Sinister Studies: Serious Scrutiny into Southpaw Shooting (Part VII)
So far, we have focused on weapon specific techniques, and there’s more of that to come, but let’s take a moment to look at some of the other challenges faced by the left-handed marksman.
In over 30 years of shooting, I personally never set much stock by eye dominance – though I have observed its effects in the occasional student. For some competitive disciplines, eye dominance can be more of an issue for the shooter. Defensive or combative shooting, like any other martial art, highlights the need to be able to function at least adequately from either side. Pristine range shooting and stationary shooting activities enable the shooter to close or obscure the non-shooting eye. For run-n-gun type shooting, a both-eyes-open approach is preferred to help maintain situational awareness, though this can be more difficult for those members of that approximately 1/3 of the population, both left and right handed, who are cross-eye dominant.
When I started shooting, despite being strongly left-handed, I was right eye dominant. What do I mean by “was?” In 1991, I suffered an eye injury that left me blind in my right eye for over a year. During that time, my left eye – my shooting eye – became stronger (20/15) by compensation. My right-eye vision was eventually restored thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, but my brain had already decided I was going to be left-eye dominant now. Psychologist George M. Stratton wrote about this phenomenon with his experiments in perceptual adaptation in the 1890’s. Apparently it only took his brain 5 to 6 days to reprocess changes in his vision resulting from wearing eyeglasses that inverted everything. I’m not sure if it would work, but theoretically, wearing a patch over your dominant eye for a few days may result in changing eye dominance – or not. Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change what some have considered “hard-wired” pathways, is still being researched. One thing I can tell you from personal experience is that you will bump into a lot of walls because when you lose stereoscopic vision you also lose depth perception. This would make driving and other activities potentially hazardous, so this experiment shouldn’t be taken as any type of recommendation… just a theory on my part.
Thankfully you don’t need to resort to such extreme measures if you are cross eye dominant, there are much less invasive options.
The most basic answer would be to learn to shoot with the dominant eye. I taught myself to play guitar right-handed, despite being left-handed. While I suspect this did change the character of my guitar playing and creativity due to the effects of brain lateralization, i.e. my playing is more mathematical than creative, the brain can adapt and skill can improve. Brain lateralization seems more dependent on eye dominance rather than handedness; remember that it is the left occipital lobe that processes imagery from the right eye and vise-versa. You left-handers who are good at math and can’t play a musical instrument or draw – it’s more likely you are inclined to be right-eye dominant therefore more inclined towards being left-brained.
One trick cross eye dominant handgun shooters can use is to slightly rotate the head, tucking the chin against the shooting arm, which will align the dominant eye behind the sights.
For rifle shooters, it isn’t so easy. Usually you can tell a novice cross-eye dominant rifle shooter immediately; they stick the butt of the rifle in their dominant arm shoulder, then attempt to roll their head over the stock to align their dominant eye behind the sights. When training to shoot from either shoulder or from the eye-opposite shoulder, it is best to obtain proper interface with the rifle first, that is: stock weld, cheek weld, grip and forearm position. Once those are established, THEN try to look through the sights and adjust as necessary. While you are learning this, it can be helpful on the range to place a small square of translucent tape in the center of the lens of the non-shooting eye. You will still have peripheral vision, but it creates a scotoma or blind spot in the center of the visual field that signals the brain to rely more on the other eye. For you Trijicon ACOG owners, this is a similar phenomenon as the Bindon Aiming Concept.
For the right-eye dominant, regardless of hand dominance, we know that the firearms producing world favors the dexterous. Do yourself a favor: learn to shoot with your right hand first. If you absolutely cannot do this, you will have to do a lot of extra work to teach yourself those techniques that will help you adapt and make the best of your situation. Regardless of which eye or hand you shoot with primarily, realize that you may need to switch hands and/or eyes from time to time, so your training and practice should include some weak-side shooting.