How to Shoot: Understanding Eye Dominance

One of the most vexing issues for new shooters, and the first thing instructors need to address is eye dominance. For those of you who are having inconsistent results with your shooting performance, you may be wondering if you have a hand/eye dominance issue… and you might. So, just what does eye dominance mean, what is it, and how does it affect your shooting? I mean, to shoot a gun, don’t you just point it and pull the trigger like in the movies and magically hit what you want?

I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, one could say that’s pretty much it. However, in real life, understanding a proper sight picture is a primary fundamental of shooting. Proper sight alignment makes the difference between hitting your intended target or not.

right-handed shooter shooting a handgun using his dominant right eye
Here we have a right-handed shooter who is right-eye dominant. This is the easiest and most correct sight alignment.

What is eye dominance?

Accordingly, one of the first concepts that needs to be understood is that one eye can be dominant, just you can be left or right handed. A key part of shooting accurately is knowing which of your eyes is the dominant one. Hand dominance is exactly what you think it is. You’re either right handed or left handed, but to confuse the issue, eye dominance is not linked to hand dominance.

Shooting happens to be an activity with a lot of hand-eye coordination, so understanding which hand or which eye is dominant is essential to success on the range. The reason for that is because eye dominance, is the brain’s preference for which eye’s visual input the brain will rely on more.

When we look at something, each eye takes its own separate image. The brain then reconciles the images and turns them into the single picture that you ‘see.’ For reasons we do not understand, the brain develops a preference for one eye’s input over the other when creating a complete picture. The image from the non-dominant eye contributes only about 30% to complete the picture, rather than a 50-50 blend. Make no mistake, knowing which eye is dominant is the first step in being able to shoot accurately.

Although it might be true that most people have dominant eyes which match their dominant hands, in my experience as an instructor, I find just as many people that do not, including myself and that condition is referred to as cross eye dominant. Cross eye dominant means your dominant eye is opposite from your dominant hand (a right-handed person, who is left eye dominant) is said to be cross eye dominant. So, what can we do if we are cross eye dominant?

It is important to recognize that all firearms, well except for an infinitesimally small number, are designed to be fired with the right hand. That means, if you are right handed and left eye dominant, you are at a disadvantage to start with. If you are relatively ambidextrous, and can use your left hand, learning to shoot from your left side is a possible option.

infographic showing the proper sight alignment for the front and rear iron sight
The correct sight picture as many of you already know, has the front sight centered between the posts of the rear sight with the top of the front and rear sight even across the top.

The other, and easier option, for beginners looking to start shooting might be to close the dominant eye and use their non-dominant eye which matches their dominate hand. Admittedly, that is not the best solution. However, it is a workable fix to get a new shooter started.

Determining Eye Dominance

As you progress, you will likely find other options that might serve you better. A good instructor will be able to help significantly with sorting out eye dominance. However, if you are among the many who don’t think you need any instruction, here is an easy test to determine eye dominance. By the way, if you are socially inept, you could also use it as a nice party game ‘ice breaker’ to dazzle and astound the other guests.

Most people recommend forming a triangle using your thumbs as the base and your index fingers as the sides while extending both arms straight out. I recommend using the hole in the center of a CD or DVD so you can’t cheat. Then, while holding the CD/DVD with both hands at full extension below your line of sight, focus on an object across the room.

Young man using the Miles test to determine eye dominance
To use the Miles test to determine eye dominance, you pick an object across the room, extend both arms, bringing your hands together to create a small opening through which you view the object. With both eyes open, slowly bring your hands back toward your face keeping the object centered in the opening. If you do this correctly, your hands will bring the opening back in front of your dominant eye.

With both eyes open, raise the CD/DVD and place the object of your focus in the disc’s hole. Next, while keeping the object centered, slowly bring the hole you are looking through closer to your eye keeping the object centered. This will reveal your dominant eye. So now what?


Hand/eye dominance compatibility might influence your choice of stance — Isosceles or Weaver. Even though I am left-eye dominant and right-hand dominant, I prefer the Modified Weaver/Chapman stance because I believe it is a better fighting stance. The next thing to be aware of is what proper sight alignment and sight picture should look like with common handgun sights.

There are several different types of sights, but most firearms will have a rectangular notch or radiused rear sight with a post or bead as the front sight. Also very common is the three-dot sight. All of them, no matter what their setup, work on the same principle.

infographic showing the showing the Navy hold sight picture and Silhouette hold sight picture
Regardless the style of target, the sight alignment is the same. However, depending on how the sights are regulated and the distance to the target, you have to hold at six o’clock on the bullseye or dead on.

The front sight can be many things. Usually, the front sight is more contrasting than the rear, to draw the eyes to the front. Ensure you have the front and rear sights properly aligned. How you do this will vary with your type of sights, but all sights will require you to line them up according to their design. Your point of impact depends on personal preference. More likely, it will depend on how your gun was sighted in at the factory.

Some people like the “6 o’clock hold,” where you line up the bottom of the target with the top of the front sight so you can hit the middle of the target. The more traditional sight picture is called “The Navy Hold,” where you line up the top of the front sight with where you want the bullet to hit.

The next logical question to ask, if you have been following this, is where to focus your eyes. There are three objects contending for the answer, the rear sight, the front sight, or the target. The correct plane to focus on is the front sight since the bullet will go where the front sight is pointing.

Every self-proclaimed expert in the world will tell you that you will get the best results by keeping the front sight in focus while squeezing the trigger. This will really help you to keep the gun steady, and the bullet going where the front sight is pointing. This is also the main reason why a lot of front sights are distinctly colored.

When you’re correctly focusing on the front sight, the rear sight and target will appear blurry. As you slowly squeeze the trigger, focus on keeping the front sight as stationary as humanly possible. With your front sight in focus and stationary, your shooting should improve greatly. There are also electronic sights (red dot sights) that allow for both eyes to be open, and focus only on one object. However, I do not recommend for someone who is new to shooting to use a red dot sight, until they have mastered the basics. The truth is, I discourage their use regardless the shooter’s experience.

The front sight is normally brighter (better contrast) than the rear sight. This assists the shooter in remaining focused on the front sight.

Shooting a handgun in a self-defense situation involves coordination between the eyes and hands. That’s why shooters and instructors need to establish an individual’s eye dominance before learning or teaching handgun fundamentals can proceed. When doing so, always keep this in mind. The goal of defensive handgun training is not to change eye dominance, but to increase accuracy and speed to stop a threat.

It is of no matter whether you are cross-eye dominant or not. Or, whether you shoot with one eye or with both eyes open. However, you need to know your eye dominance. Eye dominance affects accuracy, and the adjustments need to be made to shoot accurately.

Your goal should be improved accuracy with good shooting fundamentals to stop the threat. So, do what is comfortable, feels natural, and gives you the most accurate results — regardless which hand is dominant or whether you are shooting with your dominant eye or both eyes open.

Final Thoughts

In the final analysis, eye dominance isn’t an issue if you understand and are properly managing it. With training and the solutions available, you can be shooting accurately with relative ease. Once you begin researching for a solution, I’m confident that you will find one that works for you. And when you do, your shooting will improve as your sight picture becomes increasingly more consistent.

Stay safe, train often and practice, practice, practice!

Did you have an issue with eye dominance when you started shooting? Have you ever experienced an issue with cross eye dominance when getting a new shooter started? What solutions did you find? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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