Pistol shooting technique: Cross-dominance

Hi, I’m Steve and I’m cross-dominant.  OK, don’t panic, I’m not about to launch into a discussion about cross-dressing S&M.  Cross dominance is something that afflicts large numbers of pistol shooters, especially men and it can be a problem whether you shoot firearms or air pistols.  Let me explain…

Just about everyone has a dominant hand.  However, most of us also have a dominant eye.  The dominant eye is used to eliminate the effects of parallax and provides the majority of information to the brain on distance and position, so it’s especially important for shooters.  However, In relatively large numbers of people (estimated at around 30% of men and either a higher or lower proportion of women depending on which reports you read) the dominant eye and the dominant hand aren’t on the same side, i.e. a right-handed person with a dominant left eye and vice versa.  It’s most common in left-handed people, but it does affect right-handers too.  This is what’s known as being cross-dominant and it can be an issue for pistol shooters.

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The view from your dominant eye (left) and non-dominant eye (right)

Finding out if you’re cross-dominant is easy.  You already know which is your dominant hand, so all you need to do is find out which is your dominant eye.  Just hold up a finger in front of an object on the other side of the room with both eyes open.  Now try closing each eye in turn.  When you close one eye, the finger will still appear to be in front of the object.  When you close the other eye, your finger will appear to be to the left or right of the object.  Whichever eye keeps the finger aligned over the object is your dominant eye.  If your dominant eye is on the opposite side to your dominant hand, bad luck: you’re cross-dominant. A very small number of people (less than 1%) don’t have any ocular dominance, and for them, the finger will seem to move equally as they close each eye.

So, why does this matter for pistol shooting?  Well, think about it for a moment.  If you adopt a natural stance and hold a pistol in your right hand while looking down the sights with your right eye, there is a nice, straight, natural line from your eye to the sights and on to the target.  If you hold the pistol in your right hand but look down the sights with your left eye, you’re looking across the sights, your brain is making all sorts of allowances for parallax and your stance may be twisted in an effort to bring the sights in-line with your dominant eye.  Typically, a right handed shooter who has a dominant left eye will shoot high and to the left even though the sights appear to be aligned with the target.

What can you do about it?  There are several schools of thought.  Some people believe that the only way to overcome the problem is to learn to shoot with the hand that’s on the same side as your dominant eye, even if this isn’t your dominant hand.  However, most folk find it very difficult to shoot with their non-dominant hand, and this isn’t a very popular solution.  Other people believe that it’s possible to train your eyes so that the dominance of one eye can be reduced.  This takes a number of forms, the most extreme involving wearing a patch to cover the dominant eye and forcing the non-dominant eye to do all the work.  However, this takes a very long time, may result in spectacular headaches and results generally seem to be mixed.

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Jeff Bridges demonstrates a possible solution to cross-dominance in True Grit (2010).

Another option for shooters is to tilt the pistol from 15 – 40° to bring the sights into the focal plane of the dominant eye.  For a right handed, left eyed shooter, the pistol should be rotated to the left and vice versa if you’re left-handed/right eyed.  However, this can lead to a less than optimal stance and grip.  And it makes you look like a wannabe gangsta.

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Stop laughing! This may be a genuine attempt to overcome serious cross-dominance issues. Or then again, it may just be plain silly. Image from Kill Switch (2008).

The most effective way of overcoming cross-dominance seems to be keeping the pistol in your dominant hand, but tilting your head to bring the dominant eye directly in line with the sights.  For a right handed, left eyed shooter, this means inclining the head slightly to the right and vice versa if you’re left-handed/right eyed.  This method has been adopted by a number of successful pistol shooters, and seems to work very well.  The late John Dean “Jeff” Cooper is credited with helping to develop modern handgun shooting techniques.  Jeff was cross dominant, being right-handed but with a dominant left eye.  In most pictures, you’ll see that Jeff has his head titled to the right when shooting a pistol. Jeff was also a spectacularly successful competition pistol shooter so this method of dealing with cross-dominance obviously works.

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Jeff Cooper.  Right-handed, left eyed.  Head tilted to the right to bring the left eye directly in line with the sights.

I am cross-dominant with a dominant left hand and right eye. I found that the most simple and effective solution was to adopt a different stance when shooting (you’ll find a link to an article on stance at the end of this article). If I use the Weaver stance, for some reason I find it more comfortable to hold the pistol in my right hand and support it with my left. I can’t explain why – in any other stance I prefer to hold a pistol in my left (dominant) hand. Using the Weaver stance and holding the pistol in my right hand naturally brings the sights in line with my right eye (and this stance also brings the sights closer to your eye which is useful if your eyesight isn’t what it was) and I can shoot more accurately and more consistently using this stance than in any other. If you’re cross-dominant, try different stances to see if any of them improve things for you.

Cross-dominance is an issue for pistol shooters, but it needn’t be a major problem.  The first thing you need to do is find out if you’re affected.  If you are, try some of the techniques described here – they should help to improve accuracy and consistency when using an air pistol.  However, if you find you are cross-dominant, and you already achieve good and consistent accuracy when shooting, don’t be tempted to change what you’re doing.  You have probably already unconsciously learned to compensate.

Related pages:

Pistol shooting technique: Stance

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