I took my oldest brother, Mike, to the range with me one day. We had never shot together before. We are very competitive in our family, and my brother surely did not want to be showed up by his little sister.
He was bragging that he was going to be a better shot than me because he was in the Army. I chuckled. I know that the Army mainly teaches accuracy with rifles and doesn’t put as much importance on pistol shooting. I felt like I had this one in the bag.
After we both put several rounds downrange, we compared our targets. Mike had a decent grouping (mine was slightly tighter), but it was a bit to the right. I closely watched him shoot his next grouping closer and saw that he was closing his right eye and using his left eye to line up the sights. He is right-handed.
I pointed this out and told him to use his right eye instead. Guess who started putting his shots on the center? Just for the record, I still beat him.
Whether you shoot a handgun or a long gun, one of the very first things you should consider before attempting to shoot with any kind of accuracy is establishing your dominant eye. If you are right-handed you are most likely right-eye dominant; lefties are usually left-eye dominant.
However, this is not always the case. In the course of training shooters, I have found that nearly one out of every four shooters are cross-dominant: Their dominant eye is not the same as their dominant hand.
Eye dominance is important, because the sights should be in alignment with your dominant eye. This will give you an accurate sight picture — a straight line from your eye, through the sights, and all the way to the bullseye. If you shoot with your dominant hand and use your dominant eye, this will be an easy task.
Both Eyes Open, or One Eye Closed?
Ideally, you should learn to shoot with both eyes open. This will enable you to maintain your full peripheral vision should you find yourself in a vulnerable position. Also, having both eyes open will improve your balance. However, closing your weak eye allows for a sharper focus on the front sight. Reminder that you want to focus on the front sight, not your target. The target and rear sights should be out of focus and slightly blurry, but in your line of vision.
Testing Your Eye Dominance
If you are unsure of which eye is your dominant one, there is a simple test you can do to find out. Choose an object in your surroundings that is in the distance. Make a circle with your thumb and your index finger and hold it away from your face. Look at the object through the circle with both eyes open. Without moving your hand or your head, close one eye.
If you still see the object with your open eye that is your dominant eye. If the object disappears or moves out your sight picture, the open eye is not your dominant eye.
It’s even easier to figure out which hand is your dominant hand. It’s the one you tend to use for everything. You should know if you are right handed or left handed by age five. If you are ambidextrous, congratulations! You have the best of both worlds.
If your dominant eye differs from your dominant hand, you are cross-eye dominant. This may make shooting a little trickier for you, but it is correctable.
Correcting Cross-Eye Dominance
If you discover that you are cross-eye dominant — right handed but left-eye dominant, or vice versa — there a few ways to correct the issue.
A properly sighted red dot would help a shooter to properly aim a handgun or rifle easily and quickly. I’m not the biggest fan of using red dots because it teaches the shooter to not rely on the sights. If the red dot becomes uncalibrated or the battery dies, the shooter is left at a disadvantage.
You can train your other eye to be dominant. This can be done by putting a piece of tape over your shooting glasses or wearing an eye patch on the dominant side. This will force your non-dominant eye to take over and allow it to see more clearly. However, when the vision blockage is removed, the shooter tends to revert back to the dominant eye. This method will only work with a handgun.
If you are a handgun shooter, you can turn your head so that it lines up with the sights. By simply turning your head to the left or right, you gain the ability to line your dominant eye with the sights more effectively. Moving the gun over in front of your dominant eye will also have similar results. You just have to make sure you use a conscious effort to do this or else you will find yourself forgetting to do it.
Learn to shoot with your non-dominant hand. This will feel awkward at first but, even if you are not cross-eye dominant it is still a good idea to learn how to shoot with your off hand. You never know when your going to fall off a ladder and injure your dominant hand or arm. Shooting cross-dominantly will take some time getting used to, but it’s worth learning to do. This is especially advantageous if you are a long gun shooter.
Try new techniques. These are guidelines and do not necessarily work for everyone. I’ve run into some students who have had corrective vision surgery where they see distance with one eye and up close with the other. This may make it very difficult to use some of forementioned techniques.
I once had a student who was consistently hitting the on the outside left. I spent some time trying to correct their shooting, even calling in another instructor to evaluate them. I finally instructed them to aim on the right edge of the target and they began hitting center of mass. If all else has failed and a certain method works for you, then stick with it.
Hopefully I have helped some of you who have never paid much attention to which eye you shoot with. It is important to have that straight line of sight from your eye to the target. Even the slightest variation of sight alignment can move your shots to the left or right, and the longer the distance, the larger the variance. Next time you go to the range, make sure you do the eye dominance test and be prepared to shoot your best.
Jenny Malone grew up in the Charlotte County area and is an NRA-certified pistol instructor and range safety officer. You can talk guns with her at J&J One Stop Gun Shop in Port Charlotte.