Shooting with one vs two eyes open

A common question for new archers is whether you must close one eye while shooting a bow. If you look at competitive archers, you will see that most have two eyes open. Still, a lot of beginner’s courses recommend closing one eye. In this article, I will answer this question: ''should you keep both eyes open or close one?'' In case you are in a hurry, here is a quick answer:

For beginners, it’s recommended to close one eye because this prevents eye dominance issues. Once you have learned the technique, you might want to test if you can shoot with two eyes open. Shooting with two eyes open feels more natural and allows you to see better.

In the remainder of this article, I will first explain why you should shoot with two eyes open if you can. Next, I will discuss why eye dominance is important for archers and how you can test your eye dominance. I will also give additional tips and guidance, which helps you determine whether you should shoot with two eyes open.

The benefits of shooting with two eyes open

We do have two eyes for a reason. So let me discuss some benefits of shooting with two eyes open to clarify why shooting with two eyes open improves your accuracy.

1. Less eyestrain

Shooting with one eye closed strains your eyes more. In the first place, the open eye must do all the work. If both of your eyes are open, both will capture light sends images to your brain. When only one eye is open, this eye must work harder to properly display the image to your brain.

Closing only one eye is also less natural. Normally, we have either both eyes open or both eyes closed. Therefore, this can lead to eyestrain in the long run. If you don’t trust me, try closing one eye for an hour, you will notice that both eyes will get much more tired than normal.

2. Clearer sight picture

If you have glasses (or contact lenses) you probably are already familiar with this fact. If you close one eye you will see less sharp than when both eyes are open. Even if one eye is significantly worse, the eyes will work together to create the best picture possible.

I already discussed in multiple articles, that having a clear sight picture is extremely important. You can only shoot at things you see, of course. But even when the sight picture is slightly blurry it will make it more difficult to aim in the center of the target.

Therefore, I always recommend archers to buy a decent sight, as I explain in this article. But another way to improve your sight picture is by shooting with two eyes open. Especially if you are getting very accurate, this can make a big difference. This is why most competitive archers shoot with two eyes open.

3. You can better estimate distances

Our eyes are better at estimating distances if we keep two eyes open. Our eyes use the image from both eyes and use the differences to estimate differences. This concept is fascinating and is called depth perception.

A good way to demonstrate how this works is by catching a ball with both one eye closed and with two eyes open. With both eyes open it’s easy for your brain to estimate where to catch the ball. But with one eye closed this is significantly more difficult.

If you are only shooting on set distances, you don’t need depth perception. But if you must estimate distances for hunting or 3D archery, shooting with two eyes open can give you a great competitive advantage.

4. Wider field of view

Although our eyes are close together, they both see slightly different pictures. Our left eye sees more on the left and the right eye more on the right. Therefore, if we open both of our eyes, we have a larger field of view.

For most target archers, an increased field of view isn’t that important. But for hunters and 3D archers, this is beneficial, because it’s easier to spot the target and its surroundings.

You could also argue that for target archers, a larger field of view could also be a disadvantage. A target archer should only focus on the target to aim properly. The larger field of view could only cause distractions. Especially for kids, this could be something to consider.

Eye dominance

So, there are a lot of advantages of shooting with two eyes open. It shoots more relaxed and improves your sight picture. But there is a good reason, why I don’t recommend new archers to shoot with both eyes open. That is because of a complicated concept called eye dominance, which I will discuss in more detail.

What is eye dominance?

Eye dominance tells you from what perspective you see the image. If your right eye is dominant, you see the world from the perspective of your right eye. The left eye will add more details and depth perception to this image.

Our brain can only show one image. Therefore, if both eyes are open, you will see the perspective of only one of the two eyes. The non-dominant eye will add additional details to this image and widens the field of view, but we see everything from the perspective of the dominant eye.

Just close one eye and quickly switch to your other eye. You will see that the perspective changes a little. The perspective of your left eye is slightly to the left and the perspective of your right eye is slightly to your right. Makes sense, right?

This is further illustrated by the images below.

Why eye dominance matters for archery

You now know what eye dominance is, but why does it matter for archery? Well, if we shoot with a sight, we need our eye dominance to match the handedness of our bow. If we shoot a right-handed bow, we should see the perspective from our right eye.

Otherwise, we will not look through the sight next to it. The same is true if you shoot along the arrow. Since you see the perspective from the wrong eye, you can’t look straight along the arrow. Therefore, you will start to shoot dramatically to the right or the left.

Aiming with a sight

Aiming along the arrow

Luckily for a lot of archers their handedness and eye dominance match, but sadly this isn’t the case for others. When this doesn’t match, you either must close one eye, or use one of the tricks discussed later in the article. Otherwise, you won’t be able to aim your bow!

Eye dominance specifics

Although most archers have a clear dominant eye, for some archers this is more complicated. Therefore, I will discuss the different forms of eye dominance in more detail.

  • One eye is dominant: only one eye is dominant, which means that you always see the perspective from one eye. This is the case for most archers.
  • Cross dominance: this means that your eye dominance changes. It can change based on conditions, for example, lighting or tiredness. But this can also happen randomly.
  • No dominance: this means that neither of your eyes is dominant. This means that you see a combination of the perspectives of both eyes. This is extremely rare though.

The strength of eye dominance also differs per person. Some archers have one very dominant eye, while others can change dominance by squinting one eye. I will discuss these techniques in more detail, later in this article.

One or two eyes open, what should I choose?

Alright, you now know both the pros and cons of shooting with two eyes open. So, what should you do? Shoot with one or two eyes open? Let me give you some clear advice.

If you aim with a sight

When you are just getting started with archery and you shoot with a sight. It’s better to close one eye. For most people, this is most intuitive and allows you to focus on your technique instead of what your eyes are doing.

Once you have perfected your technique, you might choose to experiment with different gear to improve your accuracy. If you have reached this point, you might want to figure out which eye is dominant and whether you can shoot with two eyes open.

Shooting with two eyes open has certainly its benefits, so you might want to give it a shot!

If you aim along the arrow

The same is true if you aim along the arrow. You should not worry about eye dominance when you are just getting started. Just close one eye for now. When you are getting comfortable with the bow, you might want to give it a try.

It’s not like you must relearn how to shoot. The image you see should be the same. You only see more details and have a wider field of view.

If you shoot instinctively

When you don’t aim with the point of the arrow or with the sight, you probably shoot instinctively. This means that you don’t use a fixed reference point but learn to aim by repetition and memory. If you shoot instinctively you want to keep two eyes open at all times.

There is simply no reason to close one eye because you don’t use a fixed reference point. It wouldn’t harm if you close one eye, but it gives no benefits while shooting instinctively.

How to test eye dominance

If you want to shoot with two eyes open while using a fixed reference point, you should check your eye dominance. You might want to repeat the tests a few times to make sure that you don’t have cross dominance.

Eye dominance test

This is the method most archery instructors use while testing eye dominance. At some beginner courses, it’s even the first thing they let you do. But as I mentioned, I believe it’s better to first learn the basic technique. If you want to test your eye dominance, simply follow these 4 steps:

  1. Put your hands in front of you and form a small triangle out of your hands.

  1. Look through the triangle at a recognizable spot on the wall such as a painting or a clock
  2. Now close your left eye while staying in this position and check whether you can see the spot
  3. Open your left eye and close your right eye and check whether you can see the spot

If you have the dominant eye open, you will still see the spot. If you have your non-dominant eye open the spot will disappear behind your hand.

Testing it with your bow

If you already know how to shoot, there is an even simpler way to test eye dominance. Just draw your bow and aim at the center of the target with one eye closed. Now open the other eye and see what happens to the sight.

If the sight stays in the same position your eye dominance matches your handedness. If the sight springs to the right or left, your eye dominance doesn’t match your handedness. If the last thing happens, you can’t shoot with two eyes open.

Sometimes, the sight may stay in the same position because you have conditioned your eyes for the right eye to be dominant. But if you blink or close your eyes for a second, the sight might shoot to the right or left. In that case, your eye dominance doesn’t match your handedness, but the dominance is rather weak.

Solving eye dominance issues without closing an eye

You might be disappointed when you discovered that you can’t shoot with two eyes open, because your eye dominance and handedness don’t match. Luckily, there are a few ways, you can still shoot with two eyes open. With these tricks, you try to force the right eye to be dominant.

Squint your non-aiming eye

If you squint or partially close your dominant eye, that eye will see a slightly blurry image. Therefore, the dominance can switch to your other eye. This kind of defeats the purpose of shooting with two eyes open. It still strains your eye a bit more, and the sight picture will improve only slightly. It is the easiest option to try though.

Use an eye patch

Another way to force your other eye to be dominant is to use an eye patch that blocks a small part of your field of view. This part should line up with the center of the target. Since the eye won’t be able to see the target, the eye won’t become dominant.

You might have to close the eye with the patch first, for this effect to work. Only focus on the target, once you look away from the target, the eye dominance might flip.

Some patches are attached to a hat. Some are transparent but cause the eye to see a slightly blurry image in the center. You can experiment with different options to see what works best for you.

Use special glasses

If you already wear prescription glasses, you might want to consider buying some special glasses for archery. Opticians can cant the glass which makes for a clearer view of the target. Additionally, they can also blur part of the dominant eye's glass. This has the same effect as the eye patch but is much nicer.

Alternatively, you could also experiment with using different glass strengths. By making decreasing or increasing the strength, the eye dominance may flip.

Train your eye dominance

If you have a rather weak eye dominance or even cross dominance, you might be able to force one eye to be dominant. Just try opening your eye while maintaining a strong focus on the target. It may require considerable effort and multiple tries to get this to work.

This can be rather strenuous for the eyes and since you can’t do it all day you might not be able to flip it long term. Therefore, you might give it a try to see if it works. But don’t obsess over it, that’s just not worth it. If you have strong eye dominance, you might not be able to switch eye dominance at all, even if you try very hard.

Visit an eye doctor or optician

If you are serious about archery, and you experience fatigue issues if you shoot with one eye open, you might want to consider visiting an optician. I simply don’t know everything possible, and because they are experts on eyecare they might know a solution I don’t.

Conclusion

It’s better to shoot with two eyes open, but it’s not extremely important. If you experience any issues, you probably just want to close one eye to solve the issue. It’s the easiest solution and time spend on troubleshooting the issue is better spend on other things. Such as improving your technique, or just shooting more arrows.

If you are an extremely serious competition archer, it might be worth trying a few of these tips. Most archers shooting in the Olympics have both eyes open and that is for a good reason. An optician or eye doctor could help you with this issue. But you could also ask some archery coaches. Any good coach should be aware of eye dominance issues.

Final words

I hope this article was helpful for you. I tried to give you clear guidance on what you should do in different scenarios. I had quite some trouble with eye dominance because I have cross dominance. When I tried very hard, I could force one eye to be dominant. But this caused severe eye strain. I concluded that it wasn’t worth it and decided to shoot with one eye closed.

If you have any questions or experiences you would like to share, please leave them down below. I will respond to any comments as soon as possible and send you an email once I replied.

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