a handgun fine, but nothing beyond the end of the barrel. With a ghost ring for some reason I do not need my reading glasses and can concentrate on the front sight and still see the target. I have ghost ring sites on every single one of my handguns, including one being installed on my Taurus Judge with a 3 inch barrel.

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