Oh Say Can You See? Eyesight and the Aging Shooter
Posted on 28 June 2017
Re-Print from December 27, 2016 by Scott Sheldon SERT GROUP INTERNATIONAL
NEWS FLASH!!! WE’RE ALL GETTING OLDER!
Sad but true.
As those of us that have seen our 30’s come and go (mostly go), our eyesight changes, the lens stiffens, and we start developing a condition known as Presbyopia and it starts losing the ability to focus when you view something up close. This usually occurs around age 40 (but hey, who’s counting?). What happens is that our near vision, used for things such as reading or focusing on our sights, becomes blurred. People who are nearsighted and wear glasses or contact lenses will experience blurring in their near vision. This problem can even occur in people that don’t have vision problems. Obviously, this can have a significant effect on our shooting and reading glasses or bifocals start becoming part of your normal attire. I wear contacts a lot and when I first started shooting competitively I noticed that my front sight wasn’t as clear as I wanted it to be. In addition, whenever I had to read scores or other paperwork, I needed to put on my reading glasses. This meant either taking my sunglasses off (the light… it buuuurns!) or putting the readers on over them, which is its own fashion statement (not that I care about such things…just saying). I tried reversing my contact lenses, with minimal success. I also tried leaving my non-dominant eye lens out which worked a little better, and I even tried monovision (one contact for up close and one for distance) and they were so-so. This isn’t to say that none of these ideas worked, but I was hoping someone would develop a better product just for this problem.
Mike Bechtel, president and founder of SSP Eyewear has been making safety glasses for over a decade. I came across an ad for his products on Facebook. The pair of sunglasses I was interested in had a reading lens (they call them cheaters) as part of the lower area of the sunglass lens. Having tried reading lenses that attached to the bottom of your personal sunglasses around 10 years ago, a novelty at the time, I decided to purchase SSP’s “Denial” model. The ones that I bought looked good, were comfortable to wear, and allowed me to read clearly. Win!
Several weeks later, I discovered that he was making bifocal shooting glasses with the reader on the top part of the lens in order to bring the front sight into focus. I contacted the owner, Mike, and was sent a variety of glasses for me to review. At the range, I tried the “TF (Top Focal) Kit” which comes with three lenses: clear, amber and smoked lenses, all with the reader on the top. It took me a few minutes to get used to them, but then I was amazed at how sharp the front sight became. I always thought I normally had a pretty clear view of the front sight until I tried the SSP’s. What I saw was the classic picture of front sight focus: crystal clear front sight and blurry target. I couldn’t believe the difference.
Later, when I put one of the lenses with the reader on the bottom over my left eye, I could read and get a crisp sight picture without having to switch glasses. That is definitely a handy feature to have. In addition to their selection of bifocal kits and glasses, they also make regular safety glasses and even have a pair that will fit over your eyeglasses. These glasses have been approved by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and are currently in use by various SWAT teams and agencies. Check out their video below or visit their website for more information. If you use reading glasses, I highly recommend these. You won’t be disappointed.
Now while using glasses and readers may be necessary, what can be done about strengthening the eye?
One method I found that is used to help with eye focus and alignment is the Brock String, named after Swiss optometrist Frederick W. Brock. The Brock String is a white string approximately 10 feet in length with three small wooden beads of different colors. It is used in vision therapy to help strengthen eye convergence (when your eyes move inward toward each other to create single binocular vision), for those folks who have a common eye condition known as convergence insufficiency. To use it simply attach one end of the string to a fixed point while the other is held on the tip of the nose. The three beads are spaced out at various distances. You focus on one of the beads, while noting the visual input of each eye and sensation of convergence. You can use variable techniques to make easier or more difficult by bringing the beads closer or further to the nose. Using this string for five minutes a day can help develop accurate ﬁxation skills under binocular conditions, a plus for shooters. (1) For a look at the Brock String check out retired Navy Seal master firearms instructor and author, Chris Sajnog’s video on eye exercises at: https://youtu.be/pnsxnIQsgKg. They can be purchased on Amazon.
Various exercises are available that can help strengthen the eye muscles. There are six main muscles around the eyes that move them around and help them focus. If these muscles don’t remain flexible, they lose the ability to perform. Dr. Eric Cobb from Z-Health has created a program he calls The Vision Gym (http://www.thevisiongym.com/). He has worked with the Special Operations and professional athletic communities for decades and being a shooter himself, has created a series of shooting centric exercises that will help strengthen those muscles. These exercises can help front sight acquisition speed as well as peripheral vision enhancement and overall speed in identifying and tracking targets. I have been using these exercises for a year or so and they definitely help. Since I started using them I have noticed that I can pick up vehicles, people, or hazards much quicker when I’m driving, especially when using the side mirrors. Value added!
So, there you have it. Getting older is inevitable (the death and taxes guarantee), and we may not be able to do much about some problems but we can do something about our eyesight. With options like SSP Eyewear and programs such as the Vision Gym series, there is no reason we can’t improve our vision. Remember, it’s not just about scores at a competition, but about gaining an edge on those that would do us harm.
Stay Safe! Scott
Author: Scott Sheldon
Scott is the founder and training director of SERT Group International LLC. A former tactical medic for 15 years, he has extensive experience in casualty care, tactical operations and firearms. Scott is a frequent lecturer, speaking at various law enforcement and military conferences around the country, including the prestigious Special Operations Medical Association. He has authored numerous articles for tactical publications and appeared in the “Street Smarts” DVD series. Scott can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sertgroupinternational.com