Ask anyone who owns an AR (or might be in the market for one) why the platform is so appealing — beyond their world-dominating looks — and it almost universally comes down to the customizability of the platform.
It’s rare to find an AR owner that doesn’t want some kind of optic on their rifle — and with self-defense applications in particular, a red dot or holo sight is a great choice. With these close quarters optics you can keep both eyes open — allowing you to get on target and stay situationally aware without losing your peripheral vision.
These optics are also, however, failure points. That’s where offsets come in.
Comparison of the Best Backup Iron Sights
|Magpul AR15 MBUS Pro Offset Sight Set|
|Strike Industries BUIS Version II Sight Set|
|XS Sight Systems AR 15 Bigdot Express Threat Interdiction Sights|
|Dueck Defense AR15 Rapid Transition Sight Set|
|Midwest Industries AR15 Combat Rifle Offset Sight Set|
What to Look for in Quality Offset Iron Sights
Optics are often electronic devices: which means batteries that can die, connections that can break, and glass that can fog. When it comes to engineering, redundancies are purposeful — especially when it comes to critical components like sighting systems.
Offsets in action
Back-ups keep the machine running and often save lives – airplanes have redundant everything (often in triplicate). This redundancy reduces the likelihood of failure; as they say “one is none, two is one”.
To ensure complete functional utility of your AR it’s critical to maintain an alternative to an optic — which is where physical iron sights come in.
2. Speed of Transition
If you find yourself transitioning from long-range to short-range shooting frequently, you’re a 3-gun competitor, or you just want the capability to transition off your primary optic quickly, a set of offset iron sights might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Offset iron sights, also called “canted sights”, allow for instantaneous access to physical iron sights by simply tilting the rifle 45-degrees. These are most commonly used as a backup to either a red dot or some other top-mounted optic, which can block the normal iron sight plane – making flip up iron sights impossible to use.
Instead, with the 45 degree offset canted sights provide you can immediately use your backup irons without the need to remove a non-functional optic or stop to activate flip-up BUIS.
With a magnified rifle scope transitioning to a close-range target can be a challenge (if not impossible) which a set of offset backup sights allow you to do more or less instantly, giving a shooter additional sighting flexibility.
3. Rail Space Conservation
For AR pistols or shorter length rifles top rail space can be at a premium. Offsetting irons can free up room or add functionality – a set of fiber optic rapid-transition night sights can be extremely useful and add even more flexibility to address targets in a variety of situations.
Offset Iron Sights vs. Inline Sights?
Offset iron sights are a simple concept that takes some getting used to. Every shooter trains on inline sights, so it can be a little awkward to cant a rifle at 45-degrees while addressing targets. Training to establish familiarity and transition smoothly is a must, but many shooters can become incredibly proficient with a little effort.
With that said, there are substantial advantages to pairing canted sights with an optic. They allow for a more diverse set of mounting options – such as using a lower-mounted variable power optic which may offer better cheek weld but would be tough to use with standard in-line irons.
Similarly, some people pair an optic with a laser or light, which can eat rail space. Much like a variable powered optic example, shifting sights to the side opens up top rail space for other accessories.
In any case, access to physical iron sights is critical and canted sights provide a unique level of flexibility to the user.
Mounting Offset Irons
There aren’t an overwhelming number of top mounting options these days, which means mounting offset irons is fairly simple. Most sets of canted iron sights can be installed in about ten minutes if you’re taking your time.
Make sure you pick up a set that is compatible with your rail system, whatever that may be, and follow the instructions carefully – beyond that there are a few tips of the trade, so to speak.
First – threadlocker is your friend. Firing a gun stresses the weapon, which impacts everything mounted to it – and we don’t want sights (or anything else) flying off due to recoil.
Second, install the front sight as far from the rear as possible. This increases sight radius, and in-turn accuracy.
Are Offset Irons Practical?
Offset irons are one of the most deeply practical accessories for rifle setups. If, as we mentioned above, you have a large optic or are short on rail space, offset iron sights add functionality without competing for the same rail slots.
You’ll need to train on them to use them instinctively, but that should not deter you from considering them as an option for your backup irons.
The Best Offset Iron Sights Reviewed
Magpul AR15 MBUS Pro Offset Sight Set
Magpul’s MBUS sights are, at this point, something of an industry standard for reliable secondary sights. This offset pair are similar to the MBUS but in a canted format.
The MBUS Pro Offsets have a smaller rear sight housing than the standard MBUS sights, which keeps them out of the way. Overall, these light, flipping sights are an excellent option in offset iron sighting solutions.
Mounting them is very simple, as they attach to a Picatinny rail section with two screws, much like any other Magpul rail accessory.
Strike Industries BUIS Version II Sight Set
If you’re looking for something a little beefier than the Magpul option, then this set by Strike Industries is right for you. These are designed with rough use and competition in mind, which is why the mounting plates are a little larger than you’d expect: this makes sense, though, as your iron sights don’t do you much good if they get knocked off.
The easy-to-read, high contrast markings are a great touch, and we could see these rugged sights being well at home on a competition carbine that might get knocked around a fair bit.
XS Sight Systems Bigdot Offset Sights
One of the key advantages that iron sights have over other optics is the speed at which you can get on target. These, by XS sight systems, take advantage of that by borrowing the sight picture from competition handguns. Line up the rear line with the dot and press the trigger. Simple and fast.
Because of this simple sight picture, we think these would be an excellent fit for either a competition rifle or a home defense rifle with a magnified optic already on it. Our experts appreciate that these can be reversed to work for lefties as well as the fact that they come with thread locker right in the package.
Overall, the XS canted sights are another good option if you’re looking for sights that are fast to acquire and glow in the dark.
Dueck Defense Canted Iron Sights
Maybe we’re old fashioned, but our experts like the standard AR15 iron sights that can be found on issue military rifles that haven’t changed a great deal in about four decades. If you agree with us on that, but also want canted iron sights, these sights by Dueck Defense are the way to go.
This recreates the standard M16 sight picture, but on canted rail sections rather than on the receiver and gas block. That similarity carries over for both windage and elevation adjustment, so these sights would do well with folks who are used to, and like, standard m16 iron sights.
Midwest Industries AR-15 Offset Sight Set
For years, Midwest Industries has been known for high-quality firearms and accessories; these sights are certainly no exception to that reputation. This solid aluminum set will likely last years, and the included springs are crisp, meaning that once you fold the sights up or down, they’re going to stay where you put them.
We’d be happy to put these sights on just about any rifle, but their sheer ruggedness makes them well suited to rifles you’d use in self-defense where you need your gear to work the first time, every time.
Without a doubt, ARs are massively popular — and with the recent surge in NICS data on firearms background checks (2020 saw a Y/Y increase of more than 7 million – the largest on record by a country mile) there are a lot of new AR owners out there.
You can bet almost all of them are clamoring to start learning their way around “legos for adults” — with a better rail system, nicer grips, the right optic, and more functional furniture on their AR.
Covering the most practical ground of all – ensuring you can hit your target – with a good set of offset irons is a fantastic starting point to building an AR that will serve you for years to come.
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