If you don’t know what presbyopia is, just wait a few years!
by Ralph Mroz
Wadda You Saying About Presbyterians? Presbywhat?
Sooner or later, something much like what happened to…er, a “friend” of mine…will happen to you. You’ll be at the range—probably a marginally lit indoor range, you’ll bring your pistol up to eye level to shoot, and “Damn,” you’ll say, “I swear this gun had sights on it this morning!”
That, my friend, is presbyopia at work!
Not long afterwards, you’ll find that fine print gets fuzzy, and then regular print will require reading glasses just to read, then much manual work will necessitate the cheaters. Soon, you’ll be just another middle-age person that can’t get through the day without your readers. And if you’re smart, you’ll have several pairs strategically placed around your work and residence.
Presbyopia is the name of this syndrome. It tends to onset in the late thirties to early forties—sometimes later—and it affects even people with otherwise excellent vision. I still have much better than average (that is, 20/20) vision at distance, and when I was a young man I had even better distance vision. I never needed glasses at all until the dreaded “P” thing happened, and I discovered it just as described above. Now in my early fifties, I am dependent on my reading glasses for much of my daily activities.
From www.allaboutvision.com: Presbyopia is caused by an age-related process. This is different from astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness, which are related to the shape of the eyeball and caused by genetic factors, disease, or trauma. Presbyopia is generally believed to stem from a gradual loss of flexibility in the natural lens inside your eye. These age-related changes occur within the proteins in the lens, making the lens harder and less elastic with the years. Age-related changes also take place in the muscle fibers surrounding the lens. With less elasticity, the eye has a harder time focusing up close. Sooner or later, if you live to middle age—which is kinda the point of our survival training—you will be in this boat.
Presbyopia and Shooting
Presbyopia affects your ability to clearly see near objects: book and magazine print, objects you are working on, and yes, gun sights. I don’t know a middle-age shooter—one who doesn’t wear glasses all the time—that hasn’t remarked to me “I haven’t seen my sights in years,” or “If I could still see the sights on my pistol, I could shoot well again,” or some similar thing. (By the way—these two paraphrased quotes are from two pretty famous gun trainers.) Which really sucks, if you think about it. Just about the time you get in a couple decades of refining your shooting ability, your ability to see the sights starts to go out the window, and your precision shooting inexorably declines. Rule one: life is most certainly not fair, and it is particularly not fair to older people. (But I think that as cops, we’ve already figured that out, seeing it in spades as many times as we all have.) By the way: you’ll see this rule again.
So we just wear glasses, right? Actually, no—wrong. If you are only affected by presbyopia, then you don’t wear your reading glasses during non-close-in activities, so they won’t be on your eyes when you need to shoot. And if they were, the only things you could see well would be your sights—not the threat or anything else. So scratch that idea. Second, we have to assume that any encounter in which we need to shoot someone will be a physically violent one, and that our glasses, even if they stated the fun while on our face, have subsequently been knocked off. Now if you wear bifocals, with your distance prescription on the top and your close prescription on the bottom (as they are usually set up), then you do always have your glasses on. But both problems above apply: they are likely to be knocked off in a real encounter and you have a choice of seeing your sights or seeing the threat but not both. Massad Ayoob has his bifocals reversed, with his near prescription on the top, so that as he brings the gun up and his head down to align his eyes with the sights, he is naturally looking through the part of the glasses that bring the sights into focus. This tactic works well if your distance vision isn’t so bad that you can’t make out the target through the close prescription (and if you’ve ever seen Mas shoot, you know that that must be the case for him because he is one hell of a shot!) But recall that glasses are likely to be lost in the initial second of a fight, and we are back to square one.
All of this brings up the fallacy that many shooters with corrective lenses make. They wear their spectacles on the range and shoot well. But take the glasses away—like they may well forcibly be in a real encounter—and what happens? If you wear glasses, do you know? And by the way: see rule one. Then of course, there’s the old competitive trick of wearing glasses that allow your dominant eye to focus clearly on the sights while your non-dominant eye focuses on the target. Thus, you have different prescription in the left and right lens. Do I even need to discuss the survival fallacies involved here?
Fortunately there are three sight systems on the market today that, although they weren’t designed to address geezer shooters, go a long way to making us not suck so bad.
XS Sights 24/7 Big Dot sights These are still sometimes called “Ashley” sights, after Ashley Emerson who designed them. Ashley’s moved to other endeavors, but his sights remain a favorite of combat-orientated shooters and trainers. Big Dot sights are a modern version of the old African Express hunting sight, which essentially consisted of a large dot on the front of the gun. This sight was meant for close-range work against charging dangerous animals, where the speed of the shot outweighed precise shot placement, and where missing the animal’s center mass was unlikely at the distances involved, so long as the gun was roughly aligned with the threat. Does this situation sound like anything we might be worried about? Like the kind of close-range encounter we are likely to have with the two-legged animals that may threaten us? The idea of the Big Dot sight system (and the 24/7 version of it refers to the tritium in both the front and rear sights) is that the big white dot on the front of your gun is, in the words of trainer Gila-May Hayes “hard to ignore.” The theory of operation is: Place dot on target; pull trigger. Repeat if necessary until problem solved.
Yes, Big Dot sights are not as accurate as traditional post-and-notch sights (my groups are about twice as big with the Big Dot system over post-and-notch sights), but these latter require a distinct focus on the front sight to achieve their precision, and we know that this is unlikely in a spontaneous deadly encounter. Besides, most such encounters happen at close range (five yards and closer), where all we need is a (relatively) coarse alignment of our pistol with the threat…but we need to get our shot off fast! I’ve used the Big Dot set-up for almost a decade now on all of my carry guns, and lived with the fact the long range or very precise shots were not quite as reliable or fast as I’d like (I could reliably hit pepper poppers at 75 yards though, so they weren’t hardly bad!) But the main advantage they has was that I could SEE them! I could not see traditional post-and-notch sights with my middle-age eyes.
Crimson Trace LaserGrips Lasers on guns of all types, and pistols in particular, are one of those phenomena that, despite the pooh-poohing of many initially, keeps growing and growing. And for good reason. Lasers are, in fact, a real aid in real-life gun use. The military, for one, has not discontinued their use on personal arms, yet they have had ample opportunity lately to discover if lasers are useful or useless. State-side, almost every professional I know that has taken the time to give lasers a true wringing-out has become a believer. A good, bright laser allows you to look at your threat—which is where your brain will almost always force to be looking anyway in a for-real encounter. And if presbyopia is your problem, you can see the laser’s red dot just fine at that distance!
For a number of years now, Crimson Trace (CT) has made the pistol lasers that are the hands-down choice of professionals. Their Lasergrips are incredibly rugged, instinctively operated, and reliable—not to mention effective. Until recently, all CT Lasergrips took the form of extremely ergonomic user-replaceable grips for the pistol or revolver, with the laser integral to them. All, that is, except for the best-selling pistol of them all, the Glock. Since there are no grip panels on the Glock, CT had to factory install their laser into the front of the trigger guard, and snake wires though the frame to the hollow cavity at the rear bottom of the grip where the battery was housed. Recently, CT’s long-awaited G-series of user-installable Lasergrips for Glocks have arrived.
The G-Series grips are a single-piece add-on unit that affixes to a Glock’s grip in seconds with a replacement trigger housing pin. That’s it. The laser is activated automatically with a pressure switch on the rear of the appurtenance when it meets the web of the shooter’s hand. The G-Series does not interfere with most holsters, and does not adversely affect the grip that my average-sized hands can take on a Glock 19. The laser beam is very close to the bore axis, meaning that point of aim and point of impact remain close over a broad range. Further, the G-Series grips are stable and do not wiggle around with time and use. All-in-all, the G-Series provide all of the advantages of a laser (which are too numerous to go into here), AND they solve the presbyopia thing.
TRUGLO Tritium/Fiber Optic Sights We all know what tritium sights are—tritium is what’s in the little vials that form the glow-in-the-dark dots on your handgun sights. Traditional tritium sights—or to be more precise, traditional post-and-notch sights with tritium inserts—seem to be made for very young eyes, though. The tritium inserts are pretty small—they have to fit in the post and the notch, after all, and still leave the federally-mandated amount of metal surrounding them, which means that they require good eyes to see in focus. And they break up the black mass of the post and notches, making these harder to focus on with marginal close vision. They are a win-win situation for young eyes, and a lose-lose thing for older eyes.
Likewise, we’ve all seen the fiber-optic sights—essentially formed from an inch or so of a glass or glass-like rod that captures and directs ambient light into a strongly lit dot. These are the nuts for outdoors, daylight shooting, but depending as they do on ambient light, they lose their glow (pun intended) in low light, which is exactly the condition that we are likely to have to fight for our lives in. For presbyoptic eyes, fiber optic sights are often a God-send—in daylight, on the range—since they can be seen like little headlamps on the gun. But neither these nor traditional tritium sights work for older eyes in low light.
The folks at TRUGLO figured out that they could combine these technologies. TRUGLO’s handgun sights consist of a vial of tritium embedded in a fiber optic tube. Thus the tritium’s light is captured and directed to the eyes by the fiber optic tubes. In low light, the TRUGLO sights become bright little green headlights. In daylight, the fiber optic captures and directs ambient light, providing even brighter little headlights for front and rear sights. The great news for us Boomers: we (at least I) can see them quite clearly, even without reading glasses.
What I can see is three (one front and two rear) brightly glowing dots on the gun. I still, of course, cannot focus on the outlines of the front post and rear notch, making the TRUGLO sights slightly less accurate than traditional black-on-black sights for me, but they do provide a more traditional sight picture than either the XS Big Dots or the laser.
I just found out about the TRUGLO sights, so I can’t give you a complete report just now, but I’ll be wringing them out over the next couple thousand rounds. I can tell you that I do see them well, with my naked eyes and despite my current 2.00 diopter reading prescription. All three tritium/fiber optic dots are the same brightness, and I do wonder if that will slow me down a bit. I’d guess that having the two rear dots less bright—or a different color AND less bright—might be preferable, but right now they only come with three equally bright green sights. The competitive shooters I know that use them really like them, and they show great promise.
The three sight systems described here all help presbyoptic shooters (which is almost anyone over 40) overcome their—and let’s be frank; we’re all adults here—age-related disability. Which is the best sight system, or which is the best for you? I wish I could tell you! One thing I’ve discovered in over a decade of intensely studying various sights on the market, trying most of them out, doing so against the backdrop of my own changing sight ability, and discussing the issue with dozens of world-class experts, is that the right firearm sight is a highly individual matter. There is no single answer that applies to everyone—not even to everyone with the same native sight. Asking me which sight is the right one for you—even if I knew everything there was to know about you, is like asking me what woman or man you should marry. I simply couldn’t tell you—even if I knew everything there was to know about you. You need to “date” a number of sights (borrow friend’s guns) and see how they work for you. What I can tell you is that the three sights described here are in use, and well liked, by many shooters like you.
Fort Worth,Texas 76105
Crimson Trace Corporation
Crimson Trace Corporation
8089 SW Cirrus Dr.
710 Presidential Dr.
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