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The Case of the Reluctant Eye

by Bill Hanus

The never-ending search for solutions to the dominant left-eye/right-handed shooter dilemma continues.
While a dominant left eye is an annoyance to any right-handed shooter, the curse falls especially hard on the birdhunter. A pistol shooter just has to use a two-hand hold -- the dominant left eye takes over -- and he's in the black without any fuss or bother. The same with a scoped rifle, which can be shot effectively with either eye since the opposite eye is excluded in the sighting process. But with wing shooting there is no way around the fact that a shooter with a dominant left eye is going to shoot three feet to the left of the bird. Or is there?

A dominant eye is easy to diagnose on the skeet field because a guy with this problem will break all the birds from the low house because they go from right to left -- because he has a three foot lead built into every shot. He misses all the high house birds going from left to right because he's shooting three feet behind these guys. The problem is identified. However, lots of folks have given up on bird hunting because they think they are just "poor shots" -- when in point of fact they have a dominant or master left eye. There are special rewards for birdhunters who help children, spouses and friends to overcome this handicap. Here's how you can earn yours . . .

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The crossover stock -- A doglegged affair that is mounted on the right-hand shoulder but sighted with the left eye. It's probably as old as shotgun shooting. They are costly, hard to fit and not commonly available -- but they allow the right-handed shooter to cope with a dominant left eye situation.

Older English gun catalogs occasionally mention the availability of crossover stocks for made-to-order shotguns. When the legendary John Amber -- longtime editor of GUN DIGEST fame -- lost the eyesight of his dominant right eye, he had a gun fitted with a crossover stock to make use of his left eye.

Don't fight, just switch --Two immediate solutions suggest themselves when faced with a dominant left eye. The first and obvious one is to move the whole shooting operation to the left side. This seems to work okay in some target shooting situations, where you have time in advance to place your feet correctly, mount the gun and adjust the brain to the changed stance. However, in hunting situations where instinctive moves are a major part of the game, this doesn't always work out well. Or,

Obstruct the left eye and force the right eye to work harder-- Yes, you can don a pirate patch or insert a piece of cardboard in your shooting glasses to over the left lens. This works -- but your depth perception is shot. Okay for going-away pheasants maybe, but a bummer trying to guess the distance and lead when pass-shooting doves. Experienced target shooters use a small "dot" of electrian's or translucent tape to blur the left eye's view of the front sight but still get some feedback for distance and lead judgments.

An interesting variation of another way to trick a dominant eye was discovered with the popularity of the light pipe front sights -- the kind that put a fluorescent dot in the target area. The way some are installed, they are visible to only the right eye. So for the shooter trying to shoot right-handed with a dominant left eye, only his right eye gets the hot dot, hence the message that he's got the gun pointed in the target area. Both eyes have been operative in making the mental calculations on distance and lead so the shooter has at least a sporting chance. The caveat here is that there is a tendency for the right eye to watch the bright front sight instead of the bird. This requires tight mental discipline at a time when everything else is at sixes and sevens.

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There's an inexpensive ($12.95) commercial product called a Sight-Blinder Crossfire Reducer -- the name says it all -- which, when mounted on the ventilated rib of a shotgun, shields the view of the front sight from the left eye and, as a bonus, gives the right eye a warning signal if the head is lifted off the stock.

Coping with a dominant eye problem ultimately seems to boil down to curbing the left eye's ability to interfere with the right eye's sighting process; or adapting the left eye's dominance to a right-handed shooting style. There are no quick and easy solutions. Some things work for some shooters, but not for others.

Those of us who don't have a dominant eye problem, usually don't even remember what the front sight looks like -- so it's hard for us to imagine the difficulties faced by folks who must focus on it. What seems to most of us to be a perfectly natural function requires concentration and tenacity in others. As K.C. Constantine remarks in Cranks and Shadows:

". . . everybody talks talent. But give me tenacity. Tenacity beats talent every time."

If you can't beat them, join them

One old timer, who claimed he was "too set in his ways to monkey around" -- went back to his workshop and attached an arm extending four inches to the left of the muzzle. He installed a new front sight at the end of the arm, the same height as his over/unders. It enabled him to shoot using his dominant left eye while mounting the gun on his right shoulder. Looked kind of Rube Goldbergish, but the laughter died down when he came close to limiting out on opening day. TENACITY!

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