Old Guys, Old Eyes

Guns and Gear | Contributor

By Payton Miller, GUNS Magazine

When it comes to the vision thing, there are things you can do to forestall the inevitable “vintage to vinegar” process of aging.

In the late 1970’s I had my eyes checked by a buddy who happened to be a newly-minted optometrist. It was informal—a Saturday afternoon thing when he was showing me his office after we’d been shooting pool and having a beer or two. “You’ll be my first—and only—free victim,” he said. Turned out my vision at the time was 20/14. So, in my youthful optimism, I figured I was good to go for another 40 years or so. Wrong.

Fast forward 20 years and the magic number had changed to 20/20—still good enough for distance and there were no problems up close. Yet.
After several more years had passed, however, I began to have difficulty deciphering baseball box scores. So reluctantly—after first trying to blame things on bad overhead lighting—I submitted to the indignity of prescription reading glasses.

Since then, I’ve had them tweaked on a yearly basis to keep up with the inevitable “geezer-ization” of my short-range vision. But the definition of short range, unfortunately, seemed to be continually evolving ever outward.

This wasn’t critical with rifles. Most of the rifles I use are scoped or have ghost-ring sights with generous apertures. Iron-sighted handguns, however, became something of a problem. The old bull’s-eye shooter’s maxim “keep the sights sharp and let the target blur” didn’t seem relevant to me when I was 20/14. Everything seemed to look sharp then. Now, unfortunately, all three of the vital components involved in aiming a handgun—rear sight, front sight, target—seemed as if I were looking at them through a thin film of Vaseline.

I’ve tried a few things to get around the problem in the last couple of years. Heck, I’ve even tried using old reading glasses no longer strong enough to do their intended job, but capable (well, kinda) of cleaning up a sight picture somewhat if I’m holding the handgun at just the right distance away. But it didn’t help me much with the 25- or 50-yard target I was interested in. I figured there had to be a better option than jury-rigging the situation with expired specs.

Recently I decided to try a pair of custom shooting glasses from TacticalRx. What they do is take the prescription for your reading glasses to create what they call an “almost lens,” an inverted bifocal section—a rectangular area—located in the top part of the main lens where it enables your dominant eye to acquire the sights with razor-sharp clarity, while you still remain in distance focus on the target through the lower, larger section.

The first time I used them, I saw—for the first time in quite awhile—the front sight serrations on my Smith K-frame clearly enough to get disconcerted by a minuscule piece of lint trapped there. I felt like I was 20 years old again. The old mantra of “focus on the sights” was once again a reality. I even discovered the small fixed ones on a Tokarev TT-33—my flat-shooting “perfect plinkin’ pistol” (as John Taffin might say)—were startlingly easy to pick up. They just seemed bigger somehow.


All smiles now. TacticalRx shooting glasses provides a clear sight picture for older handgunners.

TacticalRx uses ballistic-rated frames in variety of styles from top-end makers. Their prescription lenses are tested to the most rigorous mil-spec ballistic standards. The lens color options include the usual suspects—clear, yellow, rose and gray. But since they’re a custom outfit, they can pretty much give you any color you want—as well as the mirrored coatings made famous by innumerable movie cops and bad guys.

TacticalRx glasses represent a very good investment in keeping you on-target through those years of optical transition (“degeneration” is such an ugly word!). I plan to take care of mine. No tossing them on the truck dashboard or in the glove compartment. These will either be on my face or in the case.

There’s also an old-school optical aid of an earlier vintage as well. It’s been around since the company started making them back in 1934. The Merit Optical Attachment—an on-board aperture—sticks to your shooting glasses via a small suction cup. It is specifically intended for handgunners. What it does is increase your eye’s range of focus (also referred to as depth of field), sharpening things up—like a peep sight on a rifle. Merit apertures have an adjustable iris to allow you to change the size of the aperture for varying ranges and lighting conditions.

There are other aids for aging eyes when it comes to using a handgun. Although I came to the conclusion long ago that scopes and red-dot reflex sights weren’t for me, I have used laser sights quite a bit. They simply take iron sights right out of the equation. Besides their obvious advantages in low-light (or no-light) emergency conditions as opposed to paper-punching, they’re a very good training aid when it comes to trigger control—particularly with double-action revolvers. Watching where the laser dot moves as you try to wrestle your way through a long trigger pull will show you—in no uncertain terms—any bad habits you’re developing. And enhancing your “muscle memory” at short ranges can help compensate for a reasonable amount of diminishing visual acuity.

The type I’ve come to prefer are Crimson Trace LaserGrips. They don’t require rails, holster modifications or what have you. And there’s a specific model to fit anything I’m ever likely to use.


Although not intended for recreational target shooting, the Crimson Trace LaserGrips on this Commander-size S&W 1911 (above) are one way to get around the problem of fuzzy sights altogether. Even the relatively minuscule sights on this TT-33 (below) were easy to acquire.


The type I’ve come to prefer are Crimson Trace LaserGrips. They don’t require rails, holster modifications or what have you. And there’s a specific model to fit anything I’m ever likely to use.

And finally we come to subject of being able to see where your bullets are going. In this respect, no one company has done more to make things easier than Birchwood Casey with their line of Shoot-N-C targets.

Even the most shopworn set of eyes can easily pick up big, splashy neon-lined holes—especially if they’re being punched with a serious caliber.

If you like the instant feedback of smacking steel plates or plinking at tin cans and dirt clods, of course, be my guest. But don’t do it at the expense of bypassing proven methods of developing your skills. As a wise old bull’s-eye shooter once told me,“Shooting at noisy, reactive, ‘hit-’em-anywhere’ objects is a lot of fun. But if you ever want to be as good as you’re gonna get, shoot paper. Paper doesn’t lie.”


Available in a variety of shapes, sizes and splashy neon hues, Birchwood Casey’s Shoot-N-C targets are a great downrange aid for aging eyeballs to discern point of aim vs. point of impact.


Thanks to the GUNS Magazine team for this contribution. Take a moment to visit GUNS online – click here. Want GUNS delivered to your door – click here for subscription options.

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