The ailment is actually more severe than a routine case of tired eyes.
Todd explains that eye fatigue can impact your eye dominance – causing a phenomenon known as “cross firing,” where one eye turns rogue and automatically takes over – scrambling target- picture messages to your brain.
“A shooter will break the first 50 straight, and then crash on the back 50,” he explains. “They often chalk it off to mental fatigue, but most people don’t want to address the issue of eye fatigue, and generally the fixes to eye dominance are not what anyone likes.”
If anyone has figured out how to understand the relationship between eye fatigue and eye dominance, it’s most certainly Todd Bender.
Todd has amassed more than 20 National Skeet Shooting Association World Championships. He holds the highest average in skeet history, .9972 High Overall Average on 5750 targets. He was named the first Master Instructor for the NSSA, has been trained by the prestigious Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) in the U.K., and is an Honorary Fellow in England’s Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors. He’s been inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame, and his instructional DVDs are perennial best-sellers.
Sponsored by shooting eyewear maker, Pilla, Todd takes care of his eyes like a concert pianist coddles their hands.
“For me, it’s about not stressing my eyes,” he says “I get a lot of rest at night and during the day. There’s plenty of healthful things you can do with diet and rest. And the correct eyewear, as far as UV protection, correct color and light transmission, plays a factor in that as well.”
“I think that as you fatigue, if your eye dominancy is causing a problem, your mechanics break down, and dominancy plays a greater role,” adds Dr. Richard Colo, a Suffield, Connecticut ophthalmologist who specializes in glasses for shooting sports. In addition to consulting to Pilla, he treats many of the top clays competitors.
While world-class clays competitors tend to specialize, recreational shooters will often enjoy a combination of games…often on the same day. Whether you take lessons for skeet, sporting clays or trap, you’ll eventually hear from your instructor that humans are natural-born pointers – not as in the K-9 variety, but rather our instincts dictate that if we point at an object we’re likely to hit it with a projectile such as a stone, arrow or bullet. This uncanny pointing ability is innate; from day one, we have been natural-born predators.
And nothing conveys our top food-chain status more than our binocular vision. Our brain takes the two images from both eyes and synthesizes them into a single visual picture – giving us stereoscopic depth perception (the calculation of distance, space and relative position of objects).
But that single-image view of the world is somewhat of an illusion. One eye actually reaches our brain before the other and it’s called the dominant eye. Ideally, you want to shoot off the shoulder of your dominant eye. Unfortunately, if you’re left-eye dominant and a right-handed shotgun shooter you can either obscure the left eye with a patch on your glasses, squint your dominant eye, or begin to shoot left-handed. Otherwise, you can end up shooting across the barrel – or cross firing – without realizing it.
“The scariest thing about eye fatigue is that it can create an environment where cross firing can occur,” Todd said. “The other eye can take over, and that can cause cross firing.”
Shotguns are designed to be shot with both eyes open. The shotshell is packed with pellets whereas pistols and rifles use a single projectile you can aim with one eye. In two-eyed shooting sports, it’s easy to understand why eye dominance can wreak havoc as you try to hit a target moving at 40 miles per hour – your eye muscles strain to focus on the relationship between distance, space and relative position of the object. This constant exertion can stress your eye muscles to the extent that your eye dominance can shift during the course of a round.
“Most people don’t know they have an eye-dominance problem and that leads to fatigue,” Todd explains. “You cannot categorize eye dominance in black and white. There are so many different things that impact eye dominance; I still learn things about it every day.”
Todd’s experience shows that cross firing is the first tell-tale sign of a shooter suffering from eye dominance problems.
“Obviously certain crossing targets will be specific misses,” Todd adds. “But the shotgun barrel will always tell you what the eyes are doing. For instance, when a shooter starts doubling their lead. I’ll see a guy shoot 4-8 feet in front of it. I’ll see something completely different than the shooter. The reason they’re getting a different perception is because crossing firing is giving bad information back to the eye.”
Both Todd and Dr. Colo agree that eye dominance, as it relates to fatigue, surfaces most often in recreational shooters who Dr. Colo categorizes as “C” shooters, compared with competitive Triple A shooters who consistently score in the 90s.
In our phone conversation, Dr. Colo related how he discovered why C shooters get stricken by eye fatigue. His conclusion?
“The C shooter is looking at the lead. The Triple A clays shooter is looking at the target,” he said.
When a clays shooter measures lead, that plays directly into eye-dominance and eye fatigue issues, he elaborated.
“As you get tired, your eyes get tired of looking at the target, you start looking at the gap, and dominance comes into play more,” he notes. “When you look at the lead, that’s based on your dominancy.”
Since shotgunning depends on proper eye-hand coordination, fatigue and eye dominance could change the way people shoot more than realize. The problem could escalate beyond miscalculated leads to impact the way you actually shoot the gun.
According to Dr. Colo, Triple A clays shooters move on the flash of the target. “When the target lights up, they pull the trigger,” he says. “It’s total concentration on the target.”
In effect, the Triple A shooter will identify the target with his eyes first, move the gun to it and pull the trigger.
The C shooter does it differently. Instead of first visually establishing the target, they move the gun toward the target without really seeing a clear and whole target. It’s hands first instead of eyes first. Suddenly, the C shooter is looking at the gap between the target and the muzzle. That gap, also known as lead, puts more wear and tear on the eye muscles than focusing strictly on the target. Worse, as the C shooter continues to focus on the gap, their perceived lead will begin to change as fatigue deepens – potentially causing a shift eye dominance.
“The perceived lead changes with dominancy,” Dr. Colo observes.
One solution used by both Dr. Colo and Bender is to wear a patch on the dominant eye.
“When I put on a patch, all leads are the same,” Dr. Colo relates. “If you’re patched, then dominance is not an issue.”
Todd wears a so-called occluder – a semitransparent patch that helps transfer dominance rather than completely block out the dominant eye. “That’s one of the fixes,” he says.
Still, identifying a fix depends on a successful diagnosis.
When a shooter’s game suddenly falls apart, they tend to chalk it up to mental fatigue rather than eye fatigue, explains Todd.
Left untreated, though, eye fatigue and eye dominance affect the shooter’s concentration – often sending their game into a tailspin.
“I see it happen over a course of a day,” he says. “It’s almost like a runner hits the wall. All of a sudden, everything goes, and it becomes a confidence issue. It’s a complete crash of a shooter. Some shooters try to work through these problems, but that may not be the case. When the eyes go, they’re gone.”
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.