Look Ma, No Glasses!

Over the past few weeks on visits to the range, I’ve been doing some experimentation. I tried something that I’ve only ever done with dry fire before… I shot a few drills without my prescription glasses to see just how I would fare relying only on my unaided eyesight. As you read the following, please remember that this is essentially an experiment of N=1, and that I am literally the only one that can replicate my own results since my eyesight and its deficiencies are unique to me. Nonetheless, I hope it provides for interesting reading and provokes self-examination among our readers.

Considering that one of the times I’m likely to need to use my gun, I’m also likely not going to be wearing my glasses (reading or typing in my home or perhaps immediately after being woken from sleep), I thought it would be a valuable exercise to attempt to quantify just how much of a difference my glasses make.

To test this, one of the specific drills I decided to use was the Seeklander/Wilson 5×5 Test, as it is conducted at a reasonable distance (there are no 25 yard shots in my home) and the overall score is based both on time and accuracy. I first shot the test cold while wearing my glasses. After recording my score, I then shot the test with non-prescription safety glasses and compared. You may be surprised at the results… I know I was.

I actually shot a little better without my prescription glasses! While none of my times were impressive, I shot the drill faster without prescription glasses. I dropped two shots out of the “A” zone wearing my glasses, and dropped three shots outside without the prescription. Even with an additional time penalty, I was still noticeably faster without my glasses.

The next week, I shot the same drill first cold without my prescription glasses and then again with glasses. This time, my scores were separated by literally tenths of a second. I again dropped more shots out of the “A” zone without my glasses, but not by many. I was also faster with my glasses the second time around, but only by a few tenths of a second.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore that I shot better on the second iteration of the drill both weeks regardless of whether I was wearing prescription eyewear or not. Perhaps the more important variable is whether the drill was shot cold or after a “warm-up.”

Since the environments I identified above where I would probably be without my glasses are inside with indoor or only ambient lighting, I did some more drills in the indoor range. I shot at roughly 10, 15, and 25 yards in varied lighting. Here, my shooting was largely the same whether wearing my prescription eyewear or not. I would say that I was slightly faster without my glasses but still slightly more accurate with them.

Some background information is in order. I am strongly right eye dominant, even though my right eye is the worse of the two. Roughly, my left eye is about 20/400 and my right eye is about 20/600. I also have astigmatism. I have worn glasses since 3rd grade, so I really can’t remember a time without glasses. Having said that, I often am not wearing them, especially when reading or typing, due to presbyopia. For a few years now, my nearsightedness has somewhat alleviated the need for reading glasses. Unfortunately, my now worsening presbyopia means that with my glasses, my pistol sights are fuzzy. Without my glasses my sights are still fuzzy, but much less so than the distant blurry target.

So what conclusions can be drawn from these brief tests?

First, this only reinforces my belief that sight focused shooting is more effective than target focused shooting, at least with iron sights. This premise is somewhat borne out by my shooting times. A thorough understanding of parallel and angular deviation as it relates to pistol sights explains why this is the case. The “Cliff’s Notes” version is that minor deviation of your sight picture up close is going to result in significant deviation on your target down range, while parallel deviation of a perfect sight picture will be less significant as long as the sights are superimposed over the target.

Second, I am not worried about facing a threat in my home when I am without my prescription eyewear. As long as I can positively identify the threat, I’m not worried about making the hits at the distances involved inside my home.

Third, I think I may need to revisit having a red dot sight on my carry gun. The advantage of the red dot is that it essentially places the dot and the target on the same focal plane. Both can be in focus at the same time. The problem with this that immediately occurs to me is that without glasses, both the aiming dot and the target will be out of focus! Now, is the juice worth the squeeze? I don’t know. I think if you have good eyesight, the answer is no. With impaired eyesight, for me, the jury is still out. I have a red dot equipped slide for my carry gun, so I will play with this concept more in the future. For the counter point, check out Robert’s article detailing his decision to abandon the red dot pistol.

Finally, I probably need to repeat these tests on a routine basis to see whether distinct patterns emerge with more consistent results.

So have you trained for all the likely scenarios you may find yourself in? If you need glasses, can you still shoot accurately without them? If you don’t know the answer, perhaps it’s time to visit the range and find out!

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