Many hunters are blessed with near-perfect vision while others are able to wear contacts comfortably in the field. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the functional benefits of shooting eyewear regardless of one’s visual acuity. (Photo By: Josh Tatman)
The January sun shone brightly on cliff bands and new snow. Despite the sun, the cold wind cut through my insulated puffy jacket. After an hour of frigid hiking, I found what I was after. A runway of chukar tracks ascended between two cliffs and snaked through rock hoodoos. These tracks were from this morning.
Knowing my quarry was close, I tried to blink away tears to clear my vision. It was overcast when I left the truck. My glasses were doing little to block the cold wind and bright sun. The birds exploded out of the sage unexpectedly, shrieking as they buzzed downslope to spill over the nearest cliff. I swung at a few stragglers, missing the first. I blinked frantically, following the second bird. It crumpled midair as my shot string found its mark.
I should have known better. After working for a decade as an optician, I know full well how important appropriate eyewear can be. Regardless of if a person needs to see well at their desk or while driving a commercial vehicle, a well-thought-out pair of eyewear can make or break the day. The same is true of upland hunting.
Many hunters are blessed with near-perfect vision. Others are able to wear contacts comfortably in the field. Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the functional benefits of shooting eyewear regardless of one’s visual acuity.
What to Look for In Eye Protection
Impact resistant plastic lenses can protect your eyes from branches, errant shot from a trigger-happy hunting partner, and even a catastrophic gun failure. Polycarbonate and Trivex plastics are inherently impact resistant. They are also available in thicker lenses that are rated for ballistic impact resistance. Despite their superior scratch resistance, it’s best to avoid glass lenses as they are more prone to shatter.
Good eyewear can also protect your eyes from UV exposure, which can lead to photokeratitis in extremely bright environments. Long term UV exposure also leads to cataract development later in life. It’s prudent to protect your eyes from wind and dust. These environmental factors can handicap you with watery or dry eyes.
Dry eye is especially problematic for contact lens wearers. Ask your eye doctor if daily wear lenses might improve your comfort. Be sure to have a backup pair of glasses with you. That way, your hunt won’t be ruined if you lose a contact lens in the field.
There is a myriad of non-Rx eyewear options available to the shooter. (Photo By: Josh Tatman)
Avoid cheap gas station sunglasses or throw-away safety glasses. While economical, most of these create enough distortion to interfere with your shooting. Traditional aviator shooting glasses can work well. Look for full metal frames that securely hold the entire lens edges, not ‘balgrip’ frames that pinch the lenses between two contact points.
Sport sunglasses are also a great option. These provide excellent coverage and protection but are more prone to fogging in cold conditions. Regardless of style, choose a frame that hugs your face comfortably.
Every hunter needs eyewear that covers two conditions: low light and bright light. Lenses with a slight tint can be a great choice for hunting on overcast days or while it’s snowing. Yellow, copper, and pink are popular colors for this application. While specialized, these are extremely useful and could be well worth the money. They are also great when hunting the dim grouse woods, even in full daylight.
For darker sunglasses, brown, copper, and amber lenses also increase contrast. This makes it easier for you to differentiate colors. You’ll be able to zero in on that flushing chukar instead of the background of grass and brush. That said, some people find a contrast-enhancing color to be too distracting. For those, a neutral grey or ‘G-15’ greenish grey would be better. Mirror coatings will darken your lenses slightly, but they will also show more scratches.
Regardless of color, polarized lenses will selectively reduce glare. For the bird hunter, this is probably most useful when hunting on snow in bright conditions. Polarized lenses are also great for driving, as they cut reflections off your truck hood and the road. Polarized filters make colors look more vibrant but remember that it can be difficult to view some electronic screens through a polarized filter.
When considering the best hunting eyewear for your prescription, consider the limitations that your prescription itself presents. If you have a high prescription (greater than -4.00 or +3.00), or an astigmatism correction greater than -2.50, you likely won’t be able to use large, wrap-around frames. This is because your lenses would both be prohibitively thick and create too much peripheral distortion. You won’t care how cool you look if you feel like you’re swimming in a fishbowl.
In a perfect world, we would all have 20/20 vision. Unfortunately, many people are nearsighted or farsighted. Astigmatism, double vision, and medical eye conditions like cataracts plague many of us as well. (Photo By: Josh Tatman)
Fortunately, there are good options for those of us with a higher prescription. Consider a smaller aviator or wayfarer shape for sunglasses. There are also some sport styles that don’t wrap around too much. For clear glasses, choose the smallest lens size that you think covers enough to block the wind. This will minimize your lens thickness and weight.
If you have a lower prescription, sport wrap frames are a great option, as they provide lots of protection from wind, dust, and snow. Ask your optician for digitally surfaced lenses that compensate for the curvature of the frame. This will minimize any distortion and provide edge to edge clarity. Wrap frames can fog badly in cold temperatures though, so make sure there’s enough of a gap between the frame and your brow line to allow some ventilation.
Choosing a metal frame will allow you to achieve a custom fit on your nose, which is critical for all day comfort. If you prefer a plastic frame, look for one that hugs your nose well. Some plastic frames have rubber nose pads that reduce slipping.
Prescription Lens Color
The aforementioned lens colors are available in most prescription lenses. Again, a primary pair of clear or slightly tinted glasses can be complimented by a pair of prescription sunglasses to cover all light conditions. Brown, amber, yellow, and copper lenses all enhance contrast while hunting. This makes it easier for your eyes to focus on the birds. Use lenses with an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare, shed moisture, and improve scratch resistance.
Prescription photochromic or light-reactive lenses are popular because they combine both sunglasses and clear glasses into one pair. However, you may find that they don’t perform to your liking, and they don’t get very dark in a vehicle. Because they react to both direct and reflected UV, they can darken even in low light conditions on snow.
Every good hunt starts with good gear. (Photo By: Josh Tatman)
If you need to wear a reader to see well close up, multifocals like lined bifocals or progressive lenses will give you clear vision both near and far. Keep in mind though, these lenses are more cumbersome to use. Generally speaking, single-vision distance lenses will outperform any multifocal for wingshooting. The exception is when you need to check your OnX position or read the shot size on your shells.
If you must have a reader for these tasks, a low-set bifocal might be the best solution. Even the best progressive lenses will have more peripheral distortion than a single vision lens, which may jam you when that covey of quail busts out of the cover as you pass.
With optics, you get what you pay for. Choose quality eyewear from reputable manufacturers. Give your eyes the same attention you give your shotgun and your hunting dog. When you are unloading a full vest at the truck, you’ll be glad you did.