Presbyopia & Solutions for the Shooting Range

Are you over 40? Do you need brighter light to read menus or see things clearly? Do you catch yourself holding that restaurant menu at arm’s length to read it? Do you squint to read characters that were always clear before? You may have blurred near vision or something called presbyopia. It’s quite common in adults over 40. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 2017, over 128 million Americans face the challenge of presbyopia.

Most of us know the common “cures”. Bifocal glasses, multifocal contact lenses, larger print, etc. If you’re a shooter, you’re probably familiar with this challenge because it prevents you from seeing a crusty front sight when trying to acquire your sight alignment and sight picture. Every firearms instructor you’ve met has told you to make sure the front sight is in focus while the target and front sight are slightly out of focus. What if everything was blurry? It’s hard to achieve “equal height, equal light” when you can’t focus the handlebars.

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Sometimes bifocals are a good enough solution when shooting. If you tilt your head higher, you can fine-tune this handlebar. However, this creates a very narrow field of view and while it’s not a bad temporary solution for the range, it’s not a working solution for the real world.

Part of the problem with corrective lenses is that the eye doctor tries to correct your vision to 20/20 as far as possible. But in doing so, they usually push your closest focal point beyond arm’s length. Think about it, your handgun is at the end of your arm, and it can be just within distance of the nearest focal point with corrective glasses. There is a solution to this: when you have your next eye exam and the doctor makes adjustments to find your sharpest vision, after doing so, extend your arm and thumb up. Ask the doctor to repeat the prescription just enough to get your thumb in focus. If you can focus your thumb and your handgun sights are still just on the other side, then the sights are far enough away to be within focal length.

Another solution, which is becoming more common every day, is a red dot sight, or RDS. The RDS is mounted on the handgun just ahead of the rear sight. The average point in the RDS measures between 0.6 and 1.6 mil or between 2 and 5 MOA (Minute of Angle). The point is, let’s assume for a moment that you have an RDS with a 0.6 mil dot. Even though it’s blurry when you look at it, it’s probably still less than 2 mil. 2 mil would put it at around 6 MOA and unless you’re doing precision shooting, that’s enough to hit an eight inch target at 25 yards. For most people, this is considered acceptable combat accuracy.

For defensive shooting, hitting an eight inch target within 15 yards is generally acceptable. What is the average size of the human torso from side to side? For most people, that’s a measurement of 20 inches (or more), so hitting an eight-inch circle in the middle of it still equates to a pretty good center mass shot.

A third solution is a laser sight. The biggest challenge when using a laser sight is remembering to turn it on or make sure it’s on when drawing. Nothing can slow you down as much as looking for a show that doesn’t exist. One of the advantages of an RDS over a laser sight is that the target cannot see the RDS dot. If you shoot defensively, the bad guy can see the laser beam, depending on movement and surroundings, and if they look down, they can see it on their chest. This could be a great deterrent; or it could mean they realize they have to move sideways and quickly, making it harder for you to score shots.

Whichever solution you choose (corrected vision, RDS or laser sight), you should train accordingly and redundancy is never bad. An RDS with sights high enough to co-witness means you always have mechanical sights if anything happens to the RDS. Mechanical sights that you can see and use if the laser sight breaks or the battery dies means you can still aim for the target.

Another solution is to have specially designed mechanical sights that do not require front sights and rear sights – just one or the other. Meprolight manufactures the FT Bullseye sight – front or rear – designed so that you only need the rear or the front and you can always acquire correct sight alignment. This is accomplished by Meprolight combining a longer sight housing with tritium and phosphorescent paint creating a point inside a circle. When you extend the weapon and align the sight, if you see the dot inside the circle, your sight is straight; correctly aligned. The FT Bullseye handlebar has a much larger than “normal” point and no handlebar is needed. Even with presbyopia, the dot inside the circle can be seen and even if they start to blur together, if you see a properly spherical dot, that’s sight alignment.

These are four potential solutions to presbyopia, but they all have one thing in common: they require training to use correctly. Experienced shooters with excellent basic marksmanship skills saw their scores drop when they started using an RDS or laser sight. This is usually due to their own lack of attention to basic marksmanship. They see the “magic point” and pull the trigger. They throw trigger control out the window, forget all tracking, and then can’t figure out why their shots are so low left (or opposite for a left-handed shooter). This is because they saw the point where they wanted it on target and then pulled the trigger. No vision in the world can fix poor basic skills.

So if you’re struggling with presbyopia, figure out which option best suits your needs. Understand that just because you’re running the solution doesn’t mean you’ve completed the solution process. Mount the sight(s) of your choice, then press range. Practice acquiring sight alignment and sight picture, then execute that gentle trigger pull. Monitoring. A few thousand repetitions is a good start.