Tips for the Aging Shooter

Tips for the Aging Shooter

If you have $18,000 to spend for your gun, you can buy a .600 Nitro Express Revolver that weighs over 13 pounds, is 22″ long, produces muzzle energy of 7,600 foot pounds, has a cylinder alone that weighs over 4 pounds, and shoots .600 rounds at $40 each at about 2,000 feet per second. It’s an Austrian Pfeifer-Zeliska Revolver. Sure you can handle it. Really? This old geezer is having trouble handling his Dirty Harry Model 29 .44 magnum and his Smith & Wesson .500 magnum and its 350 grain Jacketed Hollow Points with a mere 3,000 foot pounds of energy.

I believe the great philosopher Maxine said it best:

“Getting old is not for weenies.”

Or maybe as Mark Twain said:

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

The inevitable facts. Weakening eyesight, decrease of total muscle mass and overall strength loss, stiff and less flexible joints and muscle tendons, less grip strength, graying hair or its absence (I had to include this because of my follicle impairment), and loss of muscle fibers and flexibility that help you move quickly and assume certain shooting positions are just some of the natural phenomenons of aging. When the middle-age bell rings and we notice the unexpected fuzzy sights on our gun, that overnight our arms have somehow lengthened when we look close at that ammo box or shooting scorecard, have difficulty with sight alignment and sight picture aiming, cannot clearly focus on the front sight, and see our shot placement is way off, we might automatically think it’s the gun. Without a doubt, we reassure ourselves that it has to be the gun or the ammo. We say I am not that old geezer. But it happens to all of us eventually, so we have to deal with it. As we all get older, we naturally lose some reaction time and abilities or notice that some of our abilities to handle and operate a gun for our self defense have changed; thus we could become an easier mark for criminal attacks. The “Bad Guys and Gals” see our slower movement, different physical stature, wrinkles and gray hair as an invitation to attack us, the seemingly less-resistant and perhaps less-armed geriatric target. Although aging can cause us to have physical and mental issues when dealing with our handgun, many can be overcome to save our life or the lives of our loved ones. So, here are just some issues for us ole’ geezers to think about when handling, operating, and shooting a handgun for self defense.

WEAKENING EYESIGHT IN  AIMING AND SHOOTING

The natural aging and eye-deterioration process can affect either or both short-range and/or long-range aiming and sighting and our other shooting activities. The medical term is “Presbyopia” (not to be confused with the religious denomination Presbyterian) when the elasticity of eye focus is greatly hampered. I can testify that it diminishes the ability of the eyes to focus on near objects especially and also far objects. Like most, I first started noticing the close-up bluriness at age 40 or so and did not want to accept it nor associate it with my age. It has worsened now over the years.

My mantra is “Accept it, but go down fighting it.” Aging affects our aiming, gripping, stances and positions, movement control, breathing, trigger press, and follow through. One of the major weaknesses we notice is in our vision. I hate it. Some handle this by using bifocals for close-up shooting and others use distant vision prescriptions. It seems for quite a few that prescription glasses of some sort might be the answer. I know that my top priority is to focus clearly on the front sight and that involves close-up vision. I also know that I have to be able to see at a distance to get the general view of my target, even if it is blurry. The eyes anatomically and structurally cannot focus concurrently on three different things at three different distances. I wish I could focus at the same time on the target, my front sight, and my rear sight, but I cannot, nor can you. That is why the front sight focus is so very important. I even went to my local optometrist to  discuss my close and long range shooting problems. He happened to appreciate the shooting sports and that helped. He suggested some things and I had a corner of my prescription glasses ground so that I could see my front sight clearly through that top portion of my bifocal lenses. I just have to slightly dip my head. Of course, I don’t always wear those particular pricey glasses and if I happen to be in a street confrontation with a Bad Guy or Gal without them, I could be in danger. Also, I had this done two years ago and now my eyesight has changed and I must have the lens redone for additional cost. A friend had his optometrist put a near-focus lens on one side of his glasses and a distant-focus lens on the other side. Unfortunately it did not work for him and he had severe headaches. Another who shoots precision bullseye events uses progressive lenses that work for him. But this may not be best for self-defense or short-range action pistol shooting or competition… or for you. A shooter has to ask him/herself do you really need sharp distant vision for the type of shooting you mostly do? Yes, you need to focus on the front sight at a usual close distance of about 19 to 23 inches from your eyes. Do you need to see the very sharp details of a target at a distance of 25 yards? For example, a competitive action pistol shooter may not. At what distance do you mostly need to have a very sharp focus? But also think about your closeup, tactical confrontations at the near distances of less than 10 feet. What a challenge to meet all possible threat and challenge levels and distances. Remember, the eye and its inherent structure do not permit you to focus on three different objects at three different distances at the same time. Two of the three objects will be blurry. Is the proper sight picture and placing the aligned sights on the distant target sufficient for a solid hit? You have to answer these questions for yourself, for certain.

It varies so much by the type of shooting you are involved with and your eyesight. This is a very personal issue and the corrective lenses that work for one may not be best for another individual or distance situation. There are many different options, so ask at your local shooting range or gun store for a suggested local optometrist who is a shooter that could understand your unique eye situation and needs. I have found professionals that appreciate the shooting sports and understand the needs of aging shooters.

INFLEXIBLE & STIFF JOINTS & STRENGTH WEAKNESS IN RACKING THE SLIDE & USING THE GUN'S CONTROLS

 

INFLEXIBLE & STIFF JOINTS & STRENGTH WEAKNESS IN RACKING THE SLIDE & USING THE GUN’S CONTROLS

Time and time again I have seen older shooters in our handgun classes have problems handling their gun, racking the slide on their pistol, and operating the slide lock lever, safety, decocker, and other controls effectively. Racking the slide is probably the most frequent problem I have seen. While aging, arthritis, stiff joints, inflexibility, and medical problems may be contributing factors, most are racking the slide incorrectly. Incidentally, this applies to several folks, irregardless of their age or medical condition. Most try to muscle the slide back and rely primarily if not totally on the strength of their hands, wrists, and arms to rack the slide. Most do not know the proper technique and considerations to effectively rack a pistol slide. One of the 57 chapters in my book Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection is entirely devoted to the proper technique, 8 tips, and considerations for properly and comfortably racking a slide. The isometric push-pull movement, for example, involves a more positive way to chamber a round with the slide. Just some of the ineffective actions when racking involve holding the gun away from the body with arms extended, placing the palm of the support hand over the ejection port, babying the slide by helping it go forward thus causing a malfunction, or incorrectly using the slingshot method with stress on the wrist and fingers. Effectively racking a pistol’s slide involves by far mostly technique rather than brute force and strength. Practice is the key… and so is more practice. So rather than taking a defeatist attitude, remain positive, don’t complain and give up, learn the proper technique and considerations, practice them more than just two or three times, and stay with it. I have had responses from physically-challenged individuals with serious medical problems and experiences with several older shooters who were able to persevere and successfully accomplish handling and operating their handguns and controls. While the revolver’s actions of loading and unloading, ejecting spent cartridges, and handling recoil and muzzle flip do require muscle strength, joint flexibility, and physical challenges, some might want to consider a double-action revolver, despite their harder and longer trigger presses and other considerations. I must share that recently a lovely and spry 70-year-old lady student shooter without significant medical problems bought a new high-quality, high-priced, and never-fired double-action .38 special revolver. I had the same gun so brought it to class for her to shoot. She could not press the over 10-pound trigger to make the gun fire. The gun weighs about 13.5 ounces and is made of Titanium. When I helped her press the trigger, she immediately said “I don’t like that recoil and don’t want that gun for self defense.” Then she realized she already owned the gun. So this is a very individual consideration and several factors are involved, in addition to your particular age and medical concerns. Shoot a gun before you buy it.

MUSCLE STRENGTH AND HANDLING RECOIL AND MUZZLE FLIP

As we age our muscles deteriorate and weaken and it becomes increasingly difficult to shoot a powerful, high-caliber, and lighter handgun and to handle recoil and muzzle flip of guns. Most of us have experienced the dissatisfaction of not being able to shoot our favorite .45 caliber or .44 magnum handgun with the accuracy we enjoyed from it in our youth. While the gun has not changed, our muscles have weakened and we are not physically the same. So what do you do?

Recently we had a nice lady shooter in our class that developed breast cancer, had major surgery to remove several lymph nodes, and was very weak when she attended our class. She was brave enough to take our class and qualified easily and very accurately with a .22LR pistol with a low level of pain. Afterwards she had the opportunity to shoot other calibers, but could not bear the 9mm or even .380 recoil. She knew that I recommend usually a minimum of a 9mm pistol caliber for personal defense and asked what I recommended for her particular personal protection situation and medical condition. She was very near to not using any gun at all for personal protection and was very frustrated. Well, even though I believe strongly in the 9mm minimum for personal protection, I suggest that anyone SHOOT THE HIGHEST CALIBER HANDGUN THAT YOU CAN SHOOT ACCURATELY AND COMFORTABLY. In her particular case, it happened to be the .22LR pistol and she decided to carry the .22LR and use it for concealed carry and home defense, even though I did not recommend that. I suggested she try the .22 WMR magnum load for better stopping power, higher velocity, and better performance. She could get about 1400 fps velocity from a 6″ barrel gun and about 150 foot pounds of energy at 6 yards or so. I pray that it works out best for her and her medical condition. Each situation, medical condition, and aging concern requires a unique personal determination. To me, SHOT PLACEMENT is more important than caliber. Any caliber can stop the threat with the proper shot placement. I would rather have one shot hit the target with a 9mm and miss twice with a 10mm, irregardless of someones age. So at least consider moving from your 10mm, .45, .44, or .357 caliber to a 9mm, depending on your unique abilities, medical condition, and situation.

LOSS OF BODY MOBILITY AND FLEXIBILITY WHEN MOVING & RESPONDING WITH OUR GUN

At a recent International Defensive Pistol Association shooting match, I noticed some older folks (they were ancient- near and over 50 years of age) were having trouble quickly kneeling down on one knee to shoot a certain stage and required course of fire. Ok I admit one of the older geezers was me. Before you know it, old age and its accompanying physical infirmaties creep up on you and limit what your mind and body tell you that you can do. Well, I contacted my physician, which I knew I should do before starting any exercise program. Be sure and do that. Do not start any exercise program without contacting your physician. So, a few weeks ago I joined a local church exercise and aerobics class and go a few days a week. I can already notice the difference in many ways, especially in my mobility, flexibility, and overall body strength and stamina.

We need to move and exercise as we grow older to prevent so many illnesses and problems. Dr. Joanne Segal says that regular exercise can actually help boost your energy and manage symptoms of illness and pain. Some even say it can reverse aging to some extent. So as she and other medical doctors say, exercise is great for your mind, body, confidence and mood, memory, and helps remove stress. Studies show it directly lowers the risk for conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obseity, and certain cancers. If possible exercise with your spouse, significant other, or friend. My wife guides my exercises daily with assignments for mowing the lawn, house cleaning, weeding the garden, shopping and carrying groceries, and walking five miles to the grocery store to buy her favorite beverage, etc. Not really, but just wanted to check your mind’s attentiveness level. As difficult as it is on some days, hang in there, do not give up, be responsible for your own health and success, and always keep your mind and body active by exercising.

Continued Success!

Photos by author.

Note: This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and a certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.   

© 2016 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected]

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  • Some of this can be helped. Keeping in shape helps and with some men and women, HRT helps too. As far as eyesight goes, depending on what’s degrading, it may be helped or not. Nearsightedness can be fixed, not so much farsightedness and night vision.

  • 2retrievers

    I’ve found that building muscle memory through plenty of practice helps to compensate for degrading eyesight. Tri-focals work better than progressive lenses for me by eliminating “tunnels”. Practice, baby, practice. (Tony G. – JSOC Plank-holder)

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