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My eyes are too bad to use open sights

by B.B. Pelletier

I keep forgetting to tell everyone that the April podcast is up.

I’ve heard that excuse for mounting a scope for the past 30 years, and for the first 15 years I bought it. Then I realized that I was wearing bifocals and still shooting fine with open sights. So I wondered, “What gives?”

What gives?
Confidence is at the heart of this complaint about weak eyes. Most of those who blame their eyes are really doubting that all they have heard about open sights and target alignment really works.

Old eyes
Please understand that I’m not talking about people with really poor vision. I do know that there are those who absolutely cannot see the sights and target at all, and they are right to seek optical aids, but the guys who are like me with just tired old eyes are complaining without cause. I know this because of something that has happened to me within the past four weeks.

About one month ago my eyes suddenly started changing their prescription throughout the day. One moment they are 25/40 and the next they may be 30/60. One minute I have to wear my glasses and the next I can see better without them. But the near vision is now uniformly worse than it has ever been. I had to buy +2.50-diopter reading glasses just to see the computer monitor that a month ago was very clear. I could see it through my bifocals but that meant tilting my head back all the time.

So imagine my frustration when I tried to shoot a handgun with open sights. Those sights are now very blurry when the gun is held at arms length. Yet I found a way to do it, and even do it well. Want to know how?

I wear the new reading glasses when shooting and focus on the front sight. The thing I have said all along, and the thing that all champion shooters know, is that if you can see the front sight, the target can be blurry and you will still hit it. Oh, I can’t compete like I used to, and what was once a ten is probably now an eight or a nine, but they ‘e all still landing in the black.

Thanks to Edith!
I never would have believed this could be done, but one day recently when I had to stop a test because I couldn’t see the front sight, Edith asked me if wearing my new reading glasses might help. I thought she was crazy to suggest it because how in the world could I ever possibly hope to see the bull when wearing these glasses that focus so close? But having nothing else that was better, I tried it. And it worked! The front sight is now sharply in focus (more so than in several years) and the bull is only a little blurrier than it used to be with my unaided eyes. And I was able to group my shots as well as before.

Nothing new
Then it hit me. This is nothing new. It has already been done by optics manufacturers for the shooting sports. You can buy rear aperture attachments that have optical lenses to sharpen the front sight. In fact, they work just the same as my reading glasses, but are many times more expensive. Those attachments are for rifles, only, but my glasses work well on both rifles and handguns. You don’t need to stop shooting or to use a scope just because your eyes are going south.

If my prescription were stable, I would get a set of prescription glasses for this, but in the current mode, where my prescription is changing every hour or two, I can’t be sure of anything. So I’ll just continue to use these El Cheapo reading glasses until things settle down. It works well enough that I’ll be using it for precision shooting in my tests in the future.

Now, I’m probably the last person to figure this out, but I never got the memo that you guys must have read. So, to me, this is a brand new discovery. Maybe, one of you didn’t know it also, and I’ve helped out someone else.

Update on the Malvern airgun show
Kevin correctly identified a nice BSF S70 on my table at the show, and I thought I would tell you about it. Three years ago, I spotted that rifle at the old Little Rock airgun Expo that was the forerunner of the Malvern show. I didn’t have enough money for it after buying a Weihrauch HW 55 SF that I really needed, so I sat on my hands and waited to sell some guns. Finally, on the second day of the show, a big deal brought me the needed cash and, as Mac can testify, I actually ran over to the table where that rifle was, only to see cash changing hands between a young man and the dealer. My S70 had just been sold.

Just like you read about in the magazines, I went up to that young man and went through the “If you ever decide to sell that rifle…” speech. And, being a polite lad, he “Yessir’ed” me right back, which is usually all she wrote…or ever writes.

However, this time was different. While I was out of the Malvern show building getting a Subway order for Mac and me, the owner of the rifle walked in the door and Mac spotted him. He then song-and-danced for 10 minutes, stalling the seller for me to return. When I did and I saw the rifle, the youngster quoted a price range for the gun, and I immediately paid his highest asking price. The price I paid was substantially less than the rifle had on it three years before.

So, Kevin, you can see that that S70 was always meant for me. But the price needed some tenderizing, so it marinated in someone else’s closet for a few years. That young man is now of an age where pretty girls and cars are probably more interesting, but I find that I still like S70s, having already gotten the pretty girl.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

54 thoughts on “My eyes are too bad to use open sights”

  1. B.B.,

    Are you in trouble with Edith, or are you normally that sweet?

    I’d write that last one-liner down if I thought it would get me anywhere. More than likely, though, instead of turning to mush, my wife would reply with, “which of your blog friends told you to say that?” I suppose she’d probably also say that I need more tenderizing.

    Hopefully I won’t need to apply the reading glasses tip for a very long time, but that was a great story – thanks!

    – Orin

  2. Re the vision problems, you might want to look into a new adjustable-focus eyeglasses from superfocus.com . These amazing glasses provide continuously adjustable focus from distance to closeup, using a special lens that contains clear refractive fluid in a lens-shaped flexible membrane. I just got a pair and they are helping my vision a lot, for all kinds of tasks. They are pricey. The style is retro, Henry Potter look. -Dion

    • Dion,

      I’m surprised to hear those adjustible prescription glasses are so expensive. When I first heard/read about them (don’t remember where… Popular Science? TV special), they were being developed for 3rd world countries as an affordable optometry solution. If I remember correctly, the goal was to keep the end cost at $20/pair or less.

      Of course, TruFocals are nothing (aesthetically) like the original design, which had a big side wheels and funky looping tubes that comprised a peristaltic pump-like flow control on each frame. They were something no self-respecting insurance policyholder would be caught dead in.

      TruFocals really do seem like a great solution; perhaps the only solution to a prescription that changes multiple times throughout the day. Thanks for the link.

      – Orin

  3. My wife came home with a cheap pair of reading glasses from the local CVS and it’s been a revelation for late night reading. I said “I can SEE AGAIN!” Thank goodness for thoughtful wives.

    I enjoyed hearing more about the Shoebox compressor B.B.,and I’m thinking a great combo might be having the Shoebox and a small “pony” CF bottle. I’m not crazy about the idea of letting the Shoebox run for the long time it would take to fill larger bottles (even though it can – I’m not a fan of heat buildup), but filling the gun directly or filling a pony tank seems reasonable, and then having the pony tank for hunting or off-premisis shooting seems like a good arrangement.

    I am greatly enjoying my new Custom Shop 2300 (2240). Went for the 10.1″ barrel, black muzzle, Williams notch rear sight, long steel breech, Cocobolo grips. The finish on the Custom Shop products is enhanced in terms of fit and finish, and I like that the trigger pull weight is adjustable. Accuracy is amazing, but then the accuracy of my standard 2240 is excellent too. Only thing I’m not crazy about on the CS 2300 is that it uses the same cast barrel band with the ugly line down the middle, but I have a custom piece on order from Greg Schutte of BlueForkDesign. I plan to modify the grips slightly and go with more of a matte finish instead of the high gloss. The compliments I have received on this pistol are many, and like my RWS 350 Compact, it’s a solid hunk of wood and metal…just like I like it!

  4. There you go, punching holes in my list of excuses again.

    In all seriousness, after some experimentation I found I am a better shot with open sights than I thought I was. My thing is that I seem to need a very sharp front post to line up with the target. If it weren’t for the excellent open sights on Weihrauch rifles with the interchangeable front inserts, it may have taken me decades to figure this out.


    I bet BB scored some serious points with this article. He sure is a sly dog!


    It doesn’t look like you will need reading glasses anytime soon. Good job spotting the BSF. You should go to work analyzing spy satellite photos.

    • Slinging Lead,

      Unfortunately, I’m not a candidate for analyzing spy satellite photos.

      Actually, I’m one of “those guys” that B.B. is referring to that uses the poor eyes excuse to now scope most guns. Like B.B. said in the article my eyesight changes during the day. I notice it most when I’m shooting. I’ll start out ok but then it seems my eyes get tired. Aging is very frustrating.

      My shooting with open sights anymore is pathetic. I can still shoot reasonably well with peeps as long as the target is well lit and it’s at a short distance. Adjustable iris’s are my friends. I’m adjusting the rear aperture larger lately for greater light transmission now though. Nonetheless, I have to mount a scope on every gun if I want to know its’ potential accuracy.


  5. B.B.,

    Wonderful story about the BSF S70 acquisition. Seems these guns are becoming very hard to find. Guess there’s still quite a few out there but owners won’t part with them.

    When you and Mac work together any and every gun acquisition is possible! A Double Team strategy doesn’t seem fair to the rest of us lone riders.


  6. Hi BB,
    I was shooting my Plainsman last night and I was sighting the way you described. I use +1.5 readers, so I can still see the sights without them. But when I try to align the front and back, the target disappears. So I just watch the front post and the target and I come close enough for fun! Never tried it with the readers. Maybe tonight.
    However, if I am aiming at a pigeon,I want better than “close enough” (I grew up shooting a 12 gauge and have spent the last 6 years shooting pellet guns trying to loose that “close enough” thinking (and the flinch)).
    I have already scoped my S410 and for serious shooting I will stick with that setup. However, that only happens once a month, so…gotta try the Plainsman with the readers!
    Thanks BB

    • MCA,

      Oh, yeah, I wasn’t advocating shooting real accurate rifles with open sights. Unless they come with them like my Ballard, I’d go with a scope.

      But this technique seems to work very well with handguns. I have yet to try it with a rifle, but since they already use optical lenses in aperture sights I figure it will work.


  7. I know an eye doc that makes shooting glasses. His are a bifocal but the bifocal is on the top of the lens, not the bottom. That way you don’t have to tilt your head to see through the lower bifocal. The bifocal is made to see the front post. I may wrong on this part, but I think you keep both eyes open, the bifocal on the front sight the other eye on the target.

  8. BB,
    I can’t believe what I’m reading here. Your experience so parallels my eyesight it’s plain spooky. I have been -2.50, -3.00 correctable for distance, nearsighted since grade school. A few years ago I became -1.5, -2.5. Today, in sunlight and at a movie theater, I can see distance clearly with my left eye and read with my right. However, I have lost more ability to read with my left eye. I keep glasses in my car just to be legal because my license still shows corrective lenses needed. Another reason is that I lose this distance at night. Otherwise, I don’t use them except for watching TV. I have stopped wearing contact lenses because it’s not necessary anymore. I attribute this to aging as I believe the older one gets the more farsighted they get. As you may have noticed most people need reading glasses as they age because of the progressing farsightedness. This is a bonus for nearsighted people. Farsighted people are just screwed. They just keep getting more so. 🙂

    When shooting my IZH-46M – I’m left-handed and left-eyed – I found I can now see the front post reasonably clear at arms length – I have to blink every so often to make it clearer – the target at 10m is still a little fuzzy but it works. I wish I could improve that sight picture and maybe some of the tips I’ve read here today can help.

    I’ve noticed this situation changes based on the amount of light available. While shooting indoors, even though I have the target lighted, the room is still dark causing my pupils to dilate. I believe in bright light my pupils are less dilated causing the same effect as if you were looking through a peep hole or you would experience with a cameras depth of field based on the light. I lose distance when I’m wearing sun glasses or at night because the pupils become dilated.

    So, I believe I have actually gotten a benefit from growing old. LOL I predict I will have perfect 20/20 vision on my death bed. I hope there are pistols in heaven.


    • Ah, Chuck, if only that were so. What happens to us when we hit middle age and older is the lens inside our eye starts to harden and lose elasticity. As a result, you can’t get the lens to focus or thicken enough to see clearly close up. Hence reading glasses are needed. This condition is called presbyopia. Some people, as you noted, will have their nearsightedness (myopia) improve as they get older. Typically, this can be the result of your eyeball shrinking in length so the light rays focus a bit closer to the retina. Myopia results from either your eyeball being too long for the lens in your eye or the lens in your eye being too strong – take your pick. What happens is the image is focused in front of the retina. Farsightedness has the lens focusing the image behind the retina (eyeball too short or lens not strong enough).

      I was blessed with very good teeth and a full head of hair but I’ll gladly trade anyone both for a decent set of eyes (I’m extremely nearsighted and thanks to failed LASIK, I have irregular astigmatism in one eye).

      Fred PRoNJ

      • Fred,
        Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t remember the presbyopia problem but I think my situation has to do with the changing shape of my eyeball, as you explained. Sounds like BB might be experiencing the same thing. As a matter of fact, I experienced the changing eyeball shape condition many years ago when I was wearing hard contact lenses. There were periods of time when my vision was near perfect from time to time without any corrective lenses, I would wake up in the morning seeing great, but they would eventually revert back to their evil selves over time. The eye doctor said he could work with me on this to make the effect last longer but it would cost me.

        So if a farsighted person’s eyeball shrinks like a nearsighted person’s eyeball does, does that mean he can see even farther out? Is this the secret to telescopic vision? Just kidding!

        • Chuck,

          I’ve had that phenomenon of having my vision improve after wearing hard contact lenses, as well. What we were experiencing was a flattening of the cornea from the hard contact lens pressure. It was only temporary, as you pointed out. LASIK and radial keratotomy procedures remove material from the cornea allowing it to sit flatter, thus weakening it and causing the image you see to focus closer to the retina. There is also a radial keratotomy procedure that can cause the cornea to sit higher which can reduce or eliminate farsightedness or hyperopia.

          There used to be a device sold for a buck that would give you x-ray vision and enable you to see through womens’ clothing. Don’t waste your money. I can tell you from experience that it didn’t work. Of course that was 50 years ago. They may have got it right by now. Let me know….

          Fred PRoNJ

          • Fred,
            Hey, I can tell you from personal experience that those X-Ray glasses really did work. Well, they did for an 8 year old, anyway. Actually they created kind of a double image of some sort that made it look like you were seeing with X-Ray vision. At 8 years old I wouldn’t have known what a girl’s private things looked like anyway so how would I have known if the glasses were fake? They looked like they worked to me.

    • You don’t want to see what my glasses look like (for one thing, I have 6 diopter prisms on each eye; one up, one down). I can’t use bifocals — the effort to do more than glance through the lower portion of my lenses becomes painful.

      As a result, I currently have three separate prescriptions in play: sunglasses (left & right set for max distance); “work” (left eye set for ~20″ focus, right eye set for distance — 20″ is about my monitor distance); reading (both eyes set for around 12-15″… Getting a full set of glasses racks up $2000+ (and just getting a set of inserts for my shooting glasses ran near $500; using the “sunglass” prescription since I expect scopes will predominate… I’ve considered a second set of inserts with a new prescription putting the right eye around 30 inches — for front sight blades). Though might be cheaper to locate a dealer of the aforementioned Merit suction cup aperture…

  9. BB:
    My shotgun buddy also shoots a .22 LR target and scoped sporting rifle.
    His first comment after shooting my air rifle,
    “I forgot how good shooting with open sights was”
    Where once I would have felt my rifle was some how incomplete without a scope,I agree with Slinging Lead.
    I’m more than happy with the Iron sights on the Weihrauch and am in no rush to ‘scope up’.
    Thankfully I’m still blessed with pretty good eyesight,although reading small lettering and my wife’s hand written notes telling me to clean the house has become more difficult.

  10. B.B. glad you’re still in the hunt with iron sights, but I suspect that improvements in scopes will increase the shooting pleasure for many older folks when the time comes and those with eye problems. My Dad has cataracts and was hopeless with iron sights. But with the Leapers scope on my Savage 10 FP, he shot two measured 5 shot half inch groups at 100 yards.

    Robert of Arcade, that trapping info is pretty intense. Do you have back up for rodents that are alive in the traps, work themselves free with you around, and are very POed?

    Duskwight, you lucky dog with your students. Good Lord what a story with your grandfather. I’m guessing that he was the one who passed away recently; he did indeed have a good long run. Word is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is having deep insecurities and fits of depression when he looks in the mirror and sees the track of time at age 63, but as someone commented, he should be grateful for the chance to get old. Apart from a combat environment, I have difficulty imagine myself stalking to kill someone in the company of women teammates. Tragic about the woman sniper and that definitely does speak to curiosity, but what then shall be said about me craning my neck to look at the spotting scope. On the other hand, I wouldn’t need any encouragement to keep my head down with the bullets flying. I bet that if I just held a surplus Mosin Nagant, I could feel the savage history coursing through me.

    Thanks for the advice on cleaning corrosive ammo. I’ve heard of WD40 as well as ammonia as important tools.


    • The women students that I trained over the years (firearms) as a rule learned faster then the men. For one thing, they listened to what they were told to do and did it. Most didn’t have experience with firearms so they didn’t have any bad habits to get rid of. Many of the men had the attitude of, “I already know how to shoot.” Those that didn’t have military experience really didn’t know much.
      They would finally start to listen when it dawned on them they would not qualify. Those with Marine Corps training almost never had any problems. They still train their troops well!


  11. Matt 61:
    Usually a tap on the head from my walking stick is enough to stun the animal , or I just shoot them with my pistol . I carry a .22 pistol in a old military pilot/tanker type .45 auto holster across my chest. A Ruger MK 1 or Colt woodsman will fit in them nicely, and it’s held just inside the front bib area on my waders where i can access it easily. Beaver are very strong swimmers , and water is their home environment. Also, those teeth aren’t just for tree chewing and are to be respected. The closest I ever came to getting bit was by a very large raccoon not a beaver. I had caught it along a rocky stream and it was dark and raining hard. The crick had become a little raging torrent because of the rain and I was trying to shoot the coon with my revolver ,while holding my mag lite in my mouth. As I let the shot off I slipped and lost my light. I fell on my butt and slid down stream in the current . Fortunately I did not lose my gun. When I fished out my spare light the coon was dead right beside me shot in the head. A little danger once in awhile, keeps you alert,Robert.

  12. Nice looking tool (even if it’s pricey), ought to do the job if needed – THANKS! However, does this mean that I shouldn’t use my existing .177 brass bore cleaning rod (no coating) if only inserted from the muzzle? I’ve ordered the rifle, and the trigger upgrade from CDT. The instructions and video ought to be sufficient for me to install it. I also found some other links that may help with other tear-down questions. Sorry about my confusion on the posting methods. I don’t blog, and wasn’t familiar with yours. I didn’t mean to take anything away from your excellent gun show pics and info. And yes, a guy recommended that I post on the current blog. Again, SORRY!

    • geekedout,
      Welcome to the blog. No one is mad at you for posting twice. I think BB was only commenting in an informative manner so that you would know he/we don’t miss any comments so you don’t have to waste your time posting more than once.

      Using a cleaning rod from the muzzle is very tricky. It is easy to nick the bore which will affect the accuracy of your rifle. It is always best to to use a cleaning rod from the breach end. However, there are times when we can’t do that because the barrel is not accessible from the rear. All I can say in this case is use a coated rod like the Dewey rod and be extremely careful. Some have even suggested inserting a soda straw first and the rod inside that. I’ve heard there are commercial inserts that work similar.

  13. B.B.,
    Good article. My last pair of prescription glasses were progressives, so with a slight tilt, I can see my pistol sights nicely. For rifle, I’m still in good shape, as I’m far sighted now.

  14. BB,

    You should probably switch to “center of mass” sight picture! Especially with poor eyesight, this works better since one does not have to guess how much “grey” is needed between the bull and the top of the post. A Marine friend says he has always used center of mass. Also, a globe front sight (and aperture rear) are far more seeing-impaired friendly.

    It sounds like you have floaters that may be messing with your vision. I have them and notice variations in my eyesight (not on a diurnal basis as you describe, but more random for me).

    There are internet companies that will make custom prescription “shooting” glasses for as little as about $10 including frames. http://www.zennioptical.com is one I have used and like. For their price, you can get several sets with varying prescriptions (vary the spherical but keep the cylindrical part the same for each pair). Another (more expensive) solution is shooting glasses that hold small lenses but each lens costs at least $15.


    Joe in MD

  15. B.B.

    Nice post and very informative. But there’s something that you left out. I am sure you know it already and just forgot to mention it. No matter what kinds of sight you are using, you’ll have to be able to see/identify the target. If you can’t see the target, you are not using the right sight. For example, if you are shooting a squirrel at 50 yards, sure you can use an iron sight. But if you are shooting a grain of rice at 10 yards, you will need a scope. Now don’t be comparing a 10-meter target with a grain of rice. You know that the 10-meter target is way bigger and is round. Our eyes naturally center the target through the peep sight. The take-away is that if you can’t see the target, no matter what people say, you are using the wrong sight. Hope that helps.

  16. I’m using the glasses since i was 13,now I’m 24 and my sight increased so much i can’t see anything without my glasses.But one day one of friends father told me about the eye surgery.And that was very good information which i got from him.

  17. Juan,
    As BB says you’re still young. Check with your eye doctor and see if your eyes have stabilized enough for the surgery. A lot of people have had great success with the surgery. I am too old, also, and my sight is still changing a lot because of my age so I have to be satisfied with what I have.

    Also, I’m near-sighted so I would think that if I corrected my vision to see far away I’d have to use glasses, still, to read. Not sure about that, but I’d make sure before having it done to me.

    I’d tell the doctor I want to be able to see a rifle and pistol front sight blade and the target at the same time. Maybe he’d let me shoot a few rounds during the operation to make sure he doesn’t go too far. :0)


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