By Ralph M. Lermayer
Single-shot rifles make shooting from the off side easy. It comes in handy when a deer or coyote appears to the right.
Why would anyone perfectly comfortable with shooting right-handed learn to shoot left-handed or vice versa?
The reason? Stuff happens. Years ago, on the advice of a hunting buddy, I forced myself to learn to shoot on my weak side. As a predator hunter who hunkers on the ground and brings critters close to the call, I find it often comes in handy when the unpredictable target appears to the right.
A simple shift to the off shoulder and the target is acquired without having to move my body. It comes in equally handy when rattling whitetails. Anyone who hunts deer from small portable stands has also experienced the weak-side dilemma. Ambidextrous shooting vastly improves the odds on otherwise awkward shots.
Those events just made it convenient, but recent eye surgery made the skill a necessity. I’ll be fine in 6 months or so, but for now, it’s southpaw or nothing. My shift was easy because I forced myself to learn in advance.
My reasons then were not because I might lose vision in one eye, but were based on the realities of my style of hunting. A coyote or buck popping up on the weak side (right) are just as frequent as having them come in straightaway or to my left. It is easier, faster and requires far less movement to simply shift to left-handed shooting when they show up on the right. It’s part of the reason single-shot rifles set up with long-eye-relief scopes are my first choice when calling in close cover.
Patching your strong eye will make learning to shoot left-handed easier. Note the use of higher-than-average rings. Right: The crossover technique allows right-handed shooters to use their left eye. It calls for higher rings and a stock with a lot of drop.
The Single-Shot Switch
H&R’s Handi Rifle or any of the Contender carbines set up with a long-eye-relief shotgun scope make the shift from right to left effortless. My battery of single-shot rifles includes a .223 Rem, 7-30 Waters, .221 Fireball and .204 Ruger. All are tack drivers that have accounted for a pile of hides. There have been the odd situations when a one-shot limitation may have cost me a double, but the number of weak-side shots they’ve enabled me to make have more than made up for the odd lost opportunity. These guns are inexpensive, accurate, ambidextrous, and if they’re not part of your hunting battery, they should be.
Standard bolt-action rifles, especially those with a high rollover cheekpiece, are not as quick or comfortable to shift, but still doable. With single-shots, you merely change hand position and you’re ready for any target that shows up on the weak side. No body movement, no head shift; just change hands and shoot. It’s simple, quick and easy to do with practice.
Off-side targets are reason enough to take the time to learn to shoot left-handed (or right, if you start out a southpaw), but other reasons can make you glad you did. As in the case of my accident, anything can happen, and the time spent learning to shoot from the off side might save your bacon and keep you hunting.
Start with a rimfire at 25 yards. Don’t be surprised if the gun set up for your right eye hits to a different point of impact through your weak eye. Since your rifle-holding position as well as your head position are different, it will become apparent why a long-eye-relief scope is such a boon. When learning, it is best to totally patch your strong eye. Eye patches are available for a couple of bucks at most pharmacies and discount stores.
Now, burn ammo and concentrate on learning trigger control with the unfamiliar hand. At first, it will be awkward, and groups will no doubt scatter, but force yourself to keep at it. If your rifle choice is semiauto, empty cases will be ejected towards your face, so you must wear eye protection. If you value your vision (and it’s very hard to shoot what you can’t see), you should be wearing eye protection every time you shoot. After a box or two of .22s are sent downrange, curious things will happen.
Your brain will stop fighting it, groups will tighten up and it will become more natural. When that happens, shift to a light centerfire, move the range to 100 yards and keep practicing. It will become easier, more comfortable and more natural the more you do it. After that, go back to your normal style of shooting, but be sure to send a few downrange from your alternative side at every shooting session. Most may never need this skill, but there are more than a few readers who will someday be mighty glad they did.
Learning to shoot from your off side is actually an easy lesson, but the best lesson is to protect those eyes. Shooting glasses as well as ear protection are cheap insurance to keep us in the game. We tend to minimize their value until it’s too late. Learn from experience when you can.
Not everyone can warm up to the perceived awkwardness of learning to shoot left-handed. For the longtime right-hander, the act of quickly mounting a gun for a fast shot is an unconscious act, and it seems to hang up when you mount to the weak side. There is another choice called the crossover. To make it work, you will need to tweak your rifle a bit. It allows those with a dominant left eye (or other right eye problems), to easily shoot right-handed.
Mount your rifle as you normally would to your right shoulder. Then, try to look through the scope with your left eye. Two things will get in your way: 1) The stock (especially if it has a high cheekpiece) won’t let you get down far enough; and 2) Chances are the scope rings will be too low.
To make the crossover work, you’re going to have to find or create a stock with more drop at the heel and no cheekpiece. There are several out there that work well with little or no modification. Most lever rifles have enough drop, as do the earlier T/C carbine setups for the Contender and Encore. The newer models have raised that area, but the earlier stocks, which are still available on the Internet, work fine. For most others, it means some file and saw work.
Whacking away at a perfectly fine wood stock may seem like an abomination to some, but once the modification is made, they can be made “pretty” again with a sanding and refinishing. You can always order a new standard replacement once your eye heals.
When I first experimented with this approach, I was hesitant to “take the knife” to any of my better stocks, so I started with an inexpensive H&R Handi Rifle in .204 Ruger. The modification went so well, I’ve altered one of my high-end bolt guns and a 20-gauge O/U. A little sanding and refinishing, and you can’t even tell they’ve been modified - until you mount them.
With a combination of rasp, file and saw, simply begin to remove material from the comb until your left eye begins to see the full scope image. In conjunction with this modification, you can go to higher rings. Just switching to higher rings to mount your scope will save you a lot of woodwork.
Standard high rings from most suppliers only raise your scope .525 inch over the axis of the bore. Specialty rings (quick detach) are available from Warne and give you the choice of Ultra High (.650 inch) or Super High (.935 inch). When making your stock modification in conjunction with higher rings, it actually requires very little wood be removed, so go easy. About 1/2 to 3/4 inch did it for my stocks.
By rolling up to the top of the original recoil pad, you can maintain full contact on the shoulder to better spread out recoil. On my modified 6.5x284, recoil is not a factor, so I maintained the lower line throughout and reground the pad. The crossover modification will also work on shotguns, but you’ll need to go much lower as there is no scope.
Use of the crossover, so modified, is simple. Just mount your gun as you always have and “roll” your head farther over until the left eye lines everything up. In no time, it will become fast and natural.
We’re an aging demographic, and cataract surgery is becoming a common fact of life. Weakening vision, loss of vision or any number of things can happen. If and when it does, it need not mean the end of your shooting. Get creative, learn a different way, and you can stay in the game.
Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine