If you teach a large number of students like I do, you will find a surprising percentage who are cross-dominant.
That means they are dominant with one hand, but their dominant eye is on the other side of the body. An example of being cross-dominant would be a shooter who is right-handed but aims with his or her left eye.
Scientists believe that 85-90 percent of the world’s population is right-handed. However, about 2/3 of the population is right-eye dominant (and 1/3 is left-eye dominant). Only a small number (thought to be around 1 percent) have no dominant eye.
In a study conducted in the early 1960s, more than 5,000 subjects were tested for eye dominance, and almost 1/3 were cross-dominant. In that study, 28.6 percent were right-handed but left-eyed. Only 3.9 percent were left-handed and right-eyed. In my experience, females are far more likely to be cross-dominant (for reasons unknown). I have trained some groups of women with as many as one in four being cross-dominant.
How to Check for Cross-Dominance Aiming Issues
There are several simple tests an instructor can use to check for cross-dominance issues.
First, have the student make a small frame opening at arm’s length by bringing the hands together. The student should center a small object across the room in that opening with both eyes open. Have him or her close only the left eye and then open both. Do the same with the right eye.
For one eye, the target object should have remained in the opening, but with the other eye, the target object will have disappeared. The eye with which the object stayed in the frame is the dominant eye.
An alternative method is to have the student center an object in the opening with both eyes open, then slowly bring the hands back to touch the face, keeping both eyes open. The opening will naturally be drawn toward the dominant eye.
Another method is to have the student point the index finger of his or her dominant hand at an object across the room with both eyes open. As described above, have the student close one eye and then repeat with the other eye. His or her finger will stay pointed at the object for one eye but appear to move for the non-dominant eye.
On the gun range, the clue that the student is cross-dominant is usually misses that impact the target a bit high and way off to the side. For a right-handed/left-eyed shooter, for instance, the hits will be high and to the left.
Another clue can be discovered by watching as someone shoots. You may see the gun moving toward the shooter’s non-dominant side or the head moving sideways as the shooter aims. If you see these hints, it’s time to perform the eye-dominance tests described above.
Cross-Dominance and Long Guns
With a shoulder-fired weapon, such as a rifle or shotgun, really the only satisfactory solution is to learn to shoot from the shoulder on the same side as the dominant eye. I am not aware of any other practical fix for this with long guns.
With handguns, we have some options. One controversial method is to simply learn to shoot with the hand on the same side as the dominant eye. So, if you are left-eye dominant, you hold the handgun in the left hand, which puts the sights right in front of your dominant eye.
Bill Rogers is probably the best-known proponent of this system. Bill believes it is easier to learn to shoot with your non-dominant hand than to change or overcome eye dominance. Rogers School students have reported excellent results with this method, but a lot of people are reluctant to carry their defensive sidearm on their non-dominant side. Performing all functions with the hand that has less strength and less dexterity than the dominant hand does come with some difficulties.
Another method is to keep the gun in the dominant hand but move the head to bring the dominant eye behind the sights. You can do this in two ways. We’ll use the example of a right-handed/left-eyed shooter.
The first option is to rotate the head on its vertical axis to bring the left eye behind the sights. This is sub-optimal, as it points the right eye off to the right side, reducing peripheral vision to the front left. Instead, it appears to work better to keep the head pointed forward but to tilt it to the right just enough to bring the left eye behind the sights.
You have probably seen pictures of Jeff Cooper shooting a 1911 in a classic Weaver stance. You may have noticed his head cocked over to the right. Why? Jeff used this technique because he was right-handed but left-eye dominant.
A third option is to cant the pistol inboard from 15 to 40 degrees to bring the sights into the focal plane of the left eye. I am not a fan of this particular method. Untrained people tend to move the hands over to bring the gun in front of the left eye. This results in a bent wrist in the hand holding the handgun and is a poor method. That unlocked, bent wrist contributes to malfunctions and offers less recoil control than a straight, locked wrist.
Now that you know what to look for, I predict you will notice more cross-dominant students. But you will also know how to help them.
About Tom Givens
Tom Givens is the owner of Rangemaster in Memphis, Tennessee. Tom has been a firearms instructor for more than 30 years. He is certified as an expert witness on firearms and firearms training, giving testimony in both state and federal courts. He serves as an adjunct instructor at the Memphis Police Department Training Academy, the largest in the state. Tom’s training resumé includes certification from the FBI Police Firearms Instructor School, NRA Law Enforcement Instructor Development School, NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Shooting Instructor School, Gunsite 499 under Jeff Cooper and more.