Monday, December 5, 2011

An Optometrist's Guide to Hunting

Hello Hunters and Non-Hunters,

I thought I'd write this blog posting about deer hunting in Pennsylvania, which in case you haven't heard, is a pretty big deal! I'm not a hunter myself, mostly because my dad wasn't a hunter. He played golf, and I ended up choosing golf as my sport vs. hunting. If he was a hunter, I'd probably be a hunter myself.

When I was still in high school (just a couple of years ago, ahem!), I remember having that Monday off from school after Thanksgiving. I appreciated the day relaxing at home, while many of my hunting friends would rise early in the cold November air and go hunting with their dads.

There are many, many, MANY hunters out on that first day. For example, in 2011 there's a quota of 50,000 deer licenses in Eastern Berks (area 5B) alone, and they are all sold out. Sure one person can buy multiple licenses, but still, that's a lot of hunting going on. Eastern Berks and neighboring counties (area 5C) have a quota of 117,000 licenses. So if you're a lazy hunter, or were lucky enough to use up all of your licenses that you purchased, in area 5C there's still 13,764 available.

There are no vision requirements for hunting in the state of Pennsylvania. However...there is a mandatory vision examination according to Section 2522 if you happen to shoot at or cause injury to another human being.

"g) Mandatory Vision Examination: Any person whose privilege to hunt or take game is suspended under section (c) shall present to the commission, prior to obtaining a license after the period of suspension, evidence of having taken and the results of a vision examination administered by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist subsequent to the suspension of the license. The commission, based on the results of the vision examination, may deny a person a license or place on the license a restriction requiring the person to wear corrective lenses when the person hunts or takes game"

Obviously, vision is important when hunting, because you can't shoot what you can't see. And if you can't see your target clearly, you really shouldn't be shooting at it in the first place (especially if you are using a bazooka!). However, every year there are reports of hunting related accidents and deaths for a variety of reasons. Maintaining excellent vision, using common sense and implementing hunting safety are surefire (sorry for the pun) ways to reduce the risk of hunting accidents.

As a Sports Vision member of the American Optometric Association, I learn about different visual and perceptive requirements for different sports. My advice for hunters is to ensure that they are seeing as clearly as possible before pointing their gun at anything. I've mentioned this before, but I have had patients that claim to see just fine and when I ask them to read the chart, they struggle to see The Big E (20/400 vision) even with their "current eyeglasses." Like any sport, seeing as clear as possible provides a competitive edge, because if you can't see, you lose that ability to perform 100% of your ability when things get tense. Clear, comfortable vision allows the hunter the confidence and ability to do what they need to do when the excitement of a deer walking in sight occurs. So, even though there are no vision requirement for a hunting license, getting an eye exam before you point your gun at something is probably a good idea.

Other Hunting Tips from the Local Optometrist

It's important to realize that your normal and every day dress pair of eyeglasses may not be the best pair of glasses for hunting. Many times, hunters have a second or third pair of eyeglasses to give them the most optimal vision while in a hunting situation. For example:

1) Protective eyewear is important while hunting to prevent eye injury from debris, backfires, gunpowder, etc. Polycarbonate and Trivex are the most shatter-resistant materials available. Regular plastic lenses will chip and/or break, while glass lenses will shatter, certainly causing a traumatic eye injury. Polycarbonate and Trivex is available in everyday dress eyeglasses, but if you do not have that material in your eyeglasses, it may be a good idea to get that second pair just for hunting to protect your eyes.

2) Some people who wear glasses DON'T wear their glasses while hunting because "they just get in the way." Visual acuity and contrast sensitivity are important to see clearly in normal and low light/hazy environments. If you need an eyeglass prescription, and you are not wearing the prescription while you are hunting, the decrease in vision may much worse on a cloudy day. So if you need to wear glasses to see clearly, you should wear your glasses while hunting.

3) For those who wear eyeglasses, a slight yellow tint improves the contrast sensitivity on cloudy days or when it's raining/foggy. On sunny days, a normal grey tint is optimal. Both options should be polarized to protect your eyes from sunlight glare reflected from snow, morning dew from a large field and streams and lakes. Both options should also have an anti-reflective coating on the lenses as well to allow more light to enter your eyes, allowing for better vision all around.

4) Hunters should use their dominant eye to sight the target. An easy "party trick" to test this at home is to just make a "thumbs-up" gesture and use the thumb to hide a doorknob 10-20 feet away with both eyes open. Then alternate closing your eyes one at a time without moving your thumb. The eye that is open when the thumb blocks the doorknob is your dominant eye. (You may want to double- and triple-check this to be sure.) The dominant eye tends to be optimized for distance vision. Also, being right-handed doesn't necessarily mean that your right eye will be dominant. Another also: your dominant eye may not be your better seeing eye. The dominant eye is just the eye that you prefer to use when looking at an object at a distance. So if you're shooting "righty" and your left eye is dominant, you may want to learn to shoot "lefty."

5) Some hunters complain that their glasses fog up, which is why they don't wear them when hunting. Well, there is a new coating available for eyeglasses that are Anti-Fog. They need to be treated every so often with an Anti-Fog applicator that you can do on your own. If you haven't heard of this before, it's because the Anti-Fog technology is brand new and now available. Also, contact lenses may be an option as well. They don't fog up, they provide better peripheral vision AND they don't distort the vision perception like many high prescription eyeglasses can. I have also customized bifocal contact lenses for older gentlemen who have trouble seeing both the gun's sight and the distance target with their current eyeglasses.

So, I guess what I'm hoping to get across is that vision is important to hunting. And the better you see, the better you hunt. That won't make a deer come into view, but it will let you see it more clearly when it does.

Dr. Weaver