I am often asked by the new archery enthusiast and competitive shooters "should I get a right or left hand bow?" My answer is to select archery equipment that is in direct correlation to your dominant eye.
Of course it is also my responsibility to inform the archer of the challenges involved in retraining oneself to shoot with the opposite hand if they are a cross dominant shooter.
In this section it may appear as though we are discussing eye dominance, but in fact this section is all about selecting which bow hand to shoot with or right/left bow shooting determination.
Many people take for granted the role of eye dominance in their daily routine and the parallax effect is rarely a consideration...until you get involved in a shooting sport. Eye dominance is actually referred to as ocular dominance.
Ocular dominance is the tendency to receive visual input through either the left eye or through the right eye.
In archery you will have a competitive edge if you can learn to shoot a recurve or compound bow on the same side as your dominant eye.
If you happen to be cross dominant (many of us are), meaning you are right handed but ocular dominance is on the left side or vise versa, it is possible to shoot well if you understand and learn how to compensate for the parallax effect.
Serious competitive archers and bow hunters may want to consider re-training so they are shooting a bow that matches the dominant eye side.
Ocular dominance is similar to your preference to use your right or left hand to perform most all of your complex tasks where you manipulate common items and perform routine tasks such as writing with a pencil, brushing your teeth or what hand you use while operating a fork and a knife in order to feed yourself.
In your normal daily routine you experience an effect called parallax and you don't even realize it.
Parallax is an apparent displacement in the visible position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.
Objects that are closer to us have a larger parallax (apparent displacement) than those objects that are viewed from far away.
In other words, parallax is an optical illusion that presents itself as the displacement of an object in relationship to its true location.
Example: Extend your arm out in front of you and point your index finger up. Now stare at the index finger momentarily then close your left eye. Now open the left eye and close the right eye.
If your finger appears to move horizontally as you switch eyes then you are experiencing the parallax effect.
If your finger does not appear to move from left to right then you may be part of a small population who do not have a preference as to whether your left eye or right eye receives information.
Either way...you are normal!
Eye dominance is particularly important to the archer because most all of us have one dominant eye that works a little harder than the other.
While we use both eyes to see, you will use your dominant eye to focus on an object or your point of aim.
If you are lucky, your dominant eye will be correlated to your dominant hand.
In other words, your dominant eye is on the same side as your dominant hand.
Example: If you are left handed and your left eye is dominant.
What does all this parallax and ocular dominance stuff mean to me as an archer?
Archers who shoot a bow that matches the ocular dominance possess a competitive advantage over cross dominant shooters.
If you are left handed and your left eye happens to be your dominant eye then you will experience less of the parallax effect.
However, if you are right handed and your left eye is your dominant eye, you will experience more of the parallax effect and it will be necessary to compensate a greater distance to offset for the perceived displacement.
This second condition is referred to as cross dominance.
Cross dominance means your dominant eye is on the opposite side of your dominant hand.
While there is no scientific evidence to support the claim, it is said that cross-dominance is a competitive advantage in sports such as baseball, golf and tennis.
However, in archery and other shooting sports, unfortunately those who are cross dominant have a slight disadvantage but easy to overcome.
In archery, you want your dominant eye (or power eye) to be "in-line" or as close as possible to the bow string and arrow shaft.
If your dominant eye is on the opposite side of the face as your dominant hand and you shoot with both eyes open you will have to adjust your horizontal point of aim to compensate for the parallax effect.
In other words, you may have to aim to the right or to the left of the actual target.
This is sometimes referred to as windage.
Windage is actually defined as the influence of the wind in deflecting a missile or the amount of such deflection.
In archery we use the term windage to identify how far we compensate for the parallax effect.
The answer to this question depends greatly on your personal preference and goals as an archer.
If you are one of the lucky people who are right handed and right eye dominant or left handed and left eye dominant then selecting archery equipment becomes obvious.
Left hand/Left Eye dominant = Left Hand Bow
Right Hand/Right Eye dominant = Right Handed Bow
I am not sure which is my dominant eye...how do I know?
Should I get a right or left hand bow?
This topic has been widely debated and there are as many answers as there are archery coaches and instructors.
Here is how I broach the topic of a right or left hand bow with new archers...
It has been my experience that young teens and youth archers who are cross dominant can quickly re-train themselves to shoot on the same side as their dominant eye.
The exception is for those individuals that are somehow afflicted with motor skill disorders which make it difficult for the person to perform complex tasks.Can a youth be switched from left hand to right hand in archery?
There are many advantages to retraining your motor skills particularly for anyone in shooting sports, but it does take a little time and determination.
For instance, I have witnessed cross dominant youth archers train themselves in less than 48 hours so they can shoot on the same handed side of their dominant eye and they have become very successful competitive archers.
Older teens and adults usually take a little longer only because they are more settled on their dominant motor skill capabilities and they are more resistant to change.
For the most part, it takes them about a week of daily training before they finally settle in to a point where they can begin fine tuning the shot execution.
Roughly, it takes daily training sessions of about 150 to 200 arrows to get the motor skill and muscle memory developed. At around 1000 repetitions the archer begins to feel comfortable and more confident.
Keep in mind that this is just a very rough guideline of what you can expect if you want to retrain your motor skill as it relates to your non-dominant hand.
Archers that I have worked with have also reported that they feel bilaterally balanced and perfectly comfortable performing complex tasks with either their right or left hand.
Equally, I have worked with cross dominant archers who have re-trained themselves to strengthen the formally non-dominant eye so they may shoot with the dominant hand.
The key to success in the latter example is to continue to shoot with both eyes open but to "focus out" the opposite eye.
Shooting with one eye closed is possible but the archer is less stable and less inclined to receiving peripheral input that helps maintain balance.
You can train your formerly non-dominant eye to receive information and focus on your target IF you can train your other eye to remain open so it continues to receive light and peripheral input.
My observation is that the older the student is, the harder it is to convince them that they can switch eye or hand dominance. In many cases it is simply an unwillingness to try.
So, the bottom line is this; if you are set in your ways and not willing to retrain your motor skills to correct for cross dominance then you will have to continue shooting with your dominant hand and settle for one of two shooting methods...
Almost all recreational archers that I have worked with choose not to re-train motor skills to become bilaterally balanced.
Conversely, the competitive archers are more inclined to make the change.
It really boils down to your ability to commit and remain patient throughout the re-learning cycle and dedicate time to properly perform enough repetitions to have an effect on muscle memory.
I have never met anyone who chose not to continue with archery or a chosen shooting sport based on the fact that they are a cross dominant shooter.
There are countless recreational and professionals in shooting sports who are cross dominant and they are among the top competitors.
If you are willing to re-train either your ocular dominance or your motor skill then all you need is a little determination and some patience and you will be one step closer to a competitive edge over many shooters.
If you feel that the effort is too great and you are satisfied with learning to compensate for the parallax effect then call it good and move on by selecting a bow for your power hand.
If the next summer Olympics is not in the cards for you or you do not have a personal trainer to help you through the transition then do not obsess over eye dominance.
The point is, archery is a sport that is supposed to be fun, so do what is most comfortable for you and leave the ocular dominance debate behind.
If you are a competitive archer and you are looking for a personal instructor, coach or trainer you can contact me directly.
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