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Vision and shooting

by B.B. Pelletier

I hear so often from shooters who think that because they are 40 and their vision has started to degrade, they are too old to use open sights. Hogwash! I’m 58 and wear bifocals, so don’t pull the old-eyes card on me! I think many shooters just don’t understand what sights really are and how their vision relates to them, so today I want to explore this topic.

Try shooting targets you can’t see at all!
In the Army, I lead a heavy mortar platoon. We had four tubes of 106mm (4.2″) mortars that shot 25-27 lb. high-explosive shells over 5,000 yards. We never saw the target! Forward observers adjusted our fire onto the target via the radio. What we aimed at were two metal stakes stuck in the ground about 30-40 yards from the guns. Call those stakes your front and rear sight, because that’s exactly how they work.

We couldn’t aim at the target because we couldn’t even see it, so we “aimed” at the two metal stakes. The precision came when we refined our “sight picture” of the two stakes using a small optical scope sight. What I am saying is that the care we took in looking at our crude sights made it possible to land mortar rounds ON TOP of target tanks many miles away! One time we actually dropped a round down the open hatch of a target tank and blew off the turret, winning an award for everyone in the platoon.

If you can see the front sight clearly, you’re almost home!
The secret to shooting with open sights is the relationship of the front and rear sights. Forget the target! Not really, but don’t let it be your emphasis. Let the front sight be your emphasis. If you can see it clearly in the rear sight, whether it is a notch or a peephole, you can shoot like a champ. Remember, I wear bifocals, so don’t tell me how hard it is unless you have 20/40 vision CORRECTED in your sighting eye. Then I’ll cut you some slack.

Get your eyes checked
Every shooter should have a recent eye exam if they hope to shoot their best. And wear your glasses! Yes, Lasik surgery is wonderful, but if you can’t afford it yet, put on those specs! And for gosh sakes, WEAR SAFETY GLASSES! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit in the face with pellet fragments that drew blood. Don’t risk the only pair of eyes you have.

Do me a big favor & try open sights my way
If you’ve avoided open sights (that’s any non-optical sight), try them for me – and try them my special way. Start at a ridiculously close range of 10 feet from the target. Yes, I know that’s too close, so wear those safety glasses. Shoot your rifle or pistol offhand at the target until you can keep your shots inside the nine-ring of whatever paper targets you use. Then, back up five feet and try it again. You may have to change your point of aim, but keep shooting until you keep them all in the nine-ring. Then back up to 20 feet and do it again.

Concentrate on the front sight, keeping it centered in the rear sight and level with the top of the rear if it’s a post-and-notch sight. Let the target appear fuzzy, but focus on that front sight.

By the time you’ve backed up to 30 feet and are shooting well, I would like to hear from you. Say whatever you want, but write me so the other readers can hear what you have to say about this.

One hundred years ago, it was well-known that shooting is a great builder of individual discipline and character. Leaders everywhere sought good shooters for whatever endeavors they were involved in because they knew such people would have the necessary strength of character to get the job done. That message has been lost, but it is no less true today. The youth who can shoot tens has no need to shoot streetlights or songbirds – he or she has developed the self-control required to master life, itself. And, learn to use and trust your eyes is where it all begins.

14 thoughts on “Vision and shooting”

  1. It makes total sense to concentrate on the sights, because the human eye cannot have both far (target) and close (sights) objects in focus at the same time. My biggest problem though is not aiming but controlling my breathing and remembering to squeeze the trigger without anticipating the shot, that always throws me an inch or two off the bullseye.

    Oh, and thanks for your previous adivce on the Sheridan 392. That thing is so easy to shoot and came so well adjusted it is quite boring, it is just way too easy 🙂

  2. wgcherokee,

    Ah! The boring gun! May I own a million of them!

    I’m glad to hear you are happy with it. Now those who read your comments will have more than just my word on it.

    As for your breathing and trigger control, that’s been an uphill battle for me, too. I’m not enough of a shooter for those things to be routine, so I have to think them through for every shot.



  3. BB,
    The only thing I do not like about the Sheridan is its finish: the barrel is just painted black (no blueing), and the forearm/pump handle is not aligned with the stock (it is about a quarter of an inch off to the right… But this is all minor, it does not affect the power nor the accuracy. With no tuning whatsoever, pigeons and English sparrows are not safe within 25 yards 🙂

  4. I agree with the above. My Sheridan Blue Streak is a proven hunter, for more than 20 years!! By the sound of it, the fit and finish has gone south a little ( mine was a jewel until I took it hunting!).
    My gunshoots well using the iron sights. i don’t have the Williams peep, but I have mounted a scope on it. The jury is still out on that one…

  5. Well l’m 65 years old and enjoy open sight shooting…I happen to like the fiber optic sights on the newer guns, it helps me define that all important front sight…Try finding your target (pine cone or whatever) in the woods without the fiber sight…Have scoped guns, but mostlikely end up packing a rifle without one…Open sights are much better than newer shooters may believe,learn to use then…You are in for a real surprise…TOM

  6. Hey BB,

    Today I tried shooting through my scope with both eyes open. For some reason I thought I read about this on a pyramydblog so I tried it out. I kinda got used to it but is it better to shoot with both eyes open? If so, why?

    Thanks, Kyle.

  7. Kyle,

    It’s better to shoot with both eyes open for two reasons. Target shooters do it to allow maximum light to enter their eyes. They cover the non-sighting eye to remove distraction. Hunters do it to better watch their quarry.

    But with some sights I have to close one eye.


  8. B.B.

    I couldn’t agree more about your shooting technique!

    That is exactly the way I do it, & you’ve seen my shooting abilities. 😉

    For those of you who haven’t…

    By doing what B.B. says, I can put all 10 pellets from a Crosman 600 in the bullseye of an NRA 5 meter target, at 5 meteres, ALL in one hole less than 3/8ths of an inch!

    If you aren’t familiar with a Crosman 600, it is a PISTOL with OPEN SIGHTS!

    Remember… That this was done with a 5 meter RIFLE target, using a PISTOL at 5 meters, with open sights! 😉

    BTW… I am 42 & my vision isn’t 20/20 & I don’t wear glasses either!
    (I DO wear protective shooting glasses though!)

    So B.B. hit the nail on the head AGAIN!
    (As usual lol)

    Thank you yet again, for your expertise B.B.

    – The Big Bore Addict –

  9. i’m 14 and my left eye is 20/210 (legally blind) and my right eye is 20/90 and i only can use scoped guns and i still have a lot of trouble using a 3-9×32 scope i wish i could get a better one but i can’t afford anything better

  10. i’m winchester deluxe my account keeps not working i’m 14 and my left eye is 20/210 (legally blind) and my right eye is 20/90 and i only can use scoped guns and i still have a lot of trouble using a 3-9×32 scope i wish i could get a better one but i can’t afford anything better

  11. Winchester Deluxe,

    No, most red dots don’t magnify, but magnification isn’t necessary for accuracy. You can wear your glasses while using one and see the target just as you would without the sight. Remember, Matthew Quigley hit man-sized targets from three-quarters of a mile in “Quigley Down Under”.

    As for shooting at 50 yards, are you using the artillery hold? I doesn’t sound like you are.

    Read about it here:




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