It’s a common sight: inexperienced shooters closing an eye to gain added focus in the other. This is one of those long debates amongst shooters that’s never quite settled. But the choice to shoot both-eyes-open or one-eye-closed is an important one with major impact on your performance.
Why is it important to shoot with both eyes open? And might closing an eye actually be more beneficial to a particular shooter?
I fall firmly into the two-eyes camp. So, let me break down the reasons why it’s important but not universal. I’ll also explain why a shooter might have to shoot with an eye closed or shielded.
This is an obvious benefit of shooting with both eyes open. Having both eyes open allows you to be more aware of your surrounding and have a wider field of view. You see more and miss less in the heat of the moment.
Balance improves when you have both eyes open. This is especially true when you are moving and shooting. It’s also important for stationary shooting since it helps you to keep movement and wobble out of your shooting position.
With both eyes open, your eyes will likely fatigue less over time. You aren’t using facial muscles to hold one eye closed and you are using both eyes (to some extent) to focus. This helps by not leaving the task up to one eye only.
When your body is under stress—whether from competition or a threat—you experience the flight or fight response. Your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, breathing increases, etc. If you are closing an eye, you’re likely to increase your focus on the target, but at the expense of peripheral vision. This will cause poor target transitions or will put you at a disadvantage in a tactical situation.
So, with all those advantages, why would someone shoot with only one eye open? Well, not everyone can or even should shoot with both eyes open.
Some people do not have a strong dominant eye. Therefore their non-shooting eye may take over on occasion when trying to focus on the target. If this is the case, the shooter will probably either have to close an eye or use an eye shield.
A shooter might also be right-handed, but left-eye dominant. This is why it’s important to figure out eye dominance as early as possible when you are learning how to shoot. If you are left-eye dominant and have been shooting right-handed for 15 years, it’s likely you won’t switch to shooting left-handed now.
Ideally, a shooter will use their eye dominance to choose which hand to shoot with. However, there are some ways of dealing with an eye dominance opposite to your handedness if you choose to shoot with your dominant hand.
So what do you do if you simply can’t shoot two-eyes open normally? The answer is an eye shield.
(Editor's Note: John Paul talks about another two-eyes-open shooting option called the occluded eye technique in this video about Vortex's prismatic scopes.)
In biathlon, athletes who were left-eye dominant but shot right-handed used an eye shield to block the non-shooting eye from focusing on the target. This allowed the shooting eye to focus on the target without the dominant eye taking over. This also enabled the shooter to leave both eyes open, helping the shooter to maintain balance and some situational awareness.
When shooting a pistol or shotgun, you can actually place a small piece of clear tape on your shooting glasses in front of your non-shooting eye. This blurs the focus on the target for that eye, allowing your shooting eye to focus on the target. You’ll still be able to keep the eye open, which will help with your overall situational awareness.
In the end, the both-eyes-open approach can work for anyone. It may require a workaround or a fair amount of practice, but the results speak for themselves.