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Shooting Accuracy – As We Age

Shooting Accuracy - As We Age

Shooting Accuracy – As We Age

I don’t know about you, but as I age my biggest frustration is not being putting tight groups together on target with a pistol’s metal sights.  I “was” damn good!  Who knows about Top Shot as it wasn’t around when I was 30.  But, I was good both with pistol and rifles.  I wore glasses from my late teens on and now with contacts my distance vision has remained excellent and even improved.  My optometrist recently improved my Competitive Trap averages by backing off my prescription, explaining that as we grow older the eye changes shape and our vision actually often improves.  Fancy that!

But, Trap shooting is a distance game and I’m at the point in life where I need assistance for close up reading, working on the computer and seeing that damned front sight!  I even have to have one strength readers for a book (about like the distance to the front sight of a pistol) and another strength for reading the computer screen (about the distance to the front sight of a rifle).  I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.   Yes, I’ve tried all the optional eye correction ideas like progressive tri-focal glasses.  But, they never seem to have the magnification at the point of the lens where I need it, especially when shooting.

By all rights I should be shooting as well as or better than when I was younger.  I’m more patient, more focused and I work out to keep in decent physical shape.  It’s that damned vision thing and having learned to shoot by focusing on the front sight while leaving the target and the rear sight slightly out of focus!  To top it all off I’m wrong eye dominant, so I’ve always closed one eye with a long gun and angled my wrist with a pistol to bring my dominant eye into use when sighting.

A little over a year ago I was at the range shooting with a friend who had put Crimson Trace grip sights on his Kimber pistols.  He was flat out putting better groups together than I was at 20 yards.  I had never fired a Kimber and I well remember when people thought Kimbers were low quality.   Well, as friends do at the range, we tried each other’s pistols.   He wanted to shoot my F&N 5.7 X 28 and my Sig 226 and also wanted me to see what fine pistols the new Kimbers were.  I tried one of his Kimber 1911 variants in .45 and was getting about my usual performance.  I said I was impressed with the pistol when he said, “Try it again using the laser sights and forgetting about the sights on the gun!  I figure even without my glasses in the middle of the night I can see the red dot in center mass!”  So I tried it again, not with my arms up in a proper target shooting stance, but with my arms bent, body turned and the pistol held close to the body in the typical tactical position.

Wow!  The group I put together, without ever raising the pistol and simply watching the red dot, went from about 9” to 5”.  Now that makes a guy stop and think!  So, I tried his other Kimbers in different calibers and different barrel lengths – with and without the laser turned on and in both a proper target shooting stance and a tactical stance.  With every one I was 40 to 60% (target stance) better with the laser than shooting as I always had.   These were not even pistols I had practiced with and that made me really stop and think about myself and shooting.

So I tried an experiment, buying the cheapest Crimson Trace grip sights I could find that fit one of my pistols.  The least expensive turned out to be for my Bersa Thunder 380 “pocket pistol”.  I thought with a 3.5” barrel this should be a pretty good test to see the improvement in grouping.   I barrel sighted the laser in at home and then fine-tuned it at the range using those reading glasses to really see the front sight.  I did pretty well in grouping shoots with that short barrel pistol at 15 yards using the laser pointer.  So, I dedicatedly practiced on several trips to the range through about 500 rounds at different distances and stances until using the laser as the sight of choice became second nature.  At 15 yards I was consistently putting together 2.5” X 2.5” groups – Rapid Fire!

Well heck, if it could work that well with a short barreled pistol what would it do with a longer barrel hip carry pistol?  You’ve guessed it; a set went on my Sig 226!   By then I was pretty much comfortable using the laser to sight and once dialed in I was soon putting 3” groups together at 35 yards, the greatest distance at the indoor range I use in cold weather.  I was convinced!  Suddenly, I was shooting like I had when I was younger.  I even tried them on a competition pistol where slow fire I could do a group at 1” at 35 yards.  Sweet!  I had stepped back 30 years!

I can hear you thinking, “They will never let him use those in a competition!”, and you’re right!  But, my days of trying to be competitive at 300 yards with iron sights are over anyway.  And, perhaps with all of us 50 plus “Boomers” out there we could start some pistol competitions for us geezers that allow laser sights.  You just never know what will become popular, as we have both the time and money to play!

One point of caution, if you decide to shoot like a youngster again using laser sights, know that quality laser sights are not made for all firearms.  I can certainly understand a business model where Crimson Trace would make them for the most popular “current” pistols and the millions of old warhorses like the 1911.  Some newly made pistols from older designs are now including a lower add-on rail that can accept the cheapest version of the Crimson Trace, but it may mean updating to a newer pistol and a newer holster.   I know there are other laser sights on the market, but I have not had much experience with them.  I did try one of the “cheap versions” and tossed it out as it was very hard to adjust and wouldn’t retain its aim point.

I mentioned my experiences to the executives with Crimson Trace at the NRA Show last month in St. Louis, pointing out that they are missing a huge marketing opportunity by not focusing on the 50 plus gun owners who have both the time and the money for their expensive toys.  They agreed they had not really thought about that market in detail.  So, don’t be surprised to see a whole advertising discount campaign aimed at us geezers!   It might even be a way to help honor the huge groups of us “old warriors” being pointed out some Memorial Day weekend.

I also ordered Crimson Trace grip sights for the .22 Ruger Mark II 4-H pistols this spring and have found them very useful in allowing the new shooter to watch the movement as they activate the trigger.  Without the laser they may think they were on target, but with it they can watch the light move before the round is fired.  Crimson Trace told me they would give a huge discount if ordering for a youth group program like 4-H Shooting Sports.

If they do advertise any special deals, try them!  Laser sights won’t make you younger, but you might just be able to shoot a pistol like you were 30 again!

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  • ft

    Just what the doctor ordered. I’m 63 and have been near sighted and wearing glasses since the age of 10. Trying to get a proper sight picture when both sights and target are just a blur is quite difficult. Next major investment for me will be CT laser for a S&W M&P 40.
    Thanks for the information!

    • John

      90 percent of all self defence shootings happen with in 20 feet of your target and of that 90 percent, 50 percent happen with in 5 feet of the target. Who needs sights?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Ess/100000666571492 Dan Ess

        At that rate, the Bond Arms Snake Slayer IV with #4 Buckshot sounds just right : ) When I practice at the range, I generally shoot 5, 7.5, 10, 12.5 & 15 yard distances, with 7.5 being over 50% of my range time. That would be similar to the 90% SD range (22.5 feet). I shoot the Bond mostly 5 & 7.5 yds., shoot my other handguns at the longer distances, ie: MK40, EMP40, 1911; but still do most practice at 7.5 yards. 22.5 feet is a nice across the room distance.

      • Cobrawing

        John everything you just said is 100% accurate and I’m glad you said it. Most defensive gun use absolutely takes places within five to six feet. However, target acquisition (even within these narrow ranges) is still vital. Instinctive hip shooting without sites requires a lot of practice but it does work quite well. However, there are times when you might find yourself holding someone at bay who is relatively close to you and you do have that time to aim. You might be surprised at how critical shot placement can STILL be at short ranges when under tremendous stress.

        If you needed to fire several quick double taps really fast, you might be surprised at how you can still throw a shot even at such close ranges. That thrown shot can be a nightmare of a lawsuit waiting to happen. So even at close ranges it’s still important to strike center of mass and not throw a shot. It’s actually more important because failing to hit a center of mass stopping shot means the assailant will be on you in a second! The point . . . use those sites every chance you get.

  • Cobrawing

    A most excellent article. I have Crimson Trace sights on my Kimber Ultra Elite compact .45 and my Ruger MK-III bull barrel pistol. I’ve got a S&W Bodyguard compact .38 spl. with the built in factory supplied red dot sight as well. I can 100% back up everything you have said. I’m in my late ’50′s and the normal presbyopia (diminishing reading ability) is upon me and I too need readers for fine print resolution and computer use.

    In recent years it had been slowly affecting me at the range as well. The use of laser sights have been tremendously helpful to me. I would strongly recommend them not only for those who are having eye sight problems, but those who do not! At relatively short distances like across a room where the majority of pistol combat takes place they are absolutely perfect. Naturally, at long distances the red laser dissipates but as I said most combat is short range anyway. They’re a fine tool and everyone should at least try them. I thank you for your fine practical article as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bobmoore55 Bob Moore

    How do the laser sights work in bright sunlight? I’ve heard the red dot can be very hard to see in sunlight. If so, then you would need to practice without the laser. I would not want to be looking for a dot I can’t see when defending my life during the day.

    • Paladin63

      I would recommend the green lasers which are highyl visible even in bright sunlight.

  • Jack

    Good article! I found out the same thing myself with a relatively cheap laser. I was so frustrated I was thinking my handgun shooting days were over. Now I’m back to pretty darn adequate and I’m even somewhat better with iron sites too because dry fire pactice with the laser improved my trigger control. Upgraded to Crimson Trace first on my wife’s snub model 19, then on my GLOCK. We both have the confidence we’ll hit what we intend to just like when we were young.
    Benefits of the laser are there for the youngsters to. My youngest daughter had been learning to shoot my 9mm over a several week period and was doing very well with irons. I put the laser on one day and standing at 15 yards she ate the x-ring up every shot. Then she turned to me with this HUGE grin and said “Dad, this is cheating.” I said “Darlin’, if you ever have to use it, cheating is just fine.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Larry-Arnold/100002274408492 Larry Arnold

      [she ate the x-ring up every shot]
      Which can lead to a minor problem. I’ve had folks use lasers when qualfying in my Texas CHL classes. By the time they “ate the x-ring” with twenty rounds at three yards there wasn’t any paper left to shine the laser on. They ended up getting frustrated as, on the next thirty shots at seven and fifteen yards, they tried to located the dot further out then move it into the hole.
      The smart ones either go back to iron sights, or start a new hole.

  • 230therapy

    What are your goals? Tight groups for self-defense and tight groups for various competitions may be different depending upon the game. If you’re shooting for defense, a four inch group is just fine.

    What are you doing when you look at the dot? You are focusing upon your target and not the sights. How does one point shoot? You focus upon a small spot on the target. You do not need Crimson Trace Lasergrips to point shoot. The bad news is that at some point you still need to use the sights (see 7677′s “Sight Continuum” article via google). However, you can mitigate the problem somewhat by looking through the front sight at the target.

    Learn to point shoot. Your speed will increase and you will notice very tight groups at speed. It is versatile and requires no batteries.

  • hersfelder

    I learned decades ago to reliably put the 4-inch (-) group holes in the target at ranges from 5 to 35 feet without using sights of any kind, as well as skipping cans from 10 feet to over 35 feet, shooting from the hip. In the dark in a tactical situation, night sites can expose where you are, as well as can lasers. Plus, when you get to rely upon a laser sight to hit your target, it will fail you in the exact time you need it. Therefore, practice, practice, practice shooting in the old “gun-man’s crouch.” And, don’t neglect your “weak side” hand because you could be wounded in your strong-side arm/hand.
    Of course, it took thousands of rounds in my issue pistol to get there…..and thousands more in the 35+ years since to maintain the skill.
    “No brag. Just fact.”

  • One-Eye

    I agree that this is an excellent article. I have several carry guns with Crimson Trace grips. I also have a S&W Bodyguard that has a less than useful laser. As I have gotten older I found that I could see the sights with my glasses or the target without. Not the best situation. Now I will say this, that I ALWAYS practice with and without the laser because you never know what situation you will be in. Laser grips are just another tool in the tool bag but they do have several advantages. Shooting a handgun involves doing several things right at the same time. Lasers can show when you are doing something wrong. For example, I was recently helping a new shooter who was all over the place with their shots. Their grip and index finger placement was wrong. I had them dry fire my gun and the laser showed them what was happening when they pulled the trigger. It can be a great training tool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Sheldon/1545634670 Jim Sheldon

    Lifting weights, keeping active, rely on your reflexes don’t over think the shot, and practice…
    This 61 year old just out shot his 25 year old “best shot in the family” son the range
    dueling tree, and in skeet…. He was breaking while I was dusting them…