Shooting With The Shakes

Fighting Through Age
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Contestants pose on the Royal Range after the match.
You may recognize some faces.

When the feces hit the rotating oscillator and your body is not cooperating with what you need it to do, it’s good to be able to say to yourself, “I’ve been here before, and I know how to handle this!” I was reminded of this in early December 2023 at Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Professional Trainers Seminar, a great learning experience ending with all of us on the excellent indoor firing line of the Royal Range complex in Nashville, Tenn.

The field of contestants included almost three dozen top handgun instructors, some of whom had earned Grandmaster standing. Ego was on the line. I was shooting with a pistol I often teach with, a stock Gen5 GLOCK 19 with a SureFire light, drawn from a Kydex Bravo Concealment strong-side hip holster from under a fleece-lined woolen shirt. It was loaded with 115-grain Federal American Eagle FMJ 9mm training ammo.

I was on the far left of the firing line. Hands were in front of me. I waited for the “fire” command.

It turned out I waited too long.

“Uh, oh …”

At 75, more than half-a-century of firearms instruction had caught up with me. The first thing you lose with “shooter’s ear” — the high range nerve deafness associated with exposure to loud sounds — is the sibilant noises. Your wife says “West” and you hear “Wet.” Well, you can also lose the sound of a start whistle. My first realization it was time to shoot was when I sensed movement to my right and heard gunfire.


Course of fire included hand changes, head shots,
speed reload and concealed draws.

“Oh, pooh!” (or something to that effect) went through my mind as I belatedly reached under the concealing garment for my pistol. I had been expecting a verbal “fire” command and realized I was behind the curve. My first mistake had been not asking what the signal to fire was going to be. Too late to snivel about it — the clock was ticking. I got the GLOCK out and managed the three shots two-handed, three dominant hand only, and three non-dominant hand only in nine seconds total. Knowing I was behind the curve I rushed the last shot just outside the center ring, one point down, but I still made the time.

I was furious with myself for dropping a point at only five yards and made my second mistake: I didn’t yell “Hey, Tom, I can’t hear the whistle! Can I have someone give me a shoulder tap?” No-o-o … that would have been too logical.

By the time we got back to seven yards, something interesting was happening. Among other recent manifestations of eldertude, in mid-October a long-standing set of lumbar spine issues had manifested as raging sciatica, affecting leg strength and balance, and causing severe cramping. Now, my right leg had gone into spasm, dancing a tattoo on the floor of the range. It seemed awfully coincidental — what I think it really was, was my anger at myself manifesting as an adrenaline response. In a fight or flight reflex, the tremors usually hit the hands first but it hadn’t happened.

There wasn’t time to analyze it. Draw, four shots, reload, four more in eight seconds. By now I was starting to look not at my target but at the shooters on my right, and when I saw them going for their guns, I went for mine. By the time we fell back to the 15-yard line, the right leg felt like it was trying to flamenco dance. I glanced down and could see the movement through my pants and thought, “Darn, this is embarrassing,” … which, of course, only made it worse and now the left leg started moving in tandem.


Mas finishes at the 25-yard line, legs still quivering like a tap dancer.

Final score with 50 timed shots: 98%. Mas is glad it’s over.

Recognition & Reparation

Back in the ’70s, I had debriefed enough gunfight survivors to recognize what I came to call “Body Betrayal.” When someone’s hands tremble or their voice cracks or they lose control of their sphincters, we see them as having “lost it.” And, when we see it in ourselves, we assume that we’re failing and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the 1980s I started teaching what I called the “spaz-out drill” where I forced students to shoot with their hands shaking to learn if they crushed down hard, held the sights on target and rolled the trigger, they could still get their hits. I channeled this on the Royal Range and it got me through.

The legs were still dancing when we hit the 25-yard line. I rushed again, and my last shot went high, above the center zone. I finished with a 98 out of 100. Tom told me later the average overall score was 97.4. If anyone but me noticed the tremors, they were too kind to say so but several observers told me they did realize I couldn’t hear the start signal and was behind the curve. The course of fire was tough, and only four people shot a perfect 100. In the tie-breaker shoot-off, only one scored 100 again — congratulations to overall winner Ben DeWalt.

The Professional Trainers Seminar was a great learning experience. I thank Tom for this and for my personal learning reinforcement outlined above. If you know beforehand you can shoot with violent tremors — if you can disregard “how you look,” the outcome, and focus on the task — you can finish the job and still be damn happy to get a “gentleman’s ‘C’” for a passing grade.

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