Which is your dominant eye when shooting?
Do you have issues with eye dominance?
I shoot from the right shoulder but have a left dominant eye. I’ve tried shooting with both eyes open but then my stronger left eye takes ‘control’ of the gun muzzles and sends the shot to the left, wide of the mark. So what’s to be done?
What exactly is eye dominance and why is it so important?
Eye dominance is the tendency to favour one eye to the other while maintaining the value of binocular vision. It’s a subconscious process.
Most people have a dominant eye, meaning that their brain has a neurological preference for the visual input from a particular eye. For right-handers it is usually the right eye and for left-handers the left.
In some cases the brain has no preference — this is cross-dominance. Let’s find out more about these issues with eye dominance.
Both eyes open vs one closed
When we mount our gun and look along the rib with both eyes open, our brains are taking in the full picture, receiving a complete, three-dimensional view and understanding of target speed, angle and distance. Shutting an eye denies that.
A newcomer to shooting will almost always put the gun to their shoulder and naturally shut an eye to sight along the rib. They can be forgiven for thinking “that’s what you do” when using a gun that you look along and line up with a target. If it’s a have-a-go situation, then a good instructor will allow the shooter to close one eye and maybe not ever mention dominance. On the other hand, someone learning to shoot needs to understand clearly the issues with eye dominance.
How to discover your dominant eye
Point at a distant object with both eyes open and look along your arm and pointing finger, focusing on the object. Shut each eye in turn. The dominant eye should be pointing at the object; the “off” eye will be pointing way off to the side.
What do I do if I have the “wrong” dominance?
You could change shoulders and learn to shoot off the opposite shoulder. That’s a tough one for most people, but with perseverance it can be achieved. Or you could shut your “off” eye. Some struggle with this as they are not used to it.
- Some contact lens wearers use a poorer prescription for their “off” eye when shooting
- The Easy Hit Fibre Optic Foresite “trains” the brain to see the fibre-optic bead with the eye that’s over the rib. The brain recognises instantly the fluorescent bead and adopts the correct dominance. This also works for shooters who have “middle vision”, as the bead deepens the dominance.
- Some shooters put an adhesive patch on their glasses to stop the view from the “off” eye.
The problem with patches on lenses
- A patch on safety glasses is okay for shooting trap targets but not for sporting/skeet or FITASC type targets, due to the acute angles thrown up.
- Another problem with the ‘patch on the glasses’ method is that shooting glasses will always be slipping down your nose – placing the patch in completely the wrong place.
- The patch also hinders your vision and is very annoying when loading the gun and looking for pick-up points.
- To judge speed, distance and angle of the target, you will need to see the target/bird with both eyes open at first. The patch on the lens technique can hinder this. By far the best technique is to see the bird with both eyes WIDE open.
- Once you have seen the bird you can then close the left eye and shoot the target/bird with the WIDE-open right eye, using the necessary technique to kill the target consistently.
- If the eye is open wide more light enters, so you see the target better along its entire flight path.
- When you’re practising dry mounting, try calling for the bird and then saying in your head: Two eyes, one head, bang.
- If you can’t shut/wink your eye then the patch on the glasses is the only option.
Different shooting instructors treat eye dominance differently
Some tell their pupils to close the dominant eye just as they mount the gun. Others tell you to start mounting the gun on your other shoulder.
If you can manage to do this then you won’t have any issues with eye dominance. You’ll be cured instantly because you’ll able to shoot at last with both eyes open – and have binocular vision.
Glasses for shooting
Everybody should wear glasses for shooting for safety reasons and many shooters have correcting lenses in them. You should consider the position of your head on the stock when choosing them. The design of the frames must keep the lenses well up, and it must anchor the spectacles securely to your head.
Lenses must be relatively large and impact resistant too.
Eye dominance terminology
– Absolute dominance in the eye looking down the rib – keep both eyes open and focus locked on the bird, the bird and nothing but the bird.
– Predominant dominance (one eye is predominantly but not fully dominant) in the eye looking down the rib – keep both eyes open with appropriate cast, or, squint an eye as the gun comes to the shoulder or otherwise block the vision to it.
– True cross-dominance (eg right-handed but left eye dominant) – squint/close opposite eye, block vision to it, use a full crossover stock, or change shoulders.
– Intermittent or occasional cross-dominance – probably caused by poor focus discipline or bad gun fit. Consider what rib picture you can see when the gun is mounted at 45 degrees with normal cheek pressure.
– Central vision (neither eye dominant) – close eye opposite rib, block vision to it, consider acquiring a semi-crossover stock.
– Indeterminate dominance – both eyes fighting for control, close eye opposite rib or block vision to it.
Shooting with both eyes open
In an ideal world we would shoot a shotgun with both eyes open. This allows our brains to combine two images which provide us with the depth of vision to judge angle and distance. It also establishes a point on a line drawn between the centres of the pupils – our eye dominance point.
If we are right-handed and shoot from the right shoulder, with luck it will be the right eye that determines our point of aim; vice versa if left-handed.
But this doesn’t apply to a lot of people. Eye dominance seems to be established at puberty and there is a higher occurence of opposite eye dominance in women. Eye dominance can also change during a lifetime.
Try shooting from the shoulder on your dominant eye side — it may feel strange at first, but with practice it will become second nature.
Trust the professionals
When it comes to issues with eye dominance, they can be easily fixed nine times out of 10 at a shooting ground.
A radical approach
Nick Penn teaches at Pennsports. He thinks everyone should shoot with both eyes open and he’s been teaching this way for more than 20 years.
He says of issues with eye dominance: “If you shoot with an eye closed, it’s time you stopped guessing where the target is and learned to shoot with both eyes open! Nobody should shoot with an eye closed.
“I convert between six and 10 people to my method of shooting every week.”
How does he do it?
Nick has five rules.
- Never look at the end of the gun, only the target
- Keep both eyes open
- Pay close attention to stance and gun mounting – they’re vital
- Think right edge (if right-handed). Left edge if left-handed
- Make your left arm (if right-handed) do 80% of the work, and vice versa in the case of a left-handed shot
He also starts controversially: “Everything that’s natural in shooting is wrong.”
Shoot at the target
I was instructed to shoot AT the target as you don’t see lead with both eyes open. (Or only a small amount.) Nick described my brain as a computer that would communicate with my eyes and then I’ll hit the clay.
Nick sent a driven bird and I followed his instructions.
“Both eyes open, look hard at the target and shoot at it.”
Much to my amazement I hit it. Nick then asked me why I had smashed it and I admitted that I hadn’t a clue. That was the right reply.
Hitting everything effortlessly
The cynical side of me thought that I’d probably have hit it anyway. But Nick sent more and more driven birds along and I hit them all. So I had to admit he was right.
It was hard to not instinctively dim my left eye but on the other hand, I was hitting everything effortlessly.
The ideal position for a gun
Nick advised: “The more cast you have on your gun the better you will shoot because it brings the centre rib of the gun back into line.
“The ideal position for the gun would be in the middle of your chest but this of course would be extremely painful and isn’t possible. What you’ve got to remember is that a right-handed shot naturally pulls to the left to compensate so the more cast there is, the better.
“Remember that the brain is a very complex computer and you need to rely on it to sort out your sight, not complicate matters by dimming an eye and putting everything out of kilter.”
Thinking right and left edge
I am right-handed and so Nick advised me to always think of the gun’s right edge when bringing the stock to my shoulder. Right-handers have a natural tendency to drag the gun to the left, and off line. Think ‘right edge’ automatically makes your left arm stop the drag and hold the line. Your left arm will work harder because it pushes to the right edge. (The opposite applies to left handers.)
Nick pointed out a couple of faults I’d acquired during my shooting . The first was that I put more weight over my front foot so that my head stayed on the stock.
Nick told me to raise my left arm higher so that it took over the handling of the gun and made it easier for me to counteract drag during mounting.
I was also taught to bring my hand lower on the fore-end to improve my gun control
With more challenging birds Nick’s technique worked for me again and again. I couldn’t miss.
I had to admit it was easier shooting with both eyes open.
“Cant your gun to the right when turning left and do the opposite when turning to the right. Do not lead, shoot straight at the target with both eyes open” said Nick.
This was a command I found really hard to follow as all my instincts told me to put lead on the bird. I tend to shoot quite quickly and naturally use ‘maintained lead’ so Nick was trying to slow me down.
Nick talked about ‘muzzling’ which means mounting the gun near the target. Using both eyes to see, canting the barrels and ‘muzzling’ automatically places the gun on the line of the target.
The outcome is that you end up with a shorter swing but this technique does need consistent timing and rhythm.
Nick had me hitting driven birds every time using his method.
With crossers I found it hard not to lead but leave the momentum of the gun and my brain to do the work. It didn’t feel right and I was finding it hard to concentrate by then. I probably needed more time with Nick.
Questions about issues with eye dominance
Q: I have to close my left eye because of eye dominance, so sometimes I lose sight of high driven birds. What can I do to stop this?
A: If you’re losing sight of the bird in this way then it suggests that your gun is too low in the comb, and needs raising.
When the gun is mounted and brought to an ever-steeper angle, your right eye drops below the line of the rib causing you to either lift your head from the stock or open the left eye in an attempt to regain sight of the bird.
You might even slow/stop the swing of the gun with the same result. A missed target. Raising the gun’s comb height means your one good eye remains on the bird throughout the mounting process allowing you to pull off a successful shot.
Often you only need to lift the comb by a quarter of an inch to achieve a remarkable transformation. It’s worth experimenting to discover what suits you best. You’ll find rubber comb raisers in different sizes in most good gun shops.
Q: Will a foresight bead help my eye dominance problem?
A: Yes. And no. The thinking behind these is that when a gun is correctly mounted, the bead aligns with the master eye allowing you to focus better on the target.
The makers and importers claim that the beads help correct eye dominance problems and there are plenty of people out there who have tried them and would agree. On the other hand there are others who have not found foresight beads as helpful.
My view is that these foresights do have a lot to offer but they really come into their own when used with a gun that fits, and the shooter knows how to mount a gun properly in the first place.
Q: Will I always need a patch for my left eye dominance?
Q: I’m a female Gun and have just begun shooting. I’m left-eye dominant and my instructor demonstrated that a small patch or piece of tape on the lens of my safety glasses helps. Will I always have to use this ‘patch on glasses’ technique?
A: Around 80% of women have left eye dominance but shoot from the right shoulder. If that’s the way you feel you’re most comfortable shooting then that’s fine.
But to shoot consistently, for anyone with a cross dominance issue, you will find you either need to close an eye or place a patch in a very precise spot on the lens of your safety glasses, in order to block out the target from the left eye. You can also have the stock of your gun altered too to counteract the cross dominance.