Have you ever tried shooting with both eyes open? If you think shooting with one eye closed makes it easier for you to aim your target, think again. In an ideal world, we would have been taught from day one to shoot with both eyes open, but instead, we've mainly succumbed to our younger selves’ reaction to squint with one eye.
This is something I myself struggled with, until it was trained out of me in the Marines and after working with more recent clients at Atlas Defense. Here are a few reasons why drills for shooting with both eyes open is advantageous. We’re going to start off with the high-level applications and progress to actual execution by the end of this article.
Advantages of Shooting with Both Eyes Open
When teaching the OODA loop in Situational Awareness workshops, the first ‘O’ stands for Observe. In the observation stage, you want to open up your flow of information as much as possible. For some, that might mean using electronic hearing protection and enhancement. For our purposes, that means keeping both eyes open. Notice we don’t call it “aiming” with both eyes, and there is an important reason why. That's because you are still focusing with your dominant eye but then simply keeping the other eye open. You can go cross-eyed trying to get both eyes to focus on the front sight tip, so it’s good to remind yourself of this when you begin keeping both eyes open.
Here is a simple exercise from Eye Health Web to illustrate how limited your field of vision can be when aiming with one eye. Pick something directly in front of you to focus on with both eyes. Using your extended left arm, swing your finger as far back as you can until it’s no longer in the corner of your eye. Make a mental note of how far back that was and close your left eye. Now swing your arm towards the object you’ve been focusing on until it re-enters your field of vision. Open your left eye and you’ll be able to see approximately a 50-degree arc of your field of vision. This was blocked out by closing your left eye. If you are left eye dominant, do just the opposite.
Now assuming most gun owners carry for the protection of themselves and others, why would you limit your situational awareness by that much if you’ve had to draw your handgun?
Tunnel vision is also a predictable physiological reaction to violent threat encounters. Training the muscle memory of aiming with one eye compounds the problems caused by tunnel vision. With dedicated training, you can combat tunnel vision with both eyes open method.
Depth perception, also known as seeing in 3D, works by allowing both of your eyes to work together. It gives your brain the best estimation of the distance to a given object or point. Especially when properly reading a potentially violent situation, having a reliable perception of distance is a factor in knowing when to escalate or de-escalate. In the static environment of a range, you may not have noticed this lack of depth perception with the 5, 7, 10, etc yard lines clearly marked. Start shooting outdoors at unknown distances and you may begin to notice the discrepancy. By giving yourself other cues, such as how large a human silhouette looks at each yard line, you can improve your range estimation. A lot of these challenges are best surmounted by simply shooting with both eyes open. Doing so allows your eyes to do what they do best. In this case, that would be giving you accurate depth perception and 3D vision.
Your best night vision is just as dependent on using both eyes as depth perception. When your eyes fully adjust to low light conditions, the rods are highlighting as much ambient light as possible. Aiming with one eye through iron sights further blocks your peripheral vision. It also cuts the amount of light absorption by half as well. The same can be applied to archery, as Outdoor Life noted in 2012.
Okay, so how do I start shooting with both eyes open? For the sake of covering all related topics, we are going to first review how to find your dominant eye. Regardless of your hand or even foot dominance, this is a good exercise to confirm any previous assumptions you may have had about your dominant eye.
By yourself, make a triangle with your hands with your arms fully extended out. The triangle you should be in the center of your face, not favoring either side. Looking through the triangle, focus on an object or point on the other side of the room (approx 20 to 30 feet away). Staying focused on the object, slowly bring the triangle to your face. Eventually, the triangle you made will be over your right or left eye. You’ve been primarily focusing on that object with your dominant eye, so whatever eye the triangle lands over is your dominant eye. Otherwise, if you have a partner you can use this second method. Making the triangle just like the first exercise, focus on your partner across the room. Look at them through the triangle and wink your left and then right eye. Whichever eye your partner saw wink is your dominant eye.
Now that you're done shooting with your dominant eye, remember that you're still aiming with that eye when you have both eyes open. This is best achievable with a professional shooting coach. Keep the mantra of both eyes open running through your head for several dry fire practices before you move up to live fire range sessions. Even writing it on your support hand is a direct reminder to yourself when you're getting your sights on target.
There are several shooting drills and targets that help utilize both eyes to stay open. Depending on the facilities available to you, here are a few resources. For indoor, narrow firing lanes, use the largest paper target you can find with multiple targets on it. Using as much of the target surface area as possible maximizes the area for your eyes to scan, identify, and engage a target. Outdoors, setting up several steel plates or paper targets along a wider area will fully engage the 170 degrees of vision available to you. If this is something new to you, training with a coach or shooting at your local USPSA or IDPA matches can begin to teach you how to utilize shooting with both eyes open.
Why is it important to shoot with both eyes open? Check out this video from Tactical Rifleman!
Overall, shooting with one eye open isn’t allowing you to fully leverage all of your physiological advantages in a potentially violent threat encounter. Gauging distance, maintaining situational awareness, and maximizing your low-light vision are three of the top functions that your eyes can accomplish twice as better with both eyes open.
It’s more than understandable that so many shooters are bringing this bad habit from the old guard and Hollywood. With the right amount of determination and coaching, you can retrain yourself to shoot regularly with both eyes open. Keep a record of your progress by saving pictures of your grouping with one eye and both eyes open.
How was your experience in shooting with both eyes open? Share them in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.