Features — 01 October 2012

Shoot for Senior Moments

The older set represents an attractive potential customer segment

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By Barbara Baird

Talk to range owners anywhere and they will more than likely mention the upswing in attendance at their shooting classes lately. They might even mention that the demographics for their classes have grown in the senior citizen category. Is your range reaching out to seniors?
Ranges that cater to senior citizens will reap benefits. Range owners have discovered many ways to entice the senior set to the firing line without setting up classes for seniors only. Whether it’s for defensive shooting, bull’s-eye leagues or clay sports, here are five good reasons why you should shoot for some senior moments:

  1. Seniors are able to visit ranges during daytime and weekday hours.
  2. Seniors often have disposable income.
  3. Seniors want to learn to protect themselves.
  4. Seniors might be looking for a recreational outlet, like bulls-eye shooting.
  5. Seniors network, often the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth.

“Like a community college”

Phil Roux owns two shooting stores/ranges in Arizona. With locations in Phoenix and Peoria, Shooter’s World offers 47 air-conditioned shooting lanes, along with private and group training classes.

“What really works the best with our senior citizens is the NSSF’s First Shots program,” Roux said.


Because the Peoria location borders Sun City, a popular retirement community, it serves as an important site for training for seniors. Roux said it is imperative to offer beginner classes, and the First Shots program – with its three-hour session – is perfect for introducing seniors to shooting.

“We haven’t had to create any specialized senior classes, but then, again, I wouldn’t put a 25-year-old former Marine, just back from Iraq, as lead instructor with a class full of seniors,” he said.

With an able-bodied staff of former FBI and law enforcement officers, themselves considered “seniors,” Roux has plenty of instructors in the stable from which to choose.

Catering to the Senior Set at Your Range

  1. Find out why they want to learn to shoot or improve their skills. Is it for self-defense, recreational shooting or a mixture?
  2. Find out if they have any medical conditions or disabilities that you should be aware of before you begin instruction.
  3. Find out their past history with firearms. What baggage are they bringing?
  4. Make sure you hire extra instructors for classes with seniors.
  5. Good lighting, handicapped-accessible parking and easy access are all important features for seniors on the range.
  6. If you offer a bull’s-eye league, make sure you create a seniors’ division, or even a super seniors’ group.

He said, “These retired guys who are instructors really cater to our retired students. They love them.

“When teaching seniors, it’s all about the pace of the class,” he added. “You’ve got to make it comfortable, more like attending a community college course. We even offer coffee and donuts.”

Roux noted that senior attendance at his ranges is seasonal, with the snowbirds arriving back in Arizona beginning in mid-September. He will add senior shooting leagues to the schedule then.

He said, “The seniors love their early mornings.”
He considered adding weekly morning leagues and keeping it to .22 caliber.

“It’ll be cheaper for them,” he said.

Therapeutic shooting on many levels

In Bay City, Mich., Glenn Duncan runs the family business of Duncan’s Outdoor Shop, Inc., which includes two 50-foot pistol ranges (with retractable target systems and a handicapped-accessible booth), two 50-yard ranges, a 100-yard rifle range, a 200-yard rifle range, an adaptive-use air rifle/archery range and a 0-50-yard shotgun patterning/rifle range. Duncan stressed the importance of offering wider lanes for handicapped accessibility. Duncan’s facility also offers an elevator for ease in getting to the shooting range, which is on a lower level.

Offering an extensive lineup of classes-from personal protection to hunter safety-and from youth leagues on up to senior bull’s-eye leagues, Duncan brings in shooters from up to 60 miles away on a weekly basis.

“Our bull’s-eye league is made up of 50 percent senior citizens,” Duncan said. “The shooting sports are easy for them. Many of them miss participating in sports and competition, and this is a way they can continue to compete and challenge themselves.”

Duncan said some clients and their physical therapists use the range for continuing therapy.

“The shooting sports are a great way to use certain muscle groups, and we have people of all ages on the range with their physical therapists,” he said.

Get a Grip When Working with Seniors

We asked Dr. Ron Martinelli for advice on how to improve seniors’ shooting abilities.

Q. Why is proper grip and grip strength needed for accurate shooting?

A. Accurate shooters quickly learn that having a consistent ‘master grip’ on any handgun is critical for accurate shooting. The master grip is acquired directly from the holster or when picking up the gun and must be consistent every time. Having grip strength is important to control recoil and the firearm itself, whether the gun is a revolver or semi-auto handgun.

Q. What can seniors do to increase grip strength?

A. They can use a variety of exercises and simple devices designed to increase grip strength.

* A sponge “squeeze ball” works well.

* Taking sheets of paper from a newspaper or magazine and balling up the sheets with each hand provides good exercise.

* Finding a handgrip exerciser that is for seniors (not for youth or younger adults) is also good.

Seniors teaching seniors

Firearms instructors Chuck Helmke and Charlotte Guttenberg, themselves classified as senior citizens, train senior citizens monthly at a range in Titusville, Fla. Helmke, who founded Individual Security/Survival Solutions, US, conducts civilian defensive training classes with a well-qualified staff, including Guttenberg – who is a tactical weapons trainer – at the American Police Hall of Fame Shooting Center.

“Age is a number,” Helmke said. “I trained a veteran in a walker who could do the self-defense course.”

Helmke and staff once offered “seniors-only” self-defense handgun courses. Three years ago, with the “age is only a number” concept in his head, Helmke decided to integrate seniors into the monthly self-defense classes.

“We will accommodate anyone who is not picking up the skills during class,” he said. “We have a 2-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, so Charlotte and I float and work with anyone having troubles.”

Helmke runs an introductory class that is popular with seniors, too. As one of the lessons, he brings in several types of cleared handguns, and participants may hold the guns, learn how to grip them and rack slides.

“It brings new participants a sense of comfort to work with the gun before it is loaded,” he said.

On Friday nights, the range runs an International Defensive Pistol Association scenario, often in low light, so that participants can shoot in real-life conditions. This is extremely popular with all the students, and, of course, is available to seniors.

One thing that Helmke stresses is be understanding of arthritis and other disabilities and help a senior to work out a way to overcome any shooting impediments because of that disability.

‘Street Safe’ seniors

Dr. Ron Martinelli, a retired San Jose, Calif., police officer who also is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist specializing in police/corrections practices, founded Martinelli & Associates, Inc., which offers self-defense courses that combine combat physiology with how the human body reacts to stressful situations. Titled “Street Safe Defense, Firearms Training Program,” the program offers five separate semiautomatic pistol and shotgun self-defense firearms courses in Temecula, Calif.

Himself a senior, the 61-year-old Martinelli noted that easily one-third to one-half of class attendees are senior citizens. He listed the following problems to be aware of when working with seniors: mobility, hand-eye coordination, near-vision loss and grip strength. The oldest senior in his course was an 89-year-old woman, who performed “phenomenally.”

About teaching seniors, he said, “It requires a different type of mindset that is nurturing and supportive. Seniors present more anxiety and often question their confidence. You want their time on the range to be enjoyable, as well as educational.

“Seniors need to have fun and experience challenges and successes, just like everyone else to enhance motivation and self esteem,” he added. “Good handgun classes need to use a combination of teaching methods that incorporate handgun safety, manipulation of the weapon, marksmanship and exciting, interactive shooting to attract seniors.”

Martinelli recommended using lower velocity firearms such as .22s and .38 specials to increase confidence before moving up to higher-caliber guns.

“Having a fun shooting course that allows the student to demonstrate marksmanship, while testing vision, movement and situational awareness and allowing the students to experience success at a skill enhances self-esteem, confidence and keeps them coming back for more,” he advised.

Getting them there

Of course, once seniors are hooked on shooting at your range, they will network for you. Getting them there, though, is another thing.

Phil Roux, owner of Shooter’s World in Arizona, said he looks for an area that he wants to target, finds a local community center or golf club and makes personal contact with several members.

“Seniors network better than any other group we know of,” he said. “Not all seniors spend time on the Internet, so contacting these groups directly is most effective.”

Ron Martinelli, founder of Martinelli & Associates, Inc., stressed getting in touch with local media to highlight what you’re doing at your range for seniors. Offer interviews and then teach something in the interview – a quick tip.

“The best marketing has proven to be stories written about our program that drive people to the website and our phone number,” he said.

Glock offers competition matches for seniors

Chris Edwards, a range master/match coordinator/instructor with the Glock Shooting Sports Foundation (GSSF) estimated that on average between 10 and 20 percent of attendees at GSSF’s nationwide matches are people aged 55 or older. GSSF even has two categories for seniors: The Senior category for those people who are between 55 and 64, and the Super Senior category, for 65 and up.

In 1990, Glock launched the GSSF, and it has grown to 44 competitive matches annually held throughout the country. Based on stock Glocks, the two-day matches are fairly simple, with no speed reloads or much movement involved. The competition also includes some events for modified Glocks. Average attendance at these events is about 300 participants.

Edwards said GSSF events are conducted under supervision of range safety officers. Factory-trained armorers attend each event, to talk to Glock owners about their firearms, because GSSF members receive services of that armorer at an outdoor match.

Of course, Glock set up the GSSF to promote its products, but Edwards said, “You don’t have to a top shooter to win. It is a generous program with generous prizes.”

Edwards said shooting a GSSF match is a “good inoculator” into competition, especially for seniors, because it is straightforward, without severe physical demands or memory requirements for stages.

To participate in a GSSF match, a person must join the GSSF. An individual membership fee costs $35. Family memberships cost $90 for up to six members, and grandparents are considered immediate family. There are other benefits to buying a GSSF membership, including the opportunity to purchase a Glock pistol at a discount.

The GSSF is interested in finding more ranges to host its matches. Find out how your range may host a GSSF match.

Learn more about the GSSF.

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