The Dominant Eye and Shooting
by Kirk Lawson
[What is the dominant hand?]
You are left-handed or you are right-handed. Your brain developed in such a way as to favor one "side" and this is reflected in which hand, left or right, you most naturally use. Very few people are truly ambidextrous or "mixed-handed." One side will be "stronger" and more dexterous than the other. It is estimated that about 90% of the U.S. population is right-handed. When shooting a gun, the best control, stability, and follow-through will be achieved by using the dominant hand at the trigger.
[What is the dominant eye?]
In much the same way that one hand is favored by the brain, one eye is also favored. The best sight picture and sight alignment, both crucial to accurate shooting, are achieved when sighting with the dominant eye.
[What is cross-eye dominance?]
The dominant eye is most often on the same side as the dominant hand, but not always. It is estimated that about 2/3 of people have a dominant eye on the same side as their dominant hand. That means that around 1/3 of people cannot shoot with their dominant hand on the same "side" as their dominant eye. This can lead to additional challenges for cross-eye dominant shooters and, at a rate of 1/3, there are a pretty significant number of shooters who must meet and conquer these challenges.
[How to determine the dominant eye.]
There are several methods of determining the dominant eye. The most common method can be thought of as "the two hand method." To determine the dominant eye using the two hand method, first pick an object at least several feet away. Extend your arms and hands, palms out, overlapping with a gap at the base of the thumbs forming a hole or window to look through. Look at the object through this window. Slowly draw your hands back close to your face, watching the object through the window as you do so. When the hands are nearly touching your face, they will have gravitated to your dominant eye, which will be the only one looking through the window.
[Extend both arms, palms out, forming a triangular "window"]
[Draw hands back, close to face, looking through - dominant eye]
Another method of determining eye dominance can be thought of as the "point the finger" method. with both eyes open, point your dominant hand index finger at an object at least several feet away (yet not too far). Without moving your body or arm, close first one eye then the other. The eye which is most lined up with the object is your dominant eye.
[In line with finger - dominant eye]
[Out of line with finger - non-dominant eye]
A third method for determining eye dominance can be thought of as "the knot hole method." Poke a half-inch hole in a sheet of paper and then press your face against it and look through the hole at a selected object as if you were looking through a knot hole in a fence board. The eye which you automatically choose is your dominant eye.
[What can you do if you're cross-eye dominant?]
So what can you do if you are cross-eye dominant? Are there any training methods, tricks, or magic wands to wave? Of course. You knew that, right? Or else, why would I write (and you read) this article? Yes, there are some options for cross-eye dominant shooters. In the pictures below, assume that the model (me) is right-hand dominant and left-eye dominant (cross-eye dominant). As you can tell from the photos above on how to determine eye-dominance, I'm clearly right-hand and right-eye, but that wouldn't be very helpful, now would it?
[Cross-eye dominant pistol shooting]
1) Shoot dominant hand with dominant eye. Keep the pistol in your dominant hand and move the sight alignment over in front of your dominant eye. This tends to work very well for cross-eye dominant pistol shooters but may slightly compromise your shooting stance.
[Dominant hand and dominant eye]
2) Shoot dominant hand and cant the pistol over to shoot with dominant eye. This isn't the much ridiculed "gansta-style" shooting, but, rather, slightly "leaning" the pistol toward the dominant eye, while holding with the dominant hand. This allows the stronger dominant hand body structure and "natural" feeling trigger press, while allowing the dominant eye to get a sight picture and sight alignment. However, by canting the sights in this way, you are effectively limiting your accurate shooting to a very narrow distance. With a normal sight alignment, windage is unaffected by distance and elevation can be fairly easily compensated for. However, with the canted angle, neither windage nor distance are affected in a usual manner. Whatever distance you sight your pistol for will be the only distance at which the sight alignment will be accurate for.
[Dominant hand with pistol canted to dominant eye]
3) Shoot dominant hand and cant the head over to shoot with dominant eye. Simply tilt the head to the side so that your dominant eye lines up with the strong, proper, dominant hand grip. This often works well, but is stressful on the neck and can make extended practice sessions uncomfortable. It may impact, to a degree, your solid, natural, strong side shooting stance, which could negatively impact accuracy.
[Cant the head over to shoot with dominant eye]
4) Shoot non-dominant hand with dominant eye. Switch your shooting hand to your non-dominant hand. This will tend to give you a better body structure. However, it will make the trigger press feel less natural. However, because many experts consider the trigger press to be a (very) slightly less important fundamental than sight alignment and sight picture, they consider the reduced "natural feel" of the trigger press to be an acceptable trade. Simply spend more time practicing your trigger press fundamentals.
[Non-dominant hand and dominant eye]
5) Shoot dominant hand and practice a lot more with the non-dominant eye. This will allow the most natural body posture and most intuitive trigger press. But it sacrifices using your dominant eye. It may feel very natural but because the non-dominant eye is being used, it may take a great deal more practice to achieve proficiency. That is not to say that it is impossible or never has been done, it most definitely has. However, as stated, it will most likely require a good deal more practice.
[Dominant hand with non-dominant eye]
6) Shoot dominant hand with point shooting/instinctive shooting techniques. A potential option which may work for you, particularly at short, "self defense," distances is what is sometimes called "instinctive shooting" or "point shooting." In this case, the object is to get the pistol just up into the center of your vision, and "point" it toward your target, as if pointing with your index finger. With a little practice, this will typically allow Center-of-Mass hits at "self defense" distances. It also has the advantage of working with the natural human Fight-or-Flight reaction of adrenal dump which will typically force you to instinctively look at the threat, ignoring the pistol sights entirely. Instinctive shooting has a well earned reputation for getting shots on target with remarkable speed. However, there are drawbacks, of course. Instinctive shooting is known to limit accuracy. Center-of-Mass hits are all well and good, but most instructors want students to be able to hit no more than 4 inch groups at 15 feet and generally consider that tighter groups are better. Instinctive Shooting techniques, on the other hand, are not interested in 4 inch groups. Any hits on a torso at 15 feet are considered good.
[Dominant hand - instinctive shooting]
[Cross-eye dominant rifle shooting]
Due to the requirement of shouldering a rifle when shooting, there are fewer options available for cross-eye dominant shooters. With iron sights, and most optics, it is somewhere between inconvenient to impossible to cant your head, or the rifle, or to move the rifle to your non-dominant eye while mounted to your dominant shoulder.
1) Shoot non-dominant hand with the dominant eye. Many rifle instructors hold that sight picture and sight alignment are so critical with rifle shooting that the best way to deal with cross-eye dominance, bar none, is to shoot with the non-dominant hand. When properly mounted to the shoulder, a very stable shooting platform is secured, particularly if using a sling or some other support such as shooting sticks or a bench (improvised or otherwise). This theory of instruction holds that it is far easier to learn a proper trigger press with the non-dominant hand and a rifle than to overcome the difficulties of the next option.
2) Shoot dominant hand with non-dominant eye. Mount the rifle to your dominant shoulder and sight with your non-dominant eye. This gives you the advantage of a natural feeling body structure and trigger press, but using the non-dominant eye makes sighting for most people much more difficult. For most people, sighting with their non-dominant eye will require a great deal more practice. Some people may never be able to achieve the same accuracy possible when shooting with their dominant eye, even if doing so requires shooting with their non-dominant shoulder and hand. The good news is that most people can, with sufficient practice, attain acceptable accuracy when shooting the rifle with their dominant hand but non-dominant eye.
3) Shoot dominant hand with point shooting/instinctive shooting techniques. There are a couple different methods of learning instinctive shooting with the rifle, but, as with the pistol, the goal is to be able to instinctively point the firearm at the target and hit. Most methods, as with pistol, teach the shooter to look at the target, over top of the rifle, then press the trigger when instinctively aligned with the target. This typically takes a lot more practice to achieve accuracy than sighted shooting and, again, preforms better at closer ranges. Nevertheless, as a "self defense with a rife" method of shooting, acceptable results are possible. Some hunters who are not cross-eye dominant report good success when hunting using instinctive shooting techniques. As with instinctive pistol shooing techniques, instinctive rifle shooting has a well earned reputation for getting shots on target with remarkable speed, an advantage for both hunting and self defense. However, advocates of instinctive rifle shooting admit that the technique does tend to require more practice time to achieve the accuracy possible with standard sighted shooting.
[Instinctive shooting with a rifle]
While being cross-eye dominant does present some additional challenges, none of them are insurmountable. Remember that you are not alone. Roughly 1/3 of your fellow shooters are cross-eye dominant and, more importantly, there are several options for working with your body and brain's natural dominance, both hand and eye.