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ARTHRITIS AND THE SHOOTER — 52 Comments

  1. I’m right there with you. Doing more 9mm and 38spl.than 45 and 357 mag. On the up side I brought my Sig 226 out of retirement when I did my HB218 qualification back in November. Shot a perfect score.

    • I’m somewhat of a worst case scenario, I guess you could say. I have severe osteoarthritis in my hands, compounded by ulnar nerve damage and age-related soft tissue loss in both hands. The right half of my right hand is “asleep” and I can no longer bring my 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers of either hand together. The range of motion in my thumbs, when extended out from my hands, will not allow me to hold a normal drinking glass in one hand between the hand and thumb. Thin-based beer glasses are my usual water glasses these days. My middle finger of my right hand will no longer bend far enough to fold behind a revolver’s trigger guard, so I mandatorily have to use auto pistols.

      My grip strength has deteriorated enough that a standard 9mm in my hands has visibly more muzzle flip than the same gun fired by someone else, but I still retain enough strength to fire the gun rapidly and accurately, although a true, high-speed double tap is beyond me any more. I can get off two shots in the amount of time a well-trained double tapper can get off four. I have swollen joints here and there, and the soft tissue loss makes shooting something as mild as a 9mm CZ 85 hurt like the devil. I’m a real aficionado of the .40 S&W cartridge, but can no longer use it because of painful recoil. I can still rack the CZ well enough to clear a malfunction in an emergency, but on the range I do my best to use out-of-battery loading and reloading as much as possible. I’m 75 years old, my hands are 85.

      I’ve been dealing with these problems for about ten years now, and here are a few of the things I’ve done to allow me to continue to carry capable, full-size service pistols.

      1. I use only standard pressure ammo.

      2. I use only full-size pistols chambered for the 9mm cartridge and having superior ergonomics (in my hands) as carry pistols. Single stack pistols are out of the question. I desperately need the double stack frame’s greater width to spread the recoil out.

      3. Every pistol case I own has its own Adco Super Thumb in it, as does my range bag. I never try to load mags unassisted.

      4. I have recently picked up a Handi Racker to take all the pain out of racking the slide on the range. It works extremely well.

      5. I pre-cock the hammer before racking the slide whenever possible.

      6. I never allow the slide rails or frame rails to go dry. I keep them lubed religiously. Same for the hammer.

      7. I always shoot with a half-finger athletic glove and often wear it when I carry in the community.

      8. Sadly, I’ve curtailed all recreational pistol shooting. My pistol shooting is now restricted to that amount necessary to maintain proficiency with my carry pistol.

      My LE background has been very helpful because of the training I received in one-hand operation of the pistol as well as emergency loading and racking techniques.

      i’m in a bit of a quandary right now. I try to carry a pistol that will allow me to have a decent chance against the guy who comes into my favorite breakfast joint with an AR and starts shooting. So that lets out, IMHO, smaller, lighter-recoiling calibers and smaller pistols. I’m looking at the 5.7 cartridge right now and will probably look at it more seriously in the near future. I guess about all I can say about the future of my pistol shooting and carrying is: “We’ll see.” Meantime I guess I should start praying that someone will come up with a viable CCW holster for my AR. 🙂

      Hope this helps anyone with impaired hands.

      Jerry

  2. This is very timely Mas! I was thinking of asking you about this topic over the weekend. I have traded out Mossberg 12ga pump shotgun to an ATI 12 ga semi-auto ; 45ACP has given given way to FNS 9 to allow for additional EDC options; and as much as I like the IDEA of a .308, I am enjoying the AR-15 5.56 Nato rounds in different twist rate barrels. I see a 20 ga semi-auto in the future after taking the MAG-40 class last fall. Not having any real difficulty with slides, but my K-Frame .357 Lady Smith will be waiting patiently if needed! Thanks for covering this.

  3. Mass
    Wow, this is a timely subject. I am 77. The joints at the base of my right trigger finger and thumbs are getting progressively worse. About a year ago I made my left hand transition to a strong hand. No I have built muscle memory and almost ambieyed. Accuracy is not a problem and just as good and speed is almost there.
    I have too many great handguns, play Cowboy Action and alternating handguns and rifles for hunting. Usually take both with me for hunting.
    I have a 1911-22 that really facilitated the transition. I’m really happy with my results and not about to let Arthritis get the upper hand.
    I now only run the heavy stuff up to 500 SW Mag enough to see a good group and zero and practice more with the sub calibers
    Thanks for your blog
    Bob Rutkowski
    St Peters Mo

  4. Oh add DRY FIRING to my comment. It lets me take holds with my 500 Mag and two single shot rifle caliber handguns

  5. Mas, I have gone to the Hi-Power and I am considering a CZ P01 Omega with a safety. When the Bears are active here in Western Maine I carry a 3″ 629 and hope I don’t need to use it, I practice with .44 Special and do a cylinder or two in Magnum to verify sights. I had to add one of Hogue’s long cylinder release which helps a great deal in getting the cylinder open.

  6. If you can find one, the Beretta Cheetah variant with the tip-up barrel is also an excellent choice for the arthritic shooter.

    One thing I’ve seen happening in gun stores over the years is new shooters in their senior years (especially grandmotherly types) often get advised by younger gun store employees to buy a lighter, smaller pistol because the employee reasons that the lighter pistol makes for easier carry without considering the issue of felt recoil. Often those episodes end with the senior returning their scandium pistol, and deciding they’re too old to shoot at all.

  7. As you know, Mas, I bought my first 9mm since the ‘80s for that very reason. I feel the day is coming when I go revolver only. I also found that my normal single action technique for Ruger Blackhawks and similar wheels of placing my little finger under the grip frame to control recoil has grown quiet uncomfortable.

    I hate arthritis.

  8. My wife has fibromyalgia with rheumatoid arthritis. She has a hard time with semiautomatics, but does just fine with revolvers. It’s nice that there are so many choices out there.

    • Hi Chet – God Bless your wife. I have those and a few others, and I thought about three years ago that my shooting days were over, but the revolvers work really well…

  9. I have been doing what you say for about10 years now. When I was promoted to a position requiring me to carry a .45 in the army, it was like love from the first shot. I never thought firing a 9mm would be as satisfying as a 45. I couldn’t have been more wrong. If you get yourself a good quality firearm that is
    comfortable to use, a day at the range is just as fun as it was years ago.

  10. Interesting about .45 vs 9 mm. I, also, find myself range shooting my G17, not G30, as I am about to hit 70. No arthritis but I notice the difference. I have always carried the .45 and hate to have to buy yet another (old) pistol here in MA, say a G19, to carry. I can’t ever buy the G43 I want in MA unless I track down an LEO selling one somewhere.

  11. Magazine loaders have become a must! But, even more than before, I find myself reaching for a wheelgun without all of those pesky recoil springs. Practicing reloads with dummy rounds helps with the fumbly
    fingers, as well as leaving a gap every couple of rounds with a rubber strip loader! I find them a tad bit easier to manipulate in the event a round speed loader isn’t handy.

  12. Thanks, Maz;

    Much to research, evaluate and try (half the fun)!

    As for my experience, I find I’m out of 1911 and H-Power (especially the hammer spring;
    28 lbs is way to much, made when Turkish primers were big on the market) and striker fired and lighter loads and trigger jobs.

    So using light recoil springs, shooting lighter loads in 45ACP, and going more with 40S&W and 9mm.

    And you young ‘uns (<60) just remember: the curse "old age " is NOT loss of memory, but the parts of memory that remain to mock you and encourage you to write check "your body can no longer cash". 🙂

    • BTW, Maz;,what was that expensive arthritic medicine your physician buddy/student prescribed? (My Max Out-of-Pocket is $2000 a year, so it’s probably in range.

  13. This is my first time commenting because I learn so much reading but rarely have anything worth contributing. However, this is a topic I have dealt with. I have a surgically repaired wrist (5 surgeries) due to torn ligaments and early onset arthritis so this subject has been an issue for me. I have three pistols that I love to shoot and all three are easy on the hands/wrist. They are 1) FNH FNX9 (full size doublestack 9mm), 2) Bersa Thunder 380 and 3) Sig P938 (9mm). All three are easy to rack the slide and the stress on the hand when shooting is minimal. The FNH is a bit tough to fully load the 17 round magazines (I use a loader tool that helps quite a bit). I carry mostly the P938 and really love to shoot it. It’s a 1911 style but really small and easy to conceal. I actually fired a revolver for the first time in my life just a few days ago and came to the realization that as the arthritis worsens with age, I could see advantages to going that route as long as the weight doesn’t cause problems.

  14. At 67, arthritis and I have been companions for many years. It hasn’t completely changed my ability to shoot whatever I want, but in the interest of comfort, I have changed most of my carry guns down to either .38 Special or 9mm. The Springfield XDs has been my favorite for a few years, but when the XDE came out with promise of easier slide racking, I had to buy one. It is much easier, either with the hammer cocked before or not. It is so much easier that I also bought another for my spouse, who has had a stroke and has little strength in her hands. She can rack the slide. That’s enough for me, and her, to be comfortable with them. The XDE is also easy to shoot well, recoil isn’t a factor, and it’s as reliable as sunrise. The same can be said of every Glock and many others, but the XDE works well with our arthritis and weakness.

  15. A couple years back I decided, in a fit of something, to acquire a new H&K .34 ACP, and for whatever reason I decided to opt for the longer (six inch) target barrel model. I was VERY pleasantly surprised at the very gentle recoil compared to other .45’s I own.. Kimber, Springfield, Remington, all in standard five inch barrel length. I’m not sure, but I guessed it was because that long hevy slide got to take a nice slow relaxed trip back, and then wander forward with plenty of energy to put the next round in battery and do the rest of its job. It is the gentlest .45 ACP I’ve fired.

    I;m also a great fan of the BHP’s in nine, and came across one of their venerable old “target” length Elites, with the counterweight forward of the slide. That Elite also has a gentler nature than the standard HP’s.

    I am suspecting the long HK is not a practical carry gun, but no matter, that’s what I have the Kahr K 40 for. Or I could always opt for one of the BHP’s. I suppose an OWB carry rig would make the HK doable, but I doubt it would ever become a comfortable EDC, open or concealed. But for fun, plinking, parhaps varmint popping, that HK is certainly docile. Never fired the standard length HK, so I’ve no comparison. Maybe they just figured something out.

  16. Maybe a tad heretical, but I got virtually a replica of my G23 and Taurus 608 in BB from Pyramid Air. I set an alarm every night for practice, just a little…
    The G 23 fits all my carry gear, and is just as accurate as the “powder gun” at my 30′ indoor range. Range clean up is easy too – empty the pellet trap and close the linen closet door to which it’s mounted.
    The mag for the CO2 gun is identical in size to the powder gun, and holds the BB’s and CO2 cartridge. Y’all might accuse me of just playing with toys, but everything is very similar to “real,” sans sound and recoil. And arthritic flair ups…
    Y’all’s mileage may vary…
    Great topic , Mas.

  17. Mas, having spent many years as a firearms salesman helping people to choose the most appropriate firearms to meet their needs, I concur with all of your suggestions. A lot of people, especially women, have difficulty manipulating the slide & the slide release lever on semi-auto pistols, even if they don’t have arthritis. Sometimes, demonstrating different methods of racking & releasing the slide will solve the problem. Other times, it’s just necessary to find a gun that’s easy enough for them to operate.

    In my experience, the Sig P250 subcompact in 9mm caliber was by far the easiest pistol on the market to operate. I never found ANY customer who couldn’t rack the slide or release it using the slide stop lever. That includes elderly men & women, people with arthritis or other physical handicaps, & even a woman in her 80’s who had severe arthritis in her hands! It’s important to note that the P250 is a double action only pistol with a long trigger pull for every shot, but it’s also one of the lightest & smoothest DAO trigger pulls that I know of, so I never met anyone who couldn’t fire one. It was the first gun I would show to people who told me that they had never been able to rack a slide & every one of them was amazed at how easily they could operate it.

    Unfortunately, it appears as though Sig no longer makes the P250 as I have not seen a new one for several months & it no longer appears on Sig’s website. Apparently, it has been replaced by the P320. The P320 subcompact 9mm is very similar in size & feel to the P250, except that it is a striker fired gun, & although it is also easy to operate I don’t think it’s quite as easy as the P250. It’s worth looking at, though, if you have arthritis. However, I’m sure that you can still find a good used P250 9mm on gunbroker.com for a reasonable price. In addition, the Sig P238 & P938 pistols are also very easy to operate, even for those without much strength in their arms or hands.

    One other suggestion which I have made to customers who have arthritis or weakness in their hands is to try a revolver with an exposed hammer. It’s far easier to swing out a cylinder than it is to rack a slide & even if the double-action trigger pull is too heavy, you can always cock the hammer & shoot it single-action. Almost everyone can do this, however, it’s important for arthritic people to choose a revolver that is all steel with a full length grip & not an Airweight or a polymer framed snubnosed revolver because those will probably have too much recoil.

    There are also reduced recoil loads of commercial ammo on the market in .38 Special & other calibers to choose from. Lighter bullet weights, such as 110 gr. .38 Spl. loads, generally have less felt recoil than heavier 158 gr. .38 Spl. loads do.

    The lightest recoiling ammunition that I know of is the relatively new PolyCase Inceptor ARX ammunition which is available in several calibers. These use very lightweight bullets composed of copper powder & glass-fiber reinforced nylon in a unique design that are fired at higher velocities than copper jacketed lead core bullets with much less felt recoil due to the light bullet weight. These should prove to be very beneficial to recoil sensitive or arthritic shooters & they are less expensive than traditional lead core JHP ammunition is, too. This ammunition is also sold under the Ruger ARX & the NovX brand names.

    Another option for home defense is a pistol caliber carbine like the Ruger PC Carbine in 9mm or even a Winchester Model 92 reproduction in .38 Special. Those are very easy to operate & have very little recoil. They are especially useful for people who cannot shoot handguns very accurately.

    Finally, there are still some .32 & .22LR caliber semi-autos & revolvers that are available for those who believe that even a small caliber gun is better than no gun at all, though I hesitate to recommend them because I know how you feel about mouseguns.

  18. Mas, Spot on with this topic, additionally SAF, NRA etc. should consider semi-autos an ADA and age issue i.e. semi-autos are a natural for the disabled and/or aged who are protected classes i.e. lets put those laws to use for us. Given the plethora of inexpensive 9mm ammunition it would be smart for Colt, S&W and Taurus to follow the Charter Arms and Ruger lead and come up with 9mm, .40 and .45ACP steel and alloy frame revolvers adding adjustable sights and Crimson Trace adding soft rubber laser grips with a larger activation button. How about a seminar on “Senior Shooting” or “Arms for ADA” at the annual NRA convention or SAF meeting and articles in The Rifleman and Firearms News. We can do this!

  19. I find it interesting that many people are moving from auto pistols to revolvers. My wife has severe arthritis in her hands; the last time we were at the range she could only put 25 rounds through the little SP101 before she didn’t have enough left to pull it through the double-action. I had been shooting the little Ruger LC9 and knowing she couldn’t run the slide on my compact .45 I locked it back and asked her to try to run it.

    She didn’t have any problem pulling that slide back far enough to disengage the slide stop with no magazine in it. so we locked it back and tried it with a full magazine. Much to her surprise (and mine) she really liked shooting it, and had very little trouble manipulating the controls (other than trying to put the safety ON; neither she nor I can do that without either shifting grip or using the off-hand…taking it off, no problem with the thumb-swipe, but putting it on is a pain).

    She ended up liking it so much that she shot her carry-permit qualification with it too. I’ve ended up buying another one (the striker-fired version this time, LC9s) so we can both have one. It’s what I carry when I don’t want to tilt to one side carrying even my stubby little .45.

  20. Mas, I have developed Osteoarthritis in both hands. Also the thumb tendon in my shooting hand is starting to deteriorate. Was advised by
    my hand surgeon to use my right hand less and wiser, so I have to use T handle screw drivers at work and I cant open bottles or jars without an opener without fear of stripping the rest of the tendon.
    I cant shoot any of my beloved .357’s any longer with magnum loads because of the excruciating pain. Also narrow steel framed .45’s are painful also. The wider Ruger P90 is much easier on my hand.
    After trying many friends handguns and internet research, I found out that the Smith and Wesson M&P series are the best handguns for people with arthritis. My go to handguns now are a M&P 9MM Shield and Compact and the M&P .45 Compact. (The recoil on the .45 Shield was painful for me but the .45 Compact is fine.) I have also gravitated away from my steel frame 2″ revolver and carry a Ruger LCR with Hornady .38 Special 110 grain FTX Critical Defense loads.

  21. Thanks to one of your books I hunted up a Beretta Model 86 Cheetah. It’s the only .380 I’ve ever seen with a tip up barrel. It has become a dear friend. My daily pocket carry is a Tomcat, also a tip up barrel. When I began teaching NRA Basic Pistol I found that many of my students were older folks like me who have no aspirations to macho whatever. Many of them wish the Cheetah or something like it was still available. They certainly enjoy shooting mine.

  22. I have standardized on 9mm although I find 45acp less punishing than 40S&W. I also shoot Sigs and S&W M&Ps for ease of3takedown. I con not break down my 1911s. 40S&W and magnums are only for woods protection.

  23. Topic: “ARTHRITIS AND THE SHOOTER”

    Mas says:”There has to be a lot of experience out there to share on this topic.”

    You seem to be saying there’s a lot of old farts in amongst your followers.😊

    Unlike some of you, I’m not a competitive shooter, at least in the sense of going to and participating in matches. I shoot for recreation, concentrating on defensive shooting scenarios. Having my own private range, I shoot a lot.

    Getting old brings with it a lot of new challenges. Arthritis is one of them. Long ago, I settled on the .357 Sig as my choice for the ideal defensive cartridge. One reason was the significantly reduction in felt recoil when compared with that of .357 magnum revolvers with which it’s almost a ballistic twin. (yes, I know it’s not quite as powerful, but it’s close). I went to the single stack P239 at retirement, trading in my double stack P229 with a factory swap.

    I purchased a Sig Mosquito (I can hear the groans and catcalls) for practice, as it closely matched the feel of the P239 and all the controls are identical. Now, concerning the malfunction reputation of the Mosquito. If you forget about the bulk 36grain hollowpoint ammo, and buy just about any brand of 40 grain solid round points, the malfunctions miraculously disappear.

    The little .22 is so easy to manipulate, you almost forget the arthritic hands. My routine is a week of around a thousand rounds of .22 followed by a day of .357 Sig (usually less than a hundred rounds).

    To be truthful, after a while, you may find yourself thinking that maybe the little .22 might suffice for defensive use as you find yourself be able to put lead into a target accurately and quicker than you can with the big gun.

    On a different subject relating to getting old, I recently took delivery of a pair of top focal bi-focal shooting glasses. Amazing difference to once again see your sights clearly. Tightened my groupings and cut my time acquiring targets significantly.

    • I was going to mention another problem that comes with old age, but for some reason I can’t remember what it was.

  24. Hi Mas, Several years ago when my arthritis was minimal I stupidly traded my Ruger SP101 for a Glock Gen 4 Model 23. This is a fine gun but my condition has worsened considerably and loading the magazines even with the help of a loader is difficult. As mentioned here racking the slide is difficult so I am seriously contemplating going bank to the SP101 with exposed hammer and speed loaders. I am coming up on 77 years old in a couple of months and don’t expect the disease to get any better. Thanks to you Mas and everybody else who contributed to this column.

  25. Mas, and gang, great message this… I too have been blessed with the hand arthritis bug. I’ve got bikers arthritis in both hands which involves trigger fingers and thumb all the way down into my wrists. Painful to grab, pinch and squeeze. I too have moved from the high power guns/loads I have always loved and shot well to 9mm,.380,38 and a ton of 22. Still shoot a lot of. 223/5.56 but my 12 ga game is over. Be safe

  26. Mas – Not to forget to mention that I find .38 wadcutters rather comfortable in light-weight revolvers. Any defensive data on those that you’re aware of?

    • I do not, but a lot of experts from Chuck Haggard to Dr. Gary Roberts give the wadcutter a thumbs-up as a defense load for light snubs.

  27. Bought a S&W model 500 4” I fired a underwood 700gr and my wrist and hand has been sore for over a month.

  28. Many thanks to one and all! Great ideas. Looking forward to Geezer Range Class 🙂

  29. I’ve found myself shooting 9mm more and more. And even sold my small big bores (Charter Bulldog and SA XDs .45)
    My two .357’s, Coonan and S&W 586 L-comp, are both ported and actually pleasant to shoot. My small guns will have to be .22, .32, and .380

    • The piece suggests the gun went off on its own, from impact. Clearly, the muzzle flash occurred when he grabbed it and obviously activated the trigger. Yet to the uniformed on firearms, it suggests another myth in today’s evolution – ADs by an inanimate object. Agreed on the removal, even from a desk job.

  30. I mentioned this on a private forum and Mas suggested it would add to the discussion here.

    I’m almost 52 and I have a desk job. I exercise every day, but . . . well, grip strength was undeniably starting to go. When a new lightweight .45 that is considered utterly reliable didn’t work 100% for me, I had knowledgeable friends watch me shoot it and they all insisted I was doing everything right. But it didn’t work for me. Yet the factory insisted there was nothing wrong with the gun. It was a mystery. After its second trip back a factory rep politely said, “You know, if it’s not the gun . . . and it’s not the ammo . . . the only thing left is the shooter . . . .” Yep. I get it. But, bah! I’m fine!

    Then one of those knowledgeable friends noticed that I was having trouble packing the last .45 rounds in the magazine. He said, “Hey, how’s your grip strength?” Well, I’ve got a bit of arthritis in my hands, but my hands aren’t nearly as bad as my hip so . . . “My grip’s fine! Same as always!”

    My (younger) friend took the magazine from me and easily loaded it. Handed it back to me and said, “Grip strength is the kind of thing you lose pretty quickly if you don’t specifically work on it.”

    Harrumph. Well, worth a try – I’d tried everything else. So, I started doing exercises specifically aimed at grip strength (pinching two plate weights together and curling them – I’m now up to 30x each side with light weights and 10 with heavier ones). And there’s undeniable progress: I had been unable to pull out Maiden Hair Grass bunches from my yard (my hands would slip off), and now after a couple months’ exercising I simply rip them out with aplomb.

    And . . . that darned gun works for me now. Hmm.

    Getting old . . . it sneaks up on you.

    cheers and thanks Mas . . . I’ve learned from you pretty much all my life and I’m STILL learning from you. Not many folks I can say that about. erich

  31. Several years ago i was working off duty at a range and had an older gentleman come in wearing NRA regalia almost head to toe lol. He was a pharmacist and he came in to shoot his Glock 27 and Walther PPK. He complained about his sights being off with his 27. After dry firing we discovered the pain from the .40 recoil was just too much. He ALWAYS FLINCHED. But the flinching went away with the Walther. Now that I’m over 50 and I’ve policed for 29 years this year i hurt every damn day. I’ve been carrying.40’s since ‘99 and .45’s before then. I’ll never forget that gentleman and I’m afraid I’m going to switch to a 9mm or .380 myself soon. Thank you for a great topic Mas. I’ve been following you throughout my career.

  32. Wait one second. Everything I read on the interweb says only folks that should carry guns have to have SEAL training, do P90X training 3 times a day, be 5th dan martial artists in their own invented style, have at least 3 national titles in IDPA, and can document how they personally influenced Jeff Copper in his development as a shooter. So old folks with arthuritis are definitely out for CCW. The old folks who don’t meet these criteria have to give up their natural God given rights to self-defense. Period.

  33. My wife has weakened hands due to injury. It was hard for her to rack the slide of several semi-autos. I saw great video on gunblast.com about the Ruger LC-380. It is a 380 built on a LC-9 frame. It has a much weaker spring making the slide so easy. It works for her.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXy9Nd2InyI

  34. When arthritis in my shooting hand thumb became painful I bought a Wilson 9mm Beretta 92G which had been tuned. Very easy to work the slide and enough weight to dampen recoil. Later, I picked up a Beretta Px4 9mm that had been tuned by Langdon and coated by Robar. Also very easy to work. Mostly .223 in rifles.

  35. For those who have trouble racking the slide of a semi-auto, try Springfield’s XD-E. It has one of the easiest slides to rack that I have ever felt…and I own and shoot the SIG P250 that people have written is an easy pistol to rack. The XD-E comes in 9mm and .45ACP and is hammer fired but has a light smooth trigger. Plus there is a sale now for extra magazines.