The vast majority of people worldwide have a dominant hand that dictates what side they use to write, throw a ball, bat etc. and this would certainly include how they shoot. Very few are truly ambidextrous – and just like your hands, most have one eye that is more dominant than the other.
For shooters, you likely took hold of your first gun and raised it instinctively to the side that you’re strongest or most comfortable on. Perfectly natural. For most people their dominant eye is also on their strong side (right for right-handers and left for lefties). This makes it a much easier task to line-up your target using sights or a scope.
There is a portion of the population though that has their dominant eye on the other side. It’s referred to as cross-eye dominance and it can cause you some problems if you don’t recognize what you’re dealing with.
How it Works
When you aim with your non-dominant eye, the shots will almost always tend to stray to the left or right of the target even though the shot appears to be lined-up properly. This will be a pretty consistent result. As humans, we have binocular vision that gives preference to our dominant eye (through the brain’s visual cortex) without us ever being conscious of it. If this didn’t take place automatically, you’d see every object from 2 different angles.
I found out that I have a cross-eye dominance myself, but it took some time and some frustration to get there. I distinctly remember the first time. I was at a gravel pit with some buddies shooting a variety of weapons at some simple stationary targets. I had seen lots of cop and action movies and I figured ‘how hard could this be?’ Turns out it was a lot harder than I thought. I’m right-handed and I knew that I had the target bulls-eye totally lined up. Almost every shot has high and to the side. I’d move a little closer – same thing. Even with trying to compensate I was still getting mixed results. As a complete rookie I had no clue. Eventually, an instructor at a local range brought the subject up when he saw me struggling and it was like a miracle when I made the adjustment. I’m no expert marksman by any means, but for me it was a huge revelation.
How to Test
There’s a really simple method to self-diagnose eye dominance and it can go a long way in helping you, or anyone you’re teaching, determine what the issue may be if you’re experiencing consistently wayward shots.
- Pick a small object to focus on that’s about 20 feet away
- Extend both of your arms in front of you and form a tight triangle with your thumbs and fingers
- Look at the object with both eyes open
- Close your left eye
- If the object stays in view then you are right eye dominant
- If your hands appear to shift off the object and move to the left, then you are left eye dominant
What To Do
Cross-eye dominance can be overcome with some patience, training and potentially some changes to how you shoot. A lot of this depends on how strong that dominance is, what you shoot and how important it is for you to be accurate (casual range shooting / hunting / competition / military or law enforcement). Some of these ideas may be open for debate and I’m sure there are others.
Learn to Shoot with Your Non-Dominant Hand
A lot of shooters will tell you that this is an easier transition with long guns as opposed to pistols. Firing a handgun from your offside can feel pretty strange and it can cause issues with recoil management and accuracy. It’s understandable that you won’t be as comfortable on the weak side, but it could be a skill that could save your life if you need to react quickly or find yourself injured in a defensive situation. Also consider the potential need for ambidextrous controls if you do switch over.
Use a Red Dot Scope Type
This solution can work in certain situations, but it does have limitations. Utilizing the red dot allows you to keep both eyes open, which can feel more comfortable and doesn’t ‘pull’ the non-dominant eye into play. This doesn’t work for all scope types (or irons) though and is best when the scope is mounted on the top rail only.
Train Your Non-Dominant Eye
Again, this can work but it may only have short-term effects. The most common approach is to block the straight-on vision of the eye that you’re not using to aim, with a patch or piece of tape over your glasses. This effect can also work if you close the other eye or squint, but this can become uncomfortable over time. Ultimately, this solution is best suited for range competition and would have limitations in defensive scenarios.
Turn or Tilt Your Head
This helps to bring your dominant in-line with your sights, but it looks odd and can cause tension in your neck. Really a short-term fix for necessity only.
Canting the Gun
Tilting your gun 15-45 degrees to the inboard side can help to line-up your ‘good’ eye as well. This can be hard to maintain consistency with subsequent shot aiming though. Also, guns are really meant to be held vertically, so the chances of malfunction, poor recoil management and spent cartridge control can increase.
Adjust Your Aim Beyond the Midline
If you adopt a modern isosceles stance when you shoot, the gun will be set-up in the center of your body. You can shift the weapon over to one side just enough to line-up with your dominant eye to help aim better while keeping both eyes open. This is probably the most natural position to shoot from and it may result in some minor recoil issues and a tendency to pull shots to the dominant side. You can make adjustments to offset these.
There aren’t really any hard-&-fast rules for cross-dominant vision, as there are always going to be a number of variables to account for. Some folks will mix it up by shooting long guns one way and pistols with the other hand. In any case, it’s important to determine early-on if there is an issue, find what works best for you and then keep on training.
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