Improve your shooting by looking after your eyes!

Gary Chillingworth shooting a springer air rifle prone

There's no point spending all that money on kit if your eyesight lets you down at the crucial moment - Credit: Gary Chillingworth

Gary Chillingworth explains how looking after your eyesight can improve your shooting, and offers advice on how to do it!

So, we have an amazing rifle and an amazing scope. We have spent hours on the range setting it up and you can shoot the wings of a fly at 40 yards. You arrive at a competition and settle down to shoot a personal best and then miss your first five targets. The pellets are going high and low, left and right, and you have no idea what is going on. Then, you go home, put the gun away, have a little cry and then, a few days later, take the rifle on to the range and it’s absolutely spot on. So, what is going on and why does this happen? Don’t worry, you are not alone. This happens to people every week, and unlike my other article this month that looks at what could be up with your gun, this piece is what could be up with you!

OK, there is a multitude of things that have to happen for you to put in a good score at an HFT event, Yes, your rifle must be in good condition and your scope must be zeroed; you need to know your aim points and your pellets need to be correct, but there is also a human factor. The brain is a complex thing, and the human eye an amazing piece of design, but when you’re looking through high magnification, and need pinpoint accuracy, then any change in the brain or the eye can cause a major issue.

HYDRATION IS KEY
The eye is made predominantly from two forms of liquid; the first is the aqueous humour and this sits within a chamber in front of the lens of the eye, and the second is the vitreous humour, which sits in the void behind the lens. These liquids need to be in balance because when you look at a target from the peg, and then look through the scope, the lenses in the eye adjust, and this enables you to judge distance. On top of this, the human eye is not always perfectly round and there is a thing called ‘astigmatism’. This is when the eye is more ovoid in shape and it is very common in people who wear glasses, but we will come to this in a future article.

So, to begin with, let’s look at hydration. I know that HFT is not the most active of sports and unless you have a long walk to your first peg, there is not a huge amount of movement and getting out of breath. However, we often wear heavy, warm clothing and there is a lot of getting up and down, so over the course of two to three hours, your body will start to use its water reserves. As your body becomes more dehydrated, the first thing to go is the ability to produce tears, and this is what the eye uses to lubricate its lenses. Dry eyes will not rangefind correctly and will cause eye strain. Also, if the lenses are not fully lubricated, when you go to look through a scope, you might need to blink a few times to bring the target into focus. So, all you need to do is take water with you and drink it. Start with water at the first peg, and then every four to five pegs have a drink. In the summer, take two bottles of water. By the time you get thirsty, it’s too late and your eyes will have been affected.

DOS AND DON’T’S
Driving: 
This is a big one. If you have driven to an event and spent a fair time on the motorway, then your eyes will have become used to looking a long way down the road and it will take time for them to adjust back. So, either aim to get to the shoot a good hour early and let them adjust, or get some cheap eye drops because this will help the eyes to reset quickly.
Nutrition: We all love a bacon roll and a coffee at a shoot, but caffeine and bread can cause a blood sugar spike. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, carbohydrate is not your friend. A bread roll will cause your blood sugar to go up and down for the next few hours, and this will certainly affect your vision. If you can, go for decaf and porridge, and take snacks to munch on around the course – a banana is perfect because it contains potassium. You will shoot better.
Medication: If your blood pressure is high, then make sure you have taken your meds well in advance of the shoot. An increase in blood pressure can cause eye strain and this will not help you to rangefind or look through a scope correctly.
Sleep: This is my big problem. I work nights, often attend a shoot directly from work, and I can tell you that not getting enough rest will affect the way that you shoot, massively. You must get a good amount of sleep or your ability to think and rangefind will be affected. If you are tired, your muscles won’t work as well and this will affect you on standing and kneeling shots. I have been known to nod off once or twice at a shoot!
Basically, drink water, save the bacon for lunch, lubricate your eyes, take your pills, get enough sleep and before long, you will be shooting well and having a better time at a shoot.