As the following article raises some real issues, we’d appreciate your help with some research we are doing around this subject.

Please read the comments below from the author of the article, then the article and then consider what you can do to further assist us. (Editor)

“I’m a little bit haunted by the conversation I had with a hunter who shot a person dead within the past few years. I informally interviewed him, as part of the research I did for my original article (Oct/Nov15 NZ Hunter).
This guy (I promised not to reveal his identity) was a model picture of the responsible hunter. He also told me there had to be a law change around eyesight checks as part of issuing / renewing a Firearms License. I took this to be him saying (he had to be careful not to concede culpability – both legally, and for his wracked conscience) that he felt eyesight was a factor in his tragedy.
I promised him I would do what little I could to change the law.

As if my own story is not compelling enough – also while researching the article, I came across other first-hand horror stories. Like the guy standing on the side of the rugby pitch who could not even recognise his own grandson playing on the field – and who did not even own any prescription eyesight correction – going pig-hunting (with a rifle) after the game! I would have rung the police myself – if what he was doing wasn’t absolutely, totally legal!

Wear corrective eyewear and avoid a dead man in YOUR sight

By Stewart Hydes, Rakaia NZDA
“None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.” – Matthew Henry

It makes perfectly good sense that an eyesight test should be legally required to hold a firearms license.

One hunter who accidentally shot a fellow hunter dead told me that he believes eyesight testing should be mandatory. Always a staunch safety advocate, he made one tragic and all-too-simple mistake. And he paid for it dearly.

Each of us simply has to accept that we are capable of making such a mistake. If we have any visual impairment such as short-sightedness, then a cornerstone of any effective personal strategy to manage the risk must be some form of prescription eyesight correction, worn while hunting.

Once we reach 40 years of age or older, on average we can expect to be showing signs of eyesight deterioration. As hunters, regardless of the law, we need to get periodic eyesight checks. Following another hunting tragedy where a father shot his own son, there has been recent publicity about “cognitive bias”. This suggests that previous hunting experience can lead us into thinking, believing and concluding that we are looking at a deer when we are not. Effectively, our minds can play a trick on us. Couple this possibility with deteriorating eyesight and we’ve got a potentially far more lethal combination.

For many, wearing prescription contact lenses is the best way to correct eyesight while hunting. But others like me don’t like wearing them. Personally, I find them a nuisance, putting them in and taking them out, and they don’t suit my eyesight condition (I have astigmatism and am short-sighted), so I wear progressive lenses.

My most recent hunting success – an 11-point red stag shot in April. I simply would never have got this animal without wearing my prescription eyewear (though I took them off for the photo!)

However, I found my “ordinary” prescription glasses (frames) were a bloody nuisance while hunting or doing any sort of outdoor activity. Which is a significant problem. So I did lots of research to identify good alternatives – and am happy to say that these days there are better, more practical options available.

As many of us know, just because we are not legally required to wear glasses while driving doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. The same goes when using a firearm, especially while hunting, and perhaps most of all in the bush.

Many of us with eyesight deterioration ignore the symptoms. I did, and am still not sure why. But it definitely affected my hunting success – until I did something about it. I got used to seeing departing animals, having missed them before they spooked.

And my deteriorating eyesight undoubtedly made me potentially more dangerous as a hunter. The law requires us to positively identify our target. It stands to reason that the risk of making a target identification mistake is much higher if our eyesight is not as good as it used to be.

We are all dumbfounded when we hear of older, experienced hunters accidentally shooting others. How does that happen? For the rule is not just “Identify your target” – it’s “Identify your target beyond all doubt.” The name of the game must be “reduce the risk”. Stack things as much as we sensibly can in favour of getting it right.

I’ve found there are two additional benefits of wearing suitable prescription eyewear. First, more effective hunting (putting more meat in my freezer); and second, better eye protection.

It is possible to purchase what I call “whole of life” prescription eyewear – designed to be more practically suited for both work and recreation. Criteria these must satisfy include:

  • robust, impact-resistant frames;
  • prescription lens protection and durability;
  • practicality (wrap-around to minimise profile, so they don’t get knocked off easily);
  • versatility (ability to swap lenses, e.g., yellow in low light; polarised for fishing and boating);
  • features to cope with the sweat of exertion (anti-fog, ventilation, sweat bar, adjustable fit);
  • accessories (e.g., head strap, protective travel case); and
  • aesthetics (now a lesser criteria).

Two good examples of practical prescription safety eyewear for hunting that adequately meet the above criteria for me are the Adidas Evil Eyes (see www.adidas.co.nz/Eyewear) and Scope Optics Switch Blades (see www.scopeoptics.co.nz). The latter are very cost-effective: suggested retail price for the frame with one set of outer Lens and Rx (prescription) adapter is around $60 – this is additional to the cost of your prescription lenses). Standard replacement/spare lenses (clear or tinted) are $14. Polarised lenses are also available ($58), and photochromatic ($72). These frames also have the advantage of being certified safety glasses so they can be worn at work too. The Adidas product is more expensive.

You can get either of these fitted with your prescription by specifying (through an optometrist) suitable lenses from Independent Lens Specialists, (see http://www.lens.co.nz).

Adidas Evil Eyes with tinted outer lenses fitted. You can just see the prescription insert containing my prescription lenses. The tinted outer lenses have become so scratched that I’ve replaced them, leaving my expensive prescription lenses in mint condition underneath.

Scope Optics Switchblades, this time with clear outer lenses fitted. In both cases, changing the outer lenses (e.g., to fit polarised sunglasses lenses) takes only moments. These are seriously cost-effective and because they are certified safety glass frames they can be worn as prescription safety eyewear at work.

I own and have used both of these products extensively in the field and can personally vouch for them. This has included many hunting trips in bad weather. Of course, they do not always perform flawlessly. In rainy, wet conditions where I am heavily exerting myself, a combination of moisture, humidity, sweat and moisture-laden breath certainly has an effect. But I still only have to wipe or clean them occasionally. In fact, I now wear them most of the time – even when skiing.

I have both of these eyewear with a prescription insert, fitted with progressive lenses. Independent Lens said they could direct-glaze both frames with my prescription, but while this has advantages I prefer the prescription insert because

  • the availability of different lenses (clear, yellow, polarised and sunglasses) means that for me one frame and prescription insert actually takes the place of several pairs of glasses; and
  • having separate outer lenses means a scratched or damaged lens can easily and cheaply be replaced, while the prescription insert remains protected. Having myself replaced scratched lenses, I have definitely benefited (and saved money) from this feature.

So, fellow hunters – is your eyesight less than 100 percent? If it’s not, you know it. Personally, I want to see a law change – but don’t wait for it. You’ve been thinking about doing something (or somebody has been telling you too). Now is a good time. Book that eyesight test – or go to the optometrist and get “whole of life” prescription and safety glasses that you can wear while hunting.

If we all do it we could save lives. And it could be our own. Or someone we love.
Do something about it … right now!

Stewart Hydes
(Article used by permission of the author and also NZDA New Zealand Hunting & Wildlife magazine from issue 193, July 2016)

Your response:

  1. If you know of any other stories or experiences of people similar to the above can you email them please to admin@safershooting.co.nz . We do not want people’s names or info that might identify them and at this stage we have no intention of publishing the stories – in any case they will not be published without your permission. We want to collect as much information/data as we can, so going forward we can help make hunting a much safer sport.
  2. You may have some other insights to share with us – please email them to the above address.
  3. This would make a great University research project – if you know of anyone who may consider this please let them know. We realise the importance of quality research for shooters, hunters and hunting and so are fully committed to supporting this kind of research.