HOW TO KEEP YOUR VISION ON TARGET By Aleta Luhmann
The following article is reprinted with permission of Precision Shooting magazine. It was published in the February 2009 issue.
While it specifically deals with highpower shooting, there are tips throughout the article that are of value to all shooters. It will appeal to new shooters as well as experienced because it is purposely written in a non-technical style.
All types of sports require good vision; however, Highpower rifle competition is particularly demanding. It requires the competitor to be able to see well at near, far, and intermediate distances. Near vision is crucial for you to make sight adjustments. The intermediate vision is needed for focusing on the front sight. And distance vision is required so you may find your target number and have an adequate view of the aiming black on the target, which may be from 100 - 1000 yards away, depending on the match. In a sport where scores are often only a point or a tie-breaking X apart, maximizing your vision could make the winning difference!
Even if you have excellent vision, most ranges require shooters to wear safety glasses. Vanity prevents some shooters from using glasses,but it is not cool if you lose your eyesight because you didn’t wear glasses. I have seen a rifle blow up, and glasses saved that shooter’s eyes.
It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on eyewear for Highpower shooting. Make sure the glasses you buy are shatter-proof and are of good optical quality. If you do not wear prescription glasses, you can get shooters’ glasses through catalogs or at your local sports store. The cost ranges from about $15 to $100. Specialized shooting glasses such as Knoblock and Champion start at $150 and, depending on accessories, can run up to $300. These glasses are fully adjustable and will provide the shooter a near perfect alignment of the lens to the eye.
The correct position for all shooting glasses is high on the nose. The high position will keep the frame above your line of sight, preventing distortion of your vision. This will enable you to see clearly through the optical center if you have prescription glasses. Using this high position would be awkward for everyday use of prescription glasses; to help keep them high on your nose, you can either adjust the nosepiece or attach a vertical piece of tape to the non-shooting lens and your forehead to keep the glasses high.
The cables, if they are adjustable, should be fitted so that they keep the glasses firmly against the face. This will keep them from sliding down during rapid fire. Most non-shooting prescription glasses do not have adjustable, so a pair of croakies may be used to hold your glasses in place. Croakies are foam strips with a slit on one end to slide the cable through, and the other end has Velcro to fasten the strips together, adjusting them to fit your head. These may be purchased at many large chain stores or at the optician’s office.
Another trick for glasses is to insert a foam earplug into the opening between the nosepiece and the top of the frame, to keep the glasses just slightly off the face to help prevent fogging and to keep the lens free of body oil and sweat. Even well adjusted glasses may sometimes need the earplug to prevent the lens from contacting your face or eyebrow during recoil to keep it smear-free. Shooters looking through a greasy smear have lost many points.
Some people find it difficult to shoot with both eyes open, so they keep one eye closed. This results in terrible eyestrain in your aiming eye, causing eye fatigue, blurring and a host of other vision problems. Placing a piece of translucent tape on the lens of the non-aiming eye will “fool” the eye, thus reducing eye strain by allowing it to remain open. Place a piece of semi opaque adhesive or waterproof first aid tape across the top third of the lens for your non-aiming eye. Adjust the tape so you cannot see the target with your non-aiming eye when you are in the shooting position. By covering only the top section of your lens, you will still be able to see everything else--- range flags, spotting scope, safety factors And range conditions.
Blinders can be purchased for about $4.00 a pair or you can make them out of cardboard or even a cardboard ammo box. Blinders block out distractions on either side of you as well as protecting your eyes from the sun (ranges facing north or south have morning sun which is blinding as it hits you in the eye from the side when you are trying to shoot standing), wind and flying brass.
There are many different colors of lenses. Some shooters use yellow or rose lenses in foggy or low light conditions to sharpen the image. Dark glasses are never recommended because they reduce visual acuity. Do wear them until about five minutes before you shoot. This will keep your eyes rested from glare and give them time to adjust to your shooting glasses. Clear lenses are the color choice for the majority of shooters. They work in all levels of light, and you need only one pair.
For shooters who have to wear prescription glasses, it would be advisable to purchase a pair of glasses used just for shooting. These glasses are designed to you the clearest vision at 22²-36¢¢. Most shooters need only one pair of shooting glasses; however, if you are using a variety of rifles such as the AR-15 with the 20¢¢ barrel and Palma rifles with 30¢¢ barrels, it may be necessary to have two pair. Find an optometrist who is a shooter; they will understand much better what your needs are for shooting.
When you make your appointment, let them know you will be bringing your rifle. They will need to have you in position with your rifle so they can mark the spot on the lens that will be your optical center, the “sweet spot,” where you will look through the lens. This spot will be near the top of the lens and close to your nose. The spots for the standing and sitting positions will be slightly different, so the optician will use a spot between them for your optical center. The optometrist will also measure the distance from your eye to your front sight. Knowing your “critical distance” will enable him or her to test you properly to get the correct prescription for you.
Your vision will likely change as you age, eventually forcing you to accept a less than perfect sight picture. The compromised sight picture will be a front sight that is slightly out of focus, and you will still be able to see the target. When you cannot see the rear sight clear enough to adjust while wearing your shooting glasses—it’s time for bifocals.
The weather can have a profound influence on our ability to see….particularly if it is raining or very hot. If the receiver of a Service rifle gets wet, water will splash on your glasses when you fire. You can minimize rain problems by using a genuine chamois to cover the receiver when the bolt is open and to wipe your glasses. Also wear a hat with a slightly longer bill to help keep the rain off your glasses. During hot weather keep a cloth handy to wipe away the sweat, but do not rub your eyes. This will cause blurring vision. Lotions and sunscreens are not advisable near the eyes; they will run into your eyes once you start to sweat. Some use a headband to minimize perspiration. Another effective way to keep your cool is to keep a cold, damp terry towel for your neck.
After age 40, many people experience “floaters,” vitreous fluid which appears as squiggly lines that move erratically on your eye. To get rid of most of these quickly move your eyes, top to bottom, four times. Bilberry, a vitamin extract, has proven to be effective in reducing floaters in most people.
Keep a clean cotton handkerchief (and a small bottle of lens cleaner for heavy duty cleaning) in your stool. It is vital that your glasses are cleaned before firing each stage of the match. Many who have not taken this advice seriously have realized too late that they weren’t shooting well because they were looking through smeared lenses which created a blurry sight picture.
The equipment needed to keep your glasses at optimum performance is inexpensive, and the time required to take excellent care of your glasses is minimal. Get a glasses repair kit for your shooting stool. These kits, available at opticians’ offices and some drug stores for about $4.00, include a tiny screwdriver, magnifying glass, and assorted nuts and screws for your frames. Your optometrist or optician can provide you with the correct size nuts and screws. Check your frames regularly. Make sure all the screws are tight and look for signs of wear on the nosepiece. You will spend a great deal of time, effort and money to become a proficient rifleman, so don’t waste all that by not taking care of your glasses. They are an important piece of equipment, like your rifle or spotting scope.
When competing with a Service rife, smoking the front sight is very important to ensure your ability to see a crisp front sight, unhampered by glare. A carbide lamp “smoker” will produce a jet black post, and the sprays produce a dark gray. Either one is good.
If you use a larger rear aperture, it will let in more light, allowing a good sight picture with less eye strain. A smaller rear aperture will help sharpen the target while focusing on the front sight, but you have to be careful not to get too small an aperture as it will darken the sight picture and lose clarity. You should be able to see a razor sharp image of the front sight. When this is no longer possible, buy a larger front sight blade.
To protect your glasses, shooters who compete with an M-1A or M-1 should put two layers of first aid adhesive tape across the back of the receiver to prevent scratching or chipping of your glasses. This is important because sooner or later you will hit the back of the receiver, damaging your lens right where you need most to have clear vision to check sight settings on your rifle and to read your score book.
Head position is crucial. If you incline too much, you will be looking through the top of your eye. For maximum visual acuity and minimum eye strain, look through the center of your eye as much as possible. If you have prescription glasses, tipping the head forward too much will distort your prescription. Ideally, all shooters should be looking through a lens that is perpendicular to the line of sight.
Focusing on the front sight is a basic fundamental of shooting. If you are focusing on the front sight, it will appear sharp and distinct, and the target will appear slightly fuzzy. There is a tendency, especially among new shooters, to expect a sharp target. Never have glasses that make the target sharper than the front sight. It does not work!!
When you are dry firing (firing practice without ammunition), practice on a blank spot on the target to help you learn to consistently look at the front sight. Focus on the front sight for only a short time. If you look at it more than a few seconds, the image will “burn” into your eye. Then no matter where you are looking, it will appear as though you are looking at the same spot as when you first focused. Practice executing each shot in a timely manner.
Rapid Fire—Be sure to breathe between shots during rapid fire. (Adjust your coat straps loose enough to allow you to take a full breath.) Take in a full breath during recoil, letting out air to your natural pause. This will settle the rifle faster, give you time to focus on the front sight, and provide sufficient oxygen to your eyes. Good technique will enable you to focus faster, reducing eyestrain.
During slow fire, taking full breaths between shots is just as important as during rapid fire. Many shooters tend to breathe shallowly while shooting prone, depriving their eyes of oxygen, causing blurring and unnecessary eyestrain. If you take more than a few seconds to fire a shot, come off the rifle and rest your eyes for a couple of seconds, then start over.
A challenge for many Service rifle shooters is to get a sight picture that is reliable at 600 yards and beyond. Seeing a good, repeatable sight picture is critical at both mid and long range. There are several sight pictures available: 6 o’clock, line of white, center of mass, berm, and frame hold. The 6 o’clock is popular because it is easy to line up the top of the sight blade with the bottom of the target black. The line of white, held a little below the black, is easier to repeat when your eyes are tired. The center of mass hold works very well for some people, but many shooters have a hard time repeating the same sight picture. There will be times when it is so dark in the target area, holding the sight blade even with the berm below the target or holding on the frame will be the only reasonable course of action.
Getting in the habit of taking care of your equipment and using vision enhancement techniques in your training will require some diligence on your part, but your efforts will immediately be rewarded with better scores.