By Jessica Haavisto
It’s early morning, the sun is barely up and it’s usually a Sunday. Despite all this, there are eager students with chattering teeth waiting for instruction to insert a round, take their firearm off safe, and shoot. All is well for the most part, until after a few shots by everyone someone has zero holes in their target, and their parent, if present, is reminding them from the background to aim.
Upon further investigation, this student is in fact aiming, but they are generally tilting their head at an almost 90-degree angle looking down the barrel of a .22 LR rifle with an eye that is opposite the hand they are using. This is at least, my experience as a hunter education instructor.
Left-handed rifles and bows are on this earth for more than just left-handlers. Left eye dominant people, in most cases, should shoot left-handed. Now, lefties and righties can use firearms interchangeably. It’s a little more difficult with bows. So if you can before you spend the money, check your eyes.
Have you found yourself missing a lot at the range, or had trouble acquiring the target, or tilt your head at a weird angle, or bent your wrists when shooting a pistol? You may have discovered yourself, or had someone point out to you that you’re shooting with the wrong eye. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be left-handed to be left eye dominant and vice versa.
In general, eye dominance does go with handedness. However, a study by the Department of Psychology at University College in London found that about 35% of right-handers and 57% of left-handers are left-eye dominant. A small fraction of people don’t have a dominant eye, or their brain collects information equally from both.
And then there are hormones. Eye dominance can change at puberty and again in middle age. And with hormones ladies, you can have eye dominance issues more often. So, if you’re suddenly struck with the inability to shoot well, check your eye dominance before you blame your gun or scope or sight, etc.
It is common practice to teach our youth and others to mimic ourselves because it’s easy. Even if we recognize that the student is the opposite of what we are, we still show them how to do it
It is, however, a huge disservice to not take into account eye dominance before teaching as the muscle memory development takes longer after you’ve already learned to do something a particular way.
While it is true that you can teach your brain to use a certain eye, this concept is a lot easier for adults in my opinion as their attention spans are longer and patience is in greater proportions. But we want our youth to be successful and continue with a shooting sport so let’s make it as easy as we can.
Eye dominance is easily determined by one of several methods. A simple one is to extend your arms straight out in front of you and make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers. Focus on an object around 20 feet away and center it in the triangle you made.
Now close your left eye. If the object stays centered, you’re right eye dominant. If you can no longer see the object, then your left eye is your dominant eye.
This doesn’t mean that your eyes aren’t equally normal, it just means that one eye is more accurate and quicker at transmitting information to the visual portion of your brain.
Once you determine the dominant eye and not hand of the shooter, choose a firearm or bow to go with this. You’ll find that the student can acquire the target a lot faster initially and with follow up shots as well.
In our hunter education classes, when we notice an eye dominance issue and correct it, there starts to be more consistency from the shooter and they leave the range with a lot more confidence and a lot more smiles than they showed up with.
It is pretty cool to see the change in shooters. To keep the confidence going, many of us offer to shoot with them at a future time if they’d like. And we are sure to communicate what we saw with their parents or guardians when they pick them up.
The best advice is to not be discouraged if you’re new to shooting and have had these issues. Have someone watch you practice bringing a firearm up to your line of sight and they can help you discover which eye you’re using if you’re not sure. Ask for help at your local shooting range or bow shop.
And if you’re teaching, you’ll have some more tools or other ways of recognizing eye-dominance and know how to help your students.