Aiming a Handgun with Bifocal, Trifocal and Progressive Lenses

If you wear bifocal, trifocal, or progressive lenses, you’ve probably experienced some frustration with lining up a decent sight picture when aiming a handgun. It can be difficult to figure out which lens to look through in order to focus. Do you want to use the near lens to focus on the sights, as in this picture? Or should you focus on the target, using the distance lens, as in this next picture?

Aiming a pistol with progressive lense - example of using near lense to focus on the sights.
Aiming a pistol with progressive lense – example of using near lense to focus on the sights.

Which is better? 

Aiming a handgun - focus on stationary target with distance lense.
Focus on stationary target with distance lense.

Difficulties in Aiming a Handgun with Progressive Lenses

In this GunMag TV video, Daniel Shaw says that this is a common issue with students who wear bifocal, trifocal, or progressive lenses. After they make the shot, the recoil misplaces their focus, so then they have to figure out which lens to look through again. The common response is to move the head up and down to get the eyes looking through the right lens for the situation.

Shaw says “I can tell by looking at the student shooting if they’re wearing transition lenses, bifocals, or trifocals.”

Aside from being frustrating, it decreases your shooting speed. Thankfully, there is a better way to manage the situation.

Aiming a Handgun with Soft Sight Focus

If you’ve got bifocal, trifocal, or transition lenses, this video could help you with your aiming technique. Shaw teaches the Soft Sight Focus technique to students who wear transition lenses to more easily find their aim. With this technique, the shooter uses the distance lens to focus on the target, while the peripheral vision aligns the blurry front sight inside the blurry rear notch.

Why Does it Work?

Shaw says that the Soft Sight Focus works because the target is stationary—it doesn’t move. Thus, there is less need to move your head up and down to find the right lense to look through. By having that target focus with the Soft Sight Focus aligning the sights and putting it on the aiming point, the shooter doesn’t need to adjust his or her head position to get the view they’re looking for.


Stephanie Kimmell is the firstborn daughter of Missouri's Pecan King, worthy scion of a Vietnam veteran sailor turned mad engineer-orchardist-inventor-genius. With a BA in technical writing, she freelances as a writer and editor. A Zymurgist greatly interested in the decoction of fermented barley and hops, she is in many ways a modern amalgam of Esther Hobart Morris, Rebecca Boone, and Nellie Bly. She hunts, fishes, butchers, and cooks most anything. When not editing or writing, she makes soaps and salves, spins wool, and occasionally makes cheese from cows she milked herself. Kimmell is a driven epistemophilic who loves live music and all sorts of beer.

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9 thoughts on “Aiming a Handgun with Bifocal, Trifocal and Progressive Lenses

  1. Try trifocal lenses cut as “double-D”
    The intermediate segment is on top and makes the front sight crystal clear
    Not available at every optician, but they worked like magic for my accuracy

  2. You can ask your optical specialist to put your bifocal lense on the upper inner portion of your lense for shooting glasses, that way when you place your head down to look at he front sight you get a clear front sight and the target is blurry. Improved my shooting greatly.

  3. I’m a bifocal wearer. I agree that a prescription especially for shooting is probably best, but I also have a pair of reading glasses that I had been using for things like working on overhead light fixtures, etc. They improved my shooting and are easier on my neck. If you already have reading, or computer glasses you might want to give them a try before spending the money for another prescription to see if special glasses are what you need.

  4. Suggested edit: you use progressive and transition interchangeably and this is incorrect. A progressive multifocal lens has a continuous focus progression from distance to near as the eye travels down the center of the lens. A Transition lens is a brand of plastic photochromic (light sensitive) lens which darkens in the presence of UV light but has no effect at all on focal point.

    Michael Murphy, optometrist.

  5. I pull my glasses down a touch… When I first got my bifocals that was the suggestion for walking downstairs… I found it useful at the range when shooting. You can’t always “pop” for another pair. Getting old isn’t for wimps, it takes adjustments and this old gorilla had to practice and compensate.

    1. The idea of a second pair for shooting is a good one…for exclusive range time. However, you’re not going to have a chance to change glasses if you ever find the need for shooting to protect your life, so learning a workaround like you do is invaluable, too.

      Mike Murphy, Optometrist

  6. Consideration should be given to the fact that the student is now being trained to depend on the target being stationary, and that isn’t always the case in the real world. This is fine training for the range, but not so great for real world shooting.

  7. Please do not refer to progressive (PAL) lenses as transition lenses. There actually are Transitions lenses by Essilor, they turn dark when going outside and can be any type of lens. Progressive Addition Lenses (PAL) are for near vision and are a progression of various powers depending upon the design, up to the maximum add power. This region is kind of like a variable reader.

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