Skip: Bill, got I minute? I want to ask you to be on my podcast.
Me: OK, got a topic?
Skip: Yep, I want to talk about how getting older affects you as a shooter and trainer. Old fart that you are . . . I thought of you . . .
Old fart . . . personally I identify as a C.O.G. . . . Crotchety Old Guy . . . and I’m damn good at it!
So a time is set to record a couple segments for his podcast, one about my book and the other about “aging” and shooting. In the interest of full disclosure Skip Coryell is the owner of White Feather Press who also happens to be my publisher. He’s been great to work with and I was more than happy to play the “old fart” part of the interview.
That said, it’s a serious topic. Aging affects us in a broad range of ways but the raw physicality of firearms training begins to play a part pretty darn soon. So, I’d like to take a crack at this topic from both a shooter’s POV and then a trainer’s.
Being a shooter . . . and getting older.
Let’s begin by defining “older” . . . I remember attending my Uncle Ted and Aunt Ester’s 25th wedding anniversary and marveling at them being so old and being married for so long. How did people live that long. Of course, Susie and I have left our 25th anniversary 20 years in the past . . . so there’s that.
Aside from that . . . life happens. 21 years in the military from which I escaped pretty well unscathed excepting a “lung thing” that’s been a bit of a pain in the butt since returning to the world in ’71 and gaffing out on a telephone pole while on a deployment that sometimes reminds me with twinges in my back. Minor, minor things.
(It’s about here that I think I begin to sound like the old men sitting around Floyd’s bitching about their aches and pains . . . only to remember so few of those reading this will even know who “Floyd” is . . . heavy sigh.)
Men have their own particular “typical” milestones. From age 27-35 all men are assholes. Nothing personal, we just are. We know everything, are well into our careers, we’re strong, vital and ready to take on the world. Typically, we’re “book smart” and life stupid. There are things that temper that . . . marriage (and we’re blessed if we marry an adult to whip us into shape – I was so blessed), military life and deployments, loss of parents and grandparents . . . and individual life lessons – accidents, illness. Provided we survive this, we are reasonably well prepared to face “life” as an adult after age 35.
At age 40 our eyesight goes. Again, this isn’t personal, it just happens. For me I had a kick-ass case of the flu and climbed out of bed 10 days later with one eye focusing about 6” different than the other. I went from perfect vision to tri-focals in 10 days. In the past 27 years (yes, I’m THAT old, about to hit 67 my next B-Day) nothing has changed and my prescriptions have remained virtually unchanged.
Age fifty and guys just can’t pee anymore. Typically, due to a little walnut sized and shaped critter called a prostate. It’s called “enlargement” and since it surrounds your “drain tube” when it gets big it stops things up. One of the things that can cause that is the Big “C” . . . which happened to be my issue. One more time the good Lord was kind and after a bit of a “snip-snip” the offending critter was gone and the Big C has also remained gone for the past 14 years.
When you reach 60 some of these things begin to add up. When I look in the mirror a part of my mind still sees the 16-year-old that is still hanging around. That said, when I took a 2-day, 24-hour patrol rifle course this past November in the cold, rain and dark . . . it hurts a bit more than it did when I was 16. So, this is where I am today . . . and it does affect my abilities as a shooter. Let’s talk a bit about that.
Issues with eyesight are real and span a broad range of ages. For me reading is the primary issue but picking up the front sight of a handgun also became an issue. There are some good solutions for this. Mine was to pick up the I.C.E “claw” rear sight and the Trijicon large green square front sight combination. I have these on both my primary carry G17 and my backup G17. They make a real difference. And, during a recent night qualification shoot they were easy to pick up in lowlight and worked well in combination with a flashlight. RMR sights are also beginning to come on strong as an option. My main issue here is that I hate to trust my life to an electrical device. I have backup irons on my carbine incase the batteries on my optic die . . . I have the same fear with a RMR sight. For now, I am very happy with my choice of sights and I do not see myself changing.
The other possibility is that your night sight diminishes to the point that you simply can not distinguish the target. Period. The easy answer is a weapon mounted light or flashlight (which should be in your pocket anyway). My caution here is that there will come a time when you have to be honest with yourself. The age will vary . . . but if you can not clearly identify the target you are about to press the trigger on . . . please . . . don’t.
You need to be able to “run the gun” and many of today’s semiautomatic pistols are “stiff”. I’ve told the story before of a friend that picked up his LC9 the same time I picked up mine. When he went to manipulate the slide, he simply did not have enough hand strength to do it. Nor could he load the magazines fully. From an emotional . . . mental . . . POV, these can be difficult things to wrap your head around. From a practical POV, your life depends on your ability to run the gun. If you can’t manipulate a semiautomatic pistol it may well be time to consider pulling out your revolver, or picking one up for the first time. There will still be some issues, but as long as you can press the trigger you have the opportunity to protect your life, the life of your family and anyone else in your charge.
Small, involuntary hand movements are also common as a person ages. At times, they can begin early and for many they don’t show up until the 70s, 80s or beyond. I currently am tremor free and pray I remain that way. That said minor tremors have little effect on a shooter’s ability to get combat effective hits at typical defensive distances of 15-ft or so. As long as the shooter can run the gun, minor tremors are simply a nuisance – nothing more.
The effect “mobility” has on a shooter depends on what you are evaluating. At a minimum, a defensive shooter needs to put rounds on a threat as quickly as possible. This implies the ability to move at least one hand and arm quickly, accurately and to be able to press the trigger at least 6 times for a 6-shot revolver. Past that the individual could be confined to a wheelchair, have a single arm only and be blind in one eye. They could still accurately engage a threat. If the need grows to include escape and evasion, the task becomes much more complicated.
The CQB qualification shoot I went through for the patrol rifle covers typical movement. Running short distances. Moving between prone, sitting, kneeling and standing. Rapidly engaging a threat at distance while quickly moving between standing, kneeling and prone. As a C.O.G. what I notice is that as I move forward in time this simply hurts more. I am blessed enough that I can still make times, shoot a score required for an instructor . . . but . . . I genuinely feel it at the end of the day. For the older shooter there is a balance here between allowing pride physically hurt you, and honestly assessing where you are in the scheme of things. Pay attention . . . and be open to the simple fact that at some time you won’t “make times” . . . and you won’t be able to smoothly move from prone to standing in any type of reasonable time . . . if at all.
One thing that helps me is vitamin “I” . . . ibuprofen. I “pre-medicate” with about 600 mg about an hour before range time and every 6 hours for the next 12 hours . . . 1800 mg for the day. And repeated the next day. I do this on pack and paddle trips as well. I find no value in “suffering”. That said, I am also mindful that a day will come where it won’t provide the relief I will need. A bridge I will cross when I need to.
Being old . . . and an experienced shooter . . . doesn’t mean you can skip consistent training. We are all reminded over and over . . . “shooting is a perishable skill”. Because it is. Just because you’ve been shooting for 50 . . . 60 years or more doesn’t mean you get to skip range time. None of us can afford that luxury. Do the work, put in the time . . . expect excellence on each and every trip. Pay attention to changes, do your best to adapt to them.
From and instructors POV
As an instructor working with an “older” student take a bit of time and evaluate them as you take them through your coursework. I usually start during the classroom portion and find out if anyone is on any type of medications that can affect their performance on the range. While this is important across the board . . . older shooters can be on multiple meds at the same time – all of which can be a problem at times. It can also affect your emergency response plans as well. Ask the questions in private if you must.
One personal example is that I had a shooter get a bit of a slide-bite that simply would not stop bleeding. He was on blood thinners and it took a lot longer and more direct pressure before things finally clotted and the bleeding stopped.
On another occasion, I had an older shooter have a hard time with the heat on the range on a surprisingly warm 80-ish degree day in late March. This one was on me . . . I was not paying as much attention as I needed to. By the time I noticed there was a problem brewing, she definitely needed a bit of down time to recover.
Evaluation of their ability to pick up the sights and get good hits may well come into play more for your older students. That said, fixing the problem is no different regardless of age. We’ve had this discussion before . . . return to the “Drive – Touch – Press” drill, watch what they do and tweak as necessary.
Mobility will definitely come into play with your older students yet what I notice is that it is typically speed that is affected. Us C.O.G.s just plain move slower. And, if you ask us to roll around on the ground, kneel and stand quickly . . . there’s a good chance many of us simply will have to take a pass. If you have students that have these problems, take the time to talk about alternatives, other ways to move to cover, to use cover. Remember, the bottom line is rounds on the threat regardless of how fast we’re moving.
Finally, there’s the “SUPER C.O.G.” God help ya! A few years back I took a CFS course from Rob Pincus. In attendance was a “SUPER C.O.G.” who simply knew everything, had no intention of evaluating himself in any way and was not interested in trying anything new. For two whole days. Honestly, it was sad. He’d spent good money, two days’ worth of time . . . to learn . . . NOTHING!!! He didn’t even show up to the AAR session. Please . . . don’t be that guy. And, as the instructor . . . I think Rob presented a good example. You need to demand the best from the students – all of them. Rob nudged, pushed this fellow throughout the entire course. That’s all we, as instructors, can do. It is always up to the student to be open minded enough to search for value. But, in the end, it’s their decision.
Age will affect us all in one way, shape or form. It might be quick . . . or it might be a slow progression. Regardless . . . we will all walk down that road. Listen to your body, take care of it, adapt your firearms if possible to compensate . . . but bottom line . . . keep at it. Do your range trips, be the best possible shooter you can be . . . for as long as you possible can . . .
Now, where did I put that ibuprofen???