When a shooter’s dominant eye and dominant hand don’t align (cross-eye dominance), the result can be a major blessing — or a horrific curse.
How do you determine eye dominance:
- Form triangular aperture with forefingers and thumbs.
- Look at a target with both eyes through the aperture.
- Move hands back to your face.
- The eye left peering through the aperture is the dominant eye.
The human animal is bilateral. There are two sides, with a bit of redundancy — and the design is to have one side support the actions that the other side does. Which side is which … and of what relevance is “dominance?”
According to trainer/physiologist/cop Vince O’Neill, the problem is a “physical intelligence” issue — not a cognitive issue. Part of the body has ascendency across perceptual and motor activities. Hence, dominance.
But does that reach across physical skills as well?
That depends on a range of inputs. In my case, my visual dominance was left, but fine motor skills were trained on the right. I’m not sure how or why that happened. At this late stage in life, it’s hardly relevant. It just is.
And I’m not alone. A large portion of the population can be determined to be “cross-dominant,” where the dominant physical skills side meets with a different perceptual side. I’m primarily right-handed, but my left eye is dominant.
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If you’re not a shooter, it may be of limited interest. I’ve noticed when shooting photos through a single lens reflex camera, I tend to gaze through the viewfinder with my left eye. That’s not my intent. When I raise the camera to eye, I’ve noticed I favor left.
Shooting A Gun
Eye dominance is a thing when you seek to accurately shoot a gun. The more precision required, the more one tends to emphasize the visual. It’s a natural tendency. Humans, overall, are visual creatures.
When you raise a pistol into view while keeping both eyes open — and if you see two guns — you lack significant visual dominance. The good news is that you can sight with either eye. The bad news is that you have to shut off some visual information by “dimming” one eye.
This simply means to partly close the eye opposite the hand that’s controlling the trigger.
If you raise the gun to eye level and are looking through the sights at the target with both eyes open, you’re on the master eye — but which one is it?
Using a remote camera at the range, I got photos of me shooting from the target’s view. I took an image I wasn’t using commercially and posted it on social media. The aforementioned Vince O’Neill saw the photo and said, “Oh, you’re cross-dominant.”
Looking again at the image, I could see that the gun, held in the right hand, was squarely in front of the left eye.
According to Vince, perception plays a huge part in the joint psycho-physical enterprise. Humans have a body that’s perfectly symmetrical, but sometimes motor activity can become “jumbled,” making it seem asymmetrical. If one is truly ambidextrous, the brain and body don’t determine dominance in carrying out bilateral assignments.
The human design is that one side of the body/mind has to dominate the action, as one side “supports” the dominant side, in both fine and gross motor movements. One side needs to dominate while the other assumes a supporting role.
In a normal right-hander, for instance, normal laterality is found in the right side, contra-laterality is found in the left, like plus and negative poles of a magnet. Very few right-handers can carry out “executive” functions with their left hand, unless, of course, they consciously train it to do specific movements until those movements become pre-programmed — like writing your signature on a check. That assumes that your support hand holds the check down so that the master (or dominant hand) can write — a division of labor. You don’t think about it; you just do it.
Because of all the practice, you overcome the uncertainties of spatial and linear applications.
“This division of labor can be affected by brain damage, or some structural/organic problems not realized in everyday activities — not even for the person afflicted,” said O’Neill. “Humans adapt rather well, even to the point of camouflaging the problem, without even knowing it. Just ask anyone who has suffered some kind of trauma to the head, like those afflicted with dyslexia.
“Anyway, it’s a fact: There is overriding tendency for the left hemisphere of the brain to dominate motor activity,” O’Neill added. “Yes, genetics play a role in the overall scheme of things, and, yes, it has much to do with our ability to understand language and symbols. Just as normal people will have their language capacities housed in the left hemisphere, so, too, will their left hemisphere dominate motor activities. And, left-handedness (or right-handedness for motor activities) seems to run in families.”
For people teaching shooting, some understanding of the physio-psychological aspects of motor skills learning can be helpful.
Determination Of Eye Dominance
Determining eye dominance is easy to check, though some tend to make it complicated. Simply lining one thumbnail up with a light switch on the wall across the room and closing one eye, then the other, will tell you all you need to know.
We’ve also used forming the hands into an aperture made by holding the hands up, finger tips touching and thumbs forming the base of the triangle. Peer through the aperture at a target, then move the hands back to your face.
Which eye is peering through the aperture? That’s the master eye. What about cross-dominance? Well, what about it?
Simply stated, if you’re shooting a handgun with iron sights, it doesn’t matter. There are some things you’ll never be able to do, but you can still achieve a remarkable level of skill. Simply put the sights in front of your master eye. You can still use your dominant hand.
For any gun with a reflex sight, red-dot optic or holographic sight, simply put the optic in front of your face and gaze through the reticle at the target.
As to wing-shooting with a fowling piece or shooting a rifle with iron sights — well, there are personal decisions to be made. Sheriff Jim Wilson tends to shoot long guns from the left side and handguns from the right. I often will do the same as well, again depending on sighting arrangements. Some people can’t seem to reconcile use of the non-dominant hand in dominance-requiring motor skills.
I prefer to “let those who ride, decide.” It usually works out for the best.
As to shooting that handgun with iron sights, I follow Jeff Cooper’s advice: As the pistol is presented, I turn my master eye to the front. It takes over and life goes on. Some people will tilt the pistol inboard, as I do when I shoot quickly up close with a single hand (either one). Turning the gun in brings the sights in front of the master eye. Up close, that’s fine. As distance increases and/or the target gets smaller, I prefer to keep the gun upright.
The remaining option is to simply change hands. For a few, like me, that’s a possibility that exists. My right arm was broken when I was young. This gave me the opportunity to learn some routine dexterity based skills with the “wrong” hand. When it came time to learn to shoot guns, it was about as easy for me with the left hand as is was with the right.
I was one of the few who took to “best use of cover” in police training when they had us move the gun from right hand to left. That does make it better when keeping in out of incoming gunfire and shooting around a left-side cover item.
In any event, you can adapt as needed if you’re cross-dominant. It just takes a little coaching and a bit of dedicated practice.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.