“Eyes and Ears” and the Mature Shooter – Part 1

20 Jan

The White haired ShooterTHE WHITE HAIRED SHOOTER


This fairly lengthy post looks at the “Eyes” part of the most common shooting instruction/order given at ranges and shooting classes –  “Eyes and Ears.”

Vision is the primary factor in accurate and safe shooting.

Big “duh” there, right? Obviously.

As we age, changes occur in our eyesight and we must adapt in many areas of our life, and shooting is no exception.

If you have been shooting for many years, the assumption is you have already made appropriate modifications to your shooting and aiming style in response to the gradual changes you’ve experienced over time.

If you have experienced more sudden changes – like an accident or stroke that affects your vision, or been prescribed new medications that affect your vision – your training over the years will serve you well and you have the experience to make appropriate adjustments in your shooting.

You know what you need to accomplish when you pull the trigger, and you already know you must modify for many factors contributing to how well you perform.

The new mature shooter, however, is at a disadvantage.  She is just beginning to learn about a sight picture, what the sights are and do, how to align and adjust them. Then she must integrate the other elements of shooting – grip, breath control, stance, etc –  When a visual problem, impairment or challenge is present, it can be daunting and discouraging.

Corrective Lenses 

As already stated, it is a no brainer that you must be able to see the target in order to aim, and hit it accurately. You also must be able to see what is beyond that target in order to safely shoot.

I have seen quite a few seniors new to shooting remove prescription glasses and replace them with standard, non corrective shooting glasses when they go out on the range for their first shooting experience.

I suspect some of this is due to being new to the sport and trying to follow the directive to wear protective eyewear and not thinking any more about it. Having protective eyewear is mandatory, but in my experience it is not typical for instructors to go past the “Eyes and Ears” directive, and pay more attention to having good vision as well.

While certainly not true of every mature novice shooter, it’s been my experience some seniors also exhibit a long standing habit of “looking the part” with an emphasis on showing confidence while doing it. Another less kind way of saying it: they are used to “faking it” and have gotten good at it and usually get away with it.

An instructor would not suspect there was a vision challenge for the mature student now wearing “eyes”, and she would likely not bring it to his/her attention either.  Sometimes difficulty in achieving results after aiming and firing will prompt the student to tell the instructor they need corrective lenses, but not always. Depends on the need to be seen as competent and the coping strategies the elder shooter has brought to play.  Instructors are trained to work a wide variety of issues that could cause the aiming problem, but to date I have not heard VISION being one of the main checkpoints, and emphasis is given on refining the technique, which usually does help to a degree.

Safe shooting requires being able to see the target and what is beyond. It is possible to develop more accurate shooting with compensation and a lifetime of guesswork, but if your vision impairment affects your distance, focusing, peripheral vision, not wearing corrective lenses becomes a safety issue.  If your vision requires correction to drive or perform other daily tasks, then you will require corrective lenses while shooting.

SO—- When you are new to shooting, keep your prescription glasses on. If you can, use or get a second pair and dedicate that to your practice/target shooting.  The lenses on eyewear used in shooting are exposed to lots of dust, residues, and prone to being scratched just from the nature of the environment.

There are protective shooting glasses styles to wear over prescription glasses, from goggles to clip on shields. If you intend to engage in shooting sports regularly, you may opt for prescription shooting glasses.

Reading the Fine Print

One of the hallmarks of hitting middle age is often the subject of humor and embarassment –  it goes by many names and jibes. The correct term for it is “presbyopia.” Not being aware of its affects on the process of learning to shoot can be a serious issue for the aging shooter.

Following is a definition of presbyopia from “WebMD”:

 “Presbyopia is part of the natural aging process of the eye, and can be easily corrected. Technically, presbyopia is the loss of the eye’s ability to change its focus to see objects that are near. It is not a disease. It’s as natural as wrinkles, and it affects everyone at some point in life. Presbyopia generally starts to appear around age 40.

Presbyopia is often confused with farsightedness, but the two are different. Presbyopia occurs when the natural lens in the eye loses flexibility. Farsightedness occurs as a result of the natural shape of the eyeball, which causes light rays to bend incorrectly once they have entered the eye.”

Aiming a gun and safe shooting involves alternatively focusing on both near (sights) and far (the target) distances, as well as keeping apprised of what is around you and past the target. A person cannot focus on more than one thing at the same time, and must alternate their focus often and readjust quickly. We are also taught to make the front sight the clear focal point when learning to attain a proper sight picture and alignment before pulling the trigger.  Adjustments required to do this are much easier for the younger shooter.  It is more challenging for the older person to achieve a good consistent sight picture and alignment, and also see and factor in surroundings.

I’m not saying you CAN’T do it.  YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY DO IT!  With corrective lenses, reading glasses, and— Practice. Practice. Practice. Keep at it and you’ll develop and refine the process, and with time become quicker and more proficient at it.

Reading the Teensy Print

As important as hitting the target is, an even more basic factor of safe shooting is knowing that you are matching the correct ammunition with the gun you are shooting.

At basic pistol classes you are taught to look in FOUR places to make sure you are matching the correct ammunition for the gun you are shooting.

You are taught the importance of matching the ammunition to your gun because every factor from size, configuration, caliber, as well as load is involved in the successful and safe shooting of your gun. This is not something to quickly skim over.

  • The owners manual should be read for your specific gun, and it will tell you what bullet and loads are correct.
  • The factory packed ammunition box will have all the information you need on it. (reloaded ammunition requires even more vigilance, whether you reload or someone else you buy from reloads)
  • The gun is marked, most typically on the barrel.
  • And finally, the bullet itself is marked.

If you have ever looked at the printing on the bottom of a bullet, it is more than tiny.

It is eensy teensy weensy!

If you are unfamiliar with ammunition, telling a 40 cal from a 9 mm, or 38 special from a 357 magnum just from the general size or the fact that you can physically put it into the gun may be courting trouble- big time.  It’s important to take time to learn about the ammunition, not just the gun.

The marking / engraving / stamping on the gun itself can be challenging to read even without a visual impairment. It might not be well defined, not be very deep, or very clearly stamped.

Bottom Line: If you need to, take the time necessary, get out the reading glasses or higher powered magnifier, and ask questions! Verify what ammunition you are working with and get verification from someone else if you are having trouble reading what is stamped/engraved. And do it BEFORE you load your magazine or gun.

BE SURE, BE SAFE, don’t ever just guess.

This is not an issue to be shy or embarassed about.

Eye Health

Along with the “my arms are too short” syndrome of presbyopia, there are other conditions that can affect a senior’s vision, more often than younger shooters. Some of these include: developing or undiagnosed cataracts, narrowed visual fields (tunnel vision) from glaucoma, blind spots from detaching/frayed retina, fluctuating vision from diabetes or medications, dry or runny or irritated eyes, and even increased “floaters”  in the vision.

If you are a mature person just getting into shooting, I would suggest you take special care to make sure that your eyes are healthy and functioning to the best of their ability. Seek appropriate professional assistance as needed for correction and treatment of any and all eye problems and conditions.

Another comment on Eye Health: If you have recently had eye surgery – for cataracts, implanting of lenses, lasix, etc. make sure your eye professional knows you intend to start shooting.  Not only for the more obvious environmental factors of the grit and conditions your eyes will be exposed to, but also for the jolting that will occur from firing a handgun.

Eye Dominance

Another part of being able to hit a target is how your eyes work together. When trying to establish a sight picture, you will experience the target “jumping around” or appearing doubled. You need to learn how to work your eyes for coordination when to shooting.

With eye aging and health problems, as so many other physical aspects, seniors can exhibit a greater tendency for eye dominance problems than a younger person. This problem occurs in varying degrees which can fluctuate over time.

For instance, a person who has had a right eye dominance for most of their life, might gradually or suddenly develop a vision problem as they age. The stronger eye will take over – usually automatically without any conscious effort. That person may need to adjust for whichever eye is currently dominant for shooting.

Corrective surgery can leave a person with “monovision” intentionally or during the healing process when one eye regresses more than the other. Monovision is where one eye works better close up for near objects, and the other is better for distance. You may have learned to shift focus to accomodate or use that new condition, and that is the same skill a shooter develops when aiming a gun.

Again, take time to check it out while you are learning, and monitor it occasionally over time as another factor to consider in obtaining and improving your ability to get a more accurate sight picture and alignment as you continue to advance with shooting

A simple quick check of eye dominance follows, taken from an “” article:

  1. Extend your arms in front of you with your palms facing away.
  2. Bring your hands together, forming a small hole by crossing the thumbs and fore fingers.
  3. Choose a small object about 15-20 feet away from you. With both eyes open, focus on the object as you look through the small hole.
  4. Close one eye and then the other. When you close one eye, the object will be stationary. When you close the other eye, the object should disappear from the hole or jump to one side.
  5. If the object does not move when you cover one eye, then that eye is dominant. The eye that sees the object and does not move is the dominant eye

If you are “cross dominant” –  it means you are shooting with your right hand dominant while your left eye is dominant, or vice versa. Various issues with accuracy arise from cross dominance when you are attempting to develop a sight picture and align the sights.

No matter if you have a clearly dominant eye or are cross dominant, the best recommended technique is to shoot with both eyes open. There is lively discussion on the pros and cons of leaving one eye or both eyes open to focus when aiming a handgun.

Probably the most compelling argument for making an effort to learn to keep both eyes open is forming the habit while practicing so it translates into real life if a situation develops where you need to fire defensely.

The rationale for keeping both eyes open is sound. Both eyes open allows for depth perception and better peripheral vision, helping to transition from one target to the next more effectively and keep attention on your surroundings.

If you are having difficulty keeping both eyes open, rather than closing one eye, a common tip is to tape/opaque  the lens of your protective glasses over the non dominant eye. This helps you keep BOTH EYES open and eliminates the struggle of shifting focus from eye to eye. It also minimizes the time and distraction of regaining focus, along with the changes for light adjustment your pupil goes through when you open the eye you had closed.

Bottom line, you need to develop a style that will allow you to adapt to your own unique challenges and help you become an accurate and safe shooter. Once you have settled in to a habit, it will be harder to break than if you work on establishing good practices from the start.

I am right handed and right eye dominant. I had corrective lasix surgery over a decade ago which resulted in an unintentional “up close and personal” experience of monovision as my eyes healed. My left eye has better distance vision, and my right eye is slightly near sighted. I tried taping off a lens, but found it interfered with my ability to focus on the far away target! I find there are days that I shoot better if I close my left eye while gaining a sight picture, and other days when I can more successfully leave both open.  I haven’t given up trying to shoot with both eyes open as my ultimate goal, so I just keep working at it.

Eye Protection

When at a range or in a class, you should and will undoubtedly hear “Eyes and Ears” continually yelled or reminded prior to commencing range live firing. This applies universally to all age groups who shoot. Proper eye protection is of supreme importance.

Firing a handgun – whether revolver or semi auto – involves projectiles. The bullet is the most commonly one thought of. But the action of firing a bullet involves controlled explosion. Gasses, minute pieces of slivered or molten metal, bullet casings, and potential for catastrophic failure of the gun and casing make eye protection mandatory.

There are many eye protection solutions available off the shelf at retail sporting goods stores and online.  They come in a wide variety of material, tinting, shapes, and prices. We’ve already discussed prescription lenses and wearing them while shooting. If you are dependent on reading glasses for up close work, you can get protective bifocal reading glasses in a variety of tints and styles off-the-shelf at Cabelas and online at many sporting goods stores and sites.

Your vision is precious, necessary, and fragile. No need to foolishly take chances by not always wearing eye protection while practicing.

Coming nextpost:  Part 2  of “Eyes and Ears” and the Mature Shooter   where we’ll talk about EARS!

Happy and Safe Shooting!

—  Peggy


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One response to ““Eyes and Ears” and the Mature Shooter – Part 1

  1. Jesse Austin

    February 7, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Removing corrective lenses for open-sight shooting is a bad idea. However, if you are using a scope, removing them is not always necessary. If you are near sighted, the scope will be doing the same work as your corrective lenses.


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