How to Determine Eye Dominance
October 4th, 2023
5 minute read
In case you know what I’m talking about, I know what you’re thinking. “I already know which of my eyes is dominant, so I don’t need to read this.”
Please, set that thought aside. Take a few minutes to read this, and when you’re done, then go ahead and write in the forum thread “I knew all that already, you old fart, and you wasted my time!”
What we’ve learned for ourselves has not yet been learned by those we teach to use guns, whether for sport or for life-or-death self-defense. We’ve all likely taught someone else to shoot, whether as a friend or as a paid instructor or something in between.
And we’ve all, if we’ve done it long enough, seen the student who can’t seem to shoot their way out of a sandwich bag with a magazine full of armor piercing and didn’t know why they were shooting that badly. It’s often something as simple as the shooter not knowing which is the dominant eye they need to be aiming with.
Watch for the student whose head seems to be moving around or back and forth as they try to align the firearm with the target. It’s as if they’re trying to find what they’re supposed to be shooting at.
Sometimes, you’ll see them looking over the top of the gun. If you spot that and tell them, “You want to watch your front sight,” they’ll often answer: “I am watching the front sight!”
If that happens, it’s our fault as instructors, and not their fault as students. They know that front sight is out there somewhere in their field of view and perceive that as watching their front sight.
We failed to tell them something like, “Use the continuum of the fighter pilot: enemy plane identified, lock missiles on target, launch, follow up as necessary.” Once the target is identified, the shooter’s “lock missiles on target” with an iron sight weapon is the hard focus on the front sight.
But of course, the student has to align that sight with the target, and therein lies the problem. The two eyes are parallel, and only one can align sights with target, so they must know which eye is dominant and performing that alignment.
Finding the Dominant Eye
When teaching basic students, we have to realize that a great many people go through life not realizing that there is such a thing as a dominant eye, let alone having figured out which of their eyes is the dominant one.
I wasn’t born with perfect vision. I started wearing eyeglasses and going through eye examinations somewhere around age six or seven. I am now an old fart who has been through cataract surgeries and has long since lost count of how many corrective lens prescriptions I’ve gone through…and I don’t remember even one single optometrist, optician, or ophthalmologist ever asking me which was my dominant eye! That may be the case with your student — and you, for that matter.
So, first: we have to establish which is the dominant eye. There are at least two proven tests.
The most common is “the triangle.” Have the student extend their arms in front of them and form a triangle with both hands, the thumbs crossing each other horizontally and the fingers forming an apex. Have them look through that triangle at a distant object — a target, your face, a treetop, whatever. Now, tell them to keep that target or face or treetop in focus, and slowly bring their triangulated hands back toward themselves until the hands touch their face. The triangle will now be in front of one or the other eye…and that is their dominant eye.
Another method is to point their finger (or better yet, an unloaded pistol with a safe backstop) at a target. Have them keep the gun on target, and then close one eye, open it, and then close the other eye.
Whichever eye remains in line with finger or target is the dominant eye. Whichever eye sees the finger or gun somewhat from the side and no longer dead in line with the target is the non-dominant eye.
Yes, it is that simple.
Now, you’ll find the rare person who does not have a particularly dominant eye. There are few things in marksmanship so subjective as vision. There may be a few such people who have to close one eye to guarantee that one eye will align the gun with the target. Fortunately, they do seem to be very few. The lucky ones will simply be able to align left eye with left hand and right with right, at will.
In my experience, you’ll more often find the “less dominant eye” person who can consciously align the left eye with the left hand when shooting a pistol, and the right eye with the right hand, at will with no problem. As my own vision has changed over the years, I’ve found times when I could do that and times when I couldn’t. You may find a student in the same situation. Tell that one to pick one eye and drill on aiming with that one. Believe it or not, it can be that simple.
Often, you will find students who are cross-dominant: that is, they are right-handed with left master eye, or vice-versa. If that happens, neither you nor they should despair. There are countless cross-dominant shooting champions…and in an upcoming segment here at The Armory Life we’ll show you and them how to deal with that. Spoiler: it doesn’t always involve using the other hand to control the trigger!
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