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Monocular and Binocular Shooting:
The Shooting Eye Matrix
by W. Hock Hochheim
"He is stalking you with a gun. He plans to kill you.
You peer over cover and spot him searching for you.
He doesn't see you yet. You have a clear head shot, maybe 50 feet.
You bring your pistol up to eye level and take careful aim.
Do you take this shot with both eyes open or one eye open?"
Last June, 2005, US Marine Corp, Camp Pendleton graduated its first one-eyed sniper, a corporal who will soon return to Iraq for his third tour of duty, having lost that eye on the second trip. The Corporal, who declined all interviews and press information, graduated 11th of the surviving 27 candidates who started its grueling, sniper class. This proud, honor graduate received the school's, Jim Gularti sniper school award.
Many readers , pistol, rifle and shotgun shooters amongst them might say- ”well, so what, he just needs one eye to look into the scope anyway.” In fact, snipers do work with spotters to help dissect out the landscape. Somehow all these readers have forgotten the basic premise of combat shooting and vision, or have chosen to ignore the ugly truth-you are told to shoot with both eyes open!
Decades ago , I received my first official pistol, shotgun and rifle shooting instruction in the US Amy, to be followed by decades of police training. As the years advanced, this training continued. Throughout it all, there were a few superficial lessons on the dominant eye influence and most modern experts tell you to shot with both eyes open. Most shooters simply ignore it. Sniper instructor and shooting expert Jacob Gottfredson reported in SWAT magazine that he thinks only one shooter in ten keeps both eyes open, ignoring the advice. Another prominent instructor called the double-eye versus single-eye open issue, “the most difficult problem an instructor has to face.”
Here in my home library, I have no less than 8 books by renown shooting experts. The books are full of basic training methods on down to the smallest of gun minutia. Yet in this spectrum, not one mentions the double, open-eye mandate. Some do mention the establishment of the dominant eye and then continue writing about the gun sights, completely passing on subject.
The Eyes Have It!
The eyes play an important part in shooting and not just in aiming the weapon. They see the target, register the light, note the weather, gauge the distance and read the situation. In combat or sports, there are two ways to actually put your weapon on target, use of instinct and use of sights. Instincts can line the weapon on the target in close range. Generally, the further you are from the target, the more you will be inclined to use the weapon's sighting system. Once the target has been spotted, the weapon is fired in two fundamental alignments;
Instinct-weapon-target -A person in a close quarter protective, shooting position-for example- pistol down by the rib cage and torso bladed from an enemy, usually relies on instinct-weapon-target formula. Year after year, multiple police studies will report as high as 65% of all pistol fights are extremely close and shooting is spontaneous and instinct-driven. In these close-range shootings, raising a gun high enough to engage a sight picture often puts the pistol within the lunge-and-slap range or the lunge-and-reach of the enemy. To summarize, instinctive shooting is from the hip level, the rib cage level and chest-high, all dependant on the desperation of the moment. Simple, common sense tells you using both eyes is perfectly natural for this task. Science tells us it worked in conjunction with the reactions of an adrenaline rush.
Eyes-weapon-target -Sure, sure, sure, pistols are meant for close quarter firearms, but if you can't make an occasional, long-distance shot, you are an incomplete pistolero. There isn't an instinct/point shooter alive that will argue the existence of a physical point where a shooter has to use the sights on his weapon, find his zen moment, get a two-handed grip and shoot. If you don't think a professional might have to make a critical 30 or even 40-plus foot shot in combat once in awhile, you are ill-advised. You are missing the boat (or in gun vernacular-missing the broad side of a very large barn). To summarize, sighted shooting is when you have raised the weapon high enough that your eyes become involved with the calculations of hitting the target.
The Breaking Point! Between the Two
This is all accomplished inside a distance continuum. In between these two aforementioned formulas, there is a physical breaking point, a distance when a shooter feels compelled to get the weapon up to the eyes to take careful aim. The experts mandate instinct shooting is done with both eyes open. The professionals call it-binocular vision, and state that such open-eyed shooting is completely natural. But, many experts also mandate that distance shooting also should be done with both eyes open.
When a child picks up a cardboard tube and looks through it, the child closes the eye outside the tube. When you lift your weapon into your line of eyesight, and look down the sights of your weapon, you have a natural desire to close one eye, forcing you to function with monocular vision. Experts suggest this is wrong--you still should take aim and shoot with your binocular eyes open, this includes snipers shooting at hundreds of yards!
One look down the top of a gun with both eyes open like this and almost all people see your pistol and a ghost gun of it, or worse- your target and its ghost target beside it, depending on where you fixate. (I personally see vividly confusing ghosts-others claim lesser ghosts) Close one eye and the ghosts are gone. Do you have a ghost of a chance aiming and shooting at a distance with both eyes open?
The Dominant Eye
The ghost buster is the dominant eye. Determining your dominant eye is achieved several ways but the two most common are to extend your arm and pick an object off in the distance. With both eyes open, either cover the object with the tip of your index finger, or make a circle with your index finger and thumb. Close your right eye. Close your left eye. Which eye misses the mark? The eye that has your target object covered by the pointing finger, or has your target inside the circle of fingers is your dominant eye. Your other eye “supports” this strong eye. Once you document which eye is the key, the next question in the equation is which if the dominant hand.
Hand domination is easy to determine for yourself. What is your writing hand, your strong, most coordinated side? That is your pistol hand. In the larger world of long guns, this domination is defined by trigger pull. What hand pulls the trigger of your shotgun or rifle? Right-handed, long gun shooters will lock the stock into their right shoulder. These issues are important in group tactical maneuvers where both right and left sides of a formation must be covered. Some shooters may have to become left-hand trigger-pullers to have barrels covering the right side of an advance. Shooting from awkward positions and maximizing cover mandate weak hand, trigger-pulling and opposite-side marksmanship.
My dominant eye is my left eye. I am however, right-handed. I have had more than one shooting instructor tell me the dominant eye issue was of little concern. Their advice was to close one eye, dominant or otherwise, and align the open eye with the weapon sights and the target. In fact an Army instructor told me;
“It's all about the straight line, from the eye to the gun,
to the target. Pick an eye and get a straight line.”
If you are left-eyed and right-handed, something the pros call cross-dominant. Is this a problem? Combat vet and shooting instructor Paul Castle, the originator of the C.A.R. System, (Center Axis Relock) doesn't dodge the question and offers these stats:
“...if you are left eye dominant (and about 35% of people are), and right handed
(about 90% of people are), your gun most likely will not end up being in line with your
aim point. Or if you are left handed (and 10% of people are), and right eyed (about 65% of
people are), your gun most likely will not end up being in line with the aim point. In short,
there are substantial numbers of people who are NOT right eyed and right handed, or
left-eyed and left-handed, and "traditional shooting stances and techniques" do little to help them.”
Same-side, cross-overs, close and distant targets, what are all the factors involved here? Read on.
Vision and Shooting: The Alignment Matrix
Whether close quarters or long distance, here are all the factors of vision and shooting:
* Basic vision ability
* Age deterioration (long-to-short, short-to-long focus becomes harder)
* Right-eye dominant
* Left-eye dominant
* Right-handed weapon
* Left-handed weapon
* Right-eye dominant and right-handed
* Left-eye dominant and left-handed
* Right-eye dominant and left-handed
* Left-eye dominant and right-handed
* Monocular vision
* Binocular vision
* Situational, light-levels
Two Eyes Open
The brain, whether under stress or not, simply functions better with both eyes open.
Closing one eye inhibits these skills. Shutting one eye cuts your view of the field of combat in half, of your enemies and your friendlies. Also, keeping an eye closed for too long creates facial fatigue, some neck fatigue and eventual body fatigue. This also dilates your closed eye pupil into night/dark vision mode. Opening this eye, causes re-adjustment. the older you are, the longer the re-adjustment takes.
Edward C. Godnig, O.D., FCOVD, is a 1976 graduate of the New England College of Optometry, Boston, Massachusetts. He maintains a private practice of optometry specializing in behavioral optometry. He has listed the following visual skills as important for shooter speed and accuracy of aim in combat. All are best achieved with both eyes open.
A. Visual acuity: Both static (discerning detail of a stationary target) and dynamic visual acuity (discerning detail of a moving target) is important to a marksman. Good dynamic acuity will enhance a shooter's visual reaction time and eye tracking abilities.
B. Peripheral vision: Skillful shooters have reported a visual ability of maintaining an awareness of a central target while simultaneously maintaining a vast amount of peripheral visual awareness. A fully functioning visual system is capable of responding to objects located within a total visual field (which for each eye is approximately 40 degrees up, 60 degrees toward the nose, 70 degrees down and 90 degrees towards the temple measured from a central point of fixation). It is critical that shooters are aware of what is beyond and around the target to insure safety, and peripheral vision awareness is crucial to achieve this task.
C. Depth perception: An essential skill for the shooter who needs to judge relative distances between targets.
D. Eye motility: Eye tracking abilities are crucial to maintain accurate detail and awareness of any moving target. This skill is highly critical if a marksman needs to shoot a moving target.
E. Eye-hand-body-mind coordination: A necessary set of visual coordinated abilities that are used in developing precise trigger control while maintaining precise aim on target.
F. Visualization: The ability to use your “mind's eye” to create a mental visual picture when direct view of a target may not be possible. This highly developed visual skill is useful to anticipate where a target or adversary is most likely to be located during episodes of lack of direct vision.
G. Speed of recognition time: Extremely important when a target may be only visible for a brief moment in time. The ability to accurately recognize as much of a target in as little as 0.01 seconds can be critical in deciding to shoot, or not shoot, a target.
H. Eye focusing flexibility : This ability plays an extremely important part of a shooter's ability to quickly adjust focus upon targets that are located in different distances in space. The speed and flexibility of quickly changing eye focus from one point in space to another point in space has a direct influence on maintaining clear, single binocular vision while in shooting competition or in combat.
I. Color perception: May prove to be a useful skill when confronted with the need to engage targets of specific coloring.
J. Fixation ability : Necessary to establish ‘sight picture' awareness and consistency.
K. Visual memory: Used to embed the learning elements of training to help skills reach the point of automatically. Training to the point of automatically implies that the speed of processing and performing a set of skills is fast, there is a relative lack of effort to perform a skill, and the skill is autonomous such that it may be initiated and run completely on its own without an active voluntary conscious thought process. The automatically realization of shooting skills is useful in avoiding visual perceptual overload resulting in confusion in target recognition.
L. Central-peripheral awareness: The ability to have awareness of central details of a target and simultaneously be aware of the visual space surrounding the target (the peripheral space around the target). This skill helps a shooter avoid getting locked into “tunnel vision” for extended periods of time.
There is no question it would be better to always use both eyes in all shooting situations. The questions are-can you and, is it natural at long distances.
Few shooters worry about all these finer points, and few instructors dare to travel deep into these subjects with their students. Can you imagine explaining all these factors to the common myriad of shooters and those concealed-carry-permit seekers? Imagine giving in-the-field eye exams to weekend warriors to cull cross-dominate shooters from same-siders and then herd them to a separate range to work on their unique, handicapped problems? Information overload! Analysis paralysis!
Proponents of binocular shooting claim skill acclamation is easier for same-side, hand-eye dominant shooters. Cross-overs have more problems. Gottfredson said that cross-over people, “may find the task - impossible. Not a good prognosis for the some 40 percent with the cross domination.
One approach commonly suggested is the use of shooting glasses. Cover the eye lens that you wish to keep open, so you may shoot with both eyes open, but actually see with one. Gradual bring the second eye into the practice. Use solid Tape, Then gel. Then tape something semi-transparent onto the lens. Clear that lens slowly and bring the open eye “in the open.” Success varies.
Here, I am opening my weak right eye over my strong hand to create a straight-line alignment. I have shot at distant targets this way for years and have never failed any shooting course, and at times I done quite well.
Here, I am opening my strong left eye over my strong right hand to create a straight-line alignment. I have shot at distant targets this way for years also and have never failed any shooting course, and at times I've done quite well. Note how I have to bring the weapon further to the left than I do in the above photo.
Cross-overs? Some experts suggest canting the weapon, so the strong eye can catch the sights.
-- and in the perfect world, we always shoot with both eyes open, which is rather easy indeed when the target is close. Each person has their own definition of the word "close." What's your's? Better question? What is your student's?
Instinctive shooting should be done with both eyes open. Even if your eye can detect the barrel of your pistol off in the corner of your peripheral vision, you will be better prepared to line your weapon to your target. The higher the gun is to your eyes the better.
In the Blink of an Eye
There are one million, micro-seconds in a second. An eye blink takes but a few micro seconds. A tactical eye blink to achieve sight/target recognition may take a few micro-seconds longer. The solution for some is to “kill the ghost” with a quick blink of the weak eye. This is a one-eyed blink before shooting, not the cursed, fearful, double-eye blink rookies do in the act of discharge. Blinking the eye assesses the scene, incorporates the best of binocular shooting and identifies the ghost. Remember that the older the shooter, the longer it takes the eye to adjust to light, still micro-seconds mind you, but a tactical point to remember when an eye is shut for a prolonged time.
The Old Hand Switch
Some cross-dominant eye shooters have improved their performance and confidence by switching hands. Again, long term training is needed to handle a pistol or long gun with the weak side hand to render it as good or better than your primary hand.
Both Eyes Open, Problem Summary
1) Ghost sights
2) Ghost targets
3) Cross dominant eye positions
4) Natural desire to shut one eye to take aim at distant targets.
Both Eyes Open: Solution Summary:
Worry about this. Just because because most pistol gunfights are very close and can be handled with both eyes open, doesn't mean you should ignore longer range marksmanship. You also need to worry about this with rifles and long guns. Long gun shooters have tried many tricks, to include custom-made, cantilevered stocks and scopes. Like the good doctors say, admitting there is a problem is the first step. Here are some solutions:
1) Same side dominance? Right eye and right hand. Left eye and left hand?
- * Shoot with both eyes open to maximize your combat potential. Take the hard road and train.
- * Close the weak eye, suffer with the visual set backs.
- * Blink your weak eye to recognize the ghost gun or the ghost target.
2) Cross Dominant? Right eye and left hand? Left hand and right eye?
- * Close the non-dominant eye. Aim with your best eye. Bring gun and eye into alignment.
- * Suffer with the visual set backs.
- * Close the dominant eye! Use the eye on the side of your strong hand. Suffer with the visual set backs.
- * Both eyes open-train the eye to recognize the ghost gun or the ghost target.
- * Switch weapon to your weak side hand.
- * Slightly cant your pistol over to the strong side eye.
- * Use the latest, laser-based scopes and sights that require less alignment.
- * Cantilevered stocks and scopes for the cross-dominant
4) Improve vision. Any deficiencies in general eyesight can be corrected with surgery, glasses, night vision, scopes and other optical sighting devices.
5) Training to trick the brain. It is real easy for the shooting instructor to declare this a long-term training issue, put the onus on you and turn to the next page of his lecture notes. Do you have the training time and money to take the experts' advice and kill all these ghosts?
Shooting with both eyes open is a no-brainer for close-up searching and combat. What is close or near to you, may be different for someone else's set of eyes. Everyone is different. Needing the sights for moderate and distant targets bring about challenges for the same-side dominant shooter and even more so for the cross-dominant shooter. Given the high numbers of cross-over shooters, there must be numerous, success stories of people wrestling with the cross-over eye problem.
As a cross-dominant shooter myself, I know that I search for suspects with both eyes open. Close up I shoot with both eyes open. But, my vision has me extremely handicapped. If I have to use my gun sights with both eyes open, I see significant ghost guns or two blurry ghost targets, so when I have to make my “Hail Mary” shot? I have always briefly closed one eye. I never failed a single pistol, rifle or shotgun qualification, or flunked a combat course over three decades, this includes an expert rating on the old 50-yard, PPC with a snub nose .38 back in 1975! (As an aside to this, I admit, I have shot at moving suspects and missed, but only at a distance and under very diverse circumstances.)
Recall the child looking through the cardboard tube with one eye. While It is natural to shoot with both eyes wide-open in close quarters, I believe it becomes just as natural to close one eye at certain distances. You are either a naturalist or not. You won't go against the forces of nature in close quarters, why go against the forces of nature in distant shooting? Therefore, is the old traditional advice for the citizen, weekend warrior, even police officer to:
a) shoot with both eyes open close up, then,
b) pick an eye, blink or seal the other, align and shoot for longer distances?
I think so. Then the battle for open-eyed, long range shooting can be fought with the full-timer, elite specialist with hours on the range to kill and unlimited ammo budgets. Either way, I believe this information must be a mandatory part of regular instruction. The vision matrix cannot be ignored. People see and focus differently. After reading all this, now I ask you again:
He is stalking you with a gun. He plans to kill you.
You peer over cover and spot him searching for you.
He doesn't see you yet. You have a clear head shot, maybe 50 feet.
You bring your pistol up to eye level and take careful aim.
Do you take this shot with both eyes open or one eye open?
How will you take the shot?
More Studies and Observations from the front:
From Airman Randy Roberson, US Air Force:
I am bound for Iraq and we had to qualify with pistols. There was no mention on finding the master eye. One instructor said, "keep both eyes open." Another said," close one eye." Neither explained why. We all seemed to just shoot as best we could.
From Operation Caption Roger White, and Police SWAT Commander:
I always shot with one eye closed for years. I shot first place in my police academy, and my first basic SWAT school (a revolver!). I even shot that way when I went through firearms instructor school. I had read about keeping both eyes open and the benefits and the body's natural tendency to do so, but I continued to shoot the way I had for years.
It wasn't until I went to a three day pistol school at the Texas Pistol Academy that I started experimenting and training to shoot with both eyes open. At first I couldn't do it. I had to squint my left eye for a while until I got used to being able to line up my sights. I think it is the optimum way for "combat" style shooting. For years we shot for the X-ring as a way of scoring and by closing one eye we are more accurate. Combat shooting, on the other hand, doesn't really need you to "drill" the X-ring. I don't mean to say that accuracy isn't important. The point I would like to make is that if you encounter a sudden threat that requires deadly force you need hits quickly.
You can keep both eyes open and acquire a "flash" sight picture and put rounds on target quickly and accurately. Much better than trying to close one eye, get a good and clear sight picture and then get your ass shot in the meantime. I certainly wouldn't shoot a PPC course with both eyes open from the fifty, but at closer ranges it is the way to go--in my opinion.
From officer, author and instructor Ralph Mroz:
“Hock, all this makes me think of that great scene from the movie Tombstone with Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday.
Cowboy: "You old drunk, hell, you're probably seeing double."
Holiday: "I got two guns, one for each of you."
Different people's eyes seem to work very differently. I believe that not everyone sees 2 guns with both eyes open. We might as well practice a lot with both eyes open, and get as good as possible that way--despite any shortcoming that the technique might have--since we will almost certainly keep both eyes open in a stressful, real encounter anyway."
From Lt. Dan Trembula, US Navy and CQC Instructor:
As Hock recalled his old Army Drill Instructor yell,"It's all about the straight line, from the eye to the gun, to the target. Pick an eye and get a straight line." True! The case of the one eyed sniper mentioned in the article, it is obvious regarding which hand to shoot from, but I would venture to guess that with most folks who have the cross dominance problem that some experimentation is in order. Ultimately one should learn to shoot (at least at close distances) with either hand using long guns.
The popularity of the holographic sights (best in my opinion is the Eotech Holosight - batteries last for hundreds of hours and you can still use back-up iron sights through it if the sight isn't working) has shifted the “mono-bino” long gun debate a little more in favor of the binocular shooting. Most of these holographic sights have little to no magnification. I think Lt. Col. Cooper was right on with his argument for a low powered scope (4 power or less) mounted well forward on the gun - keeps both eyes open and in the fight but still lets you see the target more clearly. Clint Smith decries putting all sorts of doohickeys on combat rifles/carbines. A lot more can be done with iron sights than most folks realize as any graduate of Parris Island or San Diego can prove.”
Former Military SWAT Commander Steve Krystek owner of www.PFCtraining.com
"I feel and teach that both eyes should be kept open as proximity to a threat/target decreases. As distance increases and more precision is required (or in the case of close range “head shots”), I find myself closing the non-gun-side eye to further ensure solid and clear front sight focus. Notice I said “non-gun-side eye.” I've gotten away from labeling eyes as either dominant or non-dominant. Yes, we all have a dominant eye, no question. But does that mean we are totally incapable of acquiring our sights and visually verifying sight alignment with the “non-dominant” eye? No. We at PFC are known for doing so much of our training bilaterally. In other words, virtually everything we do with a firearm on the strong-side is also done on the support-side. This is a sound and relatively advanced practice.
The positive tactical benefits of being totally ambidextrous with your weapon system are numerous. That said, we cannot get caught up in the complexities of trying to force the right side eye to acquire a sight picture when the weapon is transferred to our left side for example (easier with pistols than shoulder weapons, though). Bottom line…keep it simple, keep it clean. Gun on the right side use the right eye to focus. Gun on the left side use the left eye to focus. Keep both eyes open as a standard operating procedure, and close the non-gun-side eye as necessary when more precision is required.”
(Getting an idea on the optical market place)
Heads Up, Full View-The Holographic Weapon Sight (HWS) employs a true Heads-Up Display that eliminates blind spots, constricted vision, or the tunnel vision associated with tubed sights. All user controls are flush to the Holographic Weapon Sight's streamline housing with no protruding knobs, battery compartments or mounting rings blocking vision at the target area. True, 2 eyes open shooting is realized with EOTech HWS. Instant threat identification is achieved by maximizing the operator's peripheral vision and ultimately gaining greater control of the engagement zone.
From Chuck Burnett, Front Sight, NV. Instructor and CQC instructor:
“Definitely, there are some big combative advantages to both eyes open, but to guarantee a precise shot I believe that squinting or closing the support side eye for an instant is necessary for most shooters. Most of the binocular factors relating to distance estimation, target identification, peripheral view of other threats or innocents, etc. have been accomplished or at least take a back seat in that instant that we close one eye to fire the shot.
I have found that the degree of eye dominance varies from person to person. Some are very nearly balanced or can shift focus at will. Some folks are nearly unable to close that dominant eye and use the other. A person with very strong eye dominance is less likely to get ghost images with both eyes open: IF their dominant eye is behind the sight.
At Front Sight, we run a quick eye dominance test and suggest that cross dominant shooters first trying to close (or squint) the non-shooting side eye. If that fails, hand gunners can move the gun slightly and turn the head slightly to align the sights with the dominant support side eye. Long gunners who are strongly cross dominant may have to shift the gun to the other shoulder.”
From Steve Lowery, NRA Pistol and Shotgun Instructor:
I've been shooting since I was14 and was actively involved in IPSC shooting for several years. I've attended numerous shooting courses and seminars, and been an NRA certified instructor in pistol, rifle, and shotgun for over 20 years. Therefore, I feel I do have some background in the methods used to train shooters in proper marksmanship over the last couple of decades. As you would expect, back then I was heavily indoctrinated in the two-hand stance and the importance of keeping both eyes open for good target acquisition. I was a good disciple and faithfully followed those teachings for many years.
However, when I passed my 50th birthday a "couple" of years ago I began to find that the shooting methods I had used and cherished for so long no longer seemed to work. With my aging eyes, I found that when I tried to keep both eyes open, the sights on my pistols began to "blur out" and I could see neither the sights OR the target! After many tries, I discovered that, in order to achieve any level of combat accuracy, I had to "squint" one eye shut and also frequently use a one-hand hold now. I have spoken with some of my old "shooting buddies" and they have confessed, somewhat shamefacedly, that they have also modified their shooting tactics in order to be able to continue to "hit what they were aimin' at." Now, I know that everyone is different and that your experiences as you get older may very well differ from mine.
Any comments? Suggestions? Solutions? Testimonies?
Please add them to our open talk forum thread on this very subject. Look for it in the Gun Forum-