Eye Dominance and the Shooting Sports

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By: Marisa Futral
By: Marisa Futral

Most of us have heard of eye dominance but few people really know the significance of what it is and how it works. Essentially, the dominant eye looks directly at an object while the non-dominant eye looks at the same object from a slight angle. This small difference provides us with depth perception.

The dominant eye is primarily relied on for precise positional information and the non-dominant eye is used to help determine distances. This ability to determine the distance to an object is due to the two eyes receiving slightly different images due to the wide positioning on the face. The two images are contrasted by the brain to calculate distance. This is especially important in shooting sports disciplines.

For shooting sports that involve moving targets, using both eyes gives the shooter greater peripheral vision, which allows them to pick up the target sooner and judge its direction and speed. The targets will look larger, closer and appear to move more slowly. Closing one eye robs your ability to distinguish depth of field and things will appear flat. Depth of field is an important attribute in our ability to make correct judgments about the distance and behavior of a target.

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For shooting sports that involve stationary targets, shooting with both eyes open gives you a much brighter and more natural field-of-view, even when looking through a peep site. Photo: 2008 Life in Camo

 

For shooting sports that involve stationary targets, shooting with both eyes open gives you a much brighter and more natural field-of-view, even when looking through a peep sight. The dominant eye focuses crisply and does the actual “sighting” through the restricted area of the peep sight, and the other eye “fills in the gaps” in the picture.

Additionally, the eyes adapt to the incoming light by constricting or dilating the pupil like a camera lens. If one eye is closed, no light is allowed through the closed eye, while the transmission of light through the other eye is high. This forces the pupils to regulate the different amounts of light and will cause your eyes to dilate differently. For a moment the data your brain receives appears confusing and even out of focus at times. The brain is configured to operate with both eyes open and your eyes are used to working together.

Furthermore, shooting with both eyes open will prevent excessive strain on a single sighting eye. Closing one eye over long periods of time fatigues the muscles of the face. Over time, it will also begin to fatigue other parts of the body.

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Jodi Smith from Wyoming found out she was left-eye dominant at the Ladies in Camo Shooting Clinic. She adjusted quickly and shot really well the rest of the day on clays and shooting quail the following day. Photo: 2013 Life in Camo

Once mastered, keeping both eyes open becomes a natural part of the shooting process. Benchrest shooters do it because they must make shots at the exact instant the wind flags move to the correct position. Benchrest shooting is long distance precision shooting sport that uses flags to determine wind direction and speed. It is much too slow and ineffective to continuously open and close one eye to see both the reticle’s position on the target and then the position of the wind flags.

Practical pistol shooters could not move and shoot as fast as they otherwise could if they didn’t keep both eyes open. Try walking or running with one eye closed. It is disorienting to say the least as well as inefficient. Shooting with two eyes open allows for better balance and orientation while holding the firearm. Like anything else, keeping both eyes open may take practice. Once learned, however, it becomes second nature and the results are well worth the effort.

What does shooting with both eyes open have to do with your dominant eye? To put it briefly, in order to shoot a rifle or shotgun, we must align the firearm underneath one of our two eyes, with the stock on our shoulder. If this shoulder is not the one that corresponds with the dominant eye, then your brain could be fed a visual picture that would be erroneous, causing you to miss your target.

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Marisa watches for Megan Hendrix to keep both eyes open as she shoots at a moving clay target at Mountain View Plantation. Photo: 2013 Life in Camo

So how do you determine which eye is dominant? Start by making a small triangle with your hands. Keep your arms outstretched away from your face, and with both eyes open, bring the triangle up to eye level. Focus on the top of a friend’s nose. Your friend can then tell you which eye is looking at him or her through the triangle of your hands. You can also do this yourself by using a mirror and doing the same procedure on yourself. Another way is to look through the triangle at a small distant object and then bring your hands to your face while keeping the object in view through the triangle. The eye that your hand comes to is your dominant eye.

Determining which eye is dominant determines if you need to shoot right or left handed. When shooting a bow, rifle or shotgun, if you are right eye dominant you should shoot right handed and if you are left eye dominant you should shoot left handed, regardless of which is your strong or weak hand. Being right or left handed will not necessarily determine if you are right or left eye dominant. Approximately two thirds of the population is right-eye dominant and one third left-eye dominant. In a small portion of the population neither eye is dominant.

Cross dominance is a term used to describe someone who is right handed and left eye dominant or left handed and right eye dominant. This can be a highly intimidating situation. Some adults who are cross dominant may not want to take the advice of shooting opposite handed due to the time and dedication required to re-coordinate yourself to using your least dexterous side. It may feel awkward at first, while the muscle memory is being relearned, however, in time it will come to be second nature to you and feel just as natural as it did to shoot with your strong arm. Shooting from the shoulder on the same side as the dominant eye is the best option to make you a proficient shooter long term.

There are always those people who say, “I can’t do that!” I tell them nonsense; you can do anything you set you mind out to do. My mother always told me, “Can’t never did a thing, he died in the poorhouse and the ants carried him out the keyhole!” As a child, I was not really sure what that meant, but oddly enough, after she told me that, I always accomplished what I said I couldn’t do.

I could list countless professional shooters in all disciplines who have mastered the technique, as well as non-professional shooters including my Dad. Are you really any different from any of them?

Bottom line, in the shooting sports, you should shoot with both eyes open, and shoulder your firearm under your dominant eye. The rewards will be worth the effort. Before you know it your scores will skyrocket and your time on the range or in the field will be more productive.

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