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Understanding Eye Dominance

You’ll hit the target more often if you know which eye rules.

By Peter Blakeley

You’ve probably heard the phrase “we aim a rifle but we point a shotgun.” Very true. Our success with a rifle depends on a rock-steady hold, as the eye aligns the front and rear sights with a stationary target. Shotguns, on the other hand, are weapons of movement; they are dynamic. Shotguns don’t have a rear sight and in order to use one successfully, the shooter’s master or dominant eye must, in effect, become the rear sight. So what exactly is eye dominance? Contrary to what some people believe, eye dominance has nothing to do with eye strength — it is a neurological phenomenon. Our central nervous system, which we use to coordinate, regulate and control our bodily functions in response to various stimuli, is complete by late childhood, around 10 years of age. Eye dominance is fixed at the time of this neurological maturity. The number of optic nerve-brain hookups to each eye at this time will determine if the shooter is right eye dominant or left eye dominant. So how does this affect our proficiency with a shotgun? When shooting with both eyes open, if a right-shouldered shooter has a dominant left eye instead of a dominant right eye, his left eye will be controlling where his gun points. He will shoot behind a left-to-right crossing shot and in front of a right-to-left.

To check your eye dominance, try this. With both eyes open, point a finger at an object in the distance. Close first one eye then the other. The one that stays in line with the finger is your dominant eye.

Most people who are right-handed also have a dominant right eye, but not always. Some people are cross-dominant, meaning they are left-handed with a dominant right eye or vice-versa. If you have cross dominance and it can be diagnosed early enough, the best solution is to learn to shoot from the same shoulder as the master eye. With a youngster or someone who has never shot before, this is as easy to achieve as perfecting a new motor skill, but it is impossible to change one’s master eye. Unfortunately, anyone who has shot for a few years will usually object to this suggestion because he will have already developed some “muscle memory” and it will now feel strange to mount the gun on the opposite shoulder. Another fix would be to block the cross-dominating eye with tape or a smear of grease on the lens of the shooting glasses. However, this will give a partial loss of binocular and peripheral vision. In a hunting situation, that fast-flying dove that appears from behind the mesquite trees may be seen too late to get a shot off!

A third way (and this is the one I prefer) would be to close the cross-dominant eye before the shot is taken. By doing this, the shooter has retained his full binocular, peripheral and stereoscopic vision by keeping both his eyes open as he evaluates the shot, until the last split-second. He now has a crystal-clear picture of his target/barrel relationship with no chance of cross-dominance kicking in.

Of course the shotgun, with its wide pattern, is a forgiving weapon and we will all hit some of the targets some of the time without diagnosing eye dominance. However, there is no substitute for making sure that the eye that is above the rib is the one that we rely on to give the brain the correct ocular information. Only then can we take some of the mystery out of our shotgunning, hit more of the targets most of the time and convert those frustrating whiffs into confident hits.

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