June 07, 2021
There are numerous studies and polls confirming that 90 percent of our planet’s inhabitants use their right hand to complete their everyday tasks, leaving the remaining 10 percent of us to achieve those same goals left-handed. I was born into that minority. I remember my mother telling me stories about her childhood teachers trying to discipline, or restrain, her from using her left hand to write or use scissors until her mother, also an educator, intervened. It seems that conforming has always been the easier answer. The Scottish use the odd term, “Corrie fisted,” to label us left-handers.
My dad was a child of the Great Depression, and both he and my older brother are right-handed. In retrospect, I think my dad thought I could benefit (and he would, too) if I shot right-handed. I remember a lemonwood bow, and a neighbor’s fiberglass bow: They were my introduction to archery, and they were both right-handed bows. I also distinctly remember my dad telling me, “This way, you’re holding the bow with your strong arm!” Holding the bow with my dominant hand didn’t seem odd to me at the time. If you’ve never shot a bow, the idea of which hand is more important seemed irrelevant.
As my interest in shooting grew, I asked for my own equipment. It was right-handed, of course. There was much less information available in those days, but I’m sure aiming with your dominant eye was understood — it just wasn’t always followed. For much of our country’s history, our military issued right-handed rifles and trained everyone to shoot that way. I’ve often wondered how many lives were lost before that “discipline” was re-evaluated.
Ocular dominance isn’t manifested the same way as handedness is. Your vision is controlled by both hemispheres of your brain. The dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the other eye, and it provides precise positional information, which is useful in shooting sports. There are several ways to test your eye dominance. An informational website, verywellhealth.com, has an article published in December 2019 by Troy Bedinghaus, OD. It discusses how to determine your eye dominance and its effect on activities associated with handedness.
There is no real correlation between your dominant eye and dominant hand, since hand preference is based on brain asymmetry (Grabowsky et al. 1994). What this means is, only one hemisphere of the brain has more involvement in the function and determination of hand use. Typically, the right hemisphere is more active for left-handed people, and the left hemisphere is more active for righties. When a person’s dominant eye is opposite their dominant hand, it is referred to as “cross-dominance.” At one time, cross-dominance was considered a positive for athletes, but that logic has since been debunked in both baseball statistics (Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California-Los Angeles, USA) and a 2005 study involving cricket players (Stochastic Dominance and Analysis of ODI Batting Performance: The Indian Cricket Team, 1989-2005 Author Uday Damodaran).
Cross-dominance poses problems for shooting sports, because you must make a choice that can seem like a compromise: It forces you to sacrifice comfort for visual acuity, or vice versa. I think the key to most of my success was simply being able to shut my dominant eye when shooting. I wasn’t cross-dominant; I forced a dominance by shooting with only one eye open. Ask several seven-year-old kids to try winking with both eyes and see how many can. I could.
Reason For Change
I’ve shot “wrong-handed” for 50 years, and just the thought of switching back to left-handed was challenging. I know many have made a temporary switch, but I don’t know anyone who continued shooting, hunting, or competing that way. It’s a daunting commitment.
One compelling story is that of archery pioneer and innovator, Fred Bear. I’ve read about him switching from right-handed to left-handed. What isn’t clear is the possibility that Bear was a converted lefty, like so many children were during that era. That could have caused his shooting issues (target panic), and made him more comfortable shooting left-handed. We will never know, but his decision was part of my inspiration.
My article, “Looking Over My Shoulder,” in the March 2019 issue of this magazine, had many of my friends thinking an injury to my arm led to this enormous decision. It wasn’t. I overcame that obstacle, but my capacity to see while hunting in lowlight conditions limited my ability to shoot during primetime. If you had to shoot with one eye closed at first light or dusk, you would recognize how much better your vision is with both eyes open. I knew it was time to start shooting using my dominant eye.
Plain and simple: 2018 was a mess. My decision to switch hands made me understand just how much our society focuses on the 90 percent of consumers (right-handers). You should all understand the economic principle of supply and demand: The left-handed choices are typically limited because of that business principle.
I could still use some of my accessories (stabilizers, release aids, and bow quivers) when I made the switch, but many items (bows, sights, rests, hip quivers) had to be sold and replaced. I was able to find “archery buy and sell” groups on Facebook that helped me move a lot of my equipment and find some replacements.
When my new left-handed bow and accessories arrived and were set up, I began the process of re-programing myself. I chose a Bowtech RealmX and set it on the “comfort” setting of their patented FlipDisc module. It is very comfortable and smooth-drawing. It was now April, and I had less than six months left to prepare for the season, shooting new equipment a different way.
I believe the biggest surprise I had in this process was just how weak the muscles were in my shoulders and back. We talk about the importance of “push and pull” in our draw cycle, and using our trapezius muscles for a clean release. That sounds so simple, but it isn’t.
I’m left-handed, and while I do most things that way, I was so shaky initially that it felt like I had never shot a bow before. Practice sessions were short, and even with a solid shooting resume, this change required me to focus on not creating or introducing bad habits because of fatigue and impatience.
To help ease my early frustrations with shooting left-handed, I turned to the internet. While my online research didn’t give me the exact answers I’d hoped to find, it did turn up a lot of information on our injured combat veterans and how they’re taught to overcome injury, as well as how so many of them had to “re-program” their lives because of catastrophic wounds or loss of limb. Those web pages shared a lot of information from sports psychologists on overcoming those tragedies. They also discussed muscle memory a lot.
Muscle memory is when an action or activity is repeated to the point that it becomes hardwired in your mind, making it easily repeatable. This is called “procedural memory.” The ability of an archer to focus on a spot or bull’s-eye and complete the shot process, is called a vestibulo-ocular reflex, or VOR. The cerebellum portion of our brain is where this activity occurs. There are specific cells (Purkinje cells), that are activated in this process to help form those fine-tuned motor skills and commit them to memory.
To rewire my head for shooting left-handed, a commitment would be required. Even sports psychologists can’t agree on how many repetitions are required to achieve muscle memory for a specific activity, but the quality of the repetitions are certainly as important as the quantity. I needed to focus on good repetitions during my transition. Developing muscle memory makes things more spontaneous and synchronized to feel “automatic.” That was missing in 2018.
To assist my muscle-memory training, I also read about using visualization training to reinforce the physical work. The closest thing to visualization training I’ve done is “blind bale” shooting to improve my shot sequence. Standing close to a bale, without a target, I would practice my shot process with eyes closed and “feel” the shots. A lot of people use this technique to combat target panic. You visualize the pin floating in the bull’s-eye as you execute the release and follow-through. Most sports now teach the use of visualization, along with physical repetitions, to reinforce the body and the mind. The mental aspect of making a significant change can be enhanced using a visualization technique that reinforces those skills. My trips to the range, and backyard practice, involved time to mentally view the shot, rather than just blindly sending arrows downrange.
Means To An End
The whole point of my reverting to shooting natural southpaw stance was to extend my years of bowhunting. I was now 18 months into the transformation, and the progress was significant. I’m finally reaching for my bow with the correct hand — my right hand — and when I put a shooting glove or release aid on my left hand, it doesn’t look like I’m wrestling it.
My shooting is now fluid, and my comfort level with the equipment has improved exponentially. Even setting stands for shooting left-handed has become second nature to me.
In 2019, I had several chances to test my left-handed shooting prowess in a hunting situation for the first time. I already had made the decision to limit my effective range to 30 yards, and as it turned out, I experienced a lot of opportunities within that range.
No excuses, but I live with a schedule dictated by my family and work. It affects my ability to hunt now more than ever. So, I look for opportunities to combine vacation days and some business trips to places I can take advantage of.
February and May involved trips to hunt rams and javelinas in Texas. Both trips were successful, and I had a blast hunting with my friends. April found me in a turkey blind in the middle of Kansas, staring down two nice Rio Grande longbeards and a handful of jakes. My hunting partner and I both tagged toms.
The summer doldrums gave me time to practice and prepare for a September elk hunt in Wyoming. I worked hard to prepare for the elevation and increased shot distances. To my surprise, the only opportunity I had was very close and quick. Unfortunately, a tree limb deflected my arrow and ruined my best opportunity for an elk to date. That incident also served as a reminder to me just how quickly the satisfaction of prior success can be stifled.
I felt like my 2019 hunting season would not be complete if I was unable to fill a few of my fall tags back home in Kansas. Fortunately, I was able to clear a couple of long weekends in early and mid-November that would give me a chance to focus on that task.
On the first day of November, I filled my turkey tag. Later in the month, I drove to western Kansas to hunt a piece of ground where I was introduced to bowhunting, and where I have spent a lot of time with my dad. That morning, in a snowstorm, I arrowed a whitetail buck, which brought my amazing journey full circle. It was a milestone. I corrected a decision made decades earlier, learned to shoot the way I was supposed to, and returned to my Corrie-fisted roots.
The author is an architect who lives in Kansas and is a past-president of the Kansas Bowhunter’s Association. This is his third feature for Bowhunter.