When shooting a handgun, the common goal is to aim so that the point of aim will match the point of impact. Realistically, defensive shooting does not happen in a square shooting range, with a marked firing line, stationary paper targets, proper shooting stance, solid grip, and time to get your eyes on the sights, align them, and get an ideal sight picture. Being quick to get shots on the attacker while he is right in your face is critically important. You may not even use sighted shooting to stop the immediate threat. Understand there is a difference between self-defense, personal protection shooting, and precision bullseye target shooting for competition, fun, and long distances. These involve different goals, tactics, firearms, training, and practices. Recognize the following essential shooter considerations in a self-defense shooting.
Extreme Stress and Time Variables In Self-Defense
The self-defense use of a handgun occurs during the extreme stress of being suddenly attacked by a violent, hostile, and quickly-moving attacker usually in a low-light situation. Stress is your body’s natural mental and physical reaction to real or perceived harmful situations. You may be so stressed that you may not even draw your gun and want to escape. There is a natural “fight-or-flight” stress response. When we are stressed, high levels of adrenaline can cause pressure on the eyes. This results in blurred vision and eye fatigue. Two eyes may be better than one when shooting.
During stress, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. Sometimes in certain quickly-developing, personal protection situations, you will not even take the time to align the front sight post in the rear sight notch of the iron sights and get a well-developed sight picture. As a defender, you may not even extend your arms and gun toward the attacker, but instinctively shoot from the hip when you “feel” the time is immediate. The luxury of time is usually not there for you.
When it comes to effective shooting, and for self-defense, if you have the time and opportunity to align your sights and get a sight picture, you should certainly do so. Realistically, you probably will not have the time for that in most self-defense encounters. Plan for this in your training.
Close Personal-Protection Distances Do Not Require Precision
Because deadly-force, self-defense encounters typically take place rapidly at a very close distance of only a few feet and are completed in a very few seconds, the target area of the attacker is frequently fairly large and can be easily seen. So in these close-combat, self-defense situations, “a high level of pinpoint accuracy is not required of the shooter,” according to the NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection. Accepting this, then how do you realistically plan, prepare, and practice for this. Remember, accuracy and precision are different goals. In a previous July 6, 2017 article, I differentiated between precision and size of your target groups and accuracy in getting your shots where they need to be.
Flexibility is Essential in Sudden, Deadly-Force Encounters
In a sudden deadly-force encounter, do you always follow the accepted principles of focusing on the front sight, getting a solid stance, taking the time for proper sight alignment and sight picture, using the Natural Respiratory Pause, properly drawing your gun, and extending your arms forward toward the target?
No, not always.
And do you shoot with one eye open or both eyes open when you use your carry gun in self-defense deadly-force situations?
Well, there are several considerations and possible situations. The real answer is, “It Depends.” It is difficult to generalize and say you must shoot one way or the other and always follow all the fundamentals of shooting. In addition to the specifics of the situation, handling any particular situation must consider the different skills, abilities, equipment, training, preferences, responses, and personal influencing factors of the individual. Maybe the shooter prefers to shoot with only one eye open, rather than with both eyes open. Or, maybe to not focus on the front sight, but on the target.
Perhaps the shooter is using Mini Red Dot (MRD) reflex sights rather than iron sights and wants to “find the dot” rather than focus on the front sight and do the usual sight alignment. See my March 2017 related article about MRD sights. The shooter must be flexible to adapt to the present circumstances, given his preferences, skills, and situational variables. Maybe if an attacker is within arm’s length of you, you don’t want to extend the pistol for him to grab. If he is fast approaching you within three feet, you cannot even consider sight alignment and bringing the gun up to your eye level. But instead might shoot instinctively from the hip or point shoot. Maybe you get a quick Flash Sight Picture, as I described in my October 29, 2012 article. Are you prepared for these possibilities and have you trained for them?
Not Focusing on the Front Sight and Not Using Sights of Your Handgun
Since the extremely rapid nature of most violent attacks requires you to get hits on the attacker as quickly as possible to save your life, you may not even use the sights of your gun, may not focus on the front sight, may instead focus on the target, or may just quickly glance at the front sight to aim. So, some alternate options include a quick Flash Sight Picture, a Point Shooting Technique with no sight alignment and focus on the target or a one-handed, arm’s length Instinctive Shooting Technique from the hip without shooting hand extended where the gun is “felt” to be aligned on the attacker. Understand these shooting techniques, decide if they are appropriate for you and, if so, practice them.
New shooters should gradually try these different shooting techniques. And, perhaps, avoid them at first until they have mastered the shooting fundamentals. It is essential to build a solid foundation of shooting skills under ideal conditions before working on somewhat unique skills for more challenging situations. Getting practice in the basics and putting rounds down range is excellent preparation for blending shooting techniques and skills with situations.
Focusing Both eyes on the Threat and Tunnel Vision
Indeed, the use of both of your eyes is critical in self-defense situations. Our eyes are how we look at our sights, help us focus on what’s important, and how sharply we see the target or sights. Tunnel vision affects most shooters when under stress in a life-threatening confrontation. Tunnel vision is the tendency to focus both of your eyes and concentrate intensely on the target/threat itself or the area where the threat exists, to the exclusion of everything else around you.
When you are experiencing tunnel vision, you are vulnerable to attack by additional and unseen assailants. So it is vital for you the self-defender to be aware, train for, and expect this tendency to keep both eyes focused on the area from which the threat or attacker came. To maintain maximum alertness and readiness, shooters must train to break tunnel vision after an attack has stopped. Quickly scanning to the left, then to the right, while keeping the present attacker in peripheral vision, is a useful technique.
CAUTION: Scanning the area behind you is also necessary to locate other possible attackers. But, recognize that removing your eyes from the surrendered or controlled attacker to scan behind you may allow him to resume an attack on you. Scan the area behind yourself very quickly to minimize the time the first assailant is out of your view.
Binocular Vision Advantages
The average person and most individuals have binocular vision. This means using two eyes for visual focus on an object to create a single image in three dimensions. This allows a wide-open field of view, without distortions in depth perception, short-distance parallax errors, and incorrect visual measurements of distance, when shooting. But, only one eye can physically align the sights on a gun with the target. That is why bullseye pistol shooters, rifle shooters, long-distance competitors, and snipers close one eye and use their dominant eye to precisely aim and shoot.
This is a complicated issue involving several considerations. Not the least of which is how you have been trained. Of course, it depends on the shooting technique used which is often based on the distance from the target or attacker, the necessity to engage multiple targets or threats at the same time, the immediacy of the attack, need for follow-up shots, mobility of the attacker, type of weapon used by the assailant, and even the shooter’s comfort level, preference, and habit. Do your own thing!
Use of One Eye or Two Eyes In Self-Defense Shooting?
Well, “so what,” you say. The above information is common knowledge for most experienced shooters. It boils down to the specific situation and personal preferences of the shooter, so be flexible and adaptable. Got it. But what practical benefits does the use of one eye or both eyes in shooting have on accomplishing your self-defense, possible life-or-death goal of stopping the threat with your concealed carry gun? Should you use one eye or both eyes when quickly shooting at a threat up close in a stressful tactical, combat situation?
Opinions of the “Experts” About One or Two Eyes in Shooting
The “experts” mostly agree. The NRA recommends shooting with both eyes open. Doug Koenig, World Champion competitive pistol shooter, says he “always shoots with both eyes open.” It naturally provides vision clarity, depth perception, and helps speed transition to get to multiple targets. A quicker time from target to target. He says he would not drive his car without using both eyes or even walk around in his house without using both eyes. He advises most beginning students that shooting with both eyes open is best. Further, he says changing the dominant shooting hand is easier than changing eye dominance and using only one eye.
Chris Sajnog, Navy Seal and Center Mass Group shooter, strongly recommends shooting with both eyes open. He says, “yes,” you see two sight pictures, and that is natural. But, you must train your brain through much practice with both eyes open to see one sight picture through your dominant eye and its ocular dominance.
Rob Leatham, World Champion Team Springfield pistol shooter, says it does not really matter which eye you use for shooting. If you close one eye you just learn through practice to aim and shoot with the other eye. He says for cross-eye dominant shooters it is harder to change hands and shoot because you will have less dexterity when then using your support hand.
Chris Cheng, Top Shot Champion shooter, says one option for beginners is to try closing their non-dominant eye and shoot with their dominant eye. He says to try different combinations of eye and hand options. Then use whatever works for you and is most comfortable.
Preferably, move your head over to align the dominant eye with the sights to help you focus. This is better than changing your dominant hand to shoot and aim.
Another option is placing a piece of transparent scotch tape over your non-dominant eye’s lens of your shooting glasses. You can also use petroleum jelly. Then shoot with both eyes open. This occludes the vision in the non-dominant eye while still allowing light in, not causing its pupils to dilate. It will force your brain to adjust to the new eye as the dominant one. This can also be helpful if you have trouble closing one eye. Try it.
Advantages of Shooting with Both Eyes Open
- Wider Field of View – Improved Situational Awareness of surroundings.
- Improved Balance – Having both eyes open helps maintain stability. It also removes the wobble from your shooting position when you are moving and shooting.
- Less Fatigue – Having both eyes open reduces the stress and fatigue on either eye. You don’t use facial muscles to hold one eye closed and use both eyes to focus.
- Peripheral Vision Enhances – With one eye closed, you cut off the view on the side of the closed eye. This causes poor target transitions and puts you at a disadvantage in tactical situations because of tunnel vision. Both eyes open helps peripheral vision. This allows you to see objects all around you without turning your head or moving your eyes. It helps you to sense motion and walk without bumping into things.
- Better Depth Perception – Having both eyes open increases the depth perception between you and the target. Because more rods and cones are at work for depth. There is less distortion in depth perception using two eyes to shoot.
- Quicker Transition from Target to Target – Due to a combination of the above advantages.
Dry Firing Practice Helps to Shoot with Both Eyes Open
You can dry fire the vast majority of modern centerfire guns but avoid dry firing a rimfire gun. You use snap caps made for the caliber of your gun to do your dry firing to train to shoot with both eyes open.
CAUTION: Before dry firing any firearm, double check to make sure it is unloaded. And make sure the target will safely stop any bullet from your gun.
When you are dry firing, practice acquiring a good sight picture. Bring the sights up to your line of sight, rather than bringing your head down to the gun. And focus on the front sight with your dominant eye. Keep both eyes open and only focus on the front sight with your dominant eye. To help, if necessary, you can use your shooting glasses with tape over the non-dominant eye. Try and concentrate on keeping both eyes open when focusing and shooting. You will probably need many repetitions to be able to shoot with both eyes open comfortably. So, don’t get discouraged.
It is essential to recognize and address the many factors and considerations for self-defense shooting. Understand there is a difference between self-defense, personal protection shooting, and precision bullseye target shooting. Different goals, tactics, firearms, training, and practices are involved. The self-defense use of a handgun occurs during the extreme stress of being suddenly attacked. Usually by a violent, hostile, and quickly-moving attacker usually in a low-light, situation.
A high level of precise accuracy may not be required as long as sufficient rounds are placed on the target. You may not even focus on the front sight or use your sights in close-quarters combat, tactical encounter. Tunnel vision may occur. Several experts recommend shooting with both eyes open. Decide for yourself if your particular skills and preferences align with their views of the advantages. Use dry fire shooting and transparent scotch tape to help shoot with both eyes open.
Photo licensed by i156 LLC.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2019 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].