Shooting with Ailments: Part 1

Some forms of arthritis can make fast and accurate one handed pistol shooting difficult. This post, which is the first in a new series, explores what I've done to maximize accuracy while minimizing the impact on speed.

I had a very difficult time with the skills stage at the last IDPA match I attended. While retrospecting the skill I struggled with, it dawned on me that there are other folks with limitations and ailments who enjoy firearm related activities that might benefit from getting a glimpse into my experiences and thoughts. That led me to poll Twitter for interest on a blog post about this topic. I didn’t expect to hear so much enthusiasm for content on this topic. In fact, the responses were so overwhelming that I decided it would be better served by a series of posts on this topic.

So here we are then. The first post of a series I’m calling Shooting with Ailments.

As I take more training courses and participate in more matches, I’ve come to learn there are a number of good techniques employed by experienced and skilled shooters in order to shoot on target as fast as possible. These techniques work for the vast majority of able bodied shooters. However, some shooters, like myself, have physical limitations. These limitations could be a result of a condition one was born with, an injury, the onset of a medical condition, current physical shape, or simply time catching up with us. The other thing I’ve learned is that shooters with limitations can adapt the tried and true techniques or sometimes develop their own in order for them to shoot on target as fast as possible.

This brings me back to the skills stage at the IDPA match. The stage consisted of three targets about two yards apart from each other and about ten yards away from the shooter. On the start signal, the shooter engages each target with two shots using a two handed grip then reloads and re-engages each target with two shots using a stronghand only grip then reloads and re-engages each target with two shots using a weakhand only grip. My problem was the final string using a weakhand only grip. You see, I have a form of rheumatoid arthritis. My left hand, or weakhand given I’m a right handed pistol shooter, is the primary area affected by arthritis. When I have a flare up or my left hand is fatigued, it will begin to quiver when I form a tight grip which makes it near impossible to aim a pistol accurately.

Generally speaking, pistol shooters will use the tightest grip they can muster. The tighter the grip the faster, the recovery from recoil. That translates into less time between shots. However, with a shaky gun there is a good chance those hits will land in the -1 or -3 zones on an IDPA target. From a self defense perspective, it means the vital organs will likely be missed. Neither of those is a desirable result.

So what can I do?

As I mentioned, my left hand only starts to quiver when I tighten my grip. The tighter the grip, the stronger the quiver. As such, I can increase accuracy by relaxing my grip. This goes blatantly against what is generally taught for pistol grip techniques. Additionally, relaxing the grip too much can result in a “limp wrist” induced malfunction (usually a failure to eject). However, that too can be minimized by relaxing the elbow a bit and letting my weakhand move back towards me as the gun recoils.

What’s the net result? From an IDPA competition perspective, it means that the tight gripped fast 0.25 second split time plus time deductions ranging from -2 seconds (for 2 hits in the -1 target area) to -10 (for 2 complete misses) with a resulting time of 2.25 to 10.25 seconds becomes two hits in the zero target area with a longer split time. Even if that longer split time is 2 seconds between each shot, it’s a much better score and result than fast inaccurate hits. From a self defense perspective, it means the difference between two good hits in the vital zone instead of no good hits in the vital zone.

Another thought that came to mind during my retrospective is that the problem with my weak hand grip isn’t always present. This means that one of the things I will have to work on is learning to identify when it’s present because I would rather get two good hits in less than a second when I can rather than getting in the habit of shooting slow weakhand only splits all the time. I haven’t quite figured out how to train and practice for this, but I figure it will be developing the habit to start with a tight grip, recognizing the quiver, and backing off the grip until the sight is steady enough to break the shot. I am assuming this will take some effort and won’t be easy to achieve a level of skill where I can do all of that quickly under stress, but I’m going to work towards it anyway.

So there you have it? Sometimes a physical limitation means we have to forego what best of breed techniques call for and adapt a technique to suit the shooter. Yes, it will likely be less than optimal in a broad sense. However, it will be optimal for the individual.

What are some limitations you have and how have you adapted? I welcome your comments below as I think this discussion can benefit many shooters.

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