Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Have you ever seen such a sight in your life?

Photo by Oleg Volk.

Behold, the Buffington rear sight of the Springfield M1903, an intricate steel tribute to the Camp Perry mafia.

Just what every Doughboy wants atop his rifle in a muddy trench: A frickin' slide rule that should come with an instructional DVD. Or you can leave the rear sight flat and try and align that teeny nick of a battlesight (see it? it's on the slide facing you,) with the shark-fin razor blade front and try and guesstimate hold-under @ 100, (which is measured in feet, by the way.) Is it any wonder that so many Springfield front blades show signs of attention with a file and a bottle of cold blue?

The receiver-mounted aperture sights on the M1903A3 and the M1917 "Eddystone" are so much more useful it's not even funny.


Paul said...

Why, yes I have. Sight similar was on older military arms. Like the one my grandaddy carried in Russia and the Phillipines. My GrandDad was part of the US military command that built a large portion of the Sibeian Railway for Russis prior to WWI.

og said...

I have a Remington 1917, badly bubbaed, two groove, Iron perfect but stock fugly, that has a dark, pitted bore but which shoots wonderfully. Yes, the sights on that 1917 are in almost every way superior to the original Springers. I heep thinking about getting fresh wood for it, and wringing on a nice barrel- but I've also seen that action turned into a loverly 416 Rigby, which also appeals to me. Lord protect me from my WECSOG projects.

Chas S. Clifton said...

It's a lovely thing, isn't it. It speaks of manicured ranges and khaki-clad lieutenants directing volley fire across the prairie.

But there weren't too many prairies in northern France or on Guadalcanal.

I like to take my '03 to the range and ponder, "Which rear notch or aperture shall I use today?"

You mentioned yesterday the battle sight being set for 547 yards. I thought it was about 300 yards, but whatever! Aim low!

Bram said...

I have a 6.5mm Arisaka with similar nonsense.

I hear WWI Marines had a rear sight modification they used to make the thing easier to use. They gained quite a reputation for being able to hit Germans at crazy distances from the top of a trench.

Joanna said...

Three Blind Mice is in my brain now. Thanks for that.

alath said...

Joanna, I didn't connect to Three Blind Mice until you mentioned it. Thanks for the earworm.

I remember reading something Sgt York had said about this - that the Springfield's sights were designed for target shooting, not for combat. I do think he wound up improvising something that worked better for him.

There was a similar dynamic in the Royal Navy prior to WWI. The battleship admirals had a lot of gunnery competitions, and winning them was a big deal for an RN officer (glory, promotions). They had a lot of arcane rules for the competitions that were dissimilar to combat requirements, though, so despite all the gunnery practice the RN was ill-prepared for Jutland. Hmmnn... this is bringing certain pistol competitions to mind also...

Anonymous said...

I recall reading an article years ago about the various rifles carried during the Great War. Two stick out:

--- The Germans carried the best hunting rifle

--- The Americans carried the best target rifle.

It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but does that '03 have a Petersen cutout?

Montie said...


Thank you so much for illustrating exactly the point I was making last night about the '03's sight.

BTW, Mike got back with me and said that the reason he used an '03-A3 in his "redemption video" was because it was the version available to him. He said that he took it to the range just to check his own sanity, but I still maintained he should do it with a rifle sporting the sights he shot so poorly with on "Top Shot". I am going to try to set that up.

As some of the commenters have already pointed out, if you know how to use them and have the eyes for it, they can be a great sight on the range, but for me, even on a range, I'll take peep sights.

I can handily outshoot my 1903 with my 1903-A3 just because I can see and use the sights so much better.

Montie said...


I have a Type 99 Arisaka. I love the fold out arms on the ladder that supposedly let you calculate lead for shooting at aircraft.

Thomas Smith said...

Berthier Model 1916

Bram said...

Montie - Sweet! Don't let the terrorists get hold of it.

Montie said...


sure looks like it to me (Pedersen cutout).

ajdshootist said...

I have an 1884 Springfield 45/70 with Buffington rear sight and no idea how it is used,any one were i can find the instruction's it not that common in the UK.

Montie said...


Yup, flip those leaves down and take down some fighters!

Pathfinder said...

"Have you ever seen such a sight in your life?"

Isn't that what the Indian chief (Mel Brooks) said in Yiddish to one of his tribesman?

What do I win?

Tam said...


About halfway down this page you will find a reprint from the original military manual on how to use the sight.

Hope this helps! :)

ajdshootist said...

Thank you Tam that very useful have now bookmarked the site,the rifle has got a super barrel and i want to try it at long distance.

Montie said...


I had forgotten that you had an '03 Mark 1 (story at The Arms Room for new readers). I always wished my '03 had that little slot and receiver stamping, too cool! I should have recognized the photo since it was in your Arms Room post on it.

Firehand said...

I remember reading that one of the big "How you you DO this?!?" arguments when the M1 Garand was unveiled at Camp Perry was the sights; they had to keep explaining that Yes, these sights are coarse compared to the 1903; No, they're not as good for target shooting because THESE WERE SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR BATTLEFIELD USE not BULLSEYES, dammit!

Tam said...

Did I tell about the time I touched one with the Pedersen Device installed at the big gun show in Louisville? And by stretching my hand as far as it could go, my pinkie was touching the Pedersen-equipped Springfield and my thumb was touching a Savage 1907? That was about gun nut Nirvana right there... :D

Comrade Misfit said...

Yeah, I have one, as well. It would seem to me that even the sights on a Soviet Mosin-Nagant are better for their intended use.

Crimus, the ladder sights on a Springfield go out to two thousand yards!

Montie said...


Whoa, I get flushed just thinking about that! Did they per chance have prices on those two items or were they just showing off? Did the same person own both? Together they would finance a really nice house.

Trebor said...

Dick Culver likes to tell the story of how he once held a Rod bayonet Springfield in one hand (complete with bayo) and a 1903 Mk 1 with Pederson device in the other hand.

He bought the rifle with the Pederson device, as he only had money for one of the two. Even back in the 60's they were expensive.

His wife likes to take the Springfield with the Pederson device to gun shows and troll for comments. "Oh, I found this in the attic. What is it?"


Anonymous said...

The reason for the sights are due to a totally different way of fighting when the sights were made. The call to set your sights to a distance, say 1200 yards, then a volley of shots ring out from every man in the trench sent a wall of bullets into oncoming troops. This process was repeated with someone calling the range at which the enemy would be when the shot was fired. The reason for the extreme distances are that it allowed for this to happen multiple times before the enemy was within range to shoot in the manner you are envisioning.

Every army used this type of sight or something close to it, as it was the best type of sight for the tactics of the period. The sights had nothing to do with target shooting as they are poor target sights, and were not the preferred type for Camp Perry at all.

Your comments show an ignorance of the history around which the rifle was developed. For it's time and the type of tactics, it was quite effective. Just as the soldiers of the time would have commented how useless an M4 would be for volley fire at 1500 yards against enemy troops and the short barrel/bayonet a disadvantage when in trench fighting. Urban combat was rare because urban environments were pretty rare as well. The firearms are a combination of technology and tactics of the period in which they were designed.

Tam said...

"Your comments show an ignorance of the history around which the rifle was developed."

"Volley fire", you say? Facinating! Never heard of it.

NotClauswitz said...

H.G. Wells would have loved it next to his time machine - but that's what makes old guns to me their own time machines.
Hey - how about those peep sights on the Krag!?! The 1901 (left) is clearly a close precursor of the '03's.

Tam said...



Ironically, the tangent sight fitted to the early rod bayo Springfields was a much better battlefield sight than the later (and insanely complex) M1905 Buffington.

NotClauswitz said...

I can't hardly see a damn thing shooting my Krag but it's fun because it doeskin hurt my shoulder none. In any sunlight, the phrase "Light's bright, sights high" has a celestial meaning - the front razor-blade just disappears to Heaven - and trying to pick it up through the miniscule, pinhole-peep down a half-mile of barrel is a new definition of insanity.

PresterSean said...

"Camp Perry mafia." Snicker-snort!

Anonymous said...


And the brits had the best battle rifle--ten round magazine, wickedly fast bolt...

cap'n chumbucket

Anonymous said...

Another explanation of the sight here:


Still looks complicated to me.

Montie said...


Obviously you are new here.

My friends often call me with obscure questions about firearms old and new and consider me a great source of information. My son, is a detective in a large California police department and called me last week about a gun they had siezed in a drug raid that none of their gun guys knew anything about. I was able to identify it via verbal description and give them, as my son said "too much information". My fellow cops on my own department consider me a repository for "a vast amount of trivial gun knowledge which does me no good on a daily basis" as one of them put it.


Hmmm...volley fire, what a new and unique concept.

global village idiot said...

And the French Lebel with it's tubular barrel was the best Floor-Lamp rifle (pity the poor 3-shot Berthier!).


Crowndot said...

As docjim505 said, the Great War after action report is supposed to have been that the Germans had the best hunting rifle, the Americans had the best target rifle ... add in that the British had the best battle rifle. Not only have I seen that sight, Tam -- I have one! I am in the process of turning a home-sporterized-stocked Springfield back into a version of its former self. I *think* I have collected all the metal parts; now to commence fitting wood!

staghounds said...

Sergeant York DID improvise something better- he used a 1917!

Montie said...


Although there has been some contention about whether York used a 1903 or a 1917, I'm with you on that. York's unit was issued 1917's as was over 75% of the AEF. Where and why he would have procured or traded for a 1903 makes no sense.

Given a choice between the two in a combat situation I would choose the 1917, and the fact that most units were issued them upon arrival in France was for the better.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Staghounds, Montie:

I too was under the impression that Sgt. York had the 1917 Enfield.

I recall reading in the past couple of years about some battlefield archaeology that supposedly turned up cartridge cases from his .45 -- maybe in Archaeology magazine or possibly in Armchair General ...

Ed Foster said...

Interestingly, it's the only rear sight ever that compensated for the bullet's drift to the right (with a right hand rifling twist). Note the slide track sliding way over to the left to bring the little bugger back to line of sight.

The 7mm Mauser did such a great job in South Africa against the Brits that everybody wanted something capable of dropping them like flies at 2,000 yards.

Actually, until 1917 it was the best rear sight in the world, if only because it was the only commonly issued peep sight in combat until then.

And again, the target shooter mystique gave, still gives, American soldiers a solid basis in long range marksmanship no other nation has, and far more range time to develop muscle memory with their weapon.

I suspect that, in the quarter mile head shooting that made up most of the first World War's trench fighting, that fine front blade would have been the nads.

The supposedly apocryphal "Devil Dog" letter is quite real. I saw it at Quantico. "Half my men are dead, most of them shot between the eyes".

The tradition maintains. A buddy of mine, Air Force Captain Ken Hagenow, teaches marksmanship down at Ft. Benning. His people shoot head sized groups all day long at 500 meters (same distance as the battlesight setting on the '03) with M-4's. The A-2 rifles and Designated Marksmen's M-14's do better.

We're moving into a leg soldier's environment in places like Afganistan, and if twenty locals open up with Lee-Enfields from 600 or more yards away, I'd want to suppress their fire right away, rather than wait for an FA-18 still on a carrier 700 miles distant.

Bobby Cromer got back from Afganistan last year, where he extended as a DM armed with an M-14. With M118LR ammo, it's an execution machine at 1,000 yards, and absolutely terrifies the Taliban.

The cal .50 "mile shooters" (and missers) get all the press, but generally, you can't shoot at them unless they show "hostile intent". Like by shooting at you.

Evidently most of the action is sniping, at 400 to 800 yards, from a prepared position in the rocks or windows of stone/mud wall houses. We've gone full circle, and are back to quarter mile plus head shooting.

The P14/M1917 had the best sights in the world at that time, and they were the direct antecedent of the M-1 sights found on my beloved TRW made M-14, s/n 274149.

Parenthetically, do you know why the sight radius is shorter on the M-14 then on the M-1? So the same sights would calibrate in meters rather than yards.

But give the old '03 it's due, along with the marksmanship tradition you still see in the windage adjustable rear sight on the M-16A2. It's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. But only if you know how to use it.

And Americans are the only people in the world who do.

Tam said...

The problem with the Buffington sight, as used on various Flop-Tops, Krags, and '03s, is the tiny, tiny apertures and ultra-fine notches and blades, which are swell for someone with splendid eyesight shooting a round black bull across the manicured lawns of a KD range, but absolutely suck on an indifferently-lit two-way rifle range.

Don M said...

Sgt. York was issued an Enfield, but preferred the Springfield, and swapped to get one, according to his son. He preferred open sights, and if you fold down the ladder, you have one. His "long shots" were about 87 meters.

Don M said...

I traded my bubba'ed Springfield 1921. I kept my Enfield, Mannlicher, and (Finnish) Mosin. I have two Krags for hunting, both with peep sights.

Montie said...


I too have heard the story put out by York's son regarding the '03 swap, but that has had BS called on it from numerous sources. Perhaps we shall never know definitively, but regardless, it was some fine shooting in a combat situation with bullets going both directions!

Ed Foster said...

York was a target shooter, lived and breathed it, and probably liked the Springfield's sights because they were familiar to him.

I think the important thing to remember is that, at least for those with younger than middle-aged eyes, several hundred hours a year socked into a sling and using the '03 sights made it a far more comfortable operation than people would find it to be nowadays, unless they also shot with them a lot.

I shot an issue '03 for several decades and never found it anything but pleasant. We're talking shooting out 2 barrels, maybe 26 or 28 thousand rounds, counting all the cast bullets as well as the jacketed ones.

To be fair, the Marine Corps '03's had a bigger .100 diameter peep, and a .100 wide front blade, so obviously some folks wanted it wider.

But the smallest peep ever put on a Springfield was miles ahead of the pathetic inverted V barleycorn the Germans put on the 98 Mauser.

The Swedes are to be commended for putting a flat topped blade and American/British style parallel sided notch rear on their lovely Mausers, making them far more shootable.

Humorously, the Germans tested both the Swedish Mauser and Norwegian Krag, and considered each of them to be a Marksman's Rifle, essentially a sniper rig, because they were effective in field trials at 600 meters. Only a spit past the range where all American G.I.s still qualify.

I suspect their own Mausers would have done as good in practical accuracy if they had decent sights and common soldiers trained to use them. I put a Swedish flat topped blade front sight on my 1934 FN Mauser (a mint 7x57 long rifle with commercial crest, eat your heart out) and it benched minute of angle. By filing in the much longer Swedish sight, I also managed to get the damned thing to stop shooting 14 inches high at 100yards.

Instead, the Germans did the European thing and hired Jaegers, professional hunters, to be their snipers and sniper trainers.

They were much less effective against Americans, because the Americans could shoot back, and the Jaegers, although masters of camoflage, were rarely trained long distance shooters. Like the Russians, they rarely took a shot past 300 or 400 meters. Doping wind and estimating distance past medium ranges was not part of their curiculum.

I couldn't shoot an '03 well today because of somewhat older eyes, and the peep on my '17 Enfield is quite familiar nowadays.

But those old brown shoe guys did miracles with them, and at age 30 or 40 it worked fine for me too.

Different strokes, different folks.

Bubblehead Les. said...

I just remember what Steve McQueen had to do to use his 03 in the movie "The Sand Pebbles", and am glad that I had M-14's with GREAT sights when I was in the Navy.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that the internet wasn't around a century ago, else we could enjoy debates / arguments that are quite familiar today, just with different names:

1903Fan - "Dude, the Springfield is the absolute SCHIZZLE! With those new-fangled strippers, a good marksman can get off, like, a hundred shots per minute!"

OldKragFan - "1903, you are full of sh*t. The longer barrel of the Krag is where it's at! Who cares if you can shoot a hundred time per minute if you can't hit a Moro at less than 1000 yards??? And the Krag is so much more smooth and fast."

Trapdoor - "I just wish the Army had kept a REAL rifle. Boy, you hit a Moro or a Don with that big 45 bullet (500 grains, baby!) and that's all she wrote! This new 1906 cartridge is nothing but a damned poodle-shooter!"

GrassIsAlwaysGreener - "Sigh... I just wish we had a good rifle like that one the Brits have. Give me 10 shots ANY day."

Rooskie - "Mosin is more reliable. THAT'S what you want."

FatWhiteMan said...

That looks like a guillotine.

Don M said...

Finns have a pretty good tradition of sniping. There is a sniper competition held there, named after their top ranked sniper (500+ kills with Mosin, another 200 with SMG). The "Devil Dog" letter that I am familiar with came from a sycophantic US war correspondent, and had the German plural of Devil Dog wrong. I am not familiar with any German language document refering to Devil Dogs.

Anonymous said...

Does this have anything on the decidedly complex and yet wondrous Parker Hale Sights for British Service Rifles? Some even had options for different eye pieces with multiple apertures and even glass filters.

Then there's the British volley sights added to the long less and SMLE's but deleted in the inter war years.

I would posit that volley sights and precision adjustable range sights for NRA matches are similar but different animals.

Tam said...


Yeah the "teufelhunden" story is most probably myth, although the Jerries did refer to our leatherneck units as "storm troop" formations, which was a high accolade coming from the originators of the term. :)

Firehand said...

I picked up a replacement slider for my '03 just so I could drill out the aperture a bit so I could actually SIGHT through it. Next project there is a wider front blade.

And hey, Anony with the 'ignorance' comment: one of the reasons WWI was such a bloody mess was idiots in charge not taking note of the fact that the machine gun had taken over the job of volley-fire at distant groups. Not to mention making strolls across open ground downright unfriendly.

Geodkyt said...

Of course, the apeture sight is useless if you don't even flip it up.

And as Tam notes, the battle sight is about useless at 100 yards on an 8" target. The trajectory is about 3 1/2 feet above POA, which puts it 2 feet or so above the target FRAME, and headed out for the hills. Unfortunately, no one is looking for the "100 yard" shot to land 400 - 600 yards downrange, so no one observed the fall to correct.

Vaarok said...

Fun fact. Use a Carcano or a Gew98, and the pillars formed by the sides of the rear sight, when the blade and notch are aligned, form a 300-or-less field-goal style battlesight for hold-under and close-enough aiming that's shockingly easy to use.

CAR said...

In my opinion that sight is a work of art, you all should be ashamed of yourselves.

But then again, I've never had to duke it out in a muddy trench.

Tango said...

We weren't called 'Devil Dogs'. The Germans said we fought like 'Dogs from Hell'.

Ed Foster said...

I have to admit I like the front sight on the Moisin-Nagant 91/30. I just never understood why something like that wasn't combined with a peep until the G-3.

And the Germans were always so terrified of night raids from Russian partisans that they made the ring big enough for panic shooting at 30 feet, but way too big for instinctive target centering at the more common 50 to 150 meters.

I saw a very wide "instinct" front sight on a French rifle, with a razor blade slit down the center that gave a quite precise light front sight for precision work at range. An interesting idea that might still be useful.

Anonymous said...

I love the tiny aperture on the Buffington it works as well as a scope for me out to 300 yards - it just needs a spot of practice...

Dr. Feelgood said...

Just for fun, I went over to the museum at lunch today and saw Serial Number 1 of the M1903 rifle with rod bayonet. It has a different rear sight on it. The rifle went straight to the museum from the production line.

I also saw one M1903 Mark I with the Pederson device mounted, with mags, pouches, and inert cartridges on display. I love working here.

Tam said...


"I love the tiny aperture on the Buffington it works as well as a scope for me out to 300 yards - it just needs a spot of practice..."

It is a splendid target sight. And makes no sense atop a battle rifle. ;)