While the notion of eye dominance is important in shooting, it’s generally overrated. Especially for new shooters, it’s much more important to learn the proper way to align and see your sights and not worry about seeing them with the “proper” eye. At least at first.
Seeing properly is the key
Everyone has an eye preference, a tendency to look primarily through your sights with one eye or the other. If you’re right handed and right eye dominant (or vice versa), you don’t have to worry about a thing.
If you’re cross-dominant, that can complicate things for a new shooter, but there are ways around that. You can close the eye opposite your strong hand or you can adjust your hold slightly to align your handgun with you dominant eye.
The point is, even if you’re you’re dealing with cross-dominance, it ultimately has very little to do with learning to be a good shooter. The more important question is, does the shooter know how to see and use their front sight. Do they know specifically what they’re looking for and how to view the object of their focus.
Concentrate on what you’re seeing, not how
When using binocular (both eyes open) vision, there’s an effect called parallax. Each eye has a slightly different view of the world. That’s what gives us depth perception. The brain tends to rely on the dominant eye for more precise positional information, something that’s important in shooting.
Some trainers will try to get a new or novice shooter to immediately identify their dominant eye as if it’s the primary key to good marksmanship. Instead of worrying which eye is dominant, they should be more concerned with where the shooter is looking. Not knowing what to focus on is the most common sighting error we see in students…no matter which eye is dominant.
I spend a great deal of time helping students focus on aligning their sights and getting them to see the the square shape over the round shape in their front sight. It’s more important for them to learn to see the front sight that it is for them to worry about how they’re seeing it.
As for how to do that, I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. My go-to tip was shown to me by my shooting coach when I was on the junior national pentathlon team. He would have me stretch out a piece of string about 10 yards with knots at various distances.
He would then have me focus on each knot staring with the farthest. Then I’d alter my focus, concentrating on each knot all the way in to my front sight.
These days I take a different approach with newer shooters. I ask them to extend their arm, then focus their vision on various features of their arm beginning a few inches out, gradually moving all the way out to their finger tip. I ask them to focus intently on these features (hairs, freckles, tattoos) to the point they can describe each of them to me in detail.
It’s awesome when a student comments that learning to visually walk down their arm toward their finger is what helped them finally draw their focus out to their front sight post.
Master the basics first
When I find a student is having difficulty focusing and shooting accurately with both eyes open, my solution is simple. I have them close one eye.
If they’re a right handed shooter, I have them close the left eye. By eliminating the eye dominance issue altogether, the student is able to concentrate on the principles of marksmanship.
Learning how to shoot accurately with one eye closed and and gaining confidence in properly using their sights seems simple. But believe it or not, many beginners and even a few intermediate students have difficulty with this seemingly simple task.
Do I want students to eventually shoot with both eyes open? Of course. But I find it’s much more valuable for newer shooters to learn how to use their sights correctly and to start to shoot accurately. Then, once they have the basics down, they can work their way up to shooting with binocular vision.
When we minimize distractions and increase concentration as it relates to sight focus, the results speak for themselves. In short, you don’t need to know which eye is dominant early on. You can worry about that after you’ve learned how to use and see your sights properly. Then we can deal with any cross-dominance issues.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas.