Handguns — one eye or two?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Shoot like a girl!
- The classic writers
- The proper handgun sight picture
- Spoiled sight picture
- It is a hand gun — singular
- Shooting glasses to the rescue
- It takes training
- Is this for everybody?
This report was inspired by reader GunFun1, who said, “Does BB use one eye or two? Wow! Sounds like a blog topic to me.”
Shoot like a girl!
BB uses two eyes. He was taught to do so by an NRA firearm instructor, back in the 1950s. This was the first firearms instruction I ever received, and I was so enthusiastic that I would have barked like a chicken if the coaches said to. I knew nothing and was a sponge for information and training. In short, I learned to shoot like a girl!
I don’t say that to denigrate girls. I say it because most of the time when a girl learns to shoot, she comes in without any prior knowledge, expectations or personality problems (translate that as macho). She knows that she knows nothing, so if she is blessed with a good instructor, as I was, she absorbs the training and applies it immediately. That’s why girls usually outshoot boys — at least in the beginning. Some boys learn quickly to turn off their own machismo, and they are the ones that can go far. Of course talent helps both sexes without discrimination.
Before I leave the subject of shooting like a girl, be aware that there is a national organization that adopted that name in 2008. They are one of the hottest new shooting organizations to come along in the last 50 years, and that’s no euphemism. Their focus is on getting women into the shooting sports, and their colors include a lot of pinks, but it is their core philosophy that I find most intriguing. They shoot for health! They shoot for self esteem! And you don’t want to take them on unless you are either real good or you’re prepared to get spanked. I showed you a photo of me shooting a 28 gauge shotgun at the SHOT Show on Media Day. What I didn’t mention was there were two young women (early 20s) standing next to me who never missed a clay pigeon all the time I was in the booth! Both wore Shoot Like a Girl sweatshirts.
Finally, lest we forget, I “taught” the new co-host, Crystal Ackley, to shoot on the first season of American Airgunner. Yeah — I taught her! Big laugh. She outshot me with the Umarex Makarov BB pistol on her first try. Two episodes later she outshot a national champion silhouette shooter with his own air rifle. She is a natural shooter who had just never shot much until coming to the show. Shoot like a girl — I know I want to!
The classic writers
I also read the classic gun writers a lot. I’m talking about men like Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Julian Hatcher and Lucian Cary. These men were shooters all their lives and they knew through experience what it took to win. And they agreed with my NRA coach that the shooter has to keep both eyes open when sighting with non-optical sights. The problem was, they could never explain precisely why. Today I am going to show you why.
The experts said things like keeping both eyes open lets more light enter the optical nerve, but they never explained why that was a good thing. Like most people, I have binocular vision, and when I try to focus on one plane, such as when sighting, my other eye tells me things I really don’t want to know. In short it confuses me. But if I close it I can concentrate on the only thing that’s important — the sight picture!
The proper handgun sight picture
The correct sight picture for a handgunner is to keep the front sight element in sharp focus. There are three things in a handgun sight plane — the rear sight, the front sight and the target. The rear sight should be blurry and the target should also be blurry. Only the front sight should be in sharp focus. This frightens some shooters who think if they aren’t focusing on the target they are going to miss, but in reality, that is backwards. The location of the front sight, in relation to the rear sight, is what determines where the bullet or pellet goes. The target is important, but not nearly as much as the front sight.
You only get such a picture (front and rear sight aligned with the target) through one eye. If you use both eyes, the rear sight and the target become more blurred and very difficult to see at the same time. So one sighting eye is all you need. Why keep the other eye open, then? When not just close it with a wink?
Spoiled sight picture
You don’t close the other eye because it will spoil the sight picture.
I will demonstrate what I mean. Get a small piece of paper — stiff card stock works the best for this. Poke a hole in the card stock with a pen or a small knife blade. Make the hole about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch (3.175mm to 6.35mm), but don’t obsess over the size. It dosn’t even need to be round. Approximate is close enough.
Now locate something to focus on about 15-20 feet away. Then hold the card up to your sighting eye and look through it at the object, keeping both eyes open. Then cover your non-sighting eye with your other hand but keep that
eye open and keep looking through the peep hole. See how the “target” appears to sharpen?
Now, take your hand away from your other eye and close the non-sighting eye by winking. Watch what happens to the hole you are peeking through. It closes up. It gets smaller. It gets darker. Your “sight picture” is being degraded. This is what happens every time you close your non-sighting eye by winking or squinting when you sight through non-optical sights. It happens with peep sights and it happens with open sights. It happens with scopes, too, but they are not part of today’s discussion.
It is a hand gun — singular
When I shoot handguns competitively I hold them with one hand. Nearly everyone uses two hands to shoot a handgun, these days. When you use two hands, you have to hold the gun (and the sights) closer to your eyes. That costs some level of precision in the sight picture.
Two hands are good for gun control in defensive situations. The gun can move from one target to another faster and still be controlled, if it is held by two hands. You can also recover from recoil faster with two hands. But the sight picture can never be as precise. If you want to hit man-sized silhouettes close up, use two hands. If you want to hit the X-ring of a bullseye target, use one hand.
Shooting glasses to the rescue
This is where a good pair of shooting glasses comes into play. And when I say shooting glasses I don’t mean safety glasses — I mean glasses with one prescription lens for your sighting eye. An adjustable iris behind that lens allows the shooter to control the amount of light that passes through. Lower light opens your iris and gives you a greater depth of field for the sighting eye. The target and rear sight will come into sharper focus. But it is the white blinder on the other side of the glasses that I want you to notice today.
The blinder is a piece of translucent plastic that swings down to cover the non-sighting eye. It stops those confusing messages to the brain. And, when you need to see again, like for loading or walking to the target, the blinder swings up and out of the way.
My shooting glasses are ground to focus my sighting eye on the front sight. By making the peephole smaller I can get the target and rear sight into sharper focus, too.
This is what it looks like with the shooting glasses on. I’m looking through a small hole in that black circle on the left.
It takes training
I mentioned when I answered GunFun1 that I sometimes close my non-sighting eye by winking to get the proper sight picture. But I always open the eye before taking the shot. I do that with open sights, with peep sights and with scopes. Even after a half-century of practice, this technique still takes practice. But so does riding a bicycle.
Is this for everybody?
Are there people with eyesight so bad they can’t do this? Sure there are. When I first contracted diabetes I was severely dehydrated for about 6 months and had to wear reading glasses to focus on the front sight. But I did it. And the target was many times blurrier through those glasses than it is today. But I still hit it.
The most important thing is to try the technique and give it all you have before declaring you can’t do it. Some of you will still not be able to shoot this way, but the actual number is a fraction of those who claim poor eyesight prevents them from using open sights. I’m 68 years old, with floaters and mild cataracts on top of astigmatism but I can still do it.
Try my experiment. I think you will discover the fundamental truth about keeping both eyes open.