By: Tom Claycomb
I’ve been testing some Henry lever action rifles lately. Who doesn’t love a lever action? But testing them has presented a new challenge for me.
I haven’t shot open sights since I was a kid shooting airguns. I took my 45-70 bear hunting not long ago, and a bear I wanted to shoot showed up at dusk. He was back in the shadows, which made it tough to get a good bead on him. I missed. Uggh! I haven’t ever missed a bear.
Before the miss, while sitting in my blind, I glanced through an American Shooting Journal Magazine and saw an ad for an aftermarket sight made by Skinner Sights. I had that ad fresh on my mind, and right after I missed, I made a promise to call them the next morning. Soon enough, I had one in my hot little hands.
I’m sure I’m not alone in my frustrations of hunting with a factory sight. If you’re interested in upgrading the sight on you lever action, this article pertains specifically to a Henry’s Brass Octagon 45-70, but I noticed on the Skinner Sight website that they make sights for a variety of rifles. I love my sight. I can shoot twice as well with it.
Installing a Skinner Sight
It’s relatively easy to switch over to a Skinner Sight, so don’t be scared. Instructions are included in the package, and you can also look on the company’s website for more details.
The first thing I did was tap out the front sight. To do this, I used a small brass rod that Skinner Sights sells separately, and a hammer.
Place the brass rod against the sight and tap it out of the dovetail slot.
Next, get the new sight and try to slide it in. It will be a tight fit, so you’ll have to get a small triangular file (which Skinner Sights also sells) and touch up the sides until it will slide in halfway. Mine took a little bit of filing. When it fits in halfway, use the brass rod and tap it in flush with the mallet.
Line up the two holes with the back sight and remove the top two screws (where you would mount a scope). Andy Larsson, the owner of Skinner Sights, recommends sticking a piece of scotch tape where it will lie, so it doesn’t mark the top.
Set the sight on your gun. I found it helpful to poke a hole in the tape over the screw hole with a toothpick. Next, screw it down tight. Skinner does not recommend using Loctite. For once, I’m glad that I read the instructions, or I would have used Loctite.
Smaller, Better Adjustments
Normally, when adjusting for windage, you have to tap the front sight (rather hard) to move the sight left or right. It is next to impossible to barely tweak it, so it’s hard to obtain the exact setting you’re looking for. I’ve heard there is a clamp you can put on and use to make adjustments, but I don’t have one, and from what I hear, they’re expensive. Basically, it’s hard to make minute adjustments with factory lever action sights.
But, with the Skinner Sight, small adjustments aren’t a problem. There is an Allen screw on the back sight you can loosen that allows you to slide the sight. It moves super easily, and you simply retighten it when you have the sight where you want it.
For elevation, loosen the Allen screw on the side and turn the back bead to raise or lower. When it’s where you want it, retighten the Allen screw. Don’t forget: to move your point of impact properly, move the back bead in the direction you want your bullet to move. If you’re moving the front bead, move it in the opposite direction you want the bullet to move. So, to move the bullet to the left, move the back sight left or the front sight right.
Skinner sells a smooth piece to place in the dovetail slot when you remove the back sight, which you will want to remove. If you don’t, it can throw off the symmetry and make it more difficult for the eye to naturally center on the bead.
If you have a hankering to install a finer sight on your lever action rifle, check out Skinner Sights and see if they manufacture a sight to match your particular brand of rifle. My daughter helped me do it, and enjoyed the process, despite being nine months pregnant!
Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.