If you teach a large number of students like I do, you will find a surprising percentage who are cross-dominant.
No, that doesn’t mean they wear their spouse’s clothes to class. It means they are strongly dominant in one hand, but their dominant eye is on the other side of the body. An example would be a shooter who is right handed, but has a dominant left eye.
It is believed 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 dominance by either eye.
On the range, the clue that the student is cross dominant is usually misses that impact the target a bit high, but way off to the side.
In a study conducted in the early 1960s, more than 5,000 subjects were tested for eye dominance and almost one third 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 as yet unknown. In some groups of females we have trained, as many as one in four were cross dominant.
There are several simple tests an instructor can use to check for cross dominance issues. I’ll describe a couple of very easy ones here.
First, have the student make a small frame opening at arm’s length, by bringing the hands together. With both eyes open, have the student center a small object across the room in that opening. Close only the left eye, and then open both. Close only the right eye, and then open both. For one eye, the target object remained in the opening. For the other eye, the target object 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 the dominant hand at an object across the room, with both eyes open. As described above, close one eye, then repeat with the other eye. The finger will stay pointed at the object for one eye, but appear to move for the non-dominant eye.
On the range, the clue that the student is cross dominant is usually misses that impact the target a bit high, but 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 the shooter while they fire. 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 clues, it’s time to perform the eye dominance tests described above.
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 the 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 and perform all functions with the hand that has less strength and less dexterity than does their dominant hand.
Another method is to keep the gun in the dominant hand, but move the head to bring the dominant eye behind the sights. This can be done two ways. We’ll use the example of a right handed/left eyed shooter, for clarity. In the first method, the head is rotated 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. It appears to work better to keep the head pointed forward, but 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. This was because Jeff was right handed, but left eye dominant, and used this technique.
A third option is to cant the pistol inboard from 15-40 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. Now you know how to help them.
[ Tom Givens is the owner of Rangemaster in Memphis, TN. For over 30 years Tom’s duties have included firearms instruction. 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 resume 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. ]