Special advice for older shooters and those aging their way there
Photos & Article
by R. K. Campbell
If you are a young person, don’t skip this page. We will all be the in the same boat one day and time travel only works in one direction.
There is a saying that old age and treachery will overcome youth and enthusiasm. This analogy is quite true in the corporate world but may also apply to personal defense. Older people have greater wisdom, at least I like to think so. Certainly there have been events in life that have illuminated us. Older folks are often very skilled shooters. They have well developed dexterity, coordination and confidence. I have seen any number of matches in which young shooters have performed flawlessly in movement, crouching and taking corners like nobody’s business, but in the end they were simply outshot by older shooters.
The older shooter knows his edge and he knows where it is. He is consistent and while his times may not impress, they are good times. He or she doesn’t often have to go back and re-shoot the target. Even shooters who suffer to some degree from arthritis in the knees tell me they are able to spring quickly for a few feet and perform in the few seconds demanded in interpersonal combat. A combination of physical ability and shooting ability is best but as we age and the active life we have worn takes it toll we build upon what we have. The balance between physical strength and dexterity may shift; we hope our strong points will make up for shortcomings.
Proficiency at arms demands a certain physical ability. As we grow older there is a natural decline. The decline is barely noticeable in some of us until we reach our mid-50s when one year seems like two! I have reflected upon this gradual change and how it affects our ability to defend ourselves as well as to enjoy the shooting sports. Natural aging is accelerated by past injury. I have my share of shadows from these injuries and they are a nagging reminder of some of my adventures with our protein-fed ex-con criminal class. Proper knee supports and the use of ice packs helps. Maturity is the acceptance of new limitations.
I find my mind is clearer now than at any other time in my life, and a clear mind is an essential element of any skill-building exercise. As we grow older and wiser we tend to recognize the root of a problem and take a more direct route in solving this problem. For several reasons your handgun shooting need not suffer as you age. Indeed you may see a gradual improvement well into your retirement years. I may not be able to run as long or as well as I once did, but I seem about as strong. My eyesight, once very sharp, isn’t quite as good, but as we age visual acuity fades. The lens hardens and those who have never needed glasses must use them.
As an example I once could see the sights of a GI 1911 well. When firing off the benchrest I found these sights precise when properly lined up. Today, I do my best shooting with Wayne Novak’s Lo Mount sights. The old GI sights are mere blobs to my unaided vision. To make a pun, I also “see” the benefit of brilliant colored sight inserts. I was once disdainful of the white three-dot set up, but now find such a set-up very helpful. I long preferred a solid black post against the target, but in a recent shoot out the three-dot performed better in dim light.
Tritium, of course, is ideal for use in dim light or dusk-like conditions. The popular fiber optic front sight is a blessing for those of us with proscribed ocular ability. The Taurus Judge revolver is delivered with a bold fiber optic front sight insert as a standard feature, and this is a good feature. On the cheap, a nice red dot of nail polish has worked for decades, but the fiber optic front sight (like a Hi-Viz or TruGlo) is a better all around deal. I have also used a variety of aids including stick-on dots for improvement. If you cannot see the sights, you cannot properly align them for good results.
I am thankful that I have been spared arthritis in my hands although I am dealing with problems in my kneecaps. I have learned to use my back more than my knees in bending. My knees still articulate more or less okay, but I am familiar with a feeling similar to a swarm of hornets attempting to sting their way out. Today I focus more on the finesse of sight acquisition, sight alignment and trigger compression. This is precisely why so many gray-haired shooters do so well at IDPA. They have learned that moving into the shot and achieving the proper break is important.
I am not going to state I have reached perfection and perhaps the nirvana of handgunning. But the results I post are more consistent than ever. The occasional brilliant results and the equally frequent poor results are less important than our reliable average. The poor results are seldom encountered. By the same token I have no excuse for a miss.
I fervently believe that skill and proper control will prevail over pure strength in handgun contests. Less of the muscle and more motivation are the rule. Loss of muscle mass and perhaps the motivation to constantly be ready for those who prey upon the older person will be our guiding rule. While we all may celebrate reaching our majority in one piece, there are certain precautions we may take to enable us to reach that goal. Let’s look at just a few of them.
A few years ago I was working a part time job that paid well. I changed industrial filters, and the reason my boss and I got these jobs is because they were difficult. They were often in high places and on roofs that were difficult to access. While it seems fun to use the ladder to access one roof, drag it up and then access another, there is no room for error. If you slip, you die.
Well, I slipped once and my knees were so sore for two weeks if almost messed up my real job! Obviously I stopped short of the roof. A few other difficulties over the years including a smash into the dash of a police cruiser during an accident resulted in touchy kneecaps. As a result when practicing on the range and undergoing tactical movement, I either wear knee pads or made certain a pad is in place on the range. Sure, I can ignore the pain when I have to but why should I? Take care of what you have.
After firing several hundred thousand rounds of handgun ammunition I have flexible hands and fingers and no lingering effect from any injury. I have broken a finger in a fight and cut my knuckles nearly to the bone but they are just fine. Occasionally a long typing session causes my knuckles to swell but an ice pack takes care of that. I think it goes without saying that all that ammunitionsometimes as much as 1,000 rounds in less than a week and hardly ever less than 100 rounds a week for 40 years or morewas not magnum ammunition. The majority has been standard caliber cartridges such as the .38 Special, .44 Special and .45 ACP. I have not adversely impacted my joints. But today when I am engaged in long firing sessions I use Gripswell gloves. There is a special version for firing magnum revolvers and I use those as well. I have been more than lucky and intend to remain so.
When your visual acuity fades, a good set of eye glasses is essential. I am presently using Hansen Eagle Eyes shooting glasses with a special bifocal lens. These glasses have been a great aid in shooting small groups on paper at longer range. They make the sights appear clear and I am able to verify my sight picture. I also use different sights, as I mentioned, with those that are among my favorite the Novak with fiber optic insert. Some fiber optic inserts are not as rugged as the Novak, so beware. Choose durable gear that is an aid not a hindrance.
While aging takes it toll, many of us who are well past the half century mark are enjoying the shooting sports. I have a number of friends in their mid-sixties and two in their eighties who remain active and who are occasionally shooters. As I have often said, when I go I wish to be completely worn out. With a bit of care and determination that is still a long way away.
ON THE COVER: If you know the event calls for shooting from a kneeling position, then be certain there is a knee pad present. It will really help with keeping your knees operating correctly!
Return to Archive Index