Jeepers, Peepers! Handgun Shooting and Eye Dominance

Last month, I addressed the subject of whether to shoot with both eyes open. If you’ve been struggling with that, chances are you may need to decide which eye is the dominant one. 

Eye dominance refers to the fact that, though it’s usually not noticeable, one eye usually does the primary task of focusing on objects and sending information about it to the brain, while the other plays second fiddle. Think of your hands and how one automatically takes the lead with things like writing, catching a ball, brushing teeth, and so on. Eyes work in a similar fashion. For shooting, the dominant eye is the one that will do the job of achieving sight alignment and sight picture (or just sight picture for the reflex sight users). 

Most people find that their dominant eye is on the same side as the hand that they use to write. But this is not always true. Some people find the opposite-side eye to be the boss. Some people struggle to figure out which eye is dominant. When it comes to learning to shoot, people in the latter two groups often feel like something is wrong with them. If you’re in that group, I’m here to happily inform you that you can shoot just fine—not to mention fast and accurately! This article gives advice on how to identify and make the best use of your dominant eye, and when not to use it, even if it’s on the same side as your “primary hand” as we call the hand that usually does the job of drawing and pressing the trigger. 

Determine which eye is primary

It’s not hard to figure out eye dominance. Do this simple exercise—

1. Raise a thumb or finger at arm’s length.

2. Select a small object across the room or up to 10 yards away outdoors.

3. “Cover” that object with your raised digit so you can’t see it.

4. Looking at the thumb or finger, close one eye.

5. Open the first eye and close the other, keeping your digit over the object.

6. The eye that was open when the finger “jumps off” the object is the non-dominant eye. The eye that is open when the finger continues to cover the object is the dominant one.

Most people get a definitive result from this test. A small percentage will struggle to find a result because the test might yield different results on different trials, or they have trouble focusing on a single object and the finger at the same time. In other words, some people have cross-dominance, but even they generally have one side that’s favored over the other. People in the cross-dominant category are usually female—don’t shoot the messenger, but I’ve heard that this is because women tend to be more adept at utilizing both sides of the brain. Although there are fewer of these folks around today than when I first started teaching, another population who can struggle with this are people who have innate left-hand dominance but were punished for using their left hand and forced to use the right from an early age. Thankfully, a better understanding of the brain has led most educators and their schools to abandon that sort of unnecessary treatment.

That was a simple at-home medical test, wasn’t it? And hey, it’s free.

Using your dominant eye

Larry Vickers

If your dominant eye is the same side as your primary hand, that’s easy-peasy except in one situation to be addressed later. If, however, the opposite eye is dominant, you’ll want to make a small adjustment if you’re not already doing that naturally. The simple solution is:  put the sights in front of your dominant eye. It’s simple, but there are really two ways to get there:  move the gun, or move your head. 

While it may seem weird at first to put the gun in front of the opposite eye from the hand you use to press the trigger, it’ll ultimately make you a better, faster shooter since you’re using what is the natural tendency for you as an individual. Like the tales that used to be common about schoolmarm nuns whacking the knuckles of left-handed children with a ruler, there are still a few misinformed instructors out there who aren’t accepting of so-called cross dominance. To them I’d say take a look at former Delta Force member and expert, right-handedshooter Larry Vickers, who has a pronounced way of putting his left eye behind the sights. If he can do it as a left-eye guy, anyone can. 

The exception to the rule

There is one exception to the rule of using whatever eye is dominant. When shooting from behind a barricade, it’s only sensible to use the eye that’s on the open side, regardless of which is dominant. That goes for hands as well, a technique that requires a bit of practice to become comfortable. When firing from a covered position, it’s wise to keep as much of your body, especially the head, behind cover or concealment. 

If that sounds murky, imagine for a moment that you’re firing from behind a wall in the direction of an armed threat. The threat is only visible to the right of the wall. In that situation, keep the entire body, sans the right shoulder, hand, and eye, behind the wall, exposing only as much of yourself as necessary to get sights on target and not have the bullet impact the barricade. In other words, it’s generally not advisable to follow the temptation to tilt the gun in order to see the sights past the wall. Keep the gun vertical to be sure the muzzle also clears the barricade.

Full circle

I hope this has helped you, particularly if you or a shooting pal have the cross-dominant thing going on, to have a go-to technique that is easy to make your own. And to reference the previous month’s article, if you struggle to figure out which eye to use, just close or squint one eye at a time and pick whichever one feels most natural to use. It’ll work, I promise. Happy shooting!

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