Don’t shoot your eye out!

Today, we have a guest blogger. She’ll tell you how to avoid eye injuries when shooting airguns and how to protect your children from the same.

by Mirfee Ungier, M.D., Ophthalmologist and eye surgeon

Airgunning, for all its fun as a shooting sport and its relative safety compared to firearms, is still a high-risk sport for eye injuries. A small projectile moving at a high speed concentrates energy impact at both a desired target and occasionally at an undesired target. Six percent of all serious eye injuries are BB-related. Eighty-four percent of these injuries result in legal blindness. In fact, the eye injury rate from airguns has actually remained stable at approximately 6 per million, whereas the rate of firearms eye injuries has declined from 14.8/million in 1993 to 7.5/million in 2002.

YOU are the first line of defense!
It’s not just the increase in deliverable energy that results in a disconnect between airgun safety and firearm safety, but two entirely different factors: lack of supervision of children using airguns and underuse of protective eye wear.

A study from Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, found the mean age of the victim at the time of eye injury due to airguns to be 13. Another study from Canada demonstrated airgun injuries were responsible for 25 percent of all injuries severe enough to cause loss of an eye. The mean age of the victims was 14.

The circumstances of these injuries put the burden squarely on the parents. Injuries were:

1. 24 times more likely to occur when there was no adult supervision
2. 12 times more likely to occur at a friend’s house
3. 5 times more likely to occur indoors
4. 6 times more likely when no target was used

Ricochets accounted for 26 percent of injuries. In almost all cases, no eye protection was used.

Obviously, we can prevent the vast majority of these injuries with proper supervision and instruction of our children. I’m including teenagers in this group.

How to pick the right shooting glasses
Eye protection should not just be available, but mandatory for both adults and children. In fact, shooting glasses should be worn by everyone in the vicinity of the shooter. Street glasses are not satisfactory unless they are polycarbonate (which I actually recommend for all children anyway) and in a wraparound frame. Targets should be soft and capable of trapping the pellets without causing ricochets. Airguns are fun, but they’re definitely not toys. They deserve respect for the damage they can do.

Pyramyd Air sells a full line of shooting glasses. If you’re buying glasses for children or teens, be sure to pick glasses that will fit them properly.

25 thoughts on “Don’t shoot your eye out!”

  1. Soft targets????

    Sorry, cannot agree with this (unless using the Duct Seal type). The absolute worst targets are those that will send the pellet coming back at you and this includes rubber, plastic, phone books, and wood (these last two are worst especially for low-powered guns). The best targets are those that trap the pellet (the “snail” traps such as Outers makes are superb) or absorb the energy (the Gehmann traps). For field target, we find that we get the fewest ricochets with higher-powered guns and heavier metal (the pellets basically vaporize rather than riccochet).

    I do urge using at least polycarbonate lens eyeglasses or shooting glasses — even with our “high powered” field target guns, we do hear an occasional riccochet (usually when a “split” occurs) on a close target (10 to 15 yards).

  2. While we’re on the safety highhorse, don’t forget about your ears. You only get one set in this lifetime! Most air rifles arent bad at all, The exception might be my AF rifle as your ear is right next to the valve. But if you’re at a range make sure and wear some hearing protection.

    $.049 foam plugs are a heckuva lot cheaper today than $2,000.00 hearing aids years from now.

  3. Joe,

    I think you are confusing soft targets with soft target TRAPS. Dr. Ungier was not talking about shooting at soft target traps. She meant not to shoot at targets that would cause ricochets.

    Wood would not be a soft target, nor would water. All shooters should be aware that wood (especially trees) and water are very prone to cause ricochets.

    The reason the sport of field target gets few ricochets is because the velocity of the pellet causes extreme fragmentation and vapoirization. After 700 f.p.s., a pellet cannot hold together after striking a hard immovable target.


  4. “Ricochets accounted for 26 percent of injuries”. You mean 74% are from direct fire? That is just plain scary. I’m sure for some of them the gun went off accidently, but for the others, where were they aiming? Supervision and training are first on the list.

  5. Bob,

    I couldn’t agree more with your stand on hearing protection. I have used protection all my life, but shildhood ear infections took a lot of my hearing and the Army got the rest.

    I wonder who will pay for those kids driving around with deep bass car speakers cranked up to unbelievable decibels when they lose their hearing ten years from now?


  6. Good article. Our 4-H air rifle shooters are required to wear eye protection while shooting, with good reason. The problem lies with those kids or adults like myself who wear prescriptive glasses. Lots of wrap around eye protection available for those who don’t wear glasses or wear contacts, but not much around for eyeglass wearers. Nobody wears precriptive glasses that are wrap arounds like the Dr. recommends. There are some safety glasses the could be worn over regular glasses, but they are quite uncomfortable and realitically a burden to wear, which discourages their use. I am told that all prescriptive eyewear for kids uses polycarbonate lens, and we’ve considered that adequate for kids who shoot and wear prescriptive lens. I know there a shooting glasses available with prescriptive lens, but these are prohibitively expensive for all but the most dedicated shooter. Someone needs to market safety glasses that can be comfortably worn over prescription glasses. I contacted one manufacturer who makes polarized fihsing glass that fit over regular glasses for anglers. but at that time they didn’t have anything available with lens designed for shooting. Any ideas out out there?

  7. Now THAT is an interesting observation. As a glasses wearer, I, too, rely on my polycarbonate lenses for protection. I don’t have the wraparound protection Dr. Ungier recommends.

    To add some fuel to this fire, I also shoot primative blackpowder firearms. Both a flintlock and a percussion lock are well known to produce hot slivers of metal, flint and burning powder that come back at the shooter’s face. When I shoot these guns, I have to wear wraparound safety glasses, but I don’t own any with my perscription. I do own shooting glasses for 10-meter pistol competition, but ironically, only the non-sighting eye is fully protected.

    Sounds to me like there is a business opportunity here.


  8. That was the point I was trying to make. I too shoot muzzleloaders and depend on my prescription glasses to protect me. While I have never had an incident with airguns or MLs, I once had a shotgun primer malfunction while shooting trap and had hot gasses burn a small crater in my eyeglass lens, and I also had a 9mm case ejected from an autoloading pistol I was shooting strike my lens hard enough to scratch it and require replcement.

    The only semi practical solution I’ve tried is placing plastic eye shields on the eyeglass frames to provide side protection. But that’s really only a bandaid solution.

  9. funny story

    a freind and myself were shooting clays and he is not very experianced in this art. He opened the gun and the two shells hit him in the face.


  10. When I was eleven I learned a valuable lesson. I was sitting in a tree with a BB gun and decided to shoot a spot on the trunk of the tree (huge tree). Well, I hit my target and it hit back! That BB came back and popped me dead square between the eyes. Talk about scared and embarrassed! I was alone at the time and never mentioned the incident to anyone for over 20 years! I did make wiser choices in target selection and eyewear though! I was really lucky, a little change in my shot or the bounce back and I might never have had a career as a pilot.

  11. pilot jerry
    i had a similar event. my friend got a nwe co2 revolver and i wanted to see if a pellet would stick in a piece of plywood. if it didnt i figured it would deform and lose energy. i was wrong. it bounced and hit me in the arm. scary but it didnt do any damage. i guess i learned my lesson

    Field Taretier

  12. When I was 11 or so I pointed and shot and old tire prolly 20yds away. In my head I knew it could come back but never with the accuracy it did! It hit me right in the corner of my left eye just low enuf not to do damage but close enuf to scare the hell outta me!! I’m glad it happened. I was alone, out in the woods and just stood there for about 15 minutes thinking what might have been.

  13. I too had a scary experience, I get ricochets sometimes but I wear eye protection! Well one day I was out shooting and I saw the pellet flying back right at my right eye, bam! It hits my Smith and Wesson safety glasses dead center on my right eye. Although I don’t put much thought in ricochets since I and who ever is out with me wears eye protection, I do only shoot 700 fps and down. (B3-1, IZH-61, Daisy 953, Remington AirMaster 77, and a S2-1 Air pistol) But there is one thing about ricochets that I hate, they sometimes land in my pool. :'(

  14. Well, sorry BB, but I own a store that sells those booming stereos to teenagers. We do hand out information on hearing loss when we sell a large system, but it mainly gets ignored. We joke that in ten years we’ll go into the hearing-aid business and catch then on both ends.

  15. I’ve had similar experiences,I had shot at a plastic tube for target practice about a year ago, with my pumpmaster 760. I had only put two pumps in it and I was trying to see what elevation I needed to hit the tube. well I hit the tube and the BB ricoched(?) back and hit me hard in the stomach. It stung enough that I thought it broke the skin. It didn’t, but I was still shaking from the ordeal.


  16. bb,

    i want to get a good springer or 2, and a good pre-charged pnuematic, and wanted to know which one u thought was better. im kinda a die hard crosman guy(i know there are much more accurate springers out there, but my mind is set), so im gonna get their new break barrels, but for the pre-charged one, im stuck between the logun s-16 .22 cal, and the condor .22 cal. which one do u personally think is better as an over all gun, in terms of accuracy, and for hunting squirrels and like sized game? thanks as always.


  17. wow, this is interesting, i thought that if the pellet comes at me, i can just dodge it like Neo in the movie Matix. Anyway, can i ask one question,maybe someone can point me to the right direcction or link.

    I need to know the airgun laws in California, Orange County area, (anaheim, fullerton, orange, etc). Stuffs like, can i carry in in the car open, shoot at home, etc?

  18. I shoot mainly high power airguns, and rarely get ricochet from them, and when I do, its usually small fragments of a shredded pellet due to hgh velocity, and I shoot at wood boards alot with my air rifles, and due to them being high end air rifles, ricochet is not really a factor.

    So in some cases a higher powered air rifle can be more safe, as long as the shooter is responsible.

    I ALWAYS wear full eye protection at all times though.

  19. i need some advice about Weihrauch breakbarrel rifles. i need one for target shooting (10meters) so it doesnt have to be powerful but it has to be accurate (and it shouldnt cost more than 500$)

    witch one should i take ???

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