Handguns — one eye or two?

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Shoot like a girl!
  • The classic writers
  • The proper handgun sight picture
  • Spoiled sight picture
  • Experiment
  • It is a hand gun — singular
  • Shooting glasses to the rescue
  • It takes training
  • Is this for everybody?

This report was inspired by reader GunFun1, who said, “Does BB use one eye or two? Wow! Sounds like a blog topic to me.”

Shoot like a girl!

BB uses two eyes. He was taught to do so by an NRA firearm instructor, back in the 1950s. This was the first firearms instruction I ever received, and I was so enthusiastic that I would have barked like a chicken if the coaches said to. I knew nothing and was a sponge for information and training. In short, I learned to shoot like a girl!

I don’t say that to denigrate girls. I say it because most of the time when a girl learns to shoot, she comes in without any prior knowledge, expectations or personality problems (translate that as macho). She knows that she knows nothing, so if she is blessed with a good instructor, as I was, she absorbs the training and applies it immediately. That’s why girls usually outshoot boys — at least in the beginning. Some boys learn quickly to turn off their own machismo, and they are the ones that can go far. Of course talent helps both sexes without discrimination.

Before I leave the subject of shooting like a girl, be aware that there is a national organization that adopted that name in 2008. They are one of the hottest new shooting organizations to come along in the last 50 years, and that’s no euphemism. Their focus is on getting women into the shooting sports, and their colors include a lot of pinks, but it is their core philosophy that I find most intriguing. They shoot for health! They shoot for self esteem! And you don’t want to take them on unless you are either real good or you’re prepared to get spanked. I showed you a photo of me shooting a 28 gauge shotgun at the SHOT Show on Media Day. What I didn’t mention was there were two young women (early 20s) standing next to me who never missed a clay pigeon all the time I was in the booth! Both wore Shoot Like a Girl sweatshirts.

Finally, lest we forget, I “taught” the new co-host, Crystal Ackley, to shoot on the first season of American Airgunner. Yeah — I taught her! Big laugh. She outshot me with the Umarex Makarov BB pistol on her first try. Two episodes later she outshot a national champion silhouette shooter with his own air rifle. She is a natural shooter who had just never shot much until coming to the show. Shoot like a girl — I know I want to!

The classic writers

I also read the classic gun writers a lot. I’m talking about men like Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Julian Hatcher and Lucian Cary. These men were shooters all their lives and they knew through experience what it took to win. And they agreed with my NRA coach that the shooter has to keep both eyes open when sighting with non-optical sights. The problem was, they could never explain precisely why. Today I am going to show you why.

The experts said things like keeping both eyes open lets more light enter the optical nerve, but they never explained why that was a good thing. Like most people, I have binocular vision, and when I try to focus on one plane, such as when sighting, my other eye tells me things I really don’t want to know. In short it confuses me. But if I close it I can concentrate on the only thing that’s important — the sight picture!

The proper handgun sight picture

The correct sight picture for a handgunner is to keep the front sight element in sharp focus. There are three things in a handgun sight plane — the rear sight, the front sight and the target. The rear sight should be blurry and the target should also be blurry. Only the front sight should be in sharp focus. This frightens some shooters who think if they aren’t focusing on the target they are going to miss, but in reality, that is backwards. The location of the front sight, in relation to the rear sight, is what determines where the bullet or pellet goes. The target is important, but not nearly as much as the front sight.

You only get such a picture (front and rear sight aligned with the target) through one eye. If you use both eyes, the rear sight and the target become more blurred and very difficult to see at the same time. So one sighting eye is all you need. Why keep the other eye open, then? When not just close it with a wink?

Spoiled sight picture

You don’t close the other eye because it will spoil the sight picture.

Huh?
 

Experiment

I will demonstrate what I mean. Get a small piece of paper — stiff card stock works the best for this. Poke a hole in the card stock with a pen or a small knife blade. Make the hole about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch (3.175mm to 6.35mm), but don’t obsess over the size. It dosn’t even need to be round. Approximate is close enough.

Now locate something to focus on about 15-20 feet away. Then hold the card up to your sighting eye and look through it at the object, keeping both eyes open. Then cover your non-sighting eye with your other hand but keep that
eye open and keep looking through the peep hole. See how the “target” appears to sharpen?

Now, take your hand away from your other eye and close the non-sighting eye by winking. Watch what happens to the hole you are peeking through. It closes up. It gets smaller. It gets darker. Your “sight picture” is being degraded. This is what happens every time you close your non-sighting eye by winking or squinting when you sight through non-optical sights. It happens with peep sights and it happens with open sights. It happens with scopes, too, but they are not part of today’s discussion.

It is a hand gun — singular

When I shoot handguns competitively I hold them with one hand. Nearly everyone uses two hands to shoot a handgun, these days. When you use two hands, you have to hold the gun (and the sights) closer to your eyes. That costs some level of precision in the sight picture.

Two hands are good for gun control in defensive situations. The gun can move from one target to another faster and still be controlled, if it is held by two hands. You can also recover from recoil faster with two hands. But the sight picture can never be as precise. If you want to hit man-sized silhouettes close up, use two hands. If you want to hit the X-ring of a bullseye target, use one hand.

Shooting glasses to the rescue

This is where a good pair of shooting glasses comes into play. And when I say shooting glasses I don’t mean safety glasses — I mean glasses with one prescription lens for your sighting eye. An adjustable iris behind that lens allows the shooter to control the amount of light that passes through. Lower light opens your iris and gives you a greater depth of field for the sighting eye. The target and rear sight will come into sharper focus. But it is the white blinder on the other side of the glasses that I want you to notice today.

The blinder is a piece of translucent plastic that swings down to cover the non-sighting eye. It stops those confusing messages to the brain. And, when you need to see again, like for loading or walking to the target, the blinder swings up and out of the way.

shooting glasses
My shooting glasses are ground to focus my sighting eye on the front sight. By making the peephole smaller I can get the target and rear sight into sharper focus, too.

Tom with shooting glasses
This is what it looks like with the shooting glasses on. I’m looking through a small hole in that black circle on the left.

It takes training

I mentioned when I answered GunFun1 that I sometimes close my non-sighting eye by winking to get the proper sight picture. But I always open the eye before taking the shot. I do that with open sights, with peep sights and with scopes. Even after a half-century of practice, this technique still takes practice. But so does riding a bicycle.

Is this for everybody?

Are there people with eyesight so bad they can’t do this? Sure there are. When I first contracted diabetes I was severely dehydrated for about 6 months and had to wear reading glasses to focus on the front sight. But I did it. And the target was many times blurrier through those glasses than it is today. But I still hit it.

The most important thing is to try the technique and give it all you have before declaring you can’t do it. Some of you will still not be able to shoot this way, but the actual number is a fraction of those who claim poor eyesight prevents them from using open sights. I’m 68 years old, with floaters and mild cataracts on top of astigmatism but I can still do it.

Try my experiment. I think you will discover the fundamental truth about keeping both eyes open.

67 thoughts on “Handguns — one eye or two?

  1. BB
    First thanks a bunch for writing about this subject.

    And next I have astigmatism too but no cataracs yet but floaters. And I have shot both eyes open with a scope for years. And it does brighten your sight picture with a scope to I might add. But what got me thinking about all this when I asked you how does BB shoot. One eye or two? I remembered or should I say I thought I remembered shooting open sights on my .22 rimfire rifle and air guns with both eyes open as a kid growing up before I ever thought about using a scope.

    Now shooting open sights on a rifle I do have trouble focusing on everything. And you did kind of mention how you do it on the previous blog when I asked you about this subject. One eye closed then open both eyes. I tryed it over the weekend. I can get on target quick that way now.

    I wonder if when I was younger that having better eyesight and maybe a quicker eye blink reaction time back then helped me shoot that way more naturally.

    And speaking of girls. Both of my teenage daughters shoot. And I’ll add that both of them shoot very well. But as you say. Shoot like a girl. The youngest needed some coaching. But the oldest she can shoot no matter what she picks up or what kind of sights it has. She can tell me what’s happening with the gun and her hold and such before I can get a word out of my mouth. And actually were about to do some shot gun training this weekend. Some silhouette and clay shooting. Can’t wait for that.

    And last thing. How old are them shooting glasses? I can remember some my dad had that looked very similar. But I imagine they have made minimal changes to them through the years. Or I may be totally wrong. It’s been a long time since I seen his. And I do think my brother has them. He’s a pistol shooter. I will have to find out.

    But great article. Thanks.



    • Reb
      Practice and force yourself to do it.

      Take that 1077 while its unloaded and just point at things around in the yard. Try with one eye open. Then come back right afterwards and look around the yard at the same targets you picked out with both eyes open.

      First thing you’ll notice with both eyes open you will see the whole area in front of you and it will be much easier and faster to locate the target. Then just concentrate on the target after you find it.

      A red dot sight to me is the quickest way to learn two eye shooting. For one thing they are mostly 1x magnification which helps both eyes work together more naturally. That’s another reason why I’m a low magnification scope shooter. 6x magnification works out for my eyes still working good together plus I can still see the target good enough at that magnification.

      Try it and practice is the best I can say.


  2. I switched to using both eyes open with scopes soon after seeing BB`s video on using the artillery hold and both
    helped with practice to improve my shooting. However when using my diopter target CO2 air rifle I am still closing
    the left eye. So I was interested to read how it degrades the sight picture so must try an eye patch.


  3. Since I started using Both eyes I’ve noticed two pictures: one of the target itself and another of the target with the sighting element superimposed.
    Very confusing trying to filter out misinformation!
    I’m still trying because I can tell it should work well.


    • Reb
      When you locate your target. If you are a right hand shooter blink your left eye. Your sight eye or your shooting eye (right eye) will immediately pick up on the red dot. Concentrate on the red dot then put it on the target with both eyes open after the blink.



  4. Good article and I will give it a very earnest try. Those shooting glasses are the most bazar thing I have ever laid eyes on. Thank you for showing them. That will make a lot of shooters re-think all there is to getting an optimal sight picture. It did me.

    As for shooting like a girl,.. I relayed a story awhile back…..Macho man and wife go to experienced shooters house to shoot semi-auto pistols. After watching, the experienced man suggest a different 2 hand hold. Wife immediately picks it up, husband does not. Wife “spanks” hubby over and over. Hubby gets mad, real mad, and they leave.

    It could not have happened to a nicer (worse) guy. A real horse’s south end in every way. Still grin to this day when I think about it.

    Good day all, Chris


  5. BB,

    Good article. Nice experiment to show that you really use that eye.

    We have no training in shooting here, but two eyes shooting is quite normal for me as we were taught to see through the microscope with one eye and use the other eye to focus on the drawing paper. With some experience you can superimpose the microscope view onto the drawing paper, making drawing of cellular details something more like following the lines than real drawing. It’s a technique which is also handy when shooting.

    Regards,

    August


    • August
      You explained that every good.

      That’s exactly how I scope shoot. It works.

      It kind of reminds me of how the fighter helicopter pilots have the helments that super impose a reticle or such in there shooting eye. All the while they can still see everything going on around them. Actually pretty cool stuff.


  6. Interesting, I will have to try the hole in the cardboard thing.

    I have always shot with both eyes open and I focus my eyes and my attention on a tiny spot on the target – not the sights. Think that comes from my archery background, I shoot my bows instinctively (no sights).


  7. B.B.,

    I always keep both eyes open when using dot sights but dot sights are not allowed in competition shooting are they? Although I doubt I will ever shoot pistol competitively that is still the standard to which I would aspire simply for personal satisfaction. Also, I would then clean up in any backyard friendly competition.

    Just so I’m clear on using shooting glasses, you keep your left eye open behind the blinder correct? That is the purpose of those glasses correct? I’m still curious as to why that works since your left eye can not actually see anything in that case.

    Also, it seems to me that if you got a set of Eye Pal Peep Sights for your prescription or safety glasses you could easily fashion a blinder out of cardboard or plastic to slip over the left lens of those glasses. Right?

    Thanks for this very interesting subject. You could, as far as I’m concerned, do more articles on ways to improve ones shooting skills.

    G&G


  8. B.B.,

    I learned to keep both eyes open before I ever held an air gun, when I was five or six years old. There was an open house stargazing event at the local observatory, and my dad and I went. Two or three telescopes were set up, one of which was straight, the other two with jointed, angled eyepieces. (Pardon me as I do not know the terminology.)

    The first thing the astronomer said to me was something like, “Keep both eyes open as you look through the eyepiece. In a second or two your brain will shut off the other eye until you think to look through it.” Sure enough, I looked through the eyepiece and almost immediately the only thing I saw was a crater on the moon. Later, when the crowd started to thin, I looked through each telescope a second time, and this time I tested his “until you think to look through” the eye not behind the eyepiece. Sure enough, just by deciding to look through the other eye, it “turned on” in my brain.

    I remember asking you on this board a few years ago if it was OK to keep both eyes open (because I always had done that), as you had a photo of you with your shooting glasses with the off eye shade. Your answer was definitely to keep both eyes open with the exception of certain shooting contexts.

    Michael


  9. ” Iā€™m 68 years old, with floaters and mild cataracts on top of astigmatism but I can still do it.

    B.B., you give me hope because the only thing I have to change in that sentence is 68 to 65.

    This will be a watershed blog for me. I may not shoot any better but I will shoot differently and find out.

    ~ken




  10. One must about shooting with both eyes open. You must have your dominant eye looking down the barrel. If you don’t it can’t work.

    Shooting like a girl. For sure. I have trained many women to shoot. They learn fast because they listen and do as instructed.

    Mike


  11. If you are cross dominant, say right handed and have a dominant left eye, you can still shoot with both eyes open if you change your eye dominance. Yes, it can be changed. While shooting, you keep the dominant eye covered.
    You keep them both open but the dominant eye covered. After a time, the dominance will change to the uncovered eye. This works, look it up if you don’t believe it.

    Mike



      • Reb,

        All things considered, you are a testament to perseverance. We should all be as lucky to have the same, given the same circumstances. That shows a lot of inner strength in my book.


    • Big Iron,

      I shoot left, right handed, left eye dominant, Both eyes open on scopes and peeps. Works well, for me anyways.

      One thing I have not heard repeated is how to tell which eye is dominate. Finger out at arms length, pointed up. Hold finger on a “target”. Cover one eye and then the other. Which ever eye keeps the finger in the same place, that is the dominate eye. Hope I got that right,……. šŸ˜‰


      • Chris, yes, that will work. When I check somebody new to shooting, I just have them look through a paper tube at a object. They will always use their dominant eye to sight through the tube.

        Mike


        • Mike,

          That works too, though never tried. I would go left first try, so that verifies what you are saying.

          And while I can not explain it, the neck bend and head tilt is much more natural when comparing one way to the other, less strained,…..and that is without anything in hand. You could chalk that up to muscle memory, but perhaps there is something else to it.



  12. Well, this is bravely done to tackle big questions with some very thought-provoking answers. I first heard about keeping the off-eye open in high school and have wondered about the reasons. Let me see if I have the cardboard with a hole experiment right. Shooting with your off-eye open but covered is better than either closing that eye or leaving it uncovered. Correct? While that gives useful detail into the phenomenon, I’m not seeing the reason why unless I missed something. My own private theory was that the off-eye, while not focused on the front sight was somehow providing another vantage point to sharpen it with the basic principle of binocular vision. But that can’t be the case if the off-eye is covered. I thought that the blog said that the reason for covering the off-eye is eliminate visual confusion. If so, why is that better than closing the eye completely. In short I still don’t understand the paradox that covering the off-eye is better than closing it.

    As for the handgun singular, that is intriguing that the greater length of the single hand method makes for a better sight picture. The difference in length would be exactly the distance from one shoulder to your eye. That doesn’t seem like a great deal to me. Besides, I would think that the sharpness of the sight picture is highly individual and depends more on one’s vision than the absolute distance. Between the relatively small distance involved and the dependency on individual vision, I do wonder if length isn’t outweighed by the steadiness you get with two hands. I shoot at the tiniest of targets at 5 yards and there is no question that the two hands are steadier for me. Maybe the improvement you get with the single hand is only apparent at a higher level than mine.

    Gunfun1, right you are about the joys of holdover. Elmer Keith apparently designed long distance pistol sights with a graduated front sight to find the range.

    Here’s another pistol question. I’m now trying figure out what kind of trigger modifications I want for my CZ 75. I’ll probably go with the tune-up. The other question is whether to get a flatter 1911 style trigger blade. Actually, I’ve come to enjoy the more curled factory trigger which fits my finger snugly. On the other hand, I have to use more of the fingerpad than I would like, and the finger can get a little sore after 100 rounds. So, should I get the replacement blade for $40?! I guess this boils down to the question of whether a curved trigger gives any advantage at all, and so far I can’t find any.

    Matt61


    • Matt61,

      You brought up some very good points in your first paragraph. I asked myself the same. My assessment of the article at this point is that it must work. Why else would anyone go to the extremes of those glasses?

      While I do not understand eyes and optics fully, I would think that anyone interested in the finest sight picture, would give this article some serious attention and in fact carry through with all things suggested, fully understood or not.

      Will I? Most likely not. What I will do is re-read it, understand it fully and try a few things. Scopes and peeps work good now. Pistol is lasered. All things work. Open sights are another story,.. and that is where this article is of most interest.

      Chris


    • Matt61
      Yep done that when I was young all the time with open sight rifle shooting.

      I never actually marked the front sight or tryed with a pistol. But I could definitely and easily adjust my holdover for distances by using the front sight post up above the rear sight with a rifle. It’s actually kind of amazing how precise you can become if you practice with a particular gun.


    • One of my worst habits is curling my fingertips around the trigger and my 2400 KT came with a trigger shoe that’s almost too wide to do so with to alert me to the fact.
      Now I’m glad the 1077 has a wide blade. šŸ™‚



  13. B.B.

    Thanks a bunch for this blog. I think it has given me some new insight on the best compromise for my glasses. I am right handed with a left dominant eye. I always shoot with both eyes open, thats the way i was taught. With a shotgun i get mixed up all the time on a quick shot. If i close the left eye for a moment to make sure my right eye is on taget i can then open both up and be ok. With a pistol and two had hold i use my left eye, no problem then. I am going to experiment with my progressive lense glasses and get a good focus on the front sight. I was kind of going that way by trial and error already.

    This discussion gives me very high hopes that i can make these old eyes work on open sights.

    Thanks
    Don



    • I answered my own question. I should have searched first, LOL. BB did a blog on the EyePal:

      /blog/2013/04/the-eyepal-peep-sight-master-kit-part-1/

      I would like to hear users experience with these, particularly how long they lasted.

      Thanks,

      Jim



  14. >I sometimes close my non-sighting eye by winking to get the proper sight picture. But I always open
    >the eye before taking the shot.

    Yeah–I do that nowadays too, B.B.. I didn’t do it until my eyes got old and I noticed that it helped–especially when my eyes are tired or I’ve been spending too much time in front of a computer screen. I’ve always shot with both eyes open though.



      • B,B, I worked in front of a computer screen for over 20 years at Intel. I found these glasses to help. I discovered them and used them extensively toward the end of my tenure working there and wish that I’d started using them when I was younger. I find that, while they increase the physical effort required to do computer work (especially CAD work where the eye is bouncing around the screen all the time), and they increase the light/screen brightness required, there is no doubt in my mind that they keep my eyes “fresh” during extended computer sessions. If I’m lazy, I tend to reach for my prescription glasses, but my eyes fare much better if I reach for my “bug glasses.” When I use them, I can get up from the computer screen and see better than I would had I used reading glasses or my prescription glasses, Therefore, they improve my shooting–especially when I mix shooting with computer work the same day. It might take some time to adjust to them and realize any benefits so use them for at least a month or so, if you decide to give them a try.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinhole_glasses

        http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Apinhole%20glasses


      • B.B., I just remembered a funny story related to using bug glasses vs. regular glasses. Every time I visit a new optometrist for a new prescription, I mention that “the more I use prescription glasses, the more I seem to need them.” The last optometrist I visited actually replied and admitted to me, “Yeah–there might be something to that!” I haven’t ever bothered to discuss my use of bug glasses with them though.




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