Eye Dominance Explained And How To Test For Your Master Eye

The Eyes Have It!

What is eye dominance?  In simplified terms, it reflects “how your eyes are wired to your brain”.   Most people have a dominant or master eye that provides the majority of information to the brain and is backed up by the other, non-dominant eye; the amount of influence the non-dominant eye has, can vary between individuals from very little to a lot.  In some cases, the eyes have equal influence, giving rise to Central Vision.  

Surprisingly, there are few circumstances in life where eye dominance matters and fewer still where it needs to be understood and accommodated, but shotgun shooting is one!  Rifle and pistol shooting are executed with one eye shut forcing a dominant eye, so few complications there.  With a shotgun, however, things are not quite so straight forward; in principle, it is an advantage to shoot with both eyes open to give better perception of depth and speed as well as greater peripheral vision.   But in having both eyes open, eye dominance comes in to play, which depending on the individual, may be helpful or unhelpful to their shooting.  It is important therefore, to know how your eyes work so you can take appropriate action if need be to keep your eyes and shooting on track.

Despite this, eye dominance is not always well understood by many members of the shooting fraternity.  I’m frequently surprised as to how many people don’t know anything about eye dominance or say “I thought I was supposed to shut one eye” or “I was told to shut one eye”.  Some think eye dominance is about eyesight prescription.  Sadly too, there are a few coaches do not fully understand or bother to take as much time over eye dominance issues as they might.

There is a theory that a high percentage of women are left eye dominant; consequently many women are automatically told to shut their left eye if they are right handed, without any investigation in to the matter.  In my experience, more women than men are predominantly left master eye but not that many more and I would still say the majority of women have a predominantly right master eye and no assumptions should be made on eye dominance.

Eye, Eye, Eye

As a clay or game shooter you need to know how your eyes work so you can get them to perform for you as best possible for the benefit of your shooting.  To do this you need to do an eye dominance test and then make appropriate changes if needed either to how you shoot or to your shooting equipment.  The ultimate aim is make sure your dominant eye (whether naturally or forced dominant) is on the same side as the shoulder you are shooting off, so the dominant eye is looking down the barrel when you are in the correct ready position with your head straight and eyes level.

A good coach will assess your eye dominance.  It’s essential to get this right at the start of your shooting career.  As a Coach, with a new Client, before even picking up a gun or looking at gun fit, I will assess their eye dominance.  I check this even if the Client thinks they already know, as it is not uncommon for the assessment to be incorrect.  Occasionally it can take a little while to work out exactly what is going on or find the right adjustments to resolve an adverse eye dominance situation.  It doesn’t help when the occasionally a Client believes they have both eyes open when shooting, but in reality they don’t; it results in the wrong messages coming back to the Coach and thus the wrong diagnosis.  But once your eye dominance has been correctly assessed your Coach should advise on the best way forward for you and your particular circumstances and aspirations.  

If we consider our vision, to get the maximum benefit from this day to day, we use both our eyes all of the time, if we are able.  We wouldn’t for instance drive with one eye shut, just because we can; that would be silly, unless there was a disadvantage to driving with both eyes open; and it’s the same for shooting.  Think of a clay target, a small black object flying through the air; you need to pick it up early in your vision, or peripheral vision, then see it very clearly (maybe a dull day it doesn’t stand out too well), assess how far away it is and how fast it is going and in what direction, all in a relatively short space of time before you pull the trigger.  This subconscious evaluation is done much more easily and accurately with the benefit of two eyes rather than one.  

Shooting with both eyes open however, only works if you are shooting off the same shoulder as your dominant eye.  If, however, you are cross dominant ie right handed and left eye dominant or vice versa, shooting with both eyes open becomes a disadvantage; your eyes play tricks on you and your barrels won’t be pointing where you think they are; consequently, you will miss the target!  For instance, if you are right handed and left eye dominant, you will shoot up the left-hand side of a straight going away or incomer; you’ll be in front of a right to left target and behind a left to right.  Clearly this is not conducive to successful shooting and adjustments need to be made to rectify this.

Also, be aware that whilst some people are 100% dominant in one eye – happy days – many are only 90, 80 or say 70% dominant.  Once again, this can affect the accuracy of their shooting, so this needs to be assessed and appropriate action taken if required.

Testing, Testing!

Different tests can be used to identify eye dominance.  Here are some that I use:

Keeping both eyes open, point at spot in the distance with your index finger 

Close your left eye

If your finger is still on the object you are right eye dominant

If your finger jumps to the left you are left eye dominant

Check by closing the right eye instead of the left eye

If your finger jumps to the right it confirms a dominant right eye

If your finger stays on the object it confirms a dominant left eye

If the finger jumps both ways you are likely to have Central Vision

If you see 2 fingers but can’t distinguish the “real” one, this is Central Vision

The client stands 2-3 m away with their arms by their side

The Coach points to his/her dominant eye with his/her index finger 

With both eyes open, the Client focuses on the Coach’s dominant eye 

With an extended arm the Client swiftly lifts their index finger to point at the eye

Repeat 2-3 times for consistency

The Coach observes which of the Client’s eyes the Client’s finger is lined up with

This indicates the dominant eye.  

If there is some wavering of the finger or the finger is lined up to the side of the Client’s eye, the non-dominant eye is exerting some influence

The amount of influence is assessed by the degree of offset from the eye

If the finger is lined up exactly between the eyes the Client has Central Vision 

This test is carried out using a shotgun which must be proven to be empty by both the Coach and the Client.

The gun must be a reasonable fit for the Client.

As above, the client stands 2-3 m away with the gun in their shoulder 

The Coach points to his/her dominant eye with his/her index finger

With both eyes open, the client focuses on and points the barrels at the Coach’s dominant eye 

The Coach moves his/her index finger quickly from their dominant eye to the side and then back again to their dominant eye

The Client follows the finger, at the same speed, with the barrels resting back on the Coach’s dominant eye

Repeat 2-3 times for consistency

The Coach observes which of the Client’s eyes the barrels are lined up with

This indicates the dominant eye 

If there is some wavering of the barrels or the barrels are lined up to the side of the Client’s eye, the non-dominant eye is exerting some influence.

The amount of influence is assessed by the degree of offset from the eye

If the barrels are lined up exactly between the eyes the Client has Central Vision 

In addition, by just watching someone mount the gun, if say they are right handed and have their head all twisted over the gun so they look like they are trying to get their left eye down the rib, that can be a strong indicator that the left eye is dominant. 

Now You See It….

Whilst these tests identify your eye dominance, be aware that sometimes eye dominance can appear to change when a gun is put in the shoulder.  I have had Clients who appear to be left eye dominant when tested and then shoot as if they are right eye dominant or vice versa.  I have had Clients with strong non-dominant eye influence when tested which disappears when shooting.  I even have a Client who, when tested is left eye dominant, but in reality, can shoot equally well off both shoulders with both eyes open, which is pretty unusual.  So, eye dominance is not an exact science!  There is a general rule that is the starting point but there are often exceptions to the rule.

Eye dominance can alter with age.  Most boys start life with a dominant left eye, but many change to the right eye at around puberty.  Eye dominance can also alter later in life, either permanently or just temporarily, depending on a number of factors, so be aware.

Eye Solution ….

In the next blog I will explain what action you can take to resolve the situation if your eye dominance does not conform to the shoulder you shoot off.  In addition I will discuss what circumstances to watch out for that can be mistaken for eye dominance issues.