Shooting with Both Eyes Open

Learning to shoot two-eyed could save your life in a home defense situation.

man aiming shotgun with both eyes open
“All the timing circuits in your brain are designed for two-eyed input,” Ash said, “If you shoot with one eye closed, you lose depth perception, you lose 20% of your field of vision, and 60-70% of your total vision.”Phil Bourjaily

Wouldn’t targets be easier to hit with a shotgun if they were 35% bigger and 35% slower? They can be. All you have to do is shoot them with both eyes open, according to Gil Ash of the OSP shooting school. Ash, who has spent more time studying vision than almost anyone in any sport, expounded on the benefit of two-eyed shooting to a group of SCTP coaches at a clinic I attended last March in Iowa. “All the timing circuits in your brain are designed for two-eyed input,” he said, “If you shoot with one eye closed, you lose depth perception, you lose 20% of your field of vision, and 60-70% of your total vision.” Ash went on to say that using both eyes allows you to read angles and distances, and determine leads, which is especially important in hunting and sporting clays where the shots are never the same. In trap, two-eyed shooting lets you “see through” the gun to see targets rising behind it, allowing you to hold the gun higher over the trap house as many shooters prefer to do, instead of holding on the roof as one-eyed shooter must. While Ash’s clinic was oriented to wing and clay shooting, it’s also true that learning to shoot two-eyed could save your life in a home defense situation. Limiting peripheral vision by shutting an eye reduces your situational awareness. In a dark room, you need every bit of light-gathering power and visual acuity two eyes offer. Hitting any moving target quickly is much easier with two eyes than it is with one.

Why We Shoot With One Eye

Despite the advantages of two-eyed shooting, most of us learn to shoot one-eyed. It’s easier, at least at first, because shutting one eye eliminates visual confusion. Look at a target with two eyes open, and you see two gun barrels. Look at the bead and you see two targets. Shut one eye and you see one bead and one target. The picture makes sense. So we shoot with one eye. Some shoot one-eyed forever, never realizing how much they’re limiting themselves.

Like any other self-taught shotgunner, I started with one eye screwed shut. As I read and learned more, I taught myself to shoot with both eyes open. At first, I’d keep both eyes open until the last instant, then shut my non-dominant eye right before the shot. Eventually I made the transition to keeping both eyes open throughout the shot. Honestly, when I try shooting with one eye now, I find it difficult. The targets look like aspirin tablets.

two men training to shoot shotgun
Gil Ash (left) instructs a man on how to shoot with both eyes open.Phil Bourjaily

How to Learn to Shoot with Both Eyes

The more you shoot with both eyes open, the easier it becomes. It’s not that I don’t still see two barrels when I look at a target, I just don’t notice one of them. Ash says this is an example of “neural suppression” in which the brain learns to ignore confusing pictures.

As an SCTP coach, I encounter one-eyed shooters all the time. Introducing them to shooting with both eyes open starts with a stationary target. My club has a steel pattern plate with an aiming circle cut in the center, but a clay target on the ground or almost anything works.

Quick Practice Drill

First, I have the student start with an unloaded gun. They aim it at the target, one-eyed, then, without moving the gun, I have them open both eyes. We repeat the process several times, getting them accustomed to the picture. Then I’ll have them load a shell, aim one-eyed, open both eyes and pull the trigger.

After a few repetitions, I have them point the gun two-eyed and shoot the target, and so far every student has centered the shot on the first try. Then we move to a simple straightaway clay from the trap, then on to quartering birds. Often, you can take all these steps in a single lesson and be on your way to shooting with both eyes open.

The Three Bullet and Flashlight Drills

Ash recommends the OSP “three bullet drill” as a method of training your eyes and brain at home with an unloaded gun. You set three spent shotgun shells, rifle cartridges, drinking glasses, lipstick tubes, or whatever about ten inches apart on a shelf or counter. Stand back 10 or more feet and practice focusing your eyes on the center "bullet," while mounting your gun on the left and right targets. Never take your eyes off the center target. Your brain learns to accept the gun(s) in the picture.

Do this once a day for five minutes.

Another of Ash’s favorite drills, the flashlight drill, can help, too.

One of those AA MiniMaglite slides into the muzzle of a 12 gauge just right (a AAA MiniMaglite goes into a 20 gauge). With the beam tightened, the light will shine where the gun points. Mount the unloaded gun on an object across the room, keeping your eye on the target. There’s no need to look at the sight, because the beam shows you where the gun would shoot. Again, repeating this drill daily helps your brain suppress the confusing second barrel.

Ash says the best moving target to shoot when you’re learning to use both eyes is some kind of long, slow crosser like a chandelle on the sporting clays course where they eyes have to look at the bird while the barrel moves in front. The more you focus on the target, he says, the less the two barrels you see bother you.

Although shooting with both eyes open seems awkward at first, it gets easier over time, and, in my experience, it’s well worth the effort. You wouldn’t run a race hopping on one foot, so why should you shoot a gun with only one eye?