Is it possible to become an accurate consistent shooter in all situations without keeping both eyes open while presenting your weapon and executing the shot with a pistol?
Using one eye, monocular vision, limits your ability to see your surroundings, slows down your brain’s ability to find your sights, and all but eliminates depth perception and important motor skills. Learning to shoot with both eyes open is necessary for optimum pistol shooting performance.
What do you want to accomplish with your pistol shooting?
If you just want to train for accuracy competitions, you can continue shooting with one eye closed. Bulls eye matches, handgun silhouettes, etc only require shooting from a static position with plenty of time to make slow accurate shots and most importantly, targets don’t shoot back. If you want to tactically train for self defense or IDPA like competition, investing the time and effort to learn to shoot with both eyes open is probably the best shooting investment you can ever make.
First determine your dominant eye?
In shooting, to get to a high level of performance you should start with knowing which of your eyes are dominant. It is very easy to determine. Most people in the world are right handed and their dominant eye is their right eye.
First form a circle to look through with your hands. Hold the circle about a foot and a half away from your face. With both eyes open, focus on an object that is about 15-20 feet away and put it in the center of the circle formed by your hands. While keeping it in the circle, close one eye.
If the object moves out of the circle, the eye that is still open is not your dominant eye. When you can close an eye and the object stays in the center, the eye that is open is your dominant eye. When shooting, always align your sights in front of your dominant eye even though both eyes are open.
This practice will allow you to shoot naturally and learn the proper sight focus much quicker. If you are cross eye dominant (your dominant eye is different than your dominant hand) you will still follow the same procedure. Some instructors will tell you that you need to switch hands. This is wrong.
It doesn’t make sense to switch your grip and lose all of the dexterity in your dominant hand, especially with a pistol. Just continue to use the same strong hand on the pistol but move the sights to your dominant eye.
Cons of shooting with one eye
Your brain uses information supplied to it from all of your senses to determine how to make your body operate. Most of this information is supplied to the brain from your visual sense. Both sides of the brain share this information from both eyes.
If you limit the information the brain is receiving by closing one eye, many visual functions are compromised. If God had intended you to use one eye for anything, he wouldn’t have given us two of them. By closing one eye you are losing approximately one third of your peripheral vision capability. This loss could mean the difference between life and death in a self defense situation, especially if there are multiple attackers.
In competition it will slow target acquisition time. In addition, this practice detrimentally affects depth perception, balance, spatial organization and the ability to follow moving targets. None of this is good for effective pistol shooting.
Target acquisition and reaction time are slowed because the brain will process information slower. Add to all of this, the effect of high stress and the fact that your actions will be slower because one eye makes the brain process information slower, I think you will agree it just doesn’t make sense to shoot with one eye.
Shooting in low or no light conditions is almost impossible to do with any degree of effectiveness when shooting with one eye. Your eyes absorb any available light in this situation and by closing one of them, your brain is receiving less information that if both were open, therefore making you slower and ineffective.
With one eye closed transitioning from one target to the next is greatly slowed down along with the ability to get a fast accurate shot off when needed. When shooting tactically this is a deal breaker.
Pros of shooting with both eyes
Shooting with both eyes open corrects all of the issues discussed above. It is not a magic bullet that will instantly transform you into Jason Bourne, but this practice will give you the correct foundation and the highest probability of improving performance.
Know that if you find yourself in a tactical situation both of your eyes will be open and stay open. It is instinct and you won’t be able to stop it. When your adrenaline is rushing, your heart rate is 140 beats per minute, and you are in fight or flight mode, the decision to close one eye for aiming will not be up to you.
You will be focused on the threat and not thinking about grip, sight picture, or any other fundamental. Your only thought will be doing what is necessary to end the situation. By this time, if you haven’t made shooting with both eyes second nature or ingrained it into muscle memory, it is way too late to worry about it.
Your best alternative here is to run and run fast. Worry about doing it right now and practice over and over. Developing this skill and ingraining it will serve you well if / should you need it.
How to aim with both eyes
Understand that if you have been shooting with only one eye, shooting with both eyes is not easy to learn to do. It will be easier for some than others but it is possible for everyone to learn to shoot correctly. First make sure your sights are lined up with your dominant eye. You can practice this everyday with dry fire techniques.
Initially you might have problems seeing your sights clearly. If this is the case, close your non-dominant eye until you see the sight clearly and are aligned with your target. Then open the non- dominant eye.
Your dominant eye should then take over. If while shooting or practicing, you begin to lose the picture again, try blinking the non- dominant eye until the proper sight picture appears. If you are shooting for accuracy, the front sight should be in focus and the target should be slightly blurry in the background.
This is how your accuracy will be best, but remember in a tactical situation, you will be looking at the target and your sight will be somewhat of a slight blur.
I suggest taking the time to learn to do both but learn instinctive skills first. Over time, your dominant eye will become stronger and your brain will begin to automatically use feedback from that eye to give you the correct sight picture. It doesn’t happen automatically for most people. It is something you will need work for.
How do bifocal glasses affect your shooting ability?
I am one of those older guys who must have bifocals to function daily. They are a wonderful invention and make life much more enjoyable except when it comes to shooting. The top part of the lense is focused on giving you sight clarity at a distance. The bottom part of the lense is for seeing clearly up close for things like reading.
In order to focus on the front sight, because it is up close, I would have to tilt my head way back with the pistol in front of my dominant eye in order to have the front sight in focus. This is very uncomfortable as well as making you look like an idiot.
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If I look at the front sight through the top part of the lenses, I can never get it in focus because this part of the lense is designed for distance. So what is the cure? The only way to use my bifocals when shooting is to not use them.
I have learned to immediately look over the top of my glasses when shooting a pistol, not using the lenses at all because the front site is close and I can focus on it easier than looking through the top of the lense. I guess you could have special glasses made up where the whole lense was designed for up close focus but I don’t think I would like bumping into things while walking around the range.
I’m pretty sure these wouldn’t work in a real life tactical situation either. I can shoot better than most people at the range and in my practice group. Perfect vision is a great asset but not a necessity. Focus when you are under stress is what counts.
Drills to help you shoot with both eyes
Hold your index finger out in front of you at arms length. Close your weak eye and keep the dominant eye open. Use your finger as you would a front sight and place a target, pretty much anything around you in the middle of your finger just as if you were aiming with one eye open.
Then open your weak eye without moving anything. This is the sight picture you are looking for. You want to train your brain to do this without having to close the weak eye. After repeating this drill several times do the same thing except in reverse. With both eyes open, take aim at something then close your non dominant eye. You want to see the target right in the middle of your finger.
Repeat this until you can place the target in the middle of your finger with both eyes open and you are still on target when you close the non dominant eye. If you have something available like a pencil or pen, you can substitute it for your finger. It actually works better as it makes your dominant eye work harder to find the sight because the tip of the pen is smaller than your finger. Repetition is the key to making this work.
Next place the pencil which is duplicating your front sight, about 4 inches from your dominant eye. Slowly extend the pencil to arms length making your dominant eye focus on the pencil as soon as possible. Once it focuses continue moving the pencil out to full arm’s length, holding focus with your dominant eye.
Repeat the process over and over. The more you do it the better and faster at acquiring a good sight picture you will become. This is working muscles your eye uses to focus. The stronger they get, the more reliable and faster your sight picture can be attained.
The whole reason for doing this exercise is to train your brain to use the dominant eye, strengthen eye focus muscles, and ingrain what the proper sight picture looks like and how to get it into muscle memory. You can do this drill at work, at home, or even on the toilet. Practice these three drills for 10 – 15 minutes a day when possible. Whenever possible use your pistol instead of your finger or a pencil.
Nothing like practicing with the real thing. Just make sure you follow the rules of safety when dry fire practicing. You will notice an improvement in accuracy and speed on successive trips to the range.
You should now also feel more comfortable shooting from different tactical positions and taking those moving shots. Another trick is to use chap stick on your shooting glasses to blot out your non dominant eye. Practice shooting this way for a while but make sure both eyes are open at all times.
What you are doing is training your brain to use information fed to it from the dominant eye. Clean the chap stick from your glasses and you should find focusing with your ominant eye much easier.
What does this drill have to do with tactical pistol?
When you graduate from standing in front of a target at 7 yards and taking slow shots for the bullseye with the objective of the smallest groups possible, you will quickly realize that you made the right move by learning to shoot with both eyes open. Having this skill makes tactical pistol shooting much easier and more effective.
From lying on your back, shooting off balance, utilizing cover while shooting, shooting while moving, shooting at moving targets or shooting fast drills you are going to pat yourself on the back for learning to shoot the right way. You see on the news all the time where cops are involved in unexpected shooting situations.
They shoot 10 shots and hit the perp once in the leg. These are the same police who can go to the range and group 7 inches with 10 shots at 7 yards.
It’s not that they can’t shoot, it’s that this was probably the first time they ever shot with both eyes open and under a great deal of stress. Never having shot properly, combined with all the stress factors your body will experience in a scenario like this is a bad idea. Practice and master this technique now – before you need it.