The Difference Between Right and Left Handed Bows

The Difference Between Right and Left Handed Bows

If you are new to the sport of archery, choosing a bow may feel like a huge and daunting task. Ultimately, you want your bow to work like an extension of your body, so just pulling any old bow off the sales floor isn’t going to work. You need a bow that matches and enhances your strength and body type. However, before you dive into the realms of draw length and draw weight, the first thing you need to determine is whether you need a right or left-handed bow.

How to Tell if a Compound Bow is Left or Right Handed

A right-handed bow is held in the left hand while the right hand draws the bowstring. On the other hand (literally), a left-handed bow is held in the right hand while the string is drawn with the left hand.

This may seem like a straightforward way to tell the difference. However, it can be difficult for inexperienced shooters to tell the difference between these two types of bows from appearance alone.

When in doubt, check the position of the arrow rest. The arrow rest will be located on one side of the bow’s riser. If the arrow rest is located on the left side of the riser, you are holding a right-handed bow. On a left-handed bow, the arrow rest will be positioned on the right-hand side of the riser.

While compound bows are constructed differently for right-handed or left-handed shooting, most other archery accessories, including sights, stabilizers, releases, and quivers can be adapted for shooting with either hand.

How to Tell if a Recurve Bow is Left or Right Handed

You can tell if a recurve is right or left-handed the same way as a compound bow. A bow designed to be drawn with the left hand is a right-handed bow. One made to be drawn by the right hand is a right-handed bow. The drawing hand is always the factor that dictates whether a bow is right-handed of left-handed.

However, sometimes a recurve may be strung backwards. If you are purchasing a recurve bow from a reputable dealer, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, many discount or second hand listings (especially on websites like Craigslist) may have a recurve wrongly labeled as a right or left-handed bow.

The best way to tell the difference is to look for the arrow rest. Just like a compound bow, a recurve with an arrow rest on the left is designed to be drawn right-handed. The arrow rest will be located on the right hand side of a left-handed recurve bow.

However, when looking at photographs, make sure the recurve is strung correctly. A recurve bow is defined by the signature curve that sweeps back toward the archer and then re-curves back toward the front of the bow. When a recurve is improperly strung, the tell-tale re-curve is missing.

If you are unsure how a recurve bow should be strung, here is a step-by-step video from PSE.

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The Importance of Hand and Eye Dominance in Archery

Whether you should shoot a right or left-handed bow depends on two things – your dominant hand and your dominant eye.

Determining Hand Dominance

Hand dominance is the preference for using one hand over the other for both fine and gross motor tasks, including writing, throwing, and grabbing.

Most people are already familiar with their dominant hand. Children often begin to display hand dominance as early as two years old. Others may not develop a preference until closer to their sixth birthday. However, most adults have been aware of their dominant hand since grade school.

Most of the world’s population is right-hand dominant. Only about ten percent of people are left handed.

Approximately one percent of the population is ambidextrous, meaning they can use either hand proficiently when completing most tasks.

Some people also fall into the category of mixed-handedness These people may use one hand for certain tasks while preferring to use the opposite hand for others. For example, a person who is mixed hand dominant may write with their left hand but throw a ball with their right.

Hand dominance is important in archery because your dominant hand is usually stronger and more coordinated than your non-dominant hand. Drawing a bow requires both strength and coordination.

A person will logically be capable of pulling a heavier draw weight with their dominant hand. A heavier draw weight translates to faster arrow speeds, decreased drop over distance, and deeper arrow penetration. So the more weight an archer can draw, the more accurate and effective their shooting will be.

Determining Eye Dominance

Also referred to as your master eye or power eye, your dominant eye plays a key role in archery. You want your dominant eye to be in line with your bowstring and arrow shaft when you are aiming at a target. The reason is an optical effect called “parallax.”

What is Parallax?

Parallax refers to a common optical illusion that makes objects seem to shift when viewed along different lines of sight. We experience parallax every day and don’t even realize it. 

One example of parallax occurs when we are riding in our car. As we drive, the objects up close, like road signs and telephone poles, seem to zip past us at high speed. However, the trees and buildings in the distance look like they are moving more slowly. The furthest objects may not look like they are moving at all. This is because objects that are closer to us have a larger parallax than those viewed from a greater distance.

Eye Dominance and Parallax

Eye dominance plays a major role in parallax. Just like our dominant hand tends to be stronger than the other, our dominant eye is also stronger than our non-dominant eye. Because it is stronger, our dominant eye works a little bit harder than the other one.

The following test uses parallax to help you determine your dominant eye.

  1. Extend your arm out in front of you with your index finger pointing up.
  2. With both eyes open, pick an object in the distance.
  3. Position your finger so that it partially obscures the object, almost like you are pointing at it
  4. Close first one eye and then the other.
  5. Your finger will appear to shift horizontally as you switch eyes.

Although your finger will look like it shifts each time you switch eyes, the amount it appears to shift will be different for each eye. When viewed with your dominant eye, your finger should still cover most of the object. However, when your non-dominant eye is open, your finger will shift significantly, and may not even cover the distant object at all.

If this seems confusing, here is a video that uses another parallax exercise to determine eye dominance.

Now that you’ve experienced the apparent shift of objects, imagine how parallax could affect the position of a downrange target when viewed through a peep sight. This is why it is crucial for archers to understand which of their eyes is dominant.

If your finger does not appear to shift from left to right when you alternate eyes, you may be part of a small minority that does not have a dominant eye. This means you are ambi-ocular and your brain receives and processes information from both your right and left eyes equally. As an archer, this means you should be able to aim effectively with either eye.

Choosing the Right Bow

Whether you use your bow to shoot targets or big game, eye dominance is important. While we use both eyes to see, most of us have one that is at least a little stronger than the other. The stronger eye is the one you want to use to focus on your target.

If you are lucky (and most people are), your dominant eye will be on the same side of your body as your dominant hand.

If you are right-handed and right eye dominant, choose a right-handed bow.

If you are left-handed and left eye dominant, pick a left-handed model.

Cross Dominance Explained

The problem comes when you have a condition often referred to as cross dominance. Cross dominance means your dominant eye does not correlate to your dominant hand. In other words, they are on opposite sides of your body.

While cross dominance is sometimes considered an advantage in sports like baseball and golf, it can be a huge hindrance for archers.

Lining up your dominant eye with the arrow shaft is the best way to shoot accurately. That can be hard to accomplish when you’re shooting a right-handed bow, but your dominant eye is on the opposite side of your face.

Which hand should be your bow hand if you are right eye dominant?

The answer to that question is easy if you are also right-handed. Obviously, you want to pick a right-handed bow.

If you are left-handed and right eye dominant, you can save yourself a ton of hardship if you learn to shoot with a right-handed bow.

It can take a while to adapt to drawing with your weaker hand and sighting with your dominant eye, but it is usually worth the effort. However, some archers struggle with drawing a bow with their non-dominant hand. If that describes you, there are some other options.

Overcoming Cross Eye Dominance

Since your dominant hand is stronger and more coordinated than your non-dominant hand, you may feel naturally inclined to choose a bow that matches your dominant hand. However, your shooting accuracy can seriously suffer due to cross dominance issues.

Some cross dominant shooters are tempted to lean over in order to see through the peep sight with their outside dominant eye. While this can help with parallax issues, it creates a whole list of other issues in form and consistency. Most archery coaches discourage this practice.

If you are left eye dominant but want to shoot a right-handed bow, you’re going to need to sight with your non-dominant eye closed. This is nearly impossible to do with both eyes open, so you’ll need to close your dominant eye.

Sighting with one eye closed isn’t optimal and can cause several other issues, especially for hunters. However, it is an option for cross dominant shooters, even if it isn’t perfect.

Find a Bow that Corresponds with Your Dominant Eye

If you are a new shooter who is cross dominant, get started shooting with a bow that matches your dominant eye. Although it may feel awkward, most of that should iron itself out with some practice. Without old habits to unlearn, you should adjust fairly quickly. You’ll be a better shooter in the long run.

If you already have some experience under your belt, training yourself to switch your bow hand will take longer. However, it is probably worth the effort. It may take more than 1000 arrows and several weeks or more to adequately retrain yourself and reinforce new muscle memory.

Even though your accuracy will suffer with the initial change, once you get used to shooting with a bow that corresponds to your dominant eye, your accuracy and shooting consistency will improve significantly.

Do You Aim With One Eye Closed?

There are plenty of benefits to shooting a bow with both eyes open. There are also some disadvantages. However, most successful competitive archers agree the pros far outweigh the cons. If you are new to the sport, you should start practicing this way right out of the starting gate.

However, not all experienced archers shoot this way. Some actually prefer to shoot with one eye either partially or completely closed. Let’s take a look at these three aiming options.

Shooting With Both Eyes Open

Keeping both eyes completely open when aiming your bow produces the widest possible field of view. If you are a hunter, this is a major advantage, because it allows you to know your target as well as what lies beyond. This is important both for safety and accuracy, especially when the animal is moving, even if it is only plodding along as it grazes.

One drawback to keeping both eyes open is your eyes may fight for control of the sight picture. You may not even be aware this is happening. However, if your non-dominant eye wins out, your arrow is going to miss by a mile (thanks to parallax).

Another potential issue is aiming in low light conditions. This is a particular concern for deer hunters who often take shots during twilight. Seeing your target and your sight pins becomes more difficult when it is dark. Closing one eye makes it even more challenging.

Shooting with One Eye Closed

Aiming with one eye closed can be a life saver for archers struggling with cross dominance. However, some shooters who are not cross dominant choose to aim with one eye closed.

While this method sacrifices the field of view, it allows the shooter to focus completely on the target and their sight pin. With one eye completely closed, the archer is less likely to be distracted by anything on the periphery of the sight picture. This hyper focus also eliminates parallax. Some archers even choose to shoot with a blinder or eye patch over their non-aiming eye to make sure it doesn’t interfere with aiming.

Shooting With One Eye Partially Closed

Partially closing the non-aiming eye is a sort of compromise between the two previously mentioned aiming methods. This method allows for a wider field of view while also reducing (but not eliminating) parallax.

Facial fatigue is one concern with this aiming method. Keeping one eye partially closed can cramp your face muscles, especially during extended periods of shooting. It is not uncommon to see aiming style change as an archer tires, and extensive squinting does take some effort.

Another concern is consistency. It is difficult to squint the exact same way each time you shoot. When it comes to archery, consistency is king. Even minor discrepancies in your squint could have an effect on your point of aim. If you can’t make this method work consistently (and you will be hard-pressed to make that happen), try one of the other aiming methods.

Summing It Up

The information in this article is designed to help you become a better archer. If you are just starting out, you can use this as a guide to help you find the right bow to get you started.

If you’ve already been shooting for some time, you may have found out you’ve  been drawing your bow with the “wrong” hand. If that describes you, you may want to consider swapping your right-handed bow for a left-handed model or vice versa.

Learning to shoot with your non-dominant hand can be tough, especially if you’ve become accustomed to shooting the other way. However, the effort should greatly improve your shooting consistency and accuracy.

If learning to shoot with the other hand feels like too huge an effort, don’t stress it. Ultimately, archery is supposed to be fun. There are no rules that say you have to shoot a bow that corresponds with your dominant eye. No one is going to administer any dominance tests on the archery field, and deer don’t care which eye you used to aim.

If you are comfortable shooting a certain way, it might be best to continue, especially if Olympic competition isn’t on your to-do list. Do what makes you happy and focus on having fun.