“You can do this by closing either eye, but if the object moves when you close a particular eye, that eye is your dominant one.”
“Cross-eye dominant pistol shooting is as simple as extending your pistol straight in front of your from the center of your chest, then turning your head slightly to the right or left to give your strong eye the opportunity to line up with the sights.”
“I shoot pistols right-handed, while I shoot long guns left-handed. It’s how I’ve done it since I was a kid.”
First off, I’m not a certified instructor, nor do I pretend to be. That said, because of my profession as a photographer in the firearms industry, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach many people to shoot. You won’t appear in my photographs without knowing how to operate the firearms you’re appearing with. Pistols, carbines, shotguns, and precision rifles—all need to be utilized for the pages that you peruse here and the pictured operator must be able to operate said firearm.
The Cross-Eye Dominant Shooting Problem
A common issue I find with the people I’m helping is sights/sight picture acquisition; but more than that, acquiring the sights with the correct eye. Obviously in a perfect world, a right-handed shooter would present both pistol and rifle with their right hand as the strong side and left as the support side. This world, however, is far from perfect. Often I find that people are cross-eye dominant. This means that while they may be right handed, their left eye is the dominant eye and the one that “takes over” when the weapon is presented in front of the shooter. This applies to left-handed shooters as well, with the right eye being the dominant one. It’s an automatic occurrence and one that you don’t choose, typically.
I’ve heard many instructors say that cross-eye dominance is more frequent in women. I cannot confirm nor deny this as a factual statistic. However, I teach females at about an 8:1 ratio to males and many times a cross-eye dominance appears to some degree. Sometimes it’s just a minor dominance, and one that can be corrected by strengthening the weak eye a bit. In other cases it’s major dominance that has no hope in being changed, which is the situation for this author. I have a vision issue with my right eye; one I’ve had since birth. In this case the shooter must determine how he or she will proceed to shoot their guns, if they indeed have a choice.
I trained for many years with various instructors. Many of my summers from 2006 to 2011 were spent at various venues honing my skills. I shoot pistols right-handed, while I shoot long guns left-handed. It’s how I’ve done it since I was a kid. I was fortunate enough to discover very young that I was cross-eye dominant, therefore the act of shooting has never been a real challenge for me. What has been a challenge is gear acquisition and set up, since most gear in the U.S. is considered for right-handed shooters. European manufacturers have been better at ambidextrous approaches to firearms and accessories. The U.S. is now, however, starting to catch up.
How Do You Know?
So how does one know if they are cross-eye dominant? There is a simple test you can do to know. With both eyes open, extend your arms all they way out in front of you. Then take your hands, palms out, and overlap them, creating a triangle shape with your thumbs and forefingers. Now, find an object in the distance; within 25 yards is fine. Situate your hand-triangle so that it is roughly the size of that object. Next close your left eye. If the object appears to move out of the triangle and you are now staring at the back of your hand while your left eye is closed, you are indeed left-eye dominant. You can do this by closing either eye, but if the object moves when you close a particular eye, that eye is your dominant one.
If you discover you are cross-eye dominant, what does that mean? Well, it could mean nothing significant, or it could mean you’ll be plagued with a relentless, shooting-gear struggle that I have had all my life. But it may not be that serious. Many people have a low level of cross-eye dominance in which one eye is barely stronger than the other. In fact, I’ve worked with many who couldn’t determine which eye was indeed dominant and they had to fight to have one eye take control so that they could achieve proper sight alignment/acquisition.
Cross-Eye Dominant Shooting Options
When it comes to eye dominance, you have a few options:
- If your dominance is not a severe case, you can train your strong-side eye to be dominant.
- You can choose to shoot on your dominant-eye side, which ever that is. This would mean shooting left-handed, even if you are right handed, while using your left eye, or vice versa.
- You can learn to shoot using your cross-dominant eye, with your strong side. This requires a little more effort and training and can only be done effectively with pistols. When it comes to long guns, you’ll need to pick a side to shoulder the gun on — left or right — and that has its own set of challenges.
If you have trouble getting one eye to take over, or if your dominance isn’t severe, you can strengthen the eye that you want to be dominant by taking a small piece of masking tape and placing it over the eye that you desire to be the weaker one. In other words, if you want your right eye to be the stronger one, place the tape over the left eye. Make sure the pieces of tape interferes with your direct line of sight, but it doesn’t have to completely cover the entire lens. The goal is to keep both eyes open while shooting — especially with pistol, carbine, and shotgun — and having the peripheral vision is helpful.
Some people can do a couple of sessions at the range for an hour or two with this tape method and have their eyes switch dominance. For others it takes longer, if it is even a possibility. Even if you train your eyes, you still may need to really concentrate on using that desired strong-eye. It may take some time, but stay with it, using the tape on lens technique as necessary to keep you on track.
In my many years of training and shooting I’ve been teased and called every conceivable name in the book for being a right-handed pistol shooter and left-handed long-gunner. “Weirdo,” “freak of nature,” “f-ed up” — I’ve heard it all. That has never stopped me or slowed me down, nor should it you. If you’re going to cross over your pistol/long gun operation, be prepared for the training and equipment challenges ahead; none of which are deal breakers or insurmountable, just things you need to be aware of.
Cross-eye dominant pistol shooting is as simple as extending your pistol straight in front of your from the center of your chest, then turning your head slightly to the right or left to give your strong eye the opportunity to line up with the sights. You might even move your neck slightly to help line it up.
You can also present the gun toward the dominant-eye side. This means as you push the pistol forward you are favoring the gun slightly to that dominant-eye side. This is more challenging to me and can create bad habits because the pistol is not centered up with your body. If you choose to do this, beware that additional effort may be necessary to keep it a natural point of aim for you. In actuality, a right hand/right eye shooter isn’t presenting to the middle, but in front of their dominant eye; this also means the shooters arms are in a slightly different position. Crossing over may require the shooter to keep a slight bend in their elbows, depending on physical make up.
The Long Done Wrong
Long guns are easier to deal with from an overall sight acquisition standpoint. You can shoulder the weapon and close the weak-side eye. This is fine if you don’t want to shoot with both eyes open, which is what you should strive for if possible. If you are right-handed and left-eye dominant, I would strongly suggest shooting right-handed long guns if at all possible and train that right eye to take over.
If you are left-handed and can shoot long guns right-handed, I’d suggest that too, simply because the firearms controls are more friendly to the right-handed shooter depending on the firearm. Plus, both arms are working together so it’s easier than trying to shoot a pistol with your right hand as a lefty. I do recognize this could be a challenge, but enough training can make it work.
If you are a hopeless case like me, just embrace running your pistol and long guns on opposite sides and be proficient and fast. It has its advantages in some cases, and others it doesn’t. You’ll need to train regularly and dry firing with transitions from one platform to the other is necessary. You’ll be amazed how quickly your body and mind responds with enough repetition.
Bolt Action Challenges
I often get questions about running a right-handed or left-handed bolt action from people who are either left-handed or left-eye dominant. They want to know which will be best for them. While I can’t make any definite statements about which is best for any particular individual, I can say that the argument of “a right-handed bolt action is faster for a lefty” is completely false and a heaping pile of poo. Don’t believe it for one second. Without going into any details my immediate rebuttal is “why then aren’t right-handed shooters running left-handed bolt actions?”
The evidence can be found in a video that I made where I ran both left- and right-handed actions head to head, and in fact tried to create a slight advantage for the right-handed action with a shorter throw angle. In the end, the left-handed left-operated bolt action was four seconds faster with five accurate shots on steel at 500 yards. The simple reason is that the left-handed shooter on a right-handed action must move their support hand to run the bolt, disrupting the ability to stay on target and keep an optimized, stable position. The only way a right-handed bolt action could be faster for a lefty is if it were completely fixed to one position by some sort of stand or mechanical device. Then the operator need only run the bolt and press the trigger and nothing else. But it’s a bolt gun, not a a mini-gun.
Conclusions on Cross-Eye Dominant Shooting
It’s important to understand which eye has dominance for the shooter. Failing to do so can create a frustrating shooting experience and a frustrated shooter that throws in the towel. Maybe that should be the first consideration when introducing a new shooter to the range.
If you are cross-eye dominant, try some of the suggested techniques. Continue to train and seek professional instruction. If an instructor complains about your challenge, find a new one. There are plenty out there.
If you plan to acquire gear and guns as a cross-eye dominant shooter, look for ambidextrous options, which are now more plentiful. And be prepared to experiment a lot. Test everything that you can before you buy—things may not work as well as you planned.
Cross-eye dominant shooting can be a curse to some, I’ve found it to be a unique trait that allows for improved honing of skills, as I can operate from either side of the gun.
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by Sean Utley / Aug 12, 2019