How To Aim In Archery (And The Dominant Eye Debate)


Hand stretches bowstring in archery gloves near wooden tissue bow arrow with feather wings wood target straw target aim shoot.

Archery, as one of the shooting sports, requires a lot of visual-motor skills. It requires your brain and body to do a lot of coordination between your visual system and your motor system to aim and release your shot accurately. Within both of these systems in our body, we have a dominant hand and a dominant eye.

For most people, these are in alignment. If they are right-handed, they are also right eye dominant and vice versa for the left. However, there are exceptions to this, which can create problems for archers and other participants in shooting sports.   

Using a bow is all about having the right fit for you, you might be wondering how to aim in archery, how to determine your dominant eye, and whether a mismatch between hand and eye dominance might affect your ability to shoot. 

Aiming in archery can be done with either one eye open or both, but most practiced archers will shoot with both eyes open. If your dominant hand is on the opposite side from your dominant eye, this can cause some issues.

However, you can overcome them in a few different ways. In this guide to aiming in archery, we will cover how to aim, looking at aiming with both eyes open or with one eye open, as well as how to determine your dominant eye, and how to shoot with your non-dominant eye. 

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Determining Eye Dominance 

Just like with handedness, you have a dominant eye that will maintain a straight sightline with whatever object or target you are looking at. Because our eyes about 3″ apart, they cannot both maintain a straight-on view of an object. One eye will maintain a straight line of sight with the objective while the other will be slightly offset. The eye that keeps a straight view is your dominant eye. 

There are three simple ways to determine your dominant eye: 

  1. With both eyes open, pick an object in the distance at which to point, and then do so. 
  2. Without moving your hand, close one eye. 
  3. Then close the other eye and note the difference. 
  4. You will notice that when you closed one of your eyes, your finger was no longer pointing directly at the object, and when you closed the other eye, your finger was still pointing at the object. 

How to interpret the results: 

If you closed your left eye while keeping your right eye open and it still appeared as if you were pointing at the object, then you are right-eye dominant. This also means that when you close your right eye and keep your left eye open, it will look like you are pointing to the side of the object, which is because the recessive eye does not have a straight sightline to the object on which you are focusing. 

Conversely, if you closed your right eye while keeping your left eye open and it still appeared as if you were pointing at the object, then you are left-eye dominant, and your right eye is recessive. 

The other method is similar, but instead of pointing, you will use your pointer fingers and thumbs from each hand to make a triangle. Then, with both eyes open, center an object inside the triangle and repeat the procedure from the previous test for closing one eye at a time. Again, when your dominant eye is shut, and the non-dominant eye is open, the object will no longer be centered inside of the triangle. When your dominant eye is open and non-dominant closed, the object will remain centered in the triangle. 

For the final method, you make the same triangle shape with your hands and center an object inside of it while you have both eyes open. Then slowly bring your hands back to your face, whichever eye your triangled fingers end up surrounding is your dominant eye. 

If you have discovered that you have a mismatch between your eye and hand dominance, don’t panic! You have a few options. Archers can shoot with an opposite-handed bow to their dominant hand, or they can shoot with their non-dominant eye, often using an eye patch to cover the dominant eye or squinting it closed. There are now new technologies that have provided some advanced yet easy-to-use solutions that are better than squinting or eyepatches. In some extreme cases, archers have had laser surgery on their eyes. This is probably not advisable unless your plans are Olympic level competitions and even then, it is a pretty severe solution. 

Archery with both eyes open 

male archer with a beard

So, how do archers typically aim their shot? Most experienced archers aim with both eyes open. This allows for a brighter clearer view as both eyes can take in light. It also gives a wider field of vision and affords a bit more depth perception, although not as much as regular binocular (two-eyed) vision. Even when looking through a peep sight, having both eyes open gives your visual-motor system more information to coordinate and aim your shot. With both eyes open, you will also be able to see your arrows flight path fully. It can also improve your reaction time. 

Archers whose dominant hand and eye side match can keep both eyes open, affording them all the advantages above. 

When they go to aim with both eyes open, their dominant eye will take the lead in aiming as they are looking through the sight or as they aim instinctively (instinctive shooting is aiming your shot without a sight). Their non-dominant eye will provide supplementary visual information, which will improve their view, their aim, and their reaction time. 

If you are aiming instinctively, line up the tip of your arrow with your target and release. You may need to adjust as you see how your arrows are grouping in relation to where you were aiming. 

If you are using a sight, you will line the pin of the sight up with your target and then release your shot. Again, you may need to adjust; in this case, you will move the pin of the sight. For new archers, it can be hard to remember which way to move the pin. Remember the phrase “chasing the arrow” if you are grouping your shots to the right of where you were aiming, move the pin to the right a bit, if they are above where you are targeting, push the pin of the sight up, etc. 

For those using a compound a bow, you will usually draw and then spend a few seconds making sure your aim is right where you want it and then release. This pause at full draw to aim is possible because of the advanced mechanics of a compound bow that uses pulleys to help the archer draw and also make it hard to overdraw. 

Recurve archers, on the other hand, can easily over or under drawn; thus, they will release their shot as soon as they hit the right draw length. This means they have to line up their shot before they hit full draw so that they can immediately release the arrow. 

Why Dominance Matters 

When you are sighting a bow, you are lining up all the sighting elements. Your eye, the peep, the sight pin, and finally, the target must all be inline. This means your eye that is aiming must be in line with the string and the arrow’s flight path along the horizontal plane. When your dominant eye and hand are on the same side, this easily and comfortably achieved. 

If your dominance is mismatched, this alignment cannot be achieved, and you have to pick between switching handedness or using your recessive eye to aim. 

Some archers do choose to shoot with a “wrong” handed bow, but this is quite difficult and can be a very frustrating experience. Thus, most archers opt to use their recessive eye to aim. 

It used to be the case that if you planned to shoot with both eyes open, you had to choose a bow that matched your eye dominance rather than your handedness. With the invention of new technology, this is no longer the case. In the next section, we will discuss how archers shoot with their non-dominant eye and a new piece of tech that can allow you to keep both eyes open while shooting with your non-dominant eye. 

Archery with Non-Dominant Eye 

If you are one of the archers who have a mismatch between hand and eye dominance, you could try to learn to shoot with the opposite side, as some archers do. Overcoming hand dominance can take a lot of time and patience, but it is possible. However, there are other options you might want to try before committing to shooting with your non-dominant hand. 

Another option is to restrict the vision of the dominant eye, which will allow it to relax and lets the brain begin to use the non-dominant eye to aim. 

In the past, this was achieved primarily through squinting the eye closed. The problem with this method is that it requires concentration and contraction of the facial muscles to keep the eye closed as your brain is going to want to open that eye to try and use it. You will likely find that your dominant eye is opening up while you are in the middle of shooting, which can be very distracting and affect your shot. 

The other option is covering or partially obstructing the view of your dominant eye, allowing it to relax while remaining open, which triggers your brain to concentrate on using the non-dominant eye rather than trying to force it open. Your non-dominant eye will still receive visual information. But, the data will not be pertinent to the task, letting the recessive eye take over as the primary provider of visual information.  

You may still feel some frustration and irritation while you adjust to not being able to use your dominant eye, but with practice and patience, it will begin to feel more “natural.”  

Eye patches have been used in the past, but they block out a lot of light and thus reduce the advantages that come with being able to shoot with both eyes open. 

Some archers have overcome this by using something like a piece of cardboard that hangs in front of the eye but does not entirely cover it blocking out all light. Generally, archers will attach a piece of cardboard or other material to a hat so that it hangs down in front of their dominant eye. You will see some added benefit from receiving additional light, but the eye still has no view of the target. 

Other options include stickers or eye patches that attach to glasses; these are less cumbersome and also allow additional light to enter the partially obstructed eye. Still, all of them eliminate the view the covered eye has on the target, which reduces the visual information your brain is receiving and using to aim your shot. 

So, is there a way to relax the dominant eye but still provide it with some visual information from the target? Yes! 

You will need to wear glasses while you shoot. Pilla glasses, an aiming aid used by gun enthusiasts for years, are a great option. You can check their availability on Amazon here.

There are patches that you can attach to glasses so that you do not have bulky attachments hanging from hats or even clipped onto your glasses. 

Using our latest understanding of eye dominance and visual processing, some companies have designed stickers that will allow your dominant eye to remain open and still have a partial view of the target. Providing only partial obstruction gives you the added benefits of having more light and a second eye that is providing visual information on the goal. 

These advanced stickers are sort of like blinds or fence posts. They partially obstruct the view of your dominant eye using a filter in the label. This means both eyes are looking at the target, but only your non-dominant eye has an unobstructed view.  

Both eyes are now helping to produce an image of the target and the broader field, but the partially obstructed dominant eye can’t provide as much information because it is being filtered. This will cause your brain to switch to using your non-dominant eye as the primary eye for aiming. 

These stickers are simple to use and can easily be removed from your glasses. They also come in different strengths to suit your preferences. 

Off-Eye is one of the leading manufacturers of these stickers, and you can generally purchase a kit with varying strengths. If you’re interested, you can check their price on Amazon here

Experiment with the different filters and take advantage of your brain’s filtering ability so that you can shoot with a bow that fits your handedness while keeping both eyes open and aiming with your recessive eye. Adjusting to this will still take time and patience on your part, but with practice, you can get the benefits of using the right type of bow and aiming with both eyes open! 

Conclusion 

Aiming requires a great deal of coordination between your visual and motor systems. Both of which have dominance preferences. If your eye and hand dominance align, you can quickly begin to practice your aim with both eyes open. However, if there is a mismatch between them, you must choose between switching handedness or switching to your recessive eye for aiming. 

Switching handedness is more complicated than learning to aim with your non-dominant eye. If you choose to use your recessive eye, there are several options available to you for limiting the view of your dominant eye, which allows it to relax and lets the usually passive eye take over. 

It used to be the case that you had to squint or use an eye patch to close your dominant eye. Both of which limit the amount of light and squinting adds an extra aspect of coordination as you have to work to keep the eye closed. 

Options that restrict sight of the target but still allow in light are a better option, but they still don’t let you aim your bow with both eyes. 

Recently, with the invention of stickers that filter only part of the view of the target on your dominant eye, archers with a dominance mismatch can finally shoot a bow with their dominant hand while keeping both eyes open—giving only a partial view of the target to the dominant eye. This type of aid allows them to receive more visual information, which will improve their aim. 

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