Competitive Shooting

Eye Dominance and Cross-Eye Dominant Shooting

right-handed shooter shooting a handgun using his non-dominant left eye

The first time I pulled the trigger on a real, loaded gun, it was my father’s 16-gauge Model 12. I was seven years old, and doves were in season. After making sure I understood that we don’t “normally” shoot at doves unless they are in flight, Dad made an exception and allowed me to take a shot at one sitting on a limb.

To this day, I still remember seeing the bird flying off and pieces of bark falling to the ground while I tried to figure out what had just punched me in the nose. I didn’t know enough to ask my dad, and he apparently didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until years later that I learned why my nose hurt that day… I was shooting right-handed but lining up the sights with my left eye.

David Freeman shooting a rifle left handed
The author, who is right-handed, has learned to shoot long guns from his left shoulder because he has a strongly cross-dominant eye.

On the rifle range at Boy Scout camp, it always seemed the rifle I used shot to the left, so I compensated by aiming the same amount to the right. I became so familiar with the Remington 514 I used at camp that when I found out they were going to sell it as surplus I bought it for a whopping $2. At least I knew how to aim it by compensating for the sights I thought were off.

In the Army, I qualified on the M16, and so long as I was getting rounds somewhere on a human silhouette target, the instructors had very little to say about technique. They did not teach anything about cross-eye dominance in the Army in 1969.

It was when I attended an NRA Basic Pistol Instructor course that I learned of the phenomenon called Cross-Eye Dominance. Before discussing the concepts of sight alignment and sight picture, the instructor took us through a test to determine which eye was dominant. For me, it turned out to be my left eye, even though I’m right-handed.

I was somewhat surprised to learn about this after a lifetime of shooting. As an aviator who was required to undergo a flight physical every year, including an eye examination, I knew I had 20/15 vision in my left eye and 20/20 in my right. However, as it turns out that has very little to do with which eye is dominant.

After discovering was left-eye dominant, I took the old Remington 514 to the range and shot it left-handed. The sights were dead on. The compensating I’d been doing was because of my eyes not the sights on the gun. No wonder Dad’s 16-gauge shotgun nearly bloodied my seven-year-old nose. I was leaning way over it to get the sights to line up.

There are several tests you can do to determine your dominant eye. You would think right-handed, right-eye dominant; left-handed, left-eye dominant, but they aren’t related. A different part of the brain makes the determination.

Young man using the Miles test to determine eye dominance
To use the Miles test to determine eye dominance, you pick an object across the room, extend both arms, bringing your hands together to create a small opening through which you view the object. With both eyes open, slowly bring your hands back toward your face keeping the object centered in the opening. If you do this correctly, your hands will bring the opening back in front of your dominant eye.

Miles Test

The test we did during my NRA Basic Pistol Instructor class is called the Miles test. To conduct this test, you pick an object across the room, then extend both arms, bringing your hands together to create a small opening through which you view the object. With both eyes open, slowly bring your hands back toward your face keeping the object centered in the opening. If you do this correctly, your hands will bring the opening back in front of your dominant eye.

Porta Test

There is another test that helped me understand my own eye dominance better. In this test, called the Porta test, you point with your index finger at a distant object with both eyes open. Then close one eye. Open it and close the other eye. Usually, your finger will appear to move off the object when you close one of your eyes. The one in which your finger moves off the object when you close it is your dominant eye. This was a real eye-opener for me (pun intended). At 12–15 feet, my finger appears to move approximately 7 to 10 inches left of the object when I close my left eye. As I mentioned before, I’m right-handed.

Young man using the Porta test to determine eye dominance
To use the Porta test, you point with your index finger at a distant object with both eyes open. Then close one eye. Open it and close the other eye. Usually, your finger will appear to move off the object when you close one of your eyes. The one in which your finger moves off the object when you close it is your dominant eye.

Several years ago, I put something like 14,000 students through the Texas License to Carry class, and we did this exercise in every class. Our statistics pretty much matched what I had read as far as national statistics. Approximately 30 percent of the general population is cross-eye dominant, with the percentage being a little higher among women. A small percentage of the population does not have a dominant eye.

When I’m working with people, I like to conduct both tests in class, because the Miles test works best for some people and the Porta test for others. Some people tell us they see two fingers when trying the Porta test. If they said they saw three, it would be easy to tell them to shoot the one in the middle, but with two, who knows?

The Porta test was very helpful for me. It showed such a difference and allowed me to realize where to align the sights when using my left eye compared to where my point of aim would be when aligning the sights with my right. It turns out that my being 20/15 in my left eye and 20/20 in my right eye has nothing to do with eye dominance. It’s just a coincidence.

right-handed shooter shooting a handgun using his dominant right eye
Here we have a right-handed shooter who is right-eye dominant. This is the easiest and most correct sight alignment.

Adapting to Eye Dominance

I now shoot long guns left-handed, but I still use right-handed rifles and shotguns. I bought a left-handed Ruger M-77 a few years back thinking it would be just the ticket, but operating it was awkward. Operating a regular bolt-action or lever-action rifle or shotgun with right-handed controls but off the left shoulder works fine for me. It took a little getting used to, but now I’m comfortable with it.

With a handgun, it’s important to align the sights using your dominant eye, but if you’re cross-dominant, you don’t have to change your shooting hand. Just rotate your head slightly. Don’t tilt it to the side, keep it upright and rotate it, like shown in these photos.

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I wish determining eye dominance was all you had to deal with when learning to properly use the sights on a handgun. If you’re 21 years old and have 20/20 vision, the sight alignment/sight picture basics are no big deal. But we live in a world in which people have near and far contact lenses, Lasik or Keratotomy surgery and sometimes lens replacement surgery. Any of these may affect your ability to determine the best sight alignment strategy to use at near targets versus targets positioned farther away.

When working with a new shooter, using a laser or red dot sight on your handgun is a good way to identify eye issues affecting sight alignment. Theoretically, once you get your sight aligned, it will work for you regardless of which eye is dominant. Understanding how your eyes work with your gun’s sights before going to the range can save you a lot of discouragement (not to mention money).

One recommendation I’ve seen in print is to use a bit of opaque tape over the lens on the non-dominant side of your shooting glasses. This would allow you to keep both eyes open resulting in more light on the target which can help with depth perception. I’ve discovered in some lighting conditions, usually dim light on the periphery of the shooting area, the only thing that works for me is closing my right eye.

bullseye target showing a six-shot group in the 9-ring of the target at 9 o'clock
This is an example of a target shot by a left-eye dominant person who did not make any corrections.

An instructor friend of mine — who doesn’t have a cross-dominant eye issue — tried to convince me that proper sight alignment will result in hitting the target regardless of which eye you use. Yes, that probably works if you totally close the eye you’re not using. I cannot close my dominant eye only, unless I hold it closed. When I’m shooting, there is no extra hand available for that purpose. Therefore, I use my left eye. Whether I leave my right eye open or close it, I am reasonably successful at hitting where I’m aiming. If I use my right eye with my left eye open, I shoot off to the left.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve never tested for eye dominance, I suggest doing so. Having this information in your arsenal may just help you hone the sight alignment/sight picture aspects of the shooting basics, so your rounds hit close to your intended aiming point.

Do you know which eye is your dominant eye? Are you cross-eye dominant? How do you compensate for your cross-eye dominance? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (19)

  1. Jack, people often think the logic behind the Porte test is backwards but it’s really not. Think about it. Your vision and thus finger pointing, should be the same with both eyes open or just your dominate eye. But when you take the dominate eye out of the picture is when it changes. I just did this sitting at my desk I located a drawer knob across the room and pointed at it. I closed my right (non-dominate eye) and nothing changed but when I closed my left dominate eye my finger appeared to be pointing seven or eight inches to the left.

  2. “Approximately 30 percent of the general population is cross-eye dominant, with the percentage being a little higher among women.” As a correct-eye dominant, left hand long guns, right hand short guns all my life, for about the last 10 years now I have become VERY suspicious of the 10-13% of people being LEFT handed, due to Left eye dominance. I had a feeling it was much higher, which again brings into question why is it almost impossible to find a AL-15 (Armalite Lefty)? It also explains why RedXarms cannot keep AL uppers in stock. Note: Stag arms, founded by a lefty, offers an AR with left side eject, and bolt assist, BUT with a standard right hand safety and a mill spec standard (right handed) charging handle. Charges a premium for being left-handed, yet fails to finish the job with ambidextrous controls to make their lefty handed customers disappointed. 30% of the industry is worth going after, to increase profits.

  3. While at the range with a friend, I mentioned that my pistol grouping isn’t getting better. He told me to look at the target then cover it up with my thumb. Low and behold I found out that I’m cross eye dominate. Explains my poor skeet shooting and shooting at moving targets with my rifle.
    I’m new to wearing glasses. Didn’t like them. I mentioned being cross eye dominate to my optometrist. She was very interested and changed my prescription because of that. Now I don’t feel seasick wearing my glasses.
    I turn my head using a pistol. Close my left eye on rifle. I suck at shotguns.

  4. I am left eye dominate but right-handed. I had a few instructors over the years that wanted to “FIX” me. One kept telling me I was shooting wrong and kept wanting to change my style.
    So, I got tired of it and challenged him to a shoot off.
    We ran the course of fire twice and both times I beat him. He left me alone after that.
    I used to tilt my head way over to see the sights. But then just moved the weapon more to the left to make it easier to see the sights. Also allowed me to keep my head up see more of what is in front of me.

  5. I learned I was cross eye dominant, right handed/left eye, when I was about 70 years old. I always used my right eye for pistol and long guns. I was never very good at targets and hunting was a waste of time. At the range I learned to aim to the right to hit the center. Just never knew why. Thanks. I can hardly wait to get to the range and shoot long guns from my left shoulder and close my right eye for pistol.

  6. Mr. Freeman,

    I am right handed but left eye dominant. You wrote for the Porta test, “The one in which your finger moves off the object when you close it is your dominant eye.” Perhaps did you get that backwards? When I point at something with both eyes open and then close my right eye, it stays on the pointed object. I then close my right eye and open my left eye and my finger point jumps a foot to the right. Did you perhaps get that one sentence backwards?

  7. I was a small arms instructor in the Air Force for 12 years. One of the courses of fire that we had to teach included firing from the off side of the barricade which served as “cover”. We as instructors had to fire each course of fire that we taught since we had to be qualified on the course to teach it. I am right handed and naturally shoot right handed using my right eye to line up the sights. When I shot the course with the off side shooting, I did just as well using my left eye to line up the sights and shoot left handed around the barricade.The other instructors complained of having trouble with the sights. I didn’t know what to think about it except that I was lucky.
    After I left the service, I missed the teaching so I soon found myself teaching Hunter Safety Education for the Wisconsin DNR. One of the subjects covered was dominant eye. I did both tests and discovered that I didn’t have a dominant eye. This explained why I had no trouble with off side barricade shooting. I have tried several times with handguns and I still had no trouble with either eye but I do shoot with my left hand when shooting left handed. It certainly makes a difference for new shooters to discover their dominant eye.

  8. The article says to rotate your head, rather than tilt it, “as shown in these photos”, but then the only photo is of a right-handed/right eye dominant person, which tells us nothing. Can you please provide better illustration of the cross-dominant technique?

  9. Retired now, but have always shot and hunted using the right eye. Some years back, was surprised to find that I was left eye dominant. I guess, just closing the left eye all these years left me only minimally cross eye dominant. Took up archery several years ago and still left eye dominant. So, for a test, I shot at the gun range with both eyes. Found out that even though I am left eye dominant, I favored the right eye view when shooting with both eyes open. I would further guess that after all these years, my brain just favors the right eye view for me in those two eyes open, sight along a barrel cases.

  10. I actually learned about my left eye dominance in USMC boot camp in the 1980’s. I’ve tried all kinds of techniques with a handgun including just carrying left-handed, rotating my head and just pure instinct shooting. Nothing made me as accurate and quick as a red dot sight on my Sig 365. I am able to shoot instinctively and remain target focused rather than sight focused. For the shooter with a cross eye dominance issue, especially with a handgun, I highly recommend it.

  11. I am naturally right eye dominant. A number of years ago I started shooting pistols left handed due to a shaky right paw. I have worked on it quite a bit and have trained my eyes to switch. I close my right eye momentarily, focus through my left eye and then aim. It works OK for me.

  12. When i was growing up my father had my brother and i shooting rifles at a young age. And he was disappointed with me because i would move my head my head over the stock to the right to shoot. I would get a discussion even though i was hitting the target. Then my father got a new hunting partner Dominic Viega that had spent some time on the army rifle team, and he had his own range. It seemed i was there at least twice a month. Trying to get better at shooting my new M1 Match rifle. Which wasn’t working. Then one afternoon Don showed up and he determined what the problem wright away. He told me he could fix the problem. He left and returned with an eye patch and had me put it on my left eye. Then he had me drive the tractor around the farm for the rest of the day. Well i had that patch on every chance i could for weeks. When i returned i could shoot that M1 100% better using my right eye. He had taught me to retrain my brain. And so far, it’s still working,

  13. I learned of my left eye-right hand cross dominance many years ago when I was shooting NRA youth events with a .22 rifle. For those first years, I simply closed my left eye when shooting. When I was in law enforcement as an auxiliary officer in Oklahoma, I had the good fortune to work with a great OSP Lieutenant as my training officer who understood the situation because he had the same cross dominance condition. All facets of my shooting improved under his tutelage. The issue ceased to be an “issue” pretty quickly; even today, I shoot without giving it a thought. When I have the opportunity to work with new shooters, I go through the exercises described here before we even pick up the firearms, just to avoid the frustration caused by not being aware of the situation.

  14. Excellent article! I am right handed, but legally blind (I can see light and movement in the periphery, but no central vision) in my right eye. As you’d imagine my left eye is dominant by default. I shoot long guns left handed—and have since playing with toy guns as a toddler. I shoot pistols right handed, but instead of rotating my head, I learned to adjust my arm(s) and hand(s) to utilize my left eye. I’m sure having long arms helped. One “advantage” to being blind in my right eye is that I can close it or leave it open for peripheral use without endangering my left eye’s sight picture.

    Having zero confusion about which eye would look down the sights made things easy. I adapted what was necessary to accommodate the only choice I really had. A lot of it came naturally, because my right eye is blind for TV, football, driving, etc. But it’s been relatively easy to make subtle adjustments to technique as an adult, too.

  15. Dealt with same same problem as a kid. Went to Boy Scout camp and could not qualify for rifle or shotgun merits badges because no one knew to check for eye dominance. Didn’t shoot for years after that. While taking a course in college on special education I learned that I was cross dominate. Literally an eye opening experience. Went back and taught my self to shoot and found out I was actually pretty good at it. Now I am a NRA, NASP and USA archery instructor First thing I do in every class right after safety is an eye dominance test.

  16. I am cross eye dominant (right handed/ left eye) I have been working on training myself to become right eye dominant

    I find if I close my left eye when looking through scope, once I focus, I am able to open left eye and still see through optic clearly

    So far this has worked well and I am getting more used to it the more I shoot and I am very accurate with this method

    The weirdest thing for me is that some optics react strangely to my progressive lenses and I shoot 10” high every time – if I remove glasses with these scopes I am dead on accurate

    Go figure

  17. years ago I determined that I am right eye dominant. HOWEVER, I have since experienced damage to my right eye, plus cataract surgery in both. My right eye is really suffering and my shooting is also suffering. Any suggestions how to over come the issue will be appreciated

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