What Guns And Gear Do Older Shooters Want?

Let’s face it, gun store customers are getting older. And while more new shooters are entering the market, our seniors have the money and want to spend it on their favorite pastime.
What Guns And Gear Do Older Shooters Want?

You know what they say about getting older, right? The whole process is backward.

When you’re young and full of vitality, you don’t have any money to spend on all those fun and expensive endeavors. By the time you do have money, you’re not as physically equipped to enjoy all those youthful adventures.

George Bernard Shaw hit the nail on the head when he allegedly said “Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.”

So, enough philosophical babble about youth being wasted on the young. What does that mean to a shooting sports retailer? That’s simple: older folks have more money. I’m not in any way advocating that you start putting up “You must be this ancient to enter” signs on the front door. After all, it’s the young-uns that are the future of shooting, and our collective success.

I’m just saying that a prudent balance of product mix and strategy is in order. You can stock all the latest guns and gear featured in the new “Alien Combatants and Tactical Military Operators of Doom” video game to attract the X-Box crowd if you like. But, more often than not, they’ll simply spend hours gazing longingly at those items in the glass case, dreaming of the day when they have enough coin to buy that gear.

Now that 50+ man or woman that just strolled in? There’s a much better chance that they've reached the stage in life where there’s a positive balance in the checking account on most days. Heck, they might even have a credit card.

Don’t take my word for it on the improved spending power that comes with, um, experience. Those Nielsen folks that track ratings and such have done the math and figured out that by 2017, about half of the U.S. population will be age 50 or older. More importantly, they will control about 70 percent of the disposable income. Digest that for a second: The oldest customers you have control about three-quarters of your potential revenue.

There’s something else to consider. While we men just know that women are in charge, there’s data to back up that point. According to a study from the Boston Consulting Group, women in the U.S. reported “controlling” 72.8 percent of household spending. There you have it, 50+ ladies are the ultimate revenue opportunity!

So what strategy do you pursue when chasing after the Silver Shoppers? When deciding what to stock for us more experienced folks, you don’t have to look too hard. Just think about the natural aging progression. What’s the first thing to go? That’s right…

The Eyes Go At 40!

I can speak to this one from personal experience. Within seven minutes of my 40th birthday, I had to start holding my copy of Shooting Sports Retailer magazine farther away. After another nine minutes, the front sight of my Beretta 92FS started to get all fuzzy, and things got worse from there. Now I wear glasses full time. I can see things at a distance OK, but the inevitable presbyopia, or thickening and loss of flexibility of the eye lens, makes my front sights blurry.

Fortunately, technology offers a cure for us Silver Shooters. Red dot and holographic optics are now available in super small, super durable and relatively affordable configurations. It’s a big deal for any shooter who’s struggling a bit with his vision, because a holographic sight effectively reduces three focal planes to one.

With iron sights, our eyes try to focus on the rear sight, front sight and target. We force ourselves to focus on the front sight, but when that starts to get blurry, accurate shooting is difficult. In a red-dot scenario, our eyes can focus on the target, which is generally considerably farther away than the front sight. The dot simply appears on the target. It’s older-eyes-friendly.

You’ll almost certainly hear people say they can’t use optical sights on pistols because the “dot is hard to find.”

As Sherman Potter in the old comedy series M*A*S*H used to say, “Horse hockey!”

Like anything else, it just takes a little instruction and practice. The best advice I’ve gotten for adapting to optical sights on a handgun is to look simply for the normal front sight. Like magic, the dot appears right where it’s supposed to. Looking for it can actually slow you down, as counterintuitive as that might sound.

Try setting up a display pistol or two with a holographic sight and encourage your vision-challenged shooters to try it out. If they struggle with finding that dot, remember to tell them the front sight trick. If your demo succeeds, you’re not only selling a handgun, but a higher margin optic too!

Huh? Say Again?

When it comes to hearing protection, there are two possible sales angles. The first is preventative. While a harder sell — as we’re all invincible until parts of our body actually start to break — the idea is to convince customers to protect the hearing they already have. Every time I visit my nearby outdoor range, I see somewhere around 75 percent of the line using those disposable foam plugs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see people finally paying attention to hearing protection, but we’ve got a long way to go.

A couple of years back, I “heard the light” so to speak and discovered the wonders of electronic hearing muffs. Yes, you still have clunky things on your head, but you can hear everything going on around you, and that’s comforting and convenient.

The second customer segment to consider is the group who are already hard of hearing, young or old. My shooting buddy is a young whippersnapper like me (yes, wishful thinking, I know), and he’s got hearing trouble and uses hearing aids on a regular basis.

What do you recommend to customers in that situation? In his case, he keeps his normal hearing aids in place and adds external electronic muffs. The muffs can do their job of blocking dangerous noise levels while the hearing aids help him decipher the lower level of sounds the muffs allow through.

For those with little if any hearing impairment, educate them on the merits of electronic hearing protection. In some cases, those with light to moderate hearing impairment can lose their regular hearing aid and shoot with in-ear or exterior electronic versions. Some models, like the Etymotic GunSport Pro, offer an enhanced mode that increases ambient sound up to 15 dB. That’s a great solution for the older hunter who wants hearing protection but needs a little volume boost to hear what’s going on in the woods.

Stiff Joints Don’t End The Action!

After the eyes and ears start to lose their edge, many of us might start to lose strength and dexterity for a variety of reasons. This is the hardest scenario to recommend a hard-and-fast solution, as every case is different. Fortunately, the sheer variety of gun models, action types and caliber options can provide some help.

The most common complaint I hear from older, or newer, or less experienced shooters is that they can’t rack the slide on model XYZ pistol.

Sometimes, in the case of extreme weakness or physical impairment, that’s true. But before moving on to other options, it might be worthwhile to hand your prospective customer a semi-auto with a lighter slide, perhaps something like a Beretta 92, and ask them to try. Now observe their technique. Are they pinching the slide with a couple of fingers or using their stronger arm and shoulder muscles to push the frame forward against a firmly grasped slide? Nine times out of 10, proper technique can solve the problem.

If that doesn’t entirely solve the problem but gets closer to a solution, try a physically larger gun in a smaller caliber. For example, Browning just announced a new 1911 chambered in .380 ACP; other makers are also selling decent-sized guns in smaller calibers, with correspondingly weaker recoil springs. The reason for the larger gun instead of the pocket blaster is that there’s more to hold onto and guns with more mass may require less spring strength.

The most important takeaway here is to start a trial and discussion dialog. Rule out technique. Find out where the physical weakness is. Perhaps it’s in the fingers and a revolver won’t help, but perhaps a single-action semi-auto would work. You’re going to have to listen closely and get creative.

Growing sales through successful marketing is not about ads and slogans. It’s about being curious. In this case, it’s a given that there are more older folks out there than younger ones.

It’s also a given that older folks have more money to spend. Capitalizing on those economic realities is simply a matter of thinking through how you can best serve these customers, based on their unique needs. We all joke about the aging process — how about spending a few minutes thinking about how your store can make shooting easier for your aging customers?


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