Simple, Effective Gun Sights

As sighting systems get more complex, Skinner is catering to those who want simple, rugged and effective sights.

Simple, Effective Gun Sights

There’s an impressive array of optics on the market today. Red-dots, low-power variable optics, long-range FFP models, thermal optics and others all serve their market segments with clarity and precision the average shooter couldn’t have imagined a few decades ago. But sometimes you don’t need an optic. 

Skinner Sights has been making simple but highly effective sights from solid-steel barstock for the past 15 years, and they’ve gained quite a following.

Shooting Sports Retailer spoke to Andy Larsson, owner of Skinner Sights, to talk about going scope-free, the history of his company, the future of the industry, and more. 

SSR: Can you talk about the company's history and its place in the industry today?

Larsson: Skinner Sights was started in 2008 by Dr. Tim Skinner as a hobby in retirement. He was hunting on horseback and the rear sight on his Marlin Guide Gun first fell apart, then broke in the scabbard. He set out to build a robust, bullet-proof, recoil-proof sight for his rifle and began refining the prototype until he had a winner. Then he made another one and gave it away, and made a few more. He started selling them on eBay, then through a small website. By 2010, he was working eight hours a day in retirement, making sights in his basement. 

In July of 2010, Dr. Skinner asked me to build a few sights for him, and I did. He looked at the first one and said, “Why don’t you buy my company?” A few days later, we signed papers, and I’ve never looked back.

Six months later I hired my first employee, then hired my daughter to handle packaging and shipping. Within a year, we moved into a larger facility, added a CNC machining center, hired a couple more employees and continued to grow. In 2016, we built a new 5,000-square-foot facility where we are still making sights today. 

In 2011 I designed and started producing some unique gun storage and carrying cases along with a few other soft goods. We had these made for us at a local “cut and sew” shop, which I eventually purchased in 2019.

Our industry relationships started soon after I acquired the sight company. Henry Repeating Arms began putting our sights on a rifle at the factory. Chiappa USA started using our sights on several models of their lever guns, and we made some fine finished sights for special runs of commemorative or presentation rifles by Marlin. Bighorn Armory approached me about building a recoil-proof sight for their 500 S&W model 89 lever gun. I had close ties to Buffalo Bore Ammunition, and the owner, Tim Sundles, introduced me to some key players in the firearm industry. Spending quality time with these dedicated industry insiders resulted in close friendships we cherish to this day. When Ruger took over the Marlin line, we continued making sights for the Marlin Trapper 1895 .45-70s. The demand for our sights is increasing, both as aftermarket to the consumer and by the manufacturers as OEM.

Our main focus has always been consumer direct via our website, although we are happy to work with dealers, and our OEM manufacturing has been strong. We have been fortunate to be featured in many firearm magazines, blogs, YouTube reviews and, more recently, participate in a TV show (Trigger Time TV) on the Pursuit Channel. 

When I first purchased Skinner Sights, one of my gun buddies said, “Who? I’ve never heard of them.” A while back he called me and said, “You were featured in three of my gun magazines this month and I saw you on TV!” In one of those magazine articles, the author referred to our sights as, “the premier lever-gun sights.” We will take it! We also make sights for many other action types: bolt, pump, auto, etc.


SSR: What specific product or model have you seen the most growth in recently? 

Larsson: The most growth has been in various optic rails. While an optic is somewhat of a compromise on a slick, compact lever gun, it’s still a strong segment of the market. Customers like to accessorize their firearms. We make standard aluminum Picatinny/Weaver type mounts and machined-from-solid-steel-barstock scope mounts with integrated peep sights. Our scope mount selection is consistently growing. We currently have models to fit almost everything from Henry, Marlin, Ruger Americans, Tikka, Mossberg and Rossi. For some reason, our Rossi 92 scope mount is our top-selling rail.

SSR: Have the ongoing supply chain problems translated into supply issues in your corner of the industry as well? 

Larsson: They have. We have had to find new screw vendors, as some of our sources were impacted by COVID. Stainless steel was another difficult-to-find material. We have compensated by looking forward, getting our tooling and material orders placed further in advance and staying on top of what is available. 

Besides the supply chain issues, somewhat related, has been the increasing costs of materials, tooling, utilities and shipping. Some of those costs have as much as doubled. Unfortunately, not all those costs can be passed on to the customer, since they are also being hit with the effects of inflation. We have worked to mitigate some of the profit loss by increasing market share, automating more of our processes and creating a lean manufacturing environment. 


SSR: You've got a great little niche, making sights some would call old-school in an increasingly tactical world. Talk to me about the benefits of going scope-free that your customers love.

Larsson: “Scope-free” is a great place to be! We hear a lot about, “my old eyes need a scope,” but the magical benefits of a properly made aperture sight allow even our older shooters to be accurate and effective. 

Think of it this way: In the archery world there are compound shooters with wheels, fancy rests, bulky sights, cable control devices, quivers, and other accessories hanging off their bows. That’s a lot to keep track of and maintain, especially in the hunting environment. 

Then there are the traditional archers whose bows are simple, with few if any accessories — just a bow, string, rest and an arrow. If you have ever spent time in the field with a recurve or longbow, you know what I am referring to. Simple, fun, easy. 

While the traditional bow is much more difficult to master, the good news is peep sights are very easy to learn to shoot. They are intuitive, quick and quite accurate. Look through the hole, not at it. Once you are looking through the hole, put all your attention on the front sight and its alignment on the target. Then remember the fundamentals of trigger squeeze, breath control and follow-through, same as with any sighting system. Shooting a peep sight is easy and effective. They are also more durable than optics, including the popular red-dots. Our sights are essentially unbreakable. In over 12 years, the only “broken” sights I’ve replaced (we have a lifetime warranty) have been due to serious catastrophic events. One exited a vehicle doing 70mph down the highway and was ground off on the pavement, and the other was slammed in a safe door between the heavy steel plates. 

Up until very recently, for more than 100 years, all U.S. battle rifles wore aperture/peep sights. Those rifles were used effectively to ranges of 500 yards and beyond. Quigly matches are quite popular, where the competitors (mostly old guys) shoot peep sights to 1,000 yards with good results. Olympic, NRA, biathlons, and other competitive shooting is almost exclusively done with peep sights. 

Bottom line: they work and make the gun much quicker, sleeker and less cumbersome to use. Our customers often tell us that Skinner Sights have made their shooting fun again. 


SSR: Is there developing technology that might change the way shooters buy or use sights and firearms accessories in the future? 

Larsson: There are a lot of new innovations on the market. To be honest, many of them are like lures that catch fishermen more than they catch fish. Others are a help for some. An optic will magnify and folks seem to like red-dots for some applications. The market will always have a trend toward these newer technologies. There is a lot of emphasis on mounting systems for accessories. M-Loc, Picatinny, QD and other mounting systems are making it easier to add stuff to your firearm. It’s good for retail add-on sales and for the wow factor of “it looks cool.” 

This is where appealing to the simpler side of things can also reach customers. To be honest, there is little a person can add to a sleek, svelte, slick lever gun that will enhance its usefulness. A good set of aperture sights (huge improvement over the stock Buckhorn sights), a simple, non-bulky sling, perhaps a butt cuff with a few loops for ammo and maybe a way to mount a small flashlight… Those would be practical additions that wouldn’t detract from the inherent, intuitive and easy use of a rifle.


SSR: Do you have any predictions on what we can expect out of the hunting industry in general in the next year? The next five years?

Larsson: I would predict we will see increased use of electronics, as they are easier for some to use. The use of modern materials (aluminum chassis, carbon fiber parts, molded stocks instead of wood) will likely increase due to easier and less expensive manufacturing processes. My crystal ball says while the new generation of hunters and shooters embrace the modern designs and construction, there will also be a renaissance of getting back to the old ways, especially when they see how effective and enjoyable the “old-school” guns can be. Lever guns are a strong market right now. I don’t see that going away anytime soon. 

We will continue to see new cartridge designs developed (been happening for decades), and some of those will come into the more traditional platforms. The .360 Buck Hammer, for example made quite a splash at SHOT. We will see how it plays out in the market. 


SSR: Where does Skinner see potential for growth? How about non-growth? Is there part of the industry that's shrinking?

Larsson: In our lineup, we will embrace some of the newer trends with mounts for the electronics, lights, carrying and storage solutions (check out our concealed carry garment bag, for example) and expanding our line to fit new models. Right now I’m working on some cool sights, mounts and cases for the Henry Homesteader 9mm carbine. With our lever gun manufacturers going strong, we will be keeping up with that niche market, which only grows bigger as new models become available.  As for the industry as a whole, it seems the AR platform market is always a bit volatile with its ups and downs. Remember when the MSR was all about the AR lineup being used in the field? Today it seems the Modern Sporting Rifle is a chassis-framed bolt gun in a flat-shooting, mild-recoiling cartridge with a detachable box magazine and topped with a larger-than-life piece of glass. I see the semi-autos flatlining a bit while the long-range craze continues.

SSR: What can we expect out of Skinner in the middle of 2023? What products have you most excited for the future?

Larsson: Our big thing right now is a streamlined, no-gunsmithing, ambidextrous flashlight mount for lever guns that looks like it grew in place on the rifle, which is our goal with all our products. These new mounts are slick and add a useful component to the traditional lever-action without taking away from its classic looks or handling. They’re easy to sell with the added opportunity for the dealer to sell the light along with it. 

We have some new soft goods coming out, mostly geared to some of the niche guns on the market, like cases dedicated to certain specific models — the Cricket 410 and the Homesteader are good examples.


SSR: How does Skinner support its dealers? 

Larsson: We are pretty easy for dealers to connect with. Non-distributor based, we deal with the dealers directly. There’s no minimum order quantity for the standard discount; for larger dealers we have larger discounts, of course. We handle the customer service — and don’t forget our lifetime warranty. 


SSR: Do you have any advice for retailers about selling sights and accessories and Skinner Sights specifically? 

Larsson: Stock a few of the best-selling models like our Henry/Marlin large- and small-frame sights, an assortment of our Patridge blade front sights, and some of our unique cases for specialty guns you may have on the shelf. They’re great add-on sales that make sense to the customer.

Contact us directly and we will take good care of you. 


SSR: What's your personal favorite Skinner Sights product, and why? 

Larsson: I like our BUSH PILOT take-down carbines. Why? They are super cool guns. I designed the features based on my lifetime of experience in the outdoors, and they encompass all our products of sights and cases all rolled into a cool survival package.


SSR: Is there anything you'd like retailers to know about Skinner and its products?

Larsson: Our products are machined from solid steel barstock, no cheap materials, and they are aesthetically pleasing on the rifle yet as rugged as the rifle itself. We have a lifetime warranty and great customer service, and our products are made in Montana, USA. No gimmicks — just products that customers can count on. I’ve spent a lifetime in the outdoors, and these products reflect my experiences with what works. 

We operate on the Golden Rule, and our customers’ success is the goal. I won’t sell something that I don’t believe in or haven’t used myself. Simple, rugged, effective.


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