One of my favorite times of year is spring because that’s when I get the opportunity to make an impact on women’s lives. Every spring, I volunteer to teach women how to shoot pistols at one of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors (WITO) events. I served in the U.S. Army and spent 19 years as a police officer. In that time I have amassed a lot firearms’ experience and I love sharing that knowledge with new gun owners or with those thinking of buying their first gun.
I conduct this training in an environment that allows women to ask questions without judgment. I try to create a safe and open atmosphere—something that I had rarely experienced during my initial training. I thoroughly cover the shooting fundamentals, but I also include information that women need as they enter this new and often unfamiliar culture. I provide women in each class with guidance and advice on three important lessons that I learned the hard way.
Lesson 1: Understand the Relationship Between the Gun, the Ammunition and You
Ideally your firearm, ammunition and your body operate in harmony. I explain this because I felt that my early instructors failed to explain this in language and with terminology I could understand. They taught me how to tear down my gun and clean it but not much else. Some instructors mistakenly believe that their students possess a level of knowledge that many beginners don’t. Such mistakes can have catastrophic consequences. One consequence is that students often fail to ask meaningful questions because they simply don’t have enough background information to formulate questions. Also, some students are to shy to ask questions. This can lead to accidents.
By thoroughly explaining how to hold and handle firearms and more I work to alleviate unnecessary anxiety and fear. I have suffered from anxiety on the range. Because of this I have come close to doing some stupid things. For example, if no one ever explains which part of the cartridge is the bullet, a student might improperly load a magazine. Simply telling or showing someone how to do these basic things is critical.
I tell women that successful shooters understand and visualize the relationships between the operations of the firearm, ammunition and their bodies. This knowledge allows them to predict, prevent and fix malfunctions and mishaps while simultaneously improving their accuracy.
Lesson 2: Find the Right Training and Trainer
The second lesson I wish I’d learned earlier was how to find the right training and trainer. Sometimes the biggest obstacles for women learning to shoot are the people they enlist to teach them. Lasting damage can occur if you select unqualified or incompetent trainers. I developed anxiety after being taught to shoot by instructors who constantly barked negative feedback in my ears. I would leave the range so completely stressed out after hours of having them stand behind me on the line yelling, “Don’t flinch!” and “Don’t yank the trigger!” and “You’re not following through!” I still hate shooting under the watchful eye of someone I feel is judging me, and I know I shoot well. I became a better shooter when I was exposed to trainers who provided positive feedback, not negative. I tell women to “relax” instead of “don’t flinch” or “find the second sight picture.”
I also warn women that a lot of people will try to be helpful by providing shooting advice. It’s good to keep an open mind, but the best advice is what you can learn through reputable training sources. There are a lot of training companies out there, but it’s important to select the right classes with the right instructors leading them. The classes should contain course goals that align with the your goals. For example, if a woman’s goal is to learn to shoot for self-defense, a bullseye shooter probably isn’t the best choice.
I recommend selecting instructors with proven and relevant experience. A trusted referral is one method of finding quality training. Online searches for reviews or researching the availability of a company’s scheduled classes can also provide valuable insights. If a class is constantly full it is probably a quality course.
Lesson 3: Choose the Right Firearm for You
Just like selecting the right trainer and training, selecting the right firearm is both important and difficult. When I teach classes where women bring their own firearms, I always ask each woman to tell me about their firearm. The responses I get confirm that I’m not the only woman who has been given bad gun advice. Like bad trainers, there are bad sales people. I’ve come across many clerks that are “experts” in what type of guns women should buy, which by the way, is usually a .38 revolver in pink.
There are many considerations women must contemplate before buying a firearm, such as the intended purpose, the availability of ammunition and accessories, the price range and the overall ergonomics of the gun in your hands. Some gun stores have ranges and will allow you to rent a gun—I recommend doing that. If that’s not available, try shooting someone else’s firearms to get an idea of what features feel intuitive to you. I highly recommend test-firing a gun before buying it—you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive. Like a car, every firearm handles differently. Guns vary in power, control and comfort.
When it comes to shooting and firearms, I’ve had to figure a lot of things out on my own. Most of the advice I got along the way was less than helpful. I love teaching first-time female shooters because I see it as my chance to provide them with the knowledge and advice that I lacked when I started. If I had had someone to explain things to me and give me sound advice early on, it sure would’ve saved me a great deal of anxiety, frustration and money.
EXTRA: Good Gun Instruction
Here are five firearms training courses I’ve attended and found to be safe and effective:
NRA: The NRA education website has a list of training classes for all ages and genders. Training sessions can be located by state and topic.
Babes with Bullets: This training is a female-only training camp run by top female sport shooters. It is a camp-like environment and the trainers are highly knowledgeable and competent. Most of the women who attend this camp return.
Louka Tactical: As of right now, Louka Tactical solely trains law-enforcement officers. She has female-specific classes for law-enforcement officers but has contemplated training civilian women. One of the owners, Louann Hamblin, is by far one of the best police firearms trainers I have had the privilege of working with.
Becoming an Outdoor Woman: This is the BOW camp in Wisconsin, but every state’s contact is listed here. This camp not only teaches shotgun, handgun and archery, but also has classes on how to dress a deer, fly fish and more.
Gunsite Academy: This training is on the pricey side but it’s backed with a sound reputation. Not only are classes taught at their home base in Paulden, AZ, but they also offer other courses throughout the country.