All About the Eyes
One of the most important things every shooter should know is which is his/her dominant eye. Most people, even some experienced shooters, will immediately assume that the dominant eye corresponds with the dominant hand. While this is often the case, it is not always so.
No matter how comfortable you are with firearms or how many shots you have put down range, it is crucial that you know your dominant eye to be able to make the best shots possible. Testing this is very simple. Bring your hands in front of your face with your arms fully extended. Slide one palm over the other with both palms facing away from you until there is only a small triangle between them. Remember that this space does not have to be a perfect triangle but should be approximately the size and shape of a Hershey kiss. Your thumbs should form the base of the triangle, with the skin between your thumb and index finger of each hand forming the remaining sides. Find a spot to focus on – a photo on a wall, a coffee mug, something in front of you. Make sure that you can see that spot (not necessarily the entire object, but whatever part of it you choose) through the triangle. Slowly bring your hands straight back towards your face, keeping your focus on that particular spot. Your hands will naturally land in front of your dominant eye.
If you are right-eye dominant, you should shoot right-handed. If you are left-eye dominant, you should shoot left-handed. Keep in mind that there are occasions where a right-handed person is left-eye dominant. While there are ways around this, the best results over time will come from the person learning to shoot left-handed. (This does not mean you need to change every other aspect of your life! For example, left-eye dominance does not mean you need to suddenly stop writing with your right hand.)
So, what is eye dominance? Though both of your eyes take in information, one tends to be slightly more accurate in determining object locations and relaying information to the brain. When you are shooting and focused on the front sight or reticle of a scope, your eyes will “fight” for control. One will be stronger than the other, your dominant eye. If you are right-handed, but left-eye dominant, and trying to shoot a rifle right-handed, you will likely find yourself bending your head over the stock. This is because your left-eye takes over and you see better with it, so you inadvertently contort your body to make this a possibility. The issue lies in that now you have an inconsistent cheek weld, and your head is so far bent that it throws off your equilibrium.
All of this is a recipe for inaccurate shots. The same happens for left-handed shooters who are right-eye dominant. This phenomenon is most easily observed with long guns. What about shutting one eye? It is best to shoot with both eyes open. Shutting one eye adds inconsistent muscle tension which also leads to bad shots. Stand in front of a mirror and close one eye. Your skin bunches up around that eye and the longer you hold the position, the more you can see, and feel the muscles around your eye twitching. It is likely your “open” eye is not fully open. The small variances in muscle tension and how much light is reaching your eyes greatly affects the shooting process.
Think of it like this. Grab a dumbbell and hold it in your hand. Hold your arm straight out. No matter how strong you are, your arm and hand will begin to move over time, the movements becoming more pronounced the longer you hold the position. This is bad because precision shooting is all about consistency, doing everything the same way every time.
Once you know your dominant eye, you can begin to focus on sight alignment and sight picture. There are many styles of iron sights as well as various reticles. No matter what you choose, it is imperative that you be able to line up the sights or center the reticle in the same place every time. For example, if you are shooting iron sights with a post and rear aperture, you want to make sure that the post is centered in the rear aperture. This is sight alignment. When you put that post on top of the target – that is sight picture.
Sight picture can vary, and you may change your preferred sight picture by target style or just over time. For example, in shooting a circular target with a post, a 6 o’clock hold is placing the top of the post at the bottom of the target circle, where 6 would be marked on an analog clock. A center-mass hold would be putting holding the post in a spot where if a knife was run over the top of the post, it would slice the target in half (Not literally, just for visualization purposes). You need to be able to repeat this every time for accurate shots while keeping the post centered in the rear aperture.
The sight alignment process with a scope is somewhat different. It is important to have proper eye relief – the distance from your eye to the scope. Whatever your reticle, it needs to be centered in the field of view of the scope. If you are too far away from the scope, you will see a black ring around the field of view. You can shoot this way if you can ensure that the black ring is equal on all sides, but it is difficult to do. Moving the scope further back on the rifle and closer to your eye should fix this issue. If you are too close to the scope, when the rifle recoils it will hit you in the face. Placing the reticle on a target in the same spot every time is sight picture.
Sight alignment with a scope is greatly aided by a rear aperture disk. This is a disk with a small hole in the center that either threads into the rear of the scope or fits underneath a scope cap. Looking through this hole creates a rear sight circle smaller than the rear lens of the scope, improving alignment and ensuring you are looking through the scope the same way every time.
Though basic, every shooter must have consistent sight alignment and sight picture to take accurate shots. When shots start flying places you do not expect them to, first confirm you have proper sight alignment and sight picture. You can also experiment with various sight pictures to find something that you can repeat. Combined with eye dominance, these fundamentals affect every other part of shooting. You will not take the most accurate shots you can if you ignore these three things.