By Lorraine Lawrence
I traveled last year to a Game Fair event in Sweden. While there the group of guides and hunters I was with participated in some clay shooting with a well known Swedish clays and exhibition shooter Jocke Smålänning. He puts on a great shooting demonstration and you only miss the jokes that are in Swedish.
After my group had some hands-on clay shooting pointers from Jocke it became apparent that I was one of the more experienced shotgun shooters in the group, having hit 10 out of 10 on an especially difficult and fast “Midi” target.
A quick and unexpected summer shower found my group ducking into a tent for shelter. We all sat down in a circle to wait out the rain and I was just reaching up to take off my shooting glasses when one of them asked me a question I hear fairly often. He had just noticed the tinted lenses in the glasses don’t match; one is darker than the other. “Why don’t your glasses match?” my answer “It’s to fix my cross-eye dominance problem…” stopped the conversation and instantly got everyone’s attention. You would have thought I had just volunteered the location to the famed Lost City of Gold or the whereabouts of the Holy Grail… One after another of them revealed that they were indeed “cross eye” dominate as well, or thought they were. “You MUST tell us how this works!” Indeed having an easy way to overcome the cross-eye dominance problem would improve the shotgun abilities of several people in my group that had the problem.
The phenomena of eye dominance is fairly widely known, but not always well understood. And even fewer people know of good methods for compensating or correcting problems with it to make shot gun shooting more accurate for people who have “cross dominance” difficulty.
What is it? Eye dominance or preference is the tendency to prefer the visual information from one eye over the other. Somewhat like how most people naturally prefer one hand over the other. While typically most people are seeing with “binocular” and “stereoscopic” vision (using both eyes), one eye is providing more information to the brain, this information has mainly to do with positioning of an object, particularly one that moves. It is not a conscious choice but one your brain makes, almost like a reflex. As it only becomes obvious that we have a preference under certain conditions many people are unaware they have a dominate eye or that there are tendencies towards eye dominance.
Before making any changes let’s take a few moments to understand how your vision works, and if you even need to correct which eye you get your information from. First, make sure to rule out basic form and stance problems; things like poor gun mount, pulling your shot off target, jerking or flinching when you pull the trigger or lifting your head off the gun can seem like a problem seeing the target to the shooter.
The dominant eye has higher ‘ocular activity’ than the non-dominant eye. Basically this means the ocular nerve impulses to the brain are stronger from the dominant eye.
Ocular activity is also strongly affected by the amount of light entering the eye. The more light the stronger the signal is to the brain.
How do I tell? If it has been a while since you have had your eyes checked, you may want to visit an ophthalmologist to rule out needing corrective lenses or having some other vision difficulty.
How do you tell what is your “dominant” eye? Most coaches can help you with this but there are a few simple tests that you can do yourself if you want to know which is your dominate eye (or indeed if you are one of the few that has Central or Neutral vision with neither eye dominant).
The most common ‘test’ is with both eyes open point (use the hand you typically put on the fore end of the gun, not your trigger finger) at an object in the distance. As you close each eye in turn your finger remains on the object when your dominant eye is open or it appears to hop to the side when your less dominate eye is open.
A similar test it to make a quarter sized hole in a piece of paper or cardboard, again with both eyes open hold the card with both hands outstretched and align it so you see an object (works best with an object that appears to almost fill the hole, like a clock or light fixture) a short distance away. Again close one eye. With the dominate eye closed you cannot see the aligned object (it will seem to have hopped to the side of the opening) with the dominate eye opened the object will appear centered again. If you see alternate halves of the object with each eye open or closed you may have central or neutral vision.
There are lots of videos and helps for these basic tests on-line.
There are a number of questions you can answer to start with. Cross eye dominant difficulties usually manifest in the shotgun sports or where you need precision aim to line up on and hit a moving target and generally with both eyes open to see depth or judge distances and speed. Problems hitting crossing targets where it “looked good” but you consistently miss in the same place can be an indicator of a problem. This coupled with any or all of these: a desire to close an eye while shooting, tilting your head over the gun, or picking your head up to “see” targets. A cross dominate shotgunner aiming with both eyes open won’t get a good reference for the barrel position: instead of seeing the bead at the end of a rib, he might see the side of the barrel as the “wrong” eye asserts dominance. There is also sometimes a tendency to roll the gun a bit to the side. All of these can be clues that you have a vision dominance problem.
Is the hand you favor and the eye you favor on the same side?
If your dominate eye and your hand preferences are on the same side then you shouldn't be too concerned. The difficulty is when you mount the gun on one side and your dominate eye is on the other. You then catch yourself trying to align your dominate eye on the other side to see down the rib of the gun. This is what causes you to want to close an eye or move your head to the side as a way to compensate or get the dominate eye either into position or out of the game entirely. But what happens is you have disrupted the direct method of aiming the shotgun.
One of the “go to” fixes for the problem is to simply close one eye. But even though it is somewhat “reflex” it isn’t the optimum solution to the problem. With one eye closed, the speed in which your brain can process visual information slows. In a shooting situation, this means things like target speed and distance will take longer to calculate. As fraction of a second can make the difference between a hit and a miss and effect where your shot stream is. Closing an eye effects your eye-hand coordination and balance. Having one eye closed also makes your gun come more sharply into view. Ideally when you shoot shotgun sports you want your focus to be on the target not the gun. If everything is working correctly your view of your gun should be slightly blurry or even disappear from your awareness altogether as you lock onto the target. Checking the “bead” or end of your barrel will typically cause you to slow your swing and miss behind. People with “cross dominance” have difficulty with this as they are getting mixed messages as to where the gun is in relation to the target. They check trying to “aim” the shotgun as if it were a rifle and this isn’t how your should aim or shoot a shotgun. They also check to see if their gun is oriented correctly. If you have properly mounted your gun and have your cheek and gun in correct position you will be properly oriented to the rib and bead and the gun will shoot where you look. Resist the urge to either cock your head back (and off the gun) or to scrunch down into the gun. Both cause you to not get a good clear view through the main part of the lens of your eyes. For this reason a good mount is bringing the gun stock into your cheek, not tilting down or tucking into the stock. It is possible to do a quick ‘wink’ or half-close the dominate eye at the critical moment before pulling the trigger rather than a full close and get the desired effect, but again this will reduce your field of vision and make getting on the mark a bit slower. And you have to remember to do it every time and with consistency. Which makes relaxed and natural shooting a more complicated thing to accomplish.
Another “fix” that is often suggested to cross eye dominate shooters is to shoot with your other or “off” hand. This can be one of the most difficult things to master. Back in the stone age when I was in grade school left handers were “encouraged” to learn to write with their right hand (only about 10% of the population are lefty, that statistic may be skewed by ones that were forced to change). Doing this means reinvesting in new left handed guns as left and right guns have different cast (cast is the windage adjustment on a shotgun. A lateral bend in the stock designed to center your dominant eye over the rib) and combs are set differently for either right or left handed shooters. It means that you cannot use both your preferred eye to line up on the target and your preferred hand to pull the trigger.
A ‘spot’ on your glasses is another common solution. For some it is an opaque dot, for others it is a patch of translucent tape, or a smear of lip balm. This can be something the shooter has cobbled together, but there are a wide range of products on the market too. The placement of the “spot” is very important and it must be situated to be effective while looking at targets in various positions. While this can appear to ‘fix’ the problem in the short term, it isn’t exact and possibly not the best solution. The draw backs are with a solid dot or translucent masking of the dominate eye you are virtually creating a monocular vision that makes the obscured eye work even harder to overcome the obstruction. It affects your ability to judge distance. You are getting a less clear view of the target in a situation where the best vision possible is critical. But as everyone sees differently some of these can be relatively inexpensive to experiment with to see if they help.
There are several commercial products using dots, spots and other means to either defocus or reduce the light intensity to one eye. There are a large number of these products, here are a few of the more effective ones: Shotspot™ (http://www.shotspot.co.uk) and Redeye™ (https://www.eyedominance.co.uk) block the direct light path to the pupil. iSpot (https://www.gunsnstuff.co.uk/shop/eye-dominance.php#!/~/product/id=65471&prid=5&ctid=2&tp=pv) diffuses the light entering the pupil with colored filters. The intent of these devices is to eliminate ‘enough light’ to maintain dominance in the desired eye by limiting light to the other eye. OFF-EYE™ by Birchwood Casey are available a number of places from Walmart to Amazon on-line. A similar type of product employ a variety of patterns; fine lines, grid patterns and other patterns somewhat in principal like looking through a screen door, mesh or netting that are designed to shield or “distract” the eye that it taking over. They also cause this eye to work ‘harder’ so it continues to try to run the show. The blur or obstructions also effects the quality and sharpness of sight and the speed you can ‘lock on’ to a target.
Almost all these commercial products use an attachment to the shooting glasses lens to produce the desired effect.
There are a few modifications to the shotgun that some people find helpful. Special sights are available which may only be seen by the eye looking down the rib and are available from companies like Weaver™, EasyHit™ and HiViz™. Some people get a degree of help from a slightly higher rib (particularly if they were previously scrunching down into the gun to adjust their view) as it keeps your head up in the more correct position. You do want to be careful not to treat the symptom rather than the problem here. If an eye dominance problem has caused bad position or “bead” checking you may want to try a few other solutions before you start altering all of your shotguns.
Or try this! Another, less talked about and easy solution takes us back to my trip to Sweden. The odd looking “mismatched” shooting glasses. All you need is a pair of shooting glasses with independently changeable lenses and a couple of sets of lenses in various tints to experiment with. This easy and more effective method is to simply put a darker lens in front of the eye that you don't want to take control.
Example, a right handed shooter with cross dominance issues will put a dark lens into the left side of their shooting glasses (in front of the eye that is trying to take control and needs correcting) and a light colored lens into the right side of their shooting glasses (in front of the eye you would prefer to be the one you shoot with).
The result is a sight picture that has no distortion and a single, homogeneous color (people are often amazed when they do not “see” the mix of colors). For people with serious cross dominance issues the “correcting” (left in the above example) lens needs to be considerably darker than the “preferred” (right in example) lens. As your mind gets ‘trained’ to always use the eye with the most light the contrast or tint variation between right and left can be reduced. Your brain sorts this all out for you.
The net effect is no loss of depth perception, no image distortion, no reduction in focus or peripheral vision and a single perceived color. You are able to see targets with the best sharpness and clarity you have and lock onto targets with good speed. It works just fine with prescription glass as well so you can acquire glasses with your prescription and utilize this method.
With this method you may in time find that when you preform the same dominance tests above it will now show you are no longer “cross dominate”. You may find you can shoot with matched lenses for a while but be aware that the other eye will want to get back into the game and you can continue to use a slight tint variation to keep your vision from “back sliding” into old bad habits. My particular glasses are made by Ranger™ (https://www.randolphusa.com) Be sure you look for the styles with independent lenses.
What else might help? When I was shooting recently I had a long discussion with a friend that also has struggled with the cross dominance problem. Aside from some of the solutions listed above he has been working with a training device made by Vima™ (http://vima.com/faq/) that is a stroboscopic trainer. This is cutting edge vision technology. For someone that has had trouble with the condition this can really help in a new way (and can be used along with my lens method). The VIMA REV helps to train you to keep your “eye on the bird” and the device which you do training sessions with helps to improve your sensory skills and speed. In training you experience a brief “flicker” in your vision to encourage stronger and faster response to the target. The exercises can help you to pick targets out that are difficult to ‘see’ for cross dominate shooters but can also help people without the problem by training with various settings to improve their performance. Any sport that involves locating and timing (speed) can be enhanced through this training. Aside from visiting the VIMA web site for more information you can have a chance to try them out at large shooting events. Contact them on-line for details and dates.
The main thing you should remember is that there are solutions to many of the vision problems you may be having that are causing you to miss simple shots. Often these problems can be pinpointed and corrected with the help of an experienced shooter or coach’s help. Shotgun sports and bird hunting are both fun and challenging. They can be made more enjoyable if you aren’t struggling to play the game.