Advice from “The Old Man in Tennessee”- Deteriorating Eyesight

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe




The public response from Henry’s last article was overwhelmingly positive!  Thanks to the many readers who wrote in to tell me how much they appreciated Henry’s wisdom.  Here’s the next installment from the 88-year old man living up on a mountain in Tennessee…


Deteriorating Eyesight


When young, iron sights served me well out to 600 or 1000 yards. I could see rifle and handgun sights clearly and down range too.


Sometime in my late 40s I had to start using reading glasses to see newsprint or handgun sights clearly. Sometime in my 70s I lost all vision in my right eye to macular degeneration. I get along fairly well now with the one eye and reading glasses but things are pretty fuzzy without them. The older and less physically capable I became the less I shot long guns and the more I depended on handguns.


I used to shoot tight groups offhand on 3 x 5 index targets with a variety of pistols and revolvers at a range of 21 feet. Began to have to use glasses to do it.


In the last twenty years have focused mostly on close-range combat shooting for personal defense. Quickly realized you cannot rely on seeing sights well at such times. Statistics tell us that most such encounters occur in low light conditions. I began to practice shooting in low light conditions to the point of almost total darkness. If you got a fair number of hits on the 3 x 5 target you were a survivor. If you got no hits at all you were dead.


Also quickly realized you can’t depend on having glasses to improve your deteriorating vision. In quick-breaking confrontations you won’t have time to find your glasses or put them on. Or you will lose them in a struggle or other violent physical activity. Then you are not only half deaf from gunfire but also half blind.


I started practicing this close range combat type shooting with no sights. A friend and I took all the sights off a Glock pistol and began shooting with it in a variety of light conditions on an 8 x 10 inch sheet of paper at 21 feet. Using the outline of the gun itself we could consistently get 4 and 5-inch groups on the target as long as there was light enough to see the outline of the gun and the target itself. That experience pretty much carried through with all the pistols and revolvers I worked with, the flat-topped semi-auto pistols being the best. Just come down until the topline of the gun goes to a flat line and shoot.


Jim Cirillo talks about this type of sighting in his book “Guns, Bullets,and Gunfights”–calling it “the weapon silhouette point.” It is a practical low light shooting technique. Also works well for an old man with poor vision who can’t find his glasses. “It will get you through the night,” as a Deputy Sheriff friend of mine says.



“But you are young,” you say, “and have excellent eyesight and don’t need glasses.” Lad, you are about to get snakebit if you depend on that. You don’t need to wait until you are old to have deteriorating vision. Dust, sand, smoke, wind, rain, sun in your eyes can wreck your vision in seconds. As can a wide variety of aerosol sprays readily available in any grocery or convenience store.


All the strength, vigor, agility, and quick reaction time you may have when young will fade to weakness and trembling if you live long enough to reach old age. Old age is the ultimate enemy. If you don’t die first it will drag you down. You end up half deaf, half blind, with uncertain knees and legs and slowed reactions. Might be good to bear in mind that you really don’t have to reach old age for those conditions to kick in. Sickness, wounds, drugs, or alcohol can do it to you in minutes.


One of the defining characteristics of humans is that they are infinitely capable of self delusion. To recognize Reality is one of the biggest problems we face in life. As Mollie Brewer’s grandfather, a cattleman on Tongue River in Montana, said, “They say we live and learn. We all live but damn few learn.


The lesson learned is that you cannot depend on strong physical condition and good eyesight to carry you through a close-range personal defense situation. You had better devote some serious practice time to working on no-sights shooting techniques. That and the drill may well be what saves your young butt.






8 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Gary Hoff says:

    When I get “wise cracks” about my age, here is my reply. “I have already lived what you still have to experience and boy, do you have some surprises coming.” Then I get this blank stare.

  2. Gary Hoff says:

    Look in a mirror! HAHAHAHAHA

  3. D. Hide says:

    I’m young but my vision is already bad. I can’t see the front sight of a rifle or handgun in typical shooting positions without my glasses. It’s only going to get worse over time.

    I’ve heard of point-shooting, but not silhouette aiming. Definitely something to try – Can’t see the tiny dot but it’s hard to miss the whole gun 🙂

    • JMD says:

      That’s my situation, too. I got glasses in the third grade and my vision has gotten progressively worse in the 25 years since. My vision is currently around 20/400. Without my glasses, the sights would just be a blur, almost indistinguishable from the rest of the gun.

      Perhaps the next time I’m at the range, I’ll try shooting without my glasses just to get a better understanding of how limited my shooting abilities would be without corrective lenses.

  4. Mick says:

    I’ve seen a bit of fuss in the Iowa news regarding concealed carry for the “blind”. Of course, those who are rabidly antigun take the position that vision-impaired folks have no business owning a firearm, and anyone who would sell one to same or provide training should go to jail, bla, blah,blah. The diminishing eyesight is something most folks will deal with if they live long enough. My thoughts are similar to D. Hide; if my glasses get knocked off I’m limited to point-shooting, so I train accordingly. Not a bad idea for everyone, as in a fight nasty things can happen to one’s eyes. YMMV.

  5. Dave Orchard says:

    I’me pushing 70 now…
    An older and more experienced man than myself took a little flack after he got his folding walking stick out of his Harley’s saddle-bags….
    He looked appraisingly at the much younger man and finally matter-of-factly stated, “YOUR ‘pie’ is in the oven…”