The conflict between right and left is a big sticking point for shooters, and I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about hand dominance vs. eye dominance.
Let me explain.
Unless you’re one of the ridiculously small percentages of people that are truly ambidextrous, your dominant hand is going to have a huge impact on how you shoot.
What a lot of people overlook is something even more important: which eye is dominant. Just like your hands, you almost certainly have one eye that is dominant over the other.
Why is this important?
Well, if you’re cross-dominant (right-eye dominant, but left-hand dominant, or vice versa) you can have some trouble with shooting if you don’t learn how to correct for it.
Roughly a third of the population is thought to be cross-dominant, but thankfully, there are several ways for cross-dominant shooters to shoot just as well as anyone else. The difference comes down to practice and training.
And that’s what we’re going to cover in this article.
If you think you might be cross-dominant, want to learn how to train someone to overcome cross-dominance, or have a lot of shots that go a little high, but way off to one side (a common indicator that a shooter is cross-dominant) you’re in the right place.
Table of Contents
Diagnosing Cross Dominance
There are a few common signs people will cross dominance display. The two most common are:
- Misses that land high and to one side
- Tilting the head to one side or moving or tilting the gun to the non-dominant side
Signs aside, there’s also a very easy way to quickly and easily diagnose cross-dominance. Even better, you can try it right now wherever you’re reading this.
First, hold your hands out in front of you, and make a frame with your fingers like you’re a photographer lining up a shot.
Find an object a good distance away and tighten the frame you’ve made with your fingers around it, keeping both eyes open.
Now, keep your hands still and close one eye, then the other. The object should stay in the frame when viewing it with one eye, and move out of frame when viewing it with the other eye.
The eye that keeps the object in the frame and allows you to still see it clearly is your dominant eye.
Check out our video below to do it in less than one minute.
Another way is to extend one arm and point at an object with one finger, keeping both eyes open. Do the same thing as before and close one eye, open it, and close the other eye.
Your finger will stay pointed at the object when viewed with your dominant eye but will appear to move to one side and no longer be pointed at the object when you have your non-dominant eye open.
If you find out that you are, in fact, cross dominant…well keep reading to find out how to work with it.
Alright, if you’re looking to overcome cross-dominance when shooting a rifle or shotgun…I have some bad news.
You have, to my knowledge but please correct me if you know otherwise three options:
- Close or occlude vision (by using anything from an eye patch to translucent tape over your shooting glasses) through one eye. Limiting your peripheral vision, especially in a defensive situation, is never good, but you can get away with it in a match or when at the range.
- Use a red dot, which will allow you to keep both eyes open, with your dominant eye on the target and your non-dominant eye on the dot.
- Learn how to shoot with your non-dominant hand, which is easier with a rifle than a pistol in most cases.
Overcoming cross-dominance with a pistol is a bit easier.
Cross-Dominance and Pistol Shooting
When it comes to pistol shooting — especially when working with a newbie or if you have limited experience — I’d strongly recommend shooting with the hand that matches the dominant eye, rather than trying to use the non-dominant eye and dominant hand.
But, if you’ve already started shooting and want to overcome a cross-dominance issue, there are a few things you can do.
Learn to Shoot with Your Non-Dominant Hand
This is a worthwhile skill for anyone to learn, but it is especially important for cross-dominant shooters.
If your dominant hand is injured or otherwise occupied, learning to shoot a handgun with your off-hand can save your life. Beyond that, this is one of the simplest ways to overcome cross-dominance issues, particularly early in your shooting career.
Of course, there are problems with this approach.
First, you may struggle using your non-dominant hand to shoot. I’ve known many people who were strongly right or left-handed and thus didn’t feel comfortable using their weak hand to manipulate a handgun. That’s understandable.
The other issue is that most handguns are set up to be shot right-handed only. So, shooting left-handed can cause a host of problems, particularly with guns that don’t have ambidextrous or swappable controls.
In general, I’d say it’s way easier to overcome right-eye dominance when you’re left-handed than the other way around.
If you’re left-handed, you’re probably already used to conforming to a mostly right-handed world, and you may find it’s easier to do.
Some shooters report that they can train their eyes to switch dominance. The eye itself can compensate and switch dominance when forced to.
For example, Mike Pannone lost his eye in the line of duty and can still outshoot all of us.
Training your eyes to switch dominance might be tougher than switching your dominant hand.
Some people might find it impossible, but it’s not too tough to do. You’ll need an eye patch or obscured shooting glasses.
Obscure your dominant eye and aim with your non-dominant eye. You’ll need to practice this a ton to actually accomplish switching eye dominance. I’m talking hours of dry fire practice followed by hours of live fire practice.
As you gain confidence, you can begin to unobscure the eye. Trim away the eye patch, or obscure less and less of your glasses. This will allow the other eye to see what’s going on.
Every time you unobscure your dominant eye, it’s smart to get lots of practice in and force your brain to use your non-dominant.
This forceful practice can swap eye dominance and will hopefully create a cross-eye dominant shooter.
It bears mentioning that it doesn’t work for everyone though.
Turn or Tilt Your Head
Turning or tilting your head to the side is a totally viable way to bring your dominant eye in line with the sights of your gun, even if it does look a bit silly at the range.
The problem here is that it not only feels unnatural, but it’s difficult to maintain and perform consistently. Neck pain will result if you do this for long periods, and you can develop some long-term issues.
For the occasional range trip, it’s fine, and in a panic situation where you need to get your eyes to cooperate right now, it will serve.
Canting the Gun
The other option that I really don’t recommend is canting the gun. Canting the gun 15-45 degrees to the left or right can bring your dominant eye in line with the sights appropriately. But it can also cause a host of other issues and difficulties.
First, it’s hard to cant the gun consistently, and when you’re trying to be both fast and accurate, consistency, especially in your training, is key.
The second problem is one of function.
Modern firearms were designed to be held vertically (not sideways, not canted, not upside down) and any deviation from that can increase the chances of malfunctions. It also makes it more difficult to manage recoil and make follow-up shots.
Also, you’re just asking to get hit in the face with brass.
Beyond that, you’re going to have some serious trouble adjusting your point-of-aim vs. point-of-impact at longer ranges.
This is another technique that I would only advocate using in a pinch, but it can be very effective with a revolver where cycling of brass isn’t as much of an issue.
Shift the Gun Past Your Midline
A modern isosceles stance has you holding the gun squarely in the middle of your body.
The most natural, and least disruptive method I know of for a cross-dominant shooter to address their issue is to simply shift the gun a little to either the left or the right to bring it more in line with your dominant eye.
This way, you’re keeping both eyes open, you’re not doing anything weird or uncomfortable with your head, and you’re holding the pistol the way it’s meant to be held.
The main problem with this is you have to alter your stance a little. This can theoretically make recoil a little more intense because you aren’t in the optimal position to absorb it and compensate.
That said, the difference is relatively minor.
When using this method, make sure you aren’t pulling shots to your dominant eye side — a common issue with this method, in my experience.
For what it’s worth, this is the most common method for professional cross-dominant pistol shooters, and I think that’s because it’s such a natural position.
Shotguns are notoriously hard for cross-eye dominant shooters to handle. Their sights sit low, and most stock configurations allow for those low sights.
This makes it hard, if not impossible, to accurately shoot a shotgun.
Even ghost ring sights often sit too low for cross-eye dominance. These super low sights make it tough to shoot shotguns.
So, what can you do?
Well, you can choose an AR or AK-type shotgun that uses more inline stock options that raise the sight height.
Guns like the Sentry 12, the VR 80, and similar AK shotguns make it easy to use rifle-like sights with shotguns.
Alternatively, you can add a taller red dot if the shotgun is drilled and tapped. Something with an absolute co-witness should be high enough to be much easier to see. Sure, it sits high above the stock and doesn’t offer the best cheek weld, but it works.
If you want a low red dot and you have a cross dominance problem, you might consider an offset red dot.
These are often seen on rifles and act as close-range backups to magnified optics. A 45-degree offset connected to a scope rail will push the optic to your dominant side without needing a tall mount.
You can also hold the weapon more in line with your chest than your shoulder. This tends to be a great way to deal with shotgun recoil. It also brings the weapon more to your dominant eye side.
A visible laser is another solution for close-range shooting with shotguns or even other long guns. Plenty exist for various platforms and can easily attach to various rails.
Holosun makes a visible red laser that would work on a rifle or subgun. In particular, the Crimson Trace laser saddle serves its purpose well for shotguns.
These visible lasers are only for close quarters and tend to only work well inside a building.
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Sunshine can wash them out outdoors quickly and limit your range greatly. However, inside the home, these lasers offer plenty of capability. Like optics, they need to be zeroed and can help you out with a long gun in a pinch.
All of these solutions can work. So, experiment with them all and find what’s best for you.
Just be sure to understand all the potential downsides before you commit to one method. Once you pick something that works, train, train, and train some more.
Are you cross-dominant? What do you think of these techniques? Let me know in the comments below. For more on eye dominance and sight picture, check out our guide here!