Eye dominance is a most intriguing phenomenon. Most adult men have one eye that directs the pointing process - finger or gun it makes no difference. When they point at a distant object, they will line up with one eye (usually the right eye if they are right-handed). This dominant eye, the finger tip and the selected object, will be in a straight line.
Having two eyes, however, creates an effect known as binocular disparity. Though one eye usually directs the pointing process, you will also see an blurred extra image of the pointing finger in peripheral vision. This ghost – the image of the finger seen by the non -dominant eye - appears a couple of inches to the side of the clear image. Your mind usually blanks it out.
Rather than think about it, try it. Point at something on the wall or horizon. Do you see that extra finger, now? Which image of it is dominant to you, the one on the right or the one on left? Or, do you find the images confusing? We'll return to this in a moment, but we might note that for most people shotgunning is easier, and more effective keeping both eyes open, the judgement of speed and angle is made easier and natural hand to eye co-ordination is facilitated.
However, do not believe those who tell you simplistically that everyone should shoot with two eyes open - it's just not that simple. It all depends on how you saw that finger. About 70% of men have an eye dominance that matches their handedness. BUT, 30% do not. Only the first 70% are well advised to shoot both eyes open.
It is also possible to be 'cross-dominant' (e.g. right handed but left dominant), to have 'central vision' (neither eye dominant - a rare but distinct condition) or to have one eye which is nearly, but not fully, dominant. In these cases keeping an eye open whilst using an unmodified gun may be very poor advice which will result in consistent missing. The gun will not be pointing where the eyes are looking.
Eye dominance is subject to change too. It can be affected by all sorts of things: stress, ill health or just staring at a computer screen for too long. Allowing the focus back to come back to the muzzles - one of the most common mistakes in shooting - can also bring about mysterious shifts in dominance.
Even those with absolute eye dominance in one eye and perfect natural or corrected vision must concentrate on good focus technique. Vision is an active process in shooting - a skill as much as an ability. We must train ourselves to sustain fine focus on the bird. The bird, the bird and nothing but the bird that must become our mantra.
The natural tendency is for our vision to flick to a moving object momentarily - a primal response to danger - but not to keep the eyes focused at distance for any length of time (not even the 3 seconds or so it typically takes to shoot a bird in good style). Understanding this, is to take on board one of the great secrets of good shooting - sustained visual contact. One must train one's eyes to shoot.
Age is also a significant issue when considering eye dominance. For instance, most pre-pubescent boys do not have clear dominance in one eye, while, somewhere between the ages of 45-60, those men who were clearly dominant in one eye may find the other begins to have a significant pull. Until diagnosed, this can result in inexplicable misses.
There are significant sex differences too. With women, as with boys, absolute eye dominance in either eye is not the norm. And unlike the boys, they do not generally grow out of it.
How do you test for eye dominance? Carefully. I use a number of methods routinely – finger pointing and a ring as shown in the pictures, shooting at pattern plates, a laser equipped gun, and shooting at specific targets (such as a straight going away clay). One method of testing may not be enough to spot a subtle problem. Frankly this is something you cannot do on your own; accurate tests usually require a second person to assess how you are actually seeing things. In practice this means a trip to your local shooting school. All BASC shotgun coaches are trained in detecting dominance.
O.K. time for KISS. If someone has a slight eye dominance issue, a little extra cast may offer a simple cure. If the problem is more significant, a practical choice may have to made - a new gun with a bespoke stock, or squinting. If you do choose to squint or wink an eye, use both eyes to pick the bird up, and squint or dim the eye only as the gun comes into the shoulder.
My experience is that short barrelled guns aggravate eye dominance problems, so do low combs. A low stock may cause a shift of eye dominance on all or, more commonly, some targets (those which cause you to press the head into the stock). You may also find that eye dominance shifts are occasionally brought on by certain birds. My bogey is anything slow coming from the right. Driven birds flying to you but slightly right can also cause problems for right handers.
It is likely that most youngsters and most women will not be able to shoot with both eyes open (there are exceptions). Some ladies find it very difficult to wink or squint (they are natural candidates for modified shooting spectacles). Be very careful before deciding (or advising) to shoot off the opposite shoulder. It may be that the person in question is not absolutely dominant in either eye; in that case changing shoulders is a futile exercise. Have fun experimenting, but this is a complex subject and professional guidance can be a real help.
I will conclude by noting that many people do not have the eye dominance that they think. The right diagnosis, however, can transform your shooting.
|Dertermining eye dominance by using a circle - in this case formed by bringing the tip of the thumb and index finger together. Full right eye dominance is indicated.||Right eye dominance||Left eye dominance|
|Central vision||Many women find it impossible to shoot effectively with both eyes open, some find it hard to squint. The answer is a small block to vision carefully positioned on her shooting glasses||Left eye taking over due to low comb|
A try a gun - the traditional tool for dealing with eye dominance problems
Testing for eye dominance can be a tricky business, but this simple method will at least alert you to the possibility that you may need to adjust your shooting style.
Start by asking the person under test to stand square and point the index finger of his (or her) non-dominant hand - the one that holds the forend and points the gun - at your eye (indicate which). Make sure the 'client' keeps both eyes open and fully extends his arm when pointing. The distance between you should be no less than 10 feet.
If the pointed finger ends up clearly in line with one or other of the pointer's eyes when you look back at them, it is probable that this is their master. However, if you note that the client is having difficulty 'aiming', if his finger is moving around and not settling, if he tends to squint one or other of his eyes as he tries to line up, it is probable that he is not absolutely dominant in one eye (the person with true central vision, by contrast, will point confidently at you with a finger which appears to be in line with the bridge of his nose).
Absolute dominance in the eye looking down rib: - keep both eyes open.
Predominant dominance in the eye looking down the rib: - keep both eyes open with appropriate cast, or, squint an eye as the gun comes to the shoulder.
True cross-dominance: - squint/close an eye, block vision to eye (using a 'blinder', patch or modified shooting spectacles), consider a parallel rib (suitable for some forms of clay shooting), use a full cross-over stock, or change shoulders.
Occasional cross-dominance: - may be caused by stress/tiredness or a low stock. It could also be due to a bogey target (for which the prescription is to squint and/or use a pull-away or swing through technique rather than maintained lead). Also consider whether the problem is aggravated by poor visual discipline or inability to focus at distance.
Central vision (neither eye dominant): - close an eye, use a 'blinder', eye patch or modified shooting spectacles. A semi cross-over stock may also be considered.
Indeterminate dominance – both eyes fighting for control: - close an eye, wear an eye-patch, modified shooting spectacles, or use a 'blinder'. CHANGING SHOULDERS IS FUTILE.