Sights for Sore Eyes

Aiming is critical to shooting, of course, and since we aim with our eyes, any vision impairment can translate to a shooting problem. Having been born with a myopic dominant eye and undergone cataract surgery on both sides – and having been a firearms instructor for more than half a century, picking the brains of peers and mentors alike on the matter – I’ve been able to gather a few suggestions on overcoming visual impairment in shooting thanks to a growing number of handgun sights. Allow me to share some of them.

laser sights, rdos, and fiber optic sights

Laser Sights

The projected red (or green) dot of laser sights works particularly well for far-sighted people who simply can’t focus on conventional iron sights if they don’t have corrective lenses that work for that purpose. They also work well for a wounded defender who can’t raise their gun to line of sight.

Laser sights work best in poor light and are outstanding for night shooting. They are also useful when the user is wearing night vision devices.

Their limitation is range. In bright daylight, the farther away you are from the target, the less likely you are to be able to see the dot. A laser sight is particularly useful for police officers working with hand-carried ballistic shields. To get the pistol up to where the officer can aim through the Lexan viewing window, they have to bend their wrist, which can induce a “limp-wrist” stoppage at the worst possible time.

Holding a Laser sighted pistol turned over 90 degrees, with the elbow locked to the side, the officer can shoot around the side of the shield with minimum gun arm exposure and aim by looking through the viewing port at the dot projected on the dangerous suspect. The locked forearm reduces the chance of a limp-wrist-induced malfunction. (Yes, I realize most of our readers aren’t cops going on raids, but a ballistic shield makes huge sense for home defense and is legal to purchase in most jurisdictions. The trick is finding an armor dealer who will sell one to a private citizen.)

Laser sights are also extremely useful for diagnosing bad shooting habits in dry fire.

a pistol amd a revolver with laser sights
Laser sights take many forms. TLR-2 light/laser unit on SIG P227 .45 above, Crimson Trace LaserGrips on Ruger SP101 .357, below.

Optical Sights

Red dot optical (RDO) sights have long since become the system of choice for defensive rifles such as the AR-15 and are presently the New Hotness in police service pistols and armed citizen defense handguns. They work best when the eye is focused on the target, and the internal red (or green) dot is simply superimposed over the spot you want to hit. I don’t work with night vision goggles, but those who do tell me red dot optics are the best system for that purpose.

In the bullseye pistol world, lots of folks who would have given up the game because they couldn’t focus on their front sight anymore found that the optical sight gave them a new lease on shooting life.

Be sure to change the batteries regularly and use anti-foggers!

Those who train large groups of shooters (i.e., police academies) have found that new shooters get good scores sooner with RDO than what the instructors were seeing with iron sights. Conversely, those accustomed to conventional pistol sights seem to have a steeper learning curve with “carry optics” on handguns.

Trijicon RMR on Gen4 Glock 19 9mm from Wilson Combat.
Red dot sights are a game-changer. Here is a Trijicon RMR on Gen4 Glock 19 9mm from Wilson Combat.

Express Sights

Originally developed for heavy caliber rifles used for dangerous game, express sights consist of a shallow V-shaped rear sight and a great big front sight. Ashley Emerson popularized their use on handguns, and AO (Ashley Outdoors) sights have developed a strong following. With a vertical line in the center of the rear sight, you’re looking for a “lollipop” sight picture. They are very quick at close range, but over the years, I noted a lot of people (myself included) didn’t do their best with them at 25 yards or farther. Some could, though: I can remember two students who came in top shot in their classes with me with Ashley Express sights, and the late James Yeager was an absolute wizard with them at long distances. They are at their best, though, in close and fast shooting. Vision is as subjective as it is, so the best thing is to simply give new sights a try and see if they work for you. If your vision is blurry, express sights are big enough to still let you see where the shot is going to go.

Advantage Tactical Sights

Picture a pyramid with bright lines going from a wide bottom to almost a narrow top, the peak being a pointed structure of another bright color. You’re looking at Advantage Tactical Sights, which, last I knew, were available from the Outer Impact company. For fast shooting in close, just get that brightly colored front sight on the target and press the trigger. For a precision shot, align the sights into a perfect triangle, and the bullet will strike just above the tip.

Permit me a short story. A dozen or so years ago, I flew to Las Vegas to take the Shodan (first-degree black belt) in Soke Jeff Hall’s modernized martial art of Hojutsu, hand-to-hand fighting combined with weapon craft. There was punching, kicking, and shooting, the latter being a complicated and demanding course of fire very close to the Combat Master test developed by the late Chuck Taylor.

However, I showed up in Vegas with a really bad eye infection in the dominant eye. The Heinie Straight-8 sights on my Glock 17 were only a blur, and that was hopeless for the speed-and-accuracy-intensive Hojutsu course. Fortunately, my wife’s Glock 17 with Advantage Tactical sights was with us: I switched to that, passed the test, and earned the black belt. Those big colored pyramidal lines were discernible even through eyes so blurry and inflamed that I didn’t dare drive until I recovered.

Not long after that, I used the same Glock with Advantage Tactical sights at a PPC-type match and put all 60 shots into the small oval 10-ring of the competition B-27 silhouette. You can see why Advantage Tactical became my favorite “geezer sights” or “Mr. Magoo sights.”

Advantage Tactical Sights on Glock 17
Advantage Tactical Sights on Glock 17 9mm.

Fiber Optic Sights

Though they have no advantage in the dark (they aren’t night sights!), bright-colored fiber optic sights are a blessing to the person with imperfect vision who is shooting in daylight. The colors just leap out. Try both red and green; for most people, one or the other will work better.

Two fiber optic sights
Left, Wilson Combat fiber optic on 3” 2020 Colt Python .357; right, factory red insert on Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 Special.

Colors, Inserts, and Dots

In the third quarter of the 20th Century, we started seeing red and orange inserts on front sights that came from gun factories and big three-dot sights. Before that, smart gun people were painting their sights in bright colors. Heck, back in the 19th Century, gunfighter Bat Masterson was known to order his Colt .45 revolvers directly from the factory, specified with oversized sights. All of these helped the visually impaired shooter somewhat, but not as effectively as the more modern options described above.

Ordinary sights rendered large can help, too. The Big Dot front and huge U-notch rear pioneered on the J-frame Model 340 M&P are, in my opinion, the best sights ever put on a J-frame. The oversize fixed sights from Dave Lauck at D&L Sports work great, too.

Two revolvers with dot sights
D&L sights on Model 342 .38, left, and Big Dot front with U-notch rear on 340 M&P .357 are great for little J-frame S&Ws.

Having less-than-perfect vision sucks, but it can be overcome. Today, we have more sights than ever to allow shooters who are somewhat visually challenged to hit what they are shooting at.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group,

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