Regulating express style iron sights on a dangerous game rifle


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Dec 13, 2014
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Over the last few years, I have acquired a few dangerous game rifles in various calibers (9.3x62, 375 H&H, 404 Jeffery, 450 Rigby). They all have low-powered scopes that are in detachable Talley rings, and they all have iron sights. The iron sights are all NECG Classic one leaf express sights with an island base (except the 450 Rigby which has a quarter rib base for the rear island)

The iron sights were never regulated as the gunsmith does not have the time to regulate each rear sight for each customers request which would, by necessity, have to take into account load variability and sight-in range variability. I completely understand that in a small custom shop. I know that there are shops that will offer that service (NECG for example) for a fee, and the cost of ammo, but I was wondering if anyone had any tips as to how to do this.

Larry Potterfield at Midway USA certainly makes it look easy with this video:

And I've found a fairly detailed article by a gunsmith that details how to undertake the process:

I've read, and re-read, this article several times, and it seems like a fairly straight forward process that requires a few simple tools, a basic understanding of the principles involved, and a lot of patience and restraint to not get into a big hurry. However, every time I get ready to perform the task on one of my rifles, I chicken out. I feel like it is an easy enough process for me to undertake, but I've said that before on other stuff, and regretted starting it.

My intention is to use the hand-loads that I have developed, or will develop, to sight in my rifle scopes, and then when I settle on my load of choice, regulate the irons. I have chosen 50 yds and 200 yds as the distance I will regulate the express rear sight, as well as the one leaf blade at, as they seem the most reasonable. Fifty yards, as that will allow for close-in shots, and there is no appreciable difference in drop between 50 and 100 yds. And then 200 yds because 1) one starts to see drop come into play, and 2) because, in my opinion, that would be the maximum possible distance that iron sights could most likely be used effectively.

From what I've read, the process is best done in the following steps:

1) Use the formula laid out in the above articles to calculate a starting point/depth for the rear sight vertical cut, leaving a little extra for final honing and polishing/finishing
2) Use a marking pencil, and scratch awl to mark the file depth
3) Make the initial vertical cut shallow with a screw-slot file to give an exact center guide
4) Widen the initial cut with a 3-square, fine file making sure to keep both sides equal and staying centered
5) Shoot the rifle at the intended ranges (50 yds) for regulation of both windage and elevation
6) Using the screw-slot file and 3-square file as above to finalize the regulation depth while leaving enough to account for final finishing
7) Back at home, make witness marks for windage, and then remove the rear sight
8) Place the rear sight in a vice with brass inserts to prevent marring of the sight bluing, as well as taping off any areas of the sight to prevent marring
9) Use a web-saw, or cant-saw file (120 deg chamfer on either side of midline) to make the v-shaped notch common on express sights
10) Wash, rinse, and repeat for the folding leaf (200 yd) sight
11) Use an emory cloth, india stone, etc., to finish hone and polish the filed rear sight
12) Degrease and use some Brownells Oxy-Phil cold bluing compound to re-blue the filed top of the rear sight

For the many excellent professional and amateur gunsmiths on this forum, does this sound about right? Again, this is the process I have gleaned from trying to read as many "how-to" articles as I can. Admittedly, there is not a lot of information on the subject out there....

And in advance, thanks to everyone for the advice....
I'm with you sandman. I've restrained myself over the years from adjusting iron sights on rifles. I have a Marlin 1895 in 45-70 that with its scope is very deadly. However, the iron sights are off a good bit and I am not confident that I could get them in line.
Sandman I will start with admitting that I have never performed this specific process.

However I would consider myself to be a fairly accomplished amateur smith. The steps you described are reasonable and move in a logical progression. Personally I would not hesitate to move forward. My best advice would be to make sure you use the perfect tool for every action and move SLOWLY. Make certain to think about where you are in the process all the way through to testing the first round before moving forward with any part of the process. You can always take more metal away but you can't put it back.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing how it works out.

Hi Sandman,

I regulated the sights on my 6.5x55. They are very similar sights to the ones Larry Potterfield used in the video except mine were made by Dakota arms. Getting the elevation right is easy. Where you have to be very VERY careful is filing out the "V". You can inadvertently go too deep when widening it and not even realize it. Then you would have to go get a new rear sight and start all over (ask me how I know.) It really isn't any different than adjusting adjustable rear sights, just instead of a screwdriver or an allen wrench, you are using a file and adjusting very slowly. I just got mine within an inch an a half of the bulls at 50 yards. It doesn't have any other leaves for further ranges. The rifle has a scope and the irons are simply there as an emergency if the scope breaks. Then I am just limited to a 100 yard shot. On a dangerous game rifle, they will likely only be used at short range so again, MOA accuracy isn't essential. If they will reasonably put the bullet where you want it at 50 yards. I will call it good. The only reason I could see to get them dead on is if the rifle was planned from the get-go to be an iron sighted express rifle. Then I would strain to get everything out of them.

Best of luck! It's itimidating taking a file to a rifle but you get more confidence the more you do it!
Chris G,

Your experience certainly sums up the process and what I felt like would be a reasonable approach. The main points being go slow, and leave the metal a little proud until verifying POI. I agree with the fact about "good enough". I will be completely happy if I can get POI within 2-3 inches of center, especially with the 200 yd zero. To be honest, I'd love it if the only blade I had was the standing leaf, but alas, I have 1 folding leaf as well.....and you know what they say when a fool has a hammer....

To your point about cutting/filing the shallow "V" for the express style sight, I have heard it said that it can be easy to deepen (lower) the rear sight more than intended, and before you know it, if one goes to fast or aggressively. I've also heard the sides or the wings of the V can be uneven as well. I saw in another forum this topic discussed where someone whose done this a few times on DG rifles suggested using a cant-saw, or web-saw file. They are hard to locate, but I managed to find a NOS Nicholson web-saw file on eBay. The cant-saw and web-saw files were made to sharpen cross-cut saws but just so happen to work well for this purpose. The web-saw file I purchased has a 120 bevel on either side of midline and on both sides. The cant-saw file has the 120 degree bevel on just one side and then something akin to a mill bastard file on the other. Either way, once you get the vertical depth cut and widened a little bit, it works well to finish off the V, and keeps the sides even. At least that's the theory......

I've done file work before for various small items on firearms, so I know how quickly you can go further than you intended.

And to the "ask me how I know"......I can relate......
Hello sandman0921,

Thanks for your post on this subject, it is excellent.
I like the clear and simple instructions, as well as the finished product, shown in Larry Potterfield's video.
The angle of the "V" is very shallow, just the way I prefer mine to end up like.
For regulating express sights, I'm however too lazy to remove the blade from my rifles.
I just clamp the whole rifle into a padded "rifle cradle" that, someone had made primarily of heavy lumber for rigidity and carpet scraps for padding (I bought it for only $ at a gun show).
This contraption goes with me to the rifle range when regulating sights by means of filing on them.

Likewise, I have an appropriate sized piece of leather, with a small hole cut about in the middle, for a sight blade to poke up through.
This I lay over the rifle, so I do not accidently bump it while filing on the blade.
There has been more than one rifle in my possession that, I had simply used a scrap of cardboard for this, prior to finally getting a suitable piece of leather.
It helps to fasten the leather (or cardboard) in place, with a couple of large rubber bands.

I always fire over any new express sight without filing it whatsoever.
I just rest my front bead in the middle and on top of the flat / unfiled rear blade, with a "6 : O' Clock hold" under the bull's eye to fire.
Also, specifically for sighting-in untried rifles, I always start at 25 yards, whether regulating "iron sights" or scope.
After sorting 25 yard shots to my satisfaction, and making the first very slightest cut into my rear sight blade, I then move my target out to whatever distance I want the standing blade to be regulated for.
Then begins the tedious (but very gratifying) process of shoot, file, shoot, file, etc.
Last but not least, I simply will not have a rifle without some sort of "iron sights" on it, whether this is the only sight arrangement (.458 Lott, .500 Jeffery, or any caliber double rifle I might own) or, even if it also has a scope on it ("normal" caliber repeaters and some single shots that, are not likely to smash the scope into my already not pretty face).

Velo Dog.
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Velo Dog and Chris G,

Thank you so much for all the wonderful tips, and coming from someone who has done this before, that means a bunch. That's the main thing I'm looking for, and that is to try and avoid simple but costly mistakes, and learn from someone who has been there and done that so to speak. At some point I'm going to have to crap or get off the pot, but the more information one has the better.....usually....

Velo Dog, I like the leather idea. I had read of someone using a piece of trimmed milk jug for the same purpose....

Again, thanks a bunch......
Four letters to remember - FORS


I almost posted the same thing........I can never remember which way to adjust each sight.....

Front Opposite Rear Same (FORS)

Go ahead and do it. It would drive me nuts knowing the irons aren't sighted in. The principles are simple. Just go slowly. And yes, I've done it.

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