Editor's note: For the purposes of demonstration, we're using a plastic "training pistol" that has no moving or working parts in this image. It was photographed with a tripod-mounted timer-activated camera.
A common topic among shooters is how to shoot with both eyes open. There are several advantages to not closing an eye when forming a sight picture, that range from accuracy to situational awareness. I am also a firm believer that the grimace we make when squeezing one eye shut heightens our sensitivity to unpleasantness, and actually leads to jumping and flinching. Here’s an example: Getting a shot in a doctor’s office. Before the needle hits our arm, the first thing many of us do is close our eyes and tighten our facial muscles. However, if we relax, the pinch is barely noticeable and we get more comfortable with needles.
Then there’s the tactical question. If you close one eye, you lose half of your field of view and leave yourself open to a second attacker or other hazards. So whatever style of shooting you prefer, you owe it to yourself to learn how do it with both eyes open.
From my sample of more than 1,000 students at Renaissance Firearms Instruction, we have determined approximately 85 percent of shooters are same-side dominant. This means that most right-handed people are also right-eye dominant, and most lefties are left-eye dominant. This demographic has the easiest time learning how to shoot with both eyes open. However even they require instruction on how to do so.
My basic instruction with same-side-dominant people starts with having them lift just their right arm, then just their left, followed by legs, followed by closing one eye then the other, and last having them breathe through just one nostril and then the other. I do this to assure them that they can independently use any voluntary muscle God gave them two of, once they realize how. After this I have them focus at any distant object with their dominant eye, and then their non-dominant eye. Then I have students focus on the white of my fingernail that I raise up and concentrate on bringing it into focus and allowing my face to blur in the background, then I have them do the opposite.
If done correctly, I have just taught the student two things.
- They can focus on an object with either eye; and
- They can focus at different distances, as long as they concentrate on the details.
It’s important to understand that your non-dominant side isn’t useless; it’s just not as strong and agile as your dominant side. Consider your weak hand—after all, it’s still good enough for most tasks and with a little practice, you can even write with it to some degree.
So what about that 15 percent that is cross-dominant? Well, just like when you broke your wrist back at summer camp you can train yourself to get those muscles up to snuff and shoot just as accurately as your same-side-dominant buds.
On a personal note, I have even taught myself to change dominance at will and even shoot a long gun off of either shoulder. You see, I’m left-handed and left-eye dominant. However, most students are right-handed and watching a left-handed demonstration can be very confusing. Therefore, just from years of handling a gun and demonstrating proper cheek weld, I am approaching a level of ambidexterity that is merely a happy accident. My happy accident can be your happy training plan…so here’s how I did it:
Don’t overdo it with a pistol
If you’re cross dominant both-eyes-open pistol shooting is very easy to attain. Most folks take the instruction of “hold the gun over more” to a ridiculous extreme and cock or turn their head or even cant the pistol. These positions are doing nothing to help promote a relaxed form and even slow you down as they become habit before you fire a shot. The secret is in the septum. All you have to do is use the septum of your nose as a dividing line and make sure you are bringing the pistol towards the dominant side of your face. Here you don’t need to focus with your non-dominant eye at all, just make sure you are shifting your eyes to the front sight, to bring that into focus. By doing this you will no longer need to close one eye.
Stay natural with a rifle
When it comes to long guns, you have that stock in your way, so the only way for a cross-dominant shooter to use their dominant eye is to fire off of their non-dominant shoulder. While this is certainly an option, many shooters don’t have the dexterity to do so. However, some people do some things weak-sided and they don’t understand why. Therefore I always present this as a first option; oftentimes they are equally comfortable on either side, so why not embrace that?
However, for those who must shoot a rifle cross,dominant the secret is just a few cents’ worth of tape. By covering the eye protection over the dominant eye it forces the shooter to use and strengthen the non-dominant eye. After time goes by, they can often shoot without that eye covering—simply by shifting focus and attention to the eye that they need to use. Just as they can raise their weak hand without raising their strong hand, they can use their weak eye to focus on a front sight while relaxing their dominant eye.
However, this only works if they mount the rifle the way it is supposed to be mounted. Most cross-dominant shooters will attempt to hyperextend their neck in an attempt to get their dominant eye behind the sight or scope. Here they find themselves with their cheek lying on top of the stock instead of alongside it where it belongs. Once they find themselves trying to do this all is lost, as neither eye is going to be in line with the aiming device. Here I discourage the use of “Band-Aid solutions” like the installation of high scope rings, as this only promotes poor form and eventual neck pain.
Being cross-dominant or left-handed is not a handicap, and in fact, it can be the catalyst to making you a better shooter than those who are considered “normal.” I recall once, during a practical carbine match, I watched shooter after shooter bend and twist to engage a target from both sides of a barrier. When it was my turn, I shot left-handed from one side and then right-handed from the other side earning me the fastest time on my squad for that stage. All it takes is a little practice using that “other” eye and you can easily shoot with both eyes open and be comfortable doing so.