Eye dominance is a most intriguing phenomenon. Most adult men have one eye that directs the pointing process – finger or gun it makes no difference. When they point at a distant object, they will line up with one eye – usually the right eye if they are right-handed. This dominant eye, the finger tip and the selected object, will all be in a straight line. This is a natural sighting/pointing system.
Most people find it easier, more natural and more effective when keeping both eyes open. This means that the perception of distance and angle is enhanced, muscular tension is minimised, and natural hand to eye co-ordination is improved (if you doubt it try catching a ball with one eye shut). However, keeping both eyes open whilst shooting is not that simple.
About 70% of men have an eye dominance that matches their dominant hand BUT 30% do not. Most right handers have a dominant right eye and vice versa for lefties. These are the people who are well advised to shoot both eyes open (assuming that they are shooting from their strong shoulder).
It is also possible to be ‘cross-dominant’ (e.g. right handed but left eye dominant), to have ‘central vision’ (neither eye dominant) or to have one eye which is nearly, but not fully, dominant. In these cases keeping both eyes open whilst using an unmodified gun will result in poor results because the gun will not actually be pointing where the eyes are looking.
Eye dominance can be subject to change
Eye dominance can be affected by all sorts of things: stress, ill health or just staring at a computer screen for too long. Allowing the focus back to come back to the muzzles – one of the most common mistakes in shooting – can also bring about a shift in eye dominance. If you find it hard to focus at distance, there will be a natural tendency to bring the focus back to the gun.
Even those with natural eye dominance and good vision must concentrate on their focussing technique. your vision is an active process in shooting – a skill as much as an ability. We must train ourselves to sustain fine focus on the bird.
The natural tendency is for our vision to flick to a moving object momentarily but you should keep your eyes focused on the target for at least three seconds, the time it typically takes to shoot a bird. The same is true with clays.
Try this simple exercise: make a triangle with both hands then with BOTH eyes open put an object in the center. If you now close one eye then the other you should see the object remains in the center for one eye or the other, this usually denotes your dominant eye. Mine happens to be my right.
Eye Dominance – your choices
Applies to the eye looking down the rib.
Absolute: – Shoot both eyes open and get the distance, angle and speed judging benefits of binocular vision.
Predominant: – Keep both eyes open with extra cast, or, dim eye as the shot is taken.
Permanent and absolute cross-dominance: – close an eye, use a ‘blinder’ to obstruct vision to offending eye, use eye patch or modified shooting spectacles, consider a parallel rib (suitable for some forms of clay shooting), use a full cross-over stock or change shoulders.
Occasional cross-dominance: – may be caused by stress/tiredness, could be a bogey target (for which the diagnosis is to squint and/or use a pull-away or swing through technique rather than sustained lead). You might also consider whether the problem is aggravated by poor visual discipline or your inability to focus consistently at distance. The cure for the former is improved technique, in the latter case, prescription glasses may help. An excessively low stock is also a classic cause of cross-dominance.
Central vision: – close an eye, use a ‘blinder’, eye patch or modified shooting spectacles, use a semi cross-over stock.
Indeterminate: – close an eye, wear an eye-patch, modified shooting spectacles, or use a ‘blinder’. Changing shoulders will not remedy the problem.
How to test for eye dominance?
Start by asking the person under test to stand square and point the index finger of his (or her) non-dominant hand – (the one that points the gun) – at your eye (indicate which). Make sure the ‘client’ keeps both eyes open and fully extends his arm when pointing. The distance between you should be no less than 10 feet.
If the pointed finger ends up clearly in line with one or other of the pointer’s eyes when you look back at them, it is probable that this is their master. However, if you note that the client is having difficulty ‘aiming’, if his finger is moving around and not settling, if he tends to squint one or other of his eyes as he tries to line up, it is probable that he is not absolutely dominant in one eye (the person with true central vision, by contrast, will point confidently at you with a finger which appears to be in line with the bridge of his nose).
Next, ask your guinea-pig to repeat the process with the other hand and with the arm relaxed by the side: Get them to point at your eye again – but bring the arm and finger up quickly this time. This quick-pointing method may confirm the first test, but frequently it reveals that an apparently non-dominant eye is having some effect (in which case, you will see the finger momentarily pulled over to the ‘non-dominant’ side as it comes up to the horizontal).
Finally, ask the person being tested to ‘make a circle’ by bringing the pads of thumb and forefinger of the non-dominant hand together (or offer a physical aid such as a curtain ring to look through – “hold this at arm’s length and look at my eye”). These circle tests are especially helpful because the tester can see if the eye is centred in the circle (indicating pure dominance) or to one side (indicating partial dominance).
Children and Women
It is likely that most youngsters and most women will not be able to shoot with both eyes open (there are exceptions). Some ladies find it very difficult to wink or squint (they are natural candidates for modified shooting spectacles). Be very careful before you advise anyone to shoot off the opposite shoulder. It may be that they are not absolutely dominant in either eye. In which case changing shoulders is a completely futile exercise.
This is a complex subject and professional guidance can be a real help. I will conclude by noting that many people do not have the eye dominance that they think and the right diagnosis can transform your shooting.