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What you need to know about shooting glasses

Like BB gun-toting Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story, many of us grew up with a mother’s admonishment ringing in our ears: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Luckily, most of us escaped our younger years relatively unscathed, and with age began wearing eye protection as part of our standard operating procedure for heading afield. But selecting the appropriate hunting eyewear can be challenging given the broad range of available products. So for advice, I turned to Steve Gerlovich, director of government sales for Wiley X, one of the largest makers of eyewear designed for outdoor activities. Himself a hunter, Gerlovich offers the following pointers for purchasing protective hunting glasses.

Lens materials

There are three primary materials used for making lenses: optical glass, CR-39 and polycarbonate. Optical glass offers the best clarity and refractive properties, but it’s also the heaviest and prone to shattering, offering little impact protection. CR-39, a plastic polymer, offers more impact resistance and tends to fracture rather than shatter. CR-39 is also lighter and thinner than glass, making for a more comfortable fit. As well, it has slightly better refractive properties than polycarbonate lenses.

As for polycarbonate, it boasts the greatest impact resistance, due in part to its flexibility, which also makes it the best choice when you want to interchange lenses within a single frame system. Uncoated polycarbonate lenses are more prone to scratching than optical glass or CR-39, however, so they must be handled with care. Hunting safety glasses are most commonly made of polycarbonate.

Lens colours

Today’s lenses come in myriad colours, so making the best choice can be confusing—how you see a target against its backdrop differs from scenario to scenario. In heavy forests, it’s tough to beat clear lenses for distinguishing your target; coloured lenses under these conditions typically distort the image. In semi-open treed habitats, amber or rust-coloured lenses tend to improve the delineation between your target and its surroundings. And since amber blocks blue light, which is often the cause of haze, it’s a good choice for dawn, dusk and cloudy days. On the flipside, amber makes it tough to distinguish between shades of blue. This can be problematic when you’re trying to read the likes of a GPS unit.

Neutral grey or clear lenses are often preferred for bird shooting, when you need to be able to see natural colours to help distinguish between sexes and species of bird. Trap, skeet and sporting clays shooters are best served by rose or vermillion lenses, which make orange-coloured clay pigeons stand out more clearly.

Anglers prefer polarized lenses, which reduce glare from reflective surfaces such as water. Polarized lenses don’t offer any significant benefits to hunters, however, as reflected glare is usually not an issue. That said, they don’t do any harm either, making them a good choice for budget-conscious outdoorsfolk wanting a pair of combination fishing-hunting glasses.

Style and fit

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to style and fit. Rather, it’s important to try on several different pairs before making a purchase—only you can decide what looks good and feels comfortable.

Aesthetics aside, look for flexible hinges where the arms meet the front of the frame; this helps ease the impact of the inevitable tugs and pulls encountered when in thick brush, while lessening the chances of the arms snapping off. Some frames also feature foam running along the inside edge to help protect your face should something strike the glasses.

For hunters and shooters, it’s crucial to protect your eyes while enhancing your ability to clearly make out targets—and selecting the best eyewear for your particular needs is key. The right choice will be worth every nickel.

Eye standards

Most shooting glasses are manufactured in the U.S., where the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, has established criteria for optical quality, impact resistance and other variables—eyewear that passes muster earns the ANSI stamp of approval. Look for this accreditation when purchasing glasses to help ensure you’re getting the best possible product.

Ken Bailey

Ken Bailey

An all-around hunter, Ken Bailey enjoys pursuing waterfowl the most. Based in Edmonton, Outdoor Canada's longtime hunting editor Ken Bailey has hunted every major Canadian game animal, in every corner of the country. For many years, he’s shared his deep knowledge of game behaviour, and wide expertise with all manner of firearms with OC's readers. His work has been recognized numerous times by both the Outdoor Writers of Canada and the National Magazine Awards. Ken is a committed conservationist, dedicated to habitat preservation, sustainable harvests, and passing along our hunting heritage to the next generation. He's also an avid fly fisherman, and a pretty darn good game chef.

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