As is common with many shooting enthusiasts, I participate in a variety of discussion forums. Recently, a great discussion came up - does anyone have suggestions that would make shooting easier for folks with disabilities?
Many of us suffer from one disability or another; visual, mobility, muscular, size/weight.... All of these will absolutely impact how well one can shoot and how enjoyable the experience. The good news is that there are MANY things you can do to accommodate most disabilities and they're the same things that a lot of shooters do regardless.
And, of course, I'm going to give everyone some examples of things you can do to accommodate common disabilities.
If you suffer from problems seeing the sights and/or targets, you'll probably be missing what you shoot at a lot and that's just the pits. The bang may be exhilarating, but being able to hit the mark gives a solid sense of accomplishment.
Your first and best approach will always be training; even with limited visibility, you'll find the target. Jerry Miculek, a shooting great, has actually shot targets blindfolded and still done so blindingly fast. (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.) However, I want to do better than just hit the target.
One of the first things you can do is get a better set of sights on your gun. If you like iron sights, visibility will be improved by using fiber optic sights (work well in decent lighting) or tritium sights (work well in most lighting). There are even combined fiber optic/tritium sights that offer the best of both worlds. Some good brands/products to consider include: Williams Fire Sights, HiViz, TruGlo, and Trijicon.
You can also move to using reflex sights. For pistols, reflex sights are a great choice to improve visibility; they can be magnified and usually include a dot to help you aim. Unlike a laser, the red or green dot is on the screen of the sight. Of course, the down side is that these are also usually battery powered so you'll need to remember to turn them off. I really like what I've seen from Trijicon on these, and that's the one I'll eventually buy, but there are many other fine brands out there as well.
Next up would be a full blown scope. This can be a more expensive selection, depending upon how far you take it, but lots of folks find a scope on a pistol is a great assist to their accuracy. There are even more options in scopes than in other solutions.
Of course, let's not forget the most obvious of improvements you can make - glasses. Most experienced shooters and instructors will tell you that yes, your local range will allow you to wear your regular, prescription lenses as safety glasses but they do not really offer as much protection as true safety glasses. They're absolutely correct too - there are way too many gaps all around normal glasses, they often only cover the space of the eye socket itself, and you will almost certainly find yourself looking over top of the lenses, which means you are even less protected.
I've had one heck of a time with this one myself. Wearing my prescription glasses under a pair of safety glasses flat did not work and I was always looking over top of my regular glasses. After getting powder in my eyes for the umpteenth time, I decided I had better find something better.
There are plenty of places that sell proper shooting glasses with an insert or even prescription lenses. The prices are all in the couple-three hundred dollar (or higher) range and I'd really rather put that kind of money toward another firearm for my collection. ZenniOptical has a pair of plastic, half-rim frames (#744412) that fit the bill perfectly. They're very nearly shooting glasses by another name. Best part about it - they're 30 bucks; 35 bucks if you include shipping. This did the trick for me. Reviews on Zenni are mixed, but I've had good luck with them.
And last but not least, consider lighting. Some indoor ranges are just darker than others and that can be a real problem for you if you have vision problems. I love my Williams Fire Sights on my Rugers but at a dark range, they just don't perform well.
All shooters should wear some form of hearing protection. There are many types, some that are in the ear and others that cover the ear. Each has a different level of noise reduction and a different "fit" as well.
The fit of a headset is very important. If it's too big it might be loose; too small and it will pinch your ear, making it uncomfortable. In-ear protection may be insufficient for the size of your ear or requiring adjustment to accommodate the size of your ear.
If you suffer from hearing loss, when you wear your ear protection you may find you can't hear much of anything at all. While that would seem good on the surface (the ear protection is doing its job) that also means you will not hear the range safety officer, your instructor, or other shooters. THAT'S bad.
One solution - electronic hearing protection. These are headsets and ear-bud protection that include sensing equipment to block high dB sounds while magnifying lower dB sounds so you can hear in the room. You don't need to suffer hearing loss to use these either. I use the Howard Leight line of electronic hearing protection for myself. For a smaller head (child), I went with Pro Ears ReVo. On this particular one, I opted to NOT use the electronic version and just used the passive variety. There are many other, very good options available.
Fatigue - Muscular and Mental
Another problem we all experience is simple fatigue. Standing for long periods of time, holding a pistol or rifle up a long time, the physiological effects of recoil...these all tire out any shooter.
The most obvious thing to do here is to occasionally rest. Most ranges/clubs offer memberships and, depending on the time you go and the season, they'll give you a lane for pretty much as long as you like when you're a member. Instead of a 30 minute session, go for an hour and take the occasional break.
Hands get tired from shooting and reloading magazines - buy extra magazines and load them up before you go to the range. I know a few shooters who have 10 or more magazines for their favorite firearms and they have them loaded, ready to go, days before their competition or range visit.
If you do load your magazines at the range, and even at home, you can reduce the impact to your hands by using "speed loaders". The Mag Lula is great for larger calibers as it brings your entire hand into the process of loading the magazine (not just your thumb) and for 22LR there's the "Ultimate Clip Loader" that just lines all the rounds up with a few shakes and drops them right into the magazine.
I use a Mag Lula to help me load my 9mm and 40 cal magazines; I just do not have the finger strength to load 17 rounds into a 9mm magazine by hand alone. If you ask me, this thing is nothing short of amazing. Here's a link to one on Amazon...
I recently picked up an “Ultimate Clip Loader” for my 22 magazines as well. I’ve seen this puppy in action and man oh man does it load 22 mags fast compared to the thumb killing manual method. Here's the Amazon link to the one I bought...
These two assists are used by just about everyone I know; if you suffer any disabilities, though, it's just double bonus dollars.
There's also nothing that says all shooting must occur while standing; you can shoot just fine sitting down. In fact, you don't even have to hold the firearm freeform. Shooting rests, both the metal/polymer stand type and the sand bag type, are great aids in this department. An improvised shooting rest can even be something as simple as your range bag.
Many rifle shooters are familiar with the use of a shooting rests as it dramatically improves stability over simply holding the rifle free-form. Caldwell makes a bunch of different shooting rests that are well represented in the shooting community. There are other brands out there as well. You do not need to spend a lot of money here; a good range bag, three pieces of wood with a small pillow over them, and anything else you can rest your arms on will help.
I frequently buy supplies from MidwayUSA and they have many shooting rest options. Here's a link to a search: http://www.midwayusa.com/find?userSearchQuery=shooting+rest
Grip and Handling
You have to be able to hold on to your firearm to use it. I already mentioned shooting rests above, recoil is discussed below. Here I'd like to focus in on grip.
There are two aspects of grip to consider - preventing your hand from sliding off the firearm (typically a pistol) and being able to tighten your hand around the stock/butt of the firearm.
Many firearms come with grips that are just fine the way they've been manufactured. Others come with interchangeable backstraps that help adjust the width and breadth of the grip. Many firearms allow you to replace the entire grip or the sides. You have plastic, rubber, wood, and other materials in the aftermarket that will help you make the best choice for your shooting style.
I have a S&W Model 66 revolver that came to me with wooden grips. I removed the wood grips and replaced them with a Hogue grip (rubber) to get better traction on the revolver. This was my carry gun for a few years as an officer. My Glock 34 came with several backstraps; I took the largest of those available to get a much more pronounced beavertail on the pistol. This allows me to really get my hand up under the slide without risk of slide bite, and dramatically improves my overall grip on the pistol. I bought a Pachmayr grip glove to attach to my SD40VE. My Beretta M9A1...it was perfect the way it arrived.
If you find the grip is not interchangeable with aftermarket grips, and you don't like the grip glove/sleeves, another option to consider is "grip tape". This is also known as skateboard tape. It's a sort of gritty, stipled kind of tape that prevents slippage very well. It became so popular, that some manufacturers started selling a version specific to certain models of handguns; a lot of early Glock users bought kits for their specific guns that were pre-cut to be applied to the backstrap, grip sides, and even slide. Many shooters will also put a small strip on the front of the trigger guide so they can use their non-trigger index finger to further stabilize the pistol. One such firm is Talon Gun Grips (http://talongungrips.com) and you'll find plenty of folks who use their product.
Rifles are not without their own aftermarket grip aids as well. In many ways, a rifle is even more customizable than a pistol as you can often remove the entire stock and replace it with a different one. There are many different materials and designs available, including some that are adjustable. My S&W MP15-22 is an AR style rifle in 22LR. The version I bought comes with a MagPul kit already installed. The stock is adjustable; I can pull it out for my long arms or push it in so a child can still seat it comfortably. Many rifles support a vertical foregrip that attaches to a picatinny rail, and bipod attachments are a must for stationary shooting. The shoulder pad is also a strong aftermarket item for rifles; you can replace or add to existing rifles to cushion the impact on your shoulder.
You can also improve grip by using gloves designed for shooting. Sometimes, your skin just doesn't adhere as well to the firearm or maybe you need to protect your hands from the wear of shooting. There are many versions of shooting gloves on the market.
The other half of grip is being able to squeeze your hand around the grip of the firearm. This can be especially challenging for pistol shooters; rifles usually are more a matter of keeping hold and shooting rests work very well for rifles. Grip assist gloves such as Gripeeze (http://www.gripeeze.com) are designed to help individuals who suffer from any of a number of conditions that impact their ability to hold on to something. We're looking at this right now for arthritis support. (The company is based in the UK, but you can buy them online through Amazon.)
The toughest part of shooting will always be perceived recoil. Everything we do that leads up to the point of depressing the trigger is important, but the recoil is stressful no matter your size, experience, or abilities. As such, it's important to choose a firearm and round that is suitable to your frame and abilities.
Most polymer guns will be lighter than those with steel frames; that often means more perceived recoil. The heavier the firearm, the less perceived recoil. This is a general rule; I've shot polymer pistols that were easier on my hands than steel frame and there are polymer pistols that are heavier than steel framed pistols! The point to keep in mind here is that every firearm has its own "personality" and you want to make sure it is a good fit for you, as an individual.
An example from my personal collection - I have a Beretta Neos, a Ruger Mark III, and a Ruger 22/45 Lite. All three shoot 22LR and are roughly the same fit and form with polymer bases/lowers. The Neos has a 6" barrel (the Rugers are 5.5 and 4.5 inch barrels, respectively), so it is a bit heavier due to the longer barrel but that is not the only thing that makes it heavier; the whole construction of the upper adds weight on this pistol. On the other hand, the 22/45 Lite has aluminum all over and that makes it very light compared to the other two. The grip on the Neos is a tad more narrow, and fits smaller hands very nicely. Each has a very different personality.
I found that the 22/45 Lite had a bit more perceived recoil and muzzle flip than the others. Shorter barrel, lighter construction...this was no great surprise. However, it also has a threaded barrel which means I can add an accessory. The recoil isn't that bad for us (it's just a 22LR) so I went after the muzzle flip. I added a compensator and it made a fairly significant difference in the amount of muzzle flip. Compensators work by redirecting the expanding gasses behind the barrel in a different direction. This particular compensator pushes some of the exploding gasses up, which drives the barrel down just a bit as the bullet exits the pistol. You can also use suppressors and muzzle brakes to modify the behavior of a firearm as well. Compensators are designed to reduce muzzle flip, a muzzle brake reduce the kick of the gun, suppressors reduce the bang, and a flash hider reduces the flash from the explosion behind the bullet. There's a little overlap among the four, some combine functions, and prices vary widely.
Longer barrel, heavier construction materials usually means less perceived recoil; the shorter the barrel, the more plastic or alloys, the greater the perceived recoil.
As you might have expected, choice of caliber will also make a big difference in the perceived recoil as well. The difference between a 22LR round and a 50 cal is huge. There are also "standard" rounds and heavier loads like +P, hyper velocity, magnum, and so forth.
Smart caliber selection is important. If your disability manifests with pain or fatigue, you'll certainly want a lighter round. The same goes for someone with a smaller frame. A lot of folks don't like the 22LR round but I'm here to tell you - it's relatively easy on the body, ammunition is inexpensive, firearms are inexpensive, and it's plain fun to shoot. The 22 gets a bad rap in the self-defense community, but for training it just can't be beat. If you're new to guns, it's the best place to start. You can get pistols and rifles chambered in 22LR that have the same look and feel as the versions that shoot 9mm. If you hunt varmint (small animals), the 22LR is well used and does just fine. The 40 and 45 caliber rounds both tend to generate more recoil than the standard 9mm; they also have a bigger bang. If the 9mm is too heavy for you, consider the .380 or 38 special; they are about the same size but have less recoil/bang.
While we're talking about self-defense, all of these same things factor into your choice of a self defense firearm. Whether you fall into the shotgun camp or the pistol camp, be sure to apply the same considerations to what you keep in the nightstand or on your hip.
Trigger, Slide Release, Charging Handle, Disassembly
The way you interact with your firearm impacts how long you can handle it. Heavy triggers, stiff slide releases, and difficult to charge slides/handles can quickly fatigue your hands. Some guns and rifles are really easy to use while others...not so much.
The typical double action trigger pull can be 8-10 pounds or more; single action tends to be closer to 4 or 5 pounds. Many competition shooters like a very light trigger pull; typically close to 2 pounds. For most shooters, a 4-6 pound trigger weight is good. This is why you're better off shooting avoiding single action only pistols if your hands don't work so well. Some triggers can be adjusted, especially on rifles, and there are a number of companies that make aftermarket parts including triggers. My S&W SD40VE has an 8 pound trigger pull; I purchased a replacement trigger from Apex Tactical that brings that down to a more manageable 5.5-6 pounds.
Charging your firearm is usually done by pulling back a bolt, racking the slide, or a similar action. Anyone with weakness in their hands, grip, or forearms knows that this can be a challenge. Consider this when you choose your firearm. There are some after-market part that can help as well; most AR style rifles have a charging handle you pull and you can find an attachment to allow the use of more of your hand. A really good example of such an implement is actually for the Ruger Mark and 22/45 line of pistols. These are very common 22LR pistols but grabbing ahold of the back of the bolt to pull it out can be tough. TandemKross has a small handle that attaches quickly and easily that simply solves the problem. You'll find it here...
The slide release will affect how your slide is released AND, in many cases, how you field strip the gun for cleaning. Some slide releases go down quickly and easily with the push of a thumb; others require two hands and a lot of effort to move. If you're in the camp that says you don't use the slide release to rack the slide forward, you'll want to ensure there are serrations on the slide to grip and that it doesn't require a pick-up truck and chain to pull it back. (Grip tape may help here too.)
Every firearm needs to be cleaned and that means disassembly. Consider this when you make your purchase; some come apart really easy while others require a bit more manual dexterity to say the least. My Beretta Neos has a button and a screw that removes the barrel piece; you press the button to release the latch on the screw mount, then unscrew it and the top comes off. The slide release holds the slide back; while holding the slide, you depress the slide release and guide the slide forward to pull it and the associated springs and such right off the pistol. My Mark III though...well, let's just say you need to own a mallet to get it apart and that's actually part of the recommended technique for disassembling it.
Whether it is a long term disability or a short term injury, we're not at our best when we take a part of our body out of commission. This might be something as simple as a broken bone to as severe as an amputation or any of a number of disabilities.
Many of the above suggestions will help with injuries but one that doesn't specifically fit into the above categories is training. I know...every instructor harps on training, visiting the range regularly, building muscle memory, and so forth. They're all right, though -- the more you train, the easier you will find it to accommodate your disability and the more natural that accommodation will "feel" to you, as a shooter.
One example that fits both sides of the fence here is the use of your non-dominant half. Right handed/left handed, right-eye dominant/left-eye dominant...training the other side of your body to be stronger is an added plus. Learning to shoot with the opposite eye or even with both eyes open is just a good habit to get into regardless of the reason. The same can be said for shooting one handed with your "weak" hand.
I've been working with the kids in our family a lot lately, my own as well as nieces/nephews, and my nephew threw me for a loop - he's a lefty when everyone else is right handed. Took me a few times to work out posture, grip, and general stance. Needless to say, I'm now working on left handed shooting.
I'm left eye dominant although I am right handed. Ever try to shoot a rifle right handed while focusing through the scope with your left eye? Needless to say, I've been working diligently to use my right eye. I'm also working on point shooting with both eyes open.
Getting used to the "bang" and recoil also comes with practice. The more you experience, the less sensitive you will be and that means a less extreme reaction.
Worth considering too - take classes and work with more experienced shooters who can help you develop better form. I've found I make mistakes without realizing it and having a shooting buddy helps immensely; I can't watch myself but he can see what I'm doing and help me make adjustments. Sometimes you'll pick up an idea for something that you can pull into your own shooting practice.
I'm sure there are many other ways to accommodate disabilities when shooting and welcome further comments/discussion. As always, I can't recommend enough reaching out to others on the various gun enthusiasts forums, at your local range and shooting clubs...there is a great community of folks out there who want nothing more than to help others enjoy the sport of shooting firearms. I've always found the shooting community to be very supportive and open to questions. I hope you found this article helpful!