7 Benefits Of 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 instead of with both eyes open.  Oftentimes, they were taught that way.

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

  1. VISION SPEED:  Most people experience a visual processing delay, both when you shut one eye and when you re-open it as your brain adjusts.
  2. MOVEMENT SPEED:  Your brain regulates movement speed based on perceived threat level. The more (and better) visual input it has, the faster it will let you move. (Don’t believe it? Try navigating quickly wearing a PVS-14 or with one eye closed. Until your brain is habituated to navigating with only one eye, it adds lag–at a minimum–to the system)
  3. AWARENESS:  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.
  4. CLARITY:  When you close one eyelid, the other closes some too.  The combination of your eyelid and eye lashes will oftentimes partially block the pupil.
  5. FATIGUE: It’s tiring for your eyes, face, and can cause headaches.
  6. NOVELTY IN COMBAT:  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.
  7. VERGENCE & EYE COORDINATION:  When people squint/close one eye, roughly 1/4 of the obscured eyes will move on their own and no longer be aligned with the prior target.  When the eye is no longer obscured, the shooter will see double while the brain decides which eye is driving and attempts to get the formerly-obscured eye lined up again.

Combine these all together and it’s pretty common to see a 20-30% increase in performance when shooters switch from shooting with one eye closed to shooting with both eyes open.

I’m right eye dominant and JUST my reaction time is 10-15% slower when I close my left eye and 20-30% slower when I close my right eye. But it’s more than that…one of your brain’s defense mechanisms when it’s not getting visual input is to reduce range of motion and reduce the speed that you can move your body.

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 shooters keep their eyes diverged to the target and focused on the front sight.  Both of their eyes are pointed to the target, but focused at the distance of their front sight.  They see 2 rear sights, 2 front sights, and 1 target like what I show in the picture.

Other shooters keep their eyes converged and focused on the front sight.  They see 2 rear sights, 1 front sight, and 2 targets.

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 >one of the tools that comes with THIS training<
  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.

This is a drill that you should do with an unloaded pistol, but you can also do it with your thumb, pen, phone, the monitor on your computer, or anything else that’s at arm’s length.

It’s absolutely VITAL that, during this process, you don’t get discouraged if you struggle and that you celebrate every small victory.  It’s a process, but rest assured–it’s a quick process.

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:


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  • James

    Reply Reply June 20, 2019

    I just started to switch from one to two eye shooting. I do not see double. Is it normal? Due to my eyesight?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 20, 2019

      It could be that your brain is suppressing one image when you’re shooting or it could be that your brain is suppressing one image all of the time.

  • 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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