Self-defense shooting with corrective lenses (readers, bifocals, progressives, monovision, etc.)

A lot of times, the techniques that we use for plinking and having fun with guns doesn’t necessarily carry over to self-defense shooting.

Take shooting with glasses or contacts as an example.

The fact is, we may or may not have our corrective lenses handy when we need to defend ourselves.

It may be bifocals, trifocals, correcting astigmatism, monovision, progressives or readers, but roughly 3/4th of Americans wear corrective lenses of one sort or another.

That can pose some interesting challenges with shooting…particularly self-defense shooting using traditional iron sights.

Of course, a laser or red dot make this easier, but the fact is that most non-competitors and non-professionals don’t use red-dots or lasers on their carry guns.

One thing that people do as it becomes more and more difficult to see their front sight is slack off on their acceptable group size…thinking that a flat footed, static group on a paper target somehow carries over to a real-world shooting situation.

That’s the wrong attitude to have.  As you’ve heard me say, the bigger the difference between your training conditions and reality, the more disciplined you need to be and the tighter your groups should be.

Part of the problem is that a lot of people kind of over-buy into the whole “Train like you fight because you’ll fight like you train” mantra.

It’s true to a point…but it’a also kind of a joke.

If it were true, we’d do all training without eye or ear protection and we’d only train against live targets who were in the process of attacking us.  < We don’t do this.

For people who wear corrective lenses to shoot, this is a big deal.

Take people who need to wear readers, bifocals, trifocals, or progressives to see their front sight.

It’s a royal PAIN to tip your head up far enough to see your front sight clearly.

For a portion of your training, it’s perfectly fine to use SSP “Top Focals” with the “reader” lens at the top instead of the bottom.

You can check them out by clicking >HERE<

When you get to their site, click on “store” and then “top-focal”.  I’m friends with Mike, the owner, and his glasses are some of the few shooting glasses that are TRULY ANSI rated.  His grandpa lost an eye and Mike is a shooter and motorcycle rider, so he’s a little fanatical about his lenses actually protecting against impact—I appreciate that and it’s why I am wearing his lenses the majority of the time when I shoot.

It’s also perfectly fine to use stick-on readers with your existing shooting glasses as a short term solution:

(The stick-on lenses are kind of a stop-gap.  The SSPs may very well be a lifetime solution)

Now, you may be wondering why you’d practice with either of those options when you’re not going to have them with you in a self-defense situation. 

You’re also probably not going to have hearing protection, but you don’t hear people advocating for practicing much without hearing protection.

What the lenses are going to let you do is learn what perfect sight alignment FEELS like and how quickly you can run the trigger without disturbing sight alignment.

The lenses will let you see your front sight clearly and, at that point, if you aren’t drilling holes, you can’t blame your eyes or age…it’s your trigger press, and you can fix that!

What if you wear other types of corrective lenses…not “readers?”

The following concept holds true regardless of what kind of vision correction you need…so long as you can SAFELY do the reps without vision correction.

When you (dry fire) practice,
you want to
start and end with clear vision

and do some reps
in the middle
without any correction. 

(Use safety glasses without correction if you’re using projectiles of any kind)

For the dry fire reps without correction, it really helps to use lasers as a feedback tool…a from SIRT, an always-on laser boresight, or a laser sight and 1” or 2” driveway reflectors for easy feedback.

When you’ve got this foundation, it’s possible to make very accurate shots at common self-defense distances, even when your sights are mostly a blur and you’re mostly using the frame of the pistol to aim.

Is it ideal?  No.  It would be better to be able to see your sights clearly, have a laser sight, or red dot sight.  Heck…it would REALLY be better to have a long gun.  But shooting with compromised vision is a reality for a LOT of shooters and we’re much better off meshing our training with reality than trying to ignore it.

In the email, I mentioned a couple of drills that glasses wearers should do that may help with low back and hip discomfort…

Basically, movement of the eyes activate parts of the brain that control residual muscle tension…think tight muscles that you can’t relax.

When we wear glasses, the tendency is to go from moving your eyes to see things to moving your head and eyes together…and sometimes even your torso.  The eyes get locked into only looking through the center of the lens…kind of like a prison.  And for an organ that’s made to move around a lot and provide sensory input to the brain for survival purposes…that’s not good.

The end result for many is excess residual muscle tension, knots, and aches.

There are a couple of drills you can do that may help.  And you can do them while waiting at a stoplight or while waiting in line during your day.

The first is to do a big range of motion with your eyeballs.  Basically, try to look all the way around the outside of the lenses on your glasses.  Do it slowly at first, so that it takes 12-20 seconds to go around the circle.  Slow down if it’s uncomfortable.  Stop if it hurts.  Either way, only do it once or twice in each direction at first.

The second is to cross your eyes 🙂

When you cross your eyes looking straight ahead or up, it stimulates the brainstem and helps with residual muscle tone.

The easiest way to do this is to take a pencil and do “pencil pushups.”  Basically, hold a pencil at arm’s length, level with your eyes and slowly bring it so it’s 2-4″ from your nose and then push it back out while focusing on it.  Repeat this 3-5 times.  (you can use your finger too)

Next, bring the pencil in 2-4″ from your nose and then go up 4-5 inches, back down, and back out.  Do this 3-5 times.

Next, bring the pencil in 2-4″ from your nose, then go down 4-5 inches, back up, and back out.  Do this 3-5 times.

If your brainstem under-activated because of a lack of eye movement, these drills can have an awesome impact.  Try them out, and let me know how they go.

If you wear glasses or lenses of any kind and shoot, I want to STRONGLY encourage you to check out the See Quicker Shoot Quicker tactical vision training.

It will show you how to improve peripheral awareness, situational awareness, improve the speed that you shift focus, improve reading speed and enjoyment, and much more.

When you check it out, you’ll see why shooting greats like Jerry Miculek, Mike Seeklander, and Max Michel spend as much time as they do on vision training…and why you should too!

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  • Firewagon

    Reply Reply May 18, 2023

    “You’re also probably not going to have hearing protection….” Do to my LONG stint in the Marine Corps, and some ill-advised handgun hunting without as much as ear plugs, I have significant hearing loss. Several years ago I invested in a hearing aid/hearing protection product from Axil – They are programmable to your hearing needs and auto shutdown any noise level above 80 decibels. They have various models from reasonably priced to an almost ridiculous cost, mine are in the latter category. There are other “Sport Hearing” device manufacturers that may be as efficient, I haven’t tried any of those. These are molded to your ear canal and, though not recommended, can be used independently of hearing protection ear muffs – I used them while competing in GSSF (Glock Sport Shooting Foundation) matches, often without the muffs as added protection. I said all that to mention that with something like these boys, regardless if you need a ‘hearing aid,’ when out and about you can have hearing protection. Setting off something like my G29 10mm with bare ears is not something you wanna do twice – and though you may not notice(?), in some life threatening shooting exchange, to say followup shots come easier with even simple ear plugs is a no brainer. I have mine in at all times when out and some of the time at home.

  • rod vanzeller

    Reply Reply January 4, 2023

    Eye tracking, eye focusing and hand eye coordination are fine motor movements. When you are prepared you can pull it of, the problem is the ambush, when you get surprised with a threat,( criminal assailants are expert predators), there is a shift from parasympathetic to sympathetic system, under that adrenal stress fine motor movements and complex motor movements deteriorate drastically, you are left with gross motor movements. How do you address this issue?
    Thank you in advance for the answer.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply January 4, 2023

      Awesome question. I could give a simple answer that would partially answer it, but the answer is fairly involved.

      1. A big part of the equation is stress modulation and how far your performance conditions are beyond your training conditions. What this means practically is that there is no one size fits all answer.

      2. We are able to do some complex movements under stress, like sprinting. We’re also able to do fine motor movements, like pinkie and big to flexion to maintain balance. An oversimplification would be that the further processing gets from the spine, the more it gets compromised by stress. Also, the more novel it is, the more it gets compromised by stress. The more you have to think about it and the less automated it is, the more it gets compromised by stress.

      3. Eye movements tend to drop off under stress considerably more when someone has an under-performing visual processing system or an under-performing vestibular system.

      This is very similar to the argument about whether or not people will be able to see or use their front sight under stress. Some will and some won’t. If you study the people who can’t, it will take you to a completely different set of conclusions than if you study the people who can. This is also a different conclusion than if you study both, identify the dependent factors, and create a process to take someone from “can’t” to “can.”

      • rod vanzeller

        Reply Reply January 4, 2023

        Thank you for the reply.

        • rod vanzeller

          Reply Reply May 18, 2023

          One more issue, to see objects close pupils get smaller to see objects further pupils get bigger, under adrenal stress pupils get bigger, this is an involuntary response not under conscious control, how are you going to focus on the sites under threat under this condition?
          Also, is you brain going to get confused and ignore the red dot?

          • Ox

            May 19, 2023

            There are a couple of answers to that that I cover in my vision training for instructors class…

            1. Part of it is what I call the 4-speed aiming concept. You want to aim with your presentation and verify muzzle alignment visually rather than aiming with your sites. It’s much easier to verify muzzle alignment with a flash sight picture or even verifying the relationship between the frame of the gun and your target than it is to do 100% of the aiming with your eyes. The more someone places the weight of aiming on the visual system, the more the skill of aiming will drop off under stress.
            2. Part of it is the skill of stress modulation. Conceptually, you want to experience slightly less of a stress response than those around you and therefore retain the ability to shift focus to the front sight slightly longer.
            3. The more that you practice acquiring the sights in practice, the easier it is to acquire them under stress.

  • John Belsher

    Reply Reply January 19, 2022

    I was able to take my carry firearm to my optometrist. He determined that by raising the reading part of my progressive glasses by 2 mm, my front sight is in focus without changing my head/neck position. If you find an optometrist who works with shooters, there are solutions available.

  • Kerry Lewis

    Reply Reply September 29, 2021

    My last two pairs of glasses were progressive transition safety lenses with the computer focus zone just below center. That mouthful means there are 3 focal zones. The main part for clearer distance, the bifocal for close up reading, and a little arch in the middle for reading the computer screen. I measured how far from my eyes my front sight is when shooting. Used that as the distance to set the computer focus (then adjusted placement of the screens on my desk to match my front sight distance).

    The little arch in the middle gives me a clear image of my front sight without doing weird neck contortions to use the bottom or top of the lens. The distance portion around the arch give me clear image of the target. Yes, that means everything is clear without ever needing to adjust my focus between the target and the front sight. And, since these are transition lenses, I don’t need to change when going in and out of buildings.

    I have tried all of the other options commonly listed. If you actually wear glasses, nothing else comes close to this full-time solution.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply September 29, 2021

      That is an AWESOME solution!

      That being said, I would still suggest 2 things…

      1. Doing vision training to maximize your natural vision as much as possible and minimize the effects of underuse. Most people can read 2 font sizes smaller in 2 weeks or less of minimal training.

      2. Whether you wear glasses or not, it is incredibly valuable to do the range of motion and pushup drills every day.

  • Mark

    Reply Reply January 29, 2021

    I had my optician order an occupational bifocal lens design called “Double D”, often used by my fellow pilots. The glasses are used to read the “eyebrow” panel and other instruments right above the windscreen and overhead in the cockpit. The glasses have a narrow band for reading/sighting the firearm that works really well. You can even use them for working on overhead objects like hammering nails. The only problem is the glasses cannot be “progressive” lenses–they have to be bifocals. They also cannot be made of the preferred polycarbonate material, but have to be made of plastic. But, you can wear them all day without having to compromise your ability to see your sights!

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