Iron Sights, Presbyopia, Shooting Glasses and Scopes for Muzzleloaders

scoped-muzzleloaderFor those of you that are old enough to need reading glasses, you know what I mean when I say it is difficult to shoot a rifle with open or iron sights.  For the rest of you, be thankful for now, but be prepared to meet the same fate once you gain more experience.

I read that there are over 135 million people in the U.S. over the age of 40 and most people experience difficulty focusing on near objects by age 45 and almost everyone has presbyopia by age 51.

To align everything properly for an accurate shot, we need to focus on the front sight, the back site and the target all at the same time, right? Well not exactly, most people can’t clearly focus on both sights and the target all at the same time even with young eyes and good vision, but as soon as I put this down in writing, there will be somebody out there that will say they can actually focus on all three things at the same time.

Focus and Sight Picture

When we focus on the front sight, both the back site and the target are slightly out of focus. You should be able to see the back site well enough to center and align vertically with the front sight and to see the target well enough to line up on the bullseye or on center mass depending upon what type of target you are trying to hit.

Since my mid 30s, I started wearing glasses. At first it was just while driving, then once I adjusted to them, I  started wearing them full time because I liked the fact that I could just plain see better. With glasses, I used to have 20/13 vision, which translated to: I could focus on something at 20 ft the average person with 20/20 vision sees at only 13 ft, but now I can only see 20/20 with corrective lenses and also wear bifocals so I can focus on close items and read.

My problem is that even with glasses, the amount of fuzziness of either the back site or the target became unacceptable when shooting my muzzleloader (Thompson Center Encore/Pro Hunter) with iron sights or when shooting pistols.

Focus Problem when Shooting Muzzleloader with Iron Sights

When shooting the muzzleloader, the front sight is about 34 inches from my eye and the back sight is about 14 inches from my eye. With my normal glasses, I can focus clearly on the target, but the focus on the front sight is marginal and the focus on the back sight is too out of focus to correctly align on the target. With my reading glasses, I can only focus on the back site clearly, the front sight is slightly out of focus, but the target is out there somewhere in the blur.

Nikon Buckmaster 1X scope for muzzleloader

Nikon Buckmaster 1X scope on muzzleloader (click for larger photo – Nikon no longer makes rifle scopes)

My solution for the muzzleloader was to put a scope on it. I am lucky that my state allows us to hunt with non-magnifying scopes (1X) (without a note from the Doctor), so I am currently using a Nikon Buckmaster (1X20). Problem solved for now, but I guess my days of shooting a rifle with open sites is over, simple as that.

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Should all States Allow Scopes on Muzzleloaders?

I know there are many that contend that primitive weapons should remain primitive, and that the modern in-line muzzleloaders, with their 209 primers, sabot bullets and scopes do not fit into their vision of what primitive weapons should be. Some claim that true traditionalist shoot only hand made flintlock or wheel-lock rifles and not flintlocks that were made with the modern high tech industrial machines.

Is it the in-line configuration that is perceived as not being traditional?  Evidently not, because in-lines were first made in 1830s but were rejected by hunters and trappers because they were hard to repair in the field with limited tools.

Is it the scopes that are perceived as not being traditional? Fact is, scopes were being used on flintlocks as early as the 1840s (click to see photo).

Then it must be the sabot bullet that is not traditional. Though not invented for muzzleloading until the 1970s, wooden sabots were used in the french Delvigne rifles as early as 1826, some thought the sabots looked like wooden shoes and the name comes from the french word for wooden shoe.

I read somewhere that an estimated 3.5 to 4 million people hunt with muzzleloaders in the U.S. and the vast majority (9 or 10:1) hunt with modern in-line muzzleloaders. If these numbers are true, that means only about 400,000 people hunt with the more traditional muzzleloaders.

Fact is, nobody really cares what kind of muzzleloading setup you shoot, but they do care which season you hunt. The reasons seem to vary from game managers that believe that hunters with modern inline muzzleloaders with scopes will harvest more game than was intended for the muzzleloader season or that the hunters would be tempted to take longer shots and that would lead to the unnecessary lose of wounded game. I would be interested in seeing any data that might exist to support those claims one way or the other.

It doesn’t take much searching to find lots of discussions on the wildlife and hunting forums since the North American Muzzleloading Hunting Association filed suit against 15 states under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for not allowing magnifying scopes back in 2006.

I agree that my inline Thompson Center Encore is not a primitive weapon except for the fact that I basically have one shot, with maybe a follow up shot about 30 seconds later. But when I read posts in the forums that say if I use a scope, then I am among the “slob hunters” that “corrupt” their muzzleloader season and should “stay the heck” out of it, I am not very sympathetic. I would guess those that object the loudest are mostly young guys. I hope they don’t change their minds in the future because they have trouble focusing on close objects.

There were even those (supposedly gun owners and hunters) that said you shouldn’t even be allowed to have a firearm if you can’t see well. Do we really want to go there? The U.S. Constitution gives us the right to bear arms… There is no limitation placed upon that right due to failing sight, though any prudent person would take the necessary steps to insure everyone’s safety.

I can understand that some States still do not allow magnified scopes on Muzzleloaders. In fact, I think it is a good idea, but I don’t understand why it is not acceptable to use a non-magnifying scopes. I am not asking for magnification to hunt with a muzzleloader, just a non-magnified cross-hair so I can aim properly.

Since the 2006 law suit, many States have changed their stance on scopes for everyone, while others still only allow scopes if a Doctor says you vision qualifies you as “disabled.  Since I originally wrote this post, I have aged a few more years and had cataract surgery. And sure enough, scopes will be illegal on muzzleloaders next season. I know my doctor will vouch for my doctor will sign for me to use a scope. Though I would qualify to use a magnified scope, I will be happy to use my old 1X Nikon scope.

The reality is, there are fewer hunters than in the past and we need all the warm bodies we can get just to out vote the anti-hunting crowd. It just seems to make sense to me to help us older guys stay in the game a little longer and help everyone to make cleaner and quicker kills.

Focus Problem when Shooting Pistols

When shooting pistols, I can see better than when shooting long guns with my normal glasses since the back sight is farther from my eye and closer to the front sight, but it is still a little too fuzzy on the back site. With my reading glasses, I can barely focus on either gun sight, and even with the closer pistol target distances, the target is a blur.

My solution for shooting pistols? I had a pair of safety/shooting glasses made that I also can use at the table saw and router table.  I had the optometrist set the focal point farther away to my extended finger tip length. So, when I shoot handguns, I can focus well on both sights and I can see targets that are set at the closer pistol ranges much better. Easier to see what I’m doing at the work bench too and they have also become my favorite glasses to wear when looking at the computer.

Ask your eye doctor about making a pair of glasses for shooting your pistol next time you see him and take your pistol with you. I’ll bet your shooting will improve too.

Special Shooting Glasses

I know that you can have prescription shooting glasses made that will focus your dominant eye on the front gun sight and your other eye on the target. This requires that You learn to shoot with both eyes open, but it seems most people can adjust after a few hours of training. This approach is probably most useful for people that do a lot of competitive shooting.

If you are practicing shooting for home defense purposes, special glasses are not what you need. In fact, you should also practice with no glasses at all. Truth is, you should probably practice shooting in the middle of the night in low light, no glasses and probably few clothes on, since that is how and when you are most likely to need those shooting skills.   Remember that we all dream that we can rise to the occasion and perform heroically when a situation presents itself. But in reality, when it counts the most, we perform at our lowest level of training.

You could also try adding laser grips to your handgun to improve your aim in the dark, with or without your glasses. After all, we all should all agree with this kind of gun control.

modern muzzleloader guide


  1. I’m in the same boat now with my eyes, and I hunt in the State of Colorado which does not allow scopes on muzzleloaders. I’ve always been of the opinion that a (magnified) scope does not belong on a muzzleloader, but I like the idea of a non-magnified cross-hair. Seems a fair solution for “aged” hunters like us.


    • Yes, without my 1X scope, I would worry about making good shots and clean kills. I think that when in doubt, hunting rules should favor making clean kills.

      I came to the muzzleloader community late in life, so I don’t get into the argument between traditionalists and the modern inline guys, but I question the validity of the argument that scopes should not be on muzzleloaders because of tradition. See old Enfield flint lock with scope.

      PS I removed your link because it didn’t work.

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