Free Eye Test For WA Hunters

WDFW and the Optometric Physicians of Washington have teamed up to offer a deal where sportsmen can get their eyes checked for free as we head through this fall’s hunting seasons.

The tests are “completely voluntary,” results are kept confidential and aren’t reported back to the agency, and the only hook is that you need to present a current valid Washington hunting license when you come in for an appointment with the 75 eye doctors so far participating in the program across the state.

“To the best of our knowledge, we’re the only state in the U.S. offering visual acuity testing for hunters of all ages,” said Mik Mikitik, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s hunter education coordinator, Thursday afternoon.

It could bolster sportsmen’s image, if enough people take part.

“This has been proposed by hunters to elevate our standing in society,” Mikitik says.

Thursday marked the “soft release” of information about the program; more is expected in a few weeks. (I just happened to stumble across it while looking for WDFW’s fall Hunting Prospects.)

OUR SPORT IS PRETTY SAFE AND GROWING SAFER, statistics collected over recent decades show, but accidents happen.

According to Mikitik, around 46 percent of all incidents that have occurred in the state between 1978 and 2008 were vision related — things like raising a shotgun on a pheasant and swinging it past another hunter and firing. Indeed, stats show that 20-plus percent of accidents happen bird hunting, and a 12-gauge is the most common weapon involved.

And while hunter orange is required for modern firearms hunters chasing deer and elk, 10 percent of accidents happen when sportsmen mistake one another for game.

“The incident up in Concrete may have sparked this,” says Dr. Joseph Bee, an optometrist, hunter ed instructor and competitive shooter in Sedro-Woolley.

On August 2, 2008, hiker Pamela Almli was shot on the Sauk Mountain trail by a 14-year-old who mistook her for a black bear, a tragic mistake that should never have happened.  The boy was sentenced to 30 days in juvenile detention, community service and probation; he apologized at his sentencing.

Bee notes that through a person’s life, their vision is affected by not only their age and hormonal changes, but by cataracts and thyroid conditions. He’s seen family members¬† go from being able to drive to impaired vision in a year.

“This is having people be responsible for themselves,” he says. “We do not want state control on this, but if you’re going into diabetic shock, that’s going to change your vision.”

THERE’S NOTHING SINISTER ABOUT THE TEST, he and Mikitik say, though they’ve heard at least one individual’s concerns that it amounts to some sort of backdoor attempt to do away with hunting through new visual acuity requirements.

“We want to try and allay any unfounded fears that this will lead to anything else,” says Mikitik. “This is a first and last step. We think it’s good for hunters and for society.”

“I have a background in firearms safety and vision. Put the two together and that’s how this evolved,” Bee says, jokingly adding, “I’m a member of PETA — people who eat tender animals.”

If a hunter doesn’t want to take the test, that’s their own prerogative, Mikitik says.

“We will not keep any statistics,” adds Bee. “We are not going to forward information to the state that half of the hunters are blind. Everyone’s doing this under a voluntary basis.”

What hunters do with their test results afterwards is up to them too, but clearly, if found lacking, the idea is for them to do something about it.

Bee and Mikitik have been working on the idea off and on for the past 20 years, they say. This past February OPW members heard about it and then in mid-July, the organization’s board approved going forward.

“It’s just been wonderful working with Mik,” says Bee; Mikitik, who retires at the end of this month after 30 years with the agency, credits the optometrist as the driving force.

To get set up for a test, go to, OPW’s Web site, click on Hunter Vision Screening and put either “98” or “99” in the zip code field. Up will come a list of 61 doctors who will perform the test in Western and Central Washington, 14 who will do so in Eastern and Southeastern Washington.

The test measures both eyes.

“All they’re going to do is determine if you fall below or meet or exceed driver’s license standards,” says Mikitik.

Outside of printing bills for postcards that will be dropped off at hunting and fishing license vendors and posters, the program’s remarkably cheap.

“I’ll guess we’ll end up spending $5,000, $6,000,” Mikitik says, terming that a “great investment” for the program’s statewide scope. He’d budgeted $10,000.

Bee hopes that more of the 650 OPW members in the state will sign up to provide the service. Results from this year and next will determine if the program continues.

“I just hope Washington hunters are supportive and take advantage of it,” adds Mikitik. “Good vision and good hunting go hand in hand.”


One Response to “Free Eye Test For WA Hunters”

  1. Hunters Cooperating In Mason Co. Shooting « Northwest Sportsman Says:

    […] an outgrowth of that, WDFW and the Optometric Physicians of Washington recently teamed up to offer hunters free vision […]

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