Eye Dominance, Does It Matter to the Shooter?

A discussion of eye dominance was never part of our formal curriculum here at California Tactical Academy. However, it comes up in almost every class from beginner to advanced, in both rifle and pistol. Usually the conversation starts with someone asking about closing an eye for better sight picture and shooting. (That question can be addressed in another article.) Those who have some knowledge of the subject are often still confused as to how to address problems that arise with the eye dominance. So, let’s clarify some of the issues and how we suggest resolving them.

What is eye dominance?

Eye dominance is the brains’ preference to take data or input from one eye (either left or right) over the other eye. Looking in the mirror will tell us that our eyes are not in the same vertical plane. One is left of our nose, the other to the right. So, the information each eye takes in is not exactly the same. The value of our visual system is that it allows us to use binocular vision to judge distance. This makes us more effective hunters. Animals with their eyes on the far sides of their heads are very good at detecting visual cues of danger while their heads are down, grazing. Humans don’t graze, we hunt.

Which eye is your dominant eye?

There is a simple test we use at the range. The student extends both arms, brings both hands together to create a small circular opening, then with both eyes open views a distant object through the opening. The student can then alternate closing their eyes (first just the left, then just the right) or slowly draws opening back to the head to determine which eye is viewing the object.

So, if each eye input is slightly different, the brain must decide which eye gets preference for certain tasks. In most every day life, this is not a problem. Furthermore, the vast majority of people have eye dominance that corresponds with their hand dominance. In other words, if you are right-handed, more than likely, your dominant eye is the right eye. Where this is not the case is what we call cross eye dominance. You might be right-handed, but your brain prefers input from your left eye. Again, for most tasks, this is not a problem and many cross eye dominant people do not even realize they have this condition. Truth be told, it does not have any significant impact on the few who experience this.

Cross eye dominance for handgun shooters

Shooting a firearm is one of the few areas where cross eye dominance can cause problems. If you are right-handed, but left eye dominant, you have to make some concession to properly see the sights. What we usually recommend for the handgun shooter is to continue using the dominant hand, but shift the position of the handgun slightly past the center line of the body, so the opposite eye can best see the sights. This is typically all the correction needed and the shooter is well on their way to mastery.

Cross eye dominance for rifle shooters

eye dominance, does it matter to the shooter?

Rifle shooters are another story. Here you cannot shift the weapon effectively. You must make a decision of either using the non-dominant eye, or the non-dominant hand. Many years back I attended a school in the Army called S.O.T.I.C., an intensive rifle school. Of the twelve students who started, one was cross eyed dominant. Interestingly enough, this experienced, Special Forces soldier did not know this until he attended this particular course, which used scoped rifles exclusively. The instructors had him shoot with his non-dominant hand, favoring his dominant eye. For most people, using the dominant eye, and the non-dominant hand is a very viable solution. It will be awkward initially but ultimately the better solution. The other option for a rifle shooter is to close the non-firing eye. While this is not optimal, it works well enough but some people find this more awkward than learning to shoot with the other hand. I would strongly urge the cross eye dominant rifle shooter to first try using the corresponding hand with enough effort and time to fully and fairly evaluate this method. While it is initially hard work, it will be the better long term resolution.


About the writer

Mike Lazarus
Military and Law Enforcement Veteran
FBI certified firearm instructor
MP5 and Sub Machine gun instructor
Defensive tactics instructor