Shooting Pistols With Both Eyes Open

One of the most common training scars that I run into is shooters who are trying to shoot pistols with 1 eye closed.  Oftentimes, they were taught that way.

This is a problem for several reasons, none of which happen for all people, all the time.

  1. You not only lose vision and peripheral awareness out of the eye you shut, but your field of view will probably be diminished out of your open eye, because of a partial squint.
  2. You’ll probably experience a visual processing delay, both when you shut one eye and when you re-open it as your brain adjusts.
  3. It’s hit or miss whether your brain will decide to constrict the pupil on your open eye.
  4. It’s tiring for your eyes, face, and can cause headaches.
  5. In an adrenalized state, your natural tendency will be to keep both eyes open. If you’re not used to shooting with both eyes open, you’ve just introduced an unnecessary variable into a life & death situation.

With that many problems, why are people taught to shoot pistols with one eye closed?

One of the reasons why people are taught to shoot with one eye closed is because their parent/friend/instructor has spent the majority of their time shooting scoped rifles.

Another common reason is because vision is one of the most misunderstood aspects of shooting…and, as an instructor, when you’ve got a class full of students, a set amount of material, and a limited amount of time, it’s easier to tell a new shooter to shut one eye than to teach each of them individually how to shoot with both eyes open.

If everybody’s vision was the same, it’d be simple.

But everybody’s vision is not the same.

Some people use the same hand and eye when they shoot pistols.  Others are cross-eye dominant.

The latest numbers I’ve seen are that 30% of men and 60% of women are cross eye dominant…and in a recent youth class that I taught, 100% of the 11 kids were cross eye dominant.

But eye dominance CAN change based on which hand you’re using and how far you are from what you’re focusing on.

To make it more interesting, the most common drill that is used to test eye dominance (looking through a circle or triangle that you make with your hands) doesn’t really work because of how the visual cortex combines and suppresses the images from each of the eyes.  This suppression can mimic eye dominance, but isn’t really eye dominance.

Add in injuries, medical conditions, prescription glasses, and other factors, and it quickly becomes obvious why the smart move for an instructor working with 10-20 students is to just tell them to shut an eye rather than go through a personalized vision assessment with each of them.

Seeing  Double

One thing that confuses shooters is seeing double.

This is natural.

Each eye has a different perspective on everything that you look at.

When you’re looking at something flat, like a screen, it’s not a big deal.

But when you’re looking at 3 dimensional objects, it can be.

Here’s an example of what I see when I shoot:

I see a clear front sight, blurry target, and blurry rear sight.

Just as importantly, I see a single target, a set of sights that are lined up with the target, and a duplicate shadow image of the pistol & sights that are off to the right.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m holding the pistol in my right hand and I’m right eye dominant.  This would be reversed if you are left-eye dominant.

It’s really difficult to illustrate this in a picture…I’m trying to combine images, show focus on the front sight when my camera will only focus on the rear, and approximate the relationship and level of transparency that I see in reality.  So, if you’ve got questions, PLEASE ask…I’ll do whatever I need to to make it clear.

Some people can’t keep their eyes diverged to the target and focused on the front sight.  They see 2 rear sights, 1 front sight, and 2 targets.

Other people can’t keep their eyes converged on the front sight.  They see 2 rear sights, 2 front sights, and 1 target like what I show in the picture.

Which way is correct?

It depends.

Either way will work.  You just have to train your brain to use the right sights and aim at the right target.

It is much easier for me personally to keep my eyes diverged to the target rather than converged to the front sight.

Shooting with both eyes open can be complicated if you only do live fire training at a range with multiple targets, but it’s much simpler if you practice it at home with dry fire.

Here’s how…

  1. Unload your pistol and render it inert and incapable of firing live rounds or use an inert training platform like a Dry Fire Pistol
  2. Pick a dry fire target with a safe backstop.
  3. Close your non-dominant eye.
  4. Aim at the target.
  5. Focus on the smallest detail you can see on your front sight. It’s important that you not only SEE your front sight, but that you also focus ON your front sight.
  6. SLOWLY open your non-dominant eye.
  7. Pay attention to the shadow image that appears. Is it dimmer?  Brighter?  The same?  Crisper?  More blurry?  The same?  Do you see 1 target or 2?  If 2, which side (left or right) is the new one on?  Do you see 1 front sight or 2?  If 2, which side (left or right) is the new one on?
  8. Close your non-dominant eye and verify that your sights haven’t moved and are still lined up with your dominant eye. If they have, it’s an indication of a visual suppression issue in your visual cortex…which is INCREDIBLY common.  If this happens for you, you need >THIS TOOL<
  9. Open your non-dominant eye again.
  10. Repeat steps 7, 8, and 9 3-5 times.
  11. Now, do 10-20 S L O W dry fire drawstrokes with both eyes open. Pay particular attention to how many front sights, rear sights, and targets you see and which you’re using for aiming.  As you reach full extension, squint your non-dominant eye to verify that you are using the correct sight image and target image.  Correct your aim if necessary and open both eyes again.

It’s absolutely VITAL that, during this process, you don’t get discouraged if you struggle and that you celebrate every small victory.

If you’ve never trained your brain to interpret your sights correctly…with binocular vision…then it’s a roll of the dice whether or not it’ll do it correctly.  But the beauty of the human brain is that “neuroplasticity” allows it to adapt VERY quickly.

For awhile, you might need to be patient and slow down your practice speed quite a bit.  It may seem impossible, but if you go slow at first, your visual cortex will learn and adapt VERY quickly.

As you develop the conditioned response of bringing your pistol up between your dominant eye and the target, your mind will automatically know which images to suppress and which to use without you having to think about it.

The payoff?  You’ll shoot better, have more fun, and be less fatigued than if you close one eye.

If you think you may ever need to use a gun to stop a lethal force threat, learning how to shoot with both eyes open will improve your high stress performance considerably.

If you’re teaching someone to shoot, helping them learn how to successfully shoot with both eyes open will increase their odds of early success, reduce frustration, and dramatically increase the odds that they’ll embrace shooting as a hobby, pastime, or passion.

This is just one example of how vital understanding vision can be for pistol shooting…both for newer shooters just looking to shoot well and for long time shooters who want to make giant leaps in performance with minimal cost or time.

For more tactical vision training drills, that cover ways to see your front sight quicker and clearer, shift between targets quicker, increase peripheral vision under stress, and more, I want to encourage you to >CLICK HERE<

Questions?  Comments?  Fire away by commenting below:

 

1 Comment

  • durabo

    Reply Reply August 12, 2017

    1) Proper training with a scoped rifle includes keeping BOTH eyes open.
    2) Another good reason to keep the other eyes open in a pistol combat situation is that stress produces tunnel vision, further handicapping the combatant.

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