Optics for pistol shooters

by John Robinson

Shooting any handgun accurately can only be done by obeying the basic rule of maintaining focus on the front sight and keeping the front and rear sights in correct alignment during the execution of the shot.

It is often difficult to get this concept over to pistol shooters, but unless it is understood, the chances of mastering the target handgun are pretty slim.

This came home to me several times recently when shooting my own handguns, specifically because I forgot my prescription lens glasses that I use when shooting. As I gazed at the fuzzy sights and the crystal clear target, I reflected that perhaps this was the view that many shooters experienced, regardless of their desire to see a sharp front sight and a less sharp target.

My aging eyes simply cannot close focus while my distant vision is close to 20/20. This has not always been the case as over the time I have been wearing glasses since my late `teens, this situation has almost reversed.

I have absolutely no expertise in this area, but it appears to me that prescription lenses for most people are designed for either reading or dealing with more distant vision issues.

Pistol shooters are a special case, as a pistol held at arm’s length places the front sight about 1000 mm from the adult male shooters eye. Most spectacles are not designed to focus at this distance as there are few day to day applications requiring specific focussing at this range.

One solution is to go to an optometrist and have a set of lenses made up specifically for pistol shooting. A possible cheap solution comes in the form of the glasses sold through many outlets such as newsagents, pharmacies and service stations. These are frequently called ‘reading magnifiers’, and come in a variety of dioptre settings from 0.75 (low magnification) to 3.0 or more.

For pistol shooting, only one eye is required to focus on the sights, so the use of these off-the-shelf glasses provides a possible solution for a lot of people looking for front sight focussing spectacles.

My normal reading glasses have lenses rated at about 1.5 dioptres but these are no good for pistol shooting as the focus is too close. With no magnification (just shooting glasses), the sights are in no-man’s-land for my eyes and this is aggravated in artificial light.

After checking out the available magnifications, I found that 0.75 dioptre magnification was about perfect for my pistol shooting needs, giving me sharp focus at around 1 metre.

Most suppliers of these types of glasses have a rack full of various magnifications and it is easy to check through and have a look at the test card that is usually attached to the rack to see which one suits you best for focussing at one metre. These cheap glasses do not deal with eyesight issues such as a stigmatism.

The other option, of course, is to go to an optometrist and have a prescription lens made up to suit. The frames are always the most expensive component, so this is a good way to recycle your old frames.