At any level, shooting is an activity that requires a great deal of focus and concentration – and one of the most basic decisions you’ll have to make is whether you shoot with one or both eyes open. Either method has their advantages and disadvantages, and it will ultimately come down to personal preference and how your vision is balanced.
This is one of those topics that gets widely debated and there are definitely some decent points to make for one or the other method. With the understanding that vision is the most dominant of our senses and we rely on input from both eyes to properly function, it would stand to reason that keeping both eyes open would be preferred. Not so fast! Depending on how dominant each of your eyes is, the potential for your performance and comfort level to be negatively affected can be significant.
A person with one strong dominant eye will usually find it easier to maintain visual focus on the target or sights with both eyes open when using the dominant eye, than a person who is either cross-dominant or has a minimal difference between the two. While that natural binocular vision of having both eyes open does provide a variety of benefits for overall coordination, it’s the co-dominance or cross dominance that can throw things off.
Shooting with One Eye Open
Many shooters initially learn to shoot with only one eye open and it can definitely be hard to break the habit. The one real advantage of this method is that it allows you to focus entirely on the target and very little else. With one eye closed, the visual input that your brain has to process is reduced, and this can help to maximize your level of visual acuity, especially when shooting at smaller, fixed targets. You’ll often see competitive or Olympic-style target shooters with a cover over their non-dominant eye for this reason.
Generally speaking, there is probably a bigger downside to shooting with one eye closed.
Shooters lose much of their field of view, which will affect their ability to detect movement and to assess potential threats in the periphery in personal defense and tactical situations.
You lose your ability to see in 3D, which will affect depth perception, balance, spacial orientation and your ability to accurately judge distances.
The amount of light you’re able to utilize is limited, making overall visual detail more difficult to discern.
Closing one eye also tends to tighten facial muscles (like a grimace), making it more difficult to relax and increasing the chances of a pre-flinch response when firing.
Keeping Both Eyes Open
These points have some clear counters to the disadvantages of one-eyed shooting as listed above.
Having both eyes open allows you to maintain your depth perception, your ability to gauge distances, and can help with physical balance and coordination.
With the additional light and visual information that is provided by having both eyes open, shooters will be better able to better detect movement and see greater detail, in addition to addressing targets more effectively in low light situations.
Keeping your face in a more natural position (ie. not squinting) can help to create a more relaxed approach to your shot process.
Without having your field of vision reduced, your ability to stay aware of your surroundings will be increased. This is particularly useful if you’re shooting in a dynamic environment or need to react to situations quickly.
Really the one main disadvantage here is that it can potentially be more difficult to maintain focus on your target since you have that much more visual information for your brain to process. You can certainly train yourself to get better results, but as mentioned previously, the relative dominance of both eyes will factor into how difficult a process this may be.
How you adapt or practice your technique will be entirely dependent on your physical capabilities and what shooting sport you’re undertaking. Whether it’s for hunting, recreational range, skeet or trap, tactical or competitive target shooting, there will be factors that can affect your need for focus and reaction time.
There are simple tests available (just look online) that can determine just how dominant each of your eyes is. This is a good starting point so that you know what you’re dealing with.
Don’t ignore your ‘weak’ side and train your eyes just like any other muscle in your body. This may involve blocking your dominant eye to force focus into the other. Another method for either eye is to obscure one lens on your eye protection with translucent tape or something like Chapstick so that it blurs the vision/focus while still allowing light through. Ideally some decent muscle memory can be developed over time. It doesn’t just happen on its own though.
Overcoming true co-dominance or cross-dominance can be tricky and you may be left with simply adjusting how you shoot if your intention is to keep both eyes open. It’s important though to try and avoid exaggerating your head position or tilting it in a way that will cause strain. With pistols, think about bringing the gun more towards the center of your face to bring the front sight into focus. Rifle stocks will get in the way of having eye your directly behind the scope and this can feel awkward. You can try to shoot off your non-dominant shoulder if possible or really work at training which eye you’ll want to use.
Clearly, the goal is always to hit what you’re shooting at, and with the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to how you orient your eyes while shooting, a little flexibility will have to apply as personal preferences are established. Working with a shooter’s natural attributes and applying training or methods to offset any deficiencies will make the task of maximizing performance potential easier.
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