Many women are taking up what has been the largely male-dominated sports of shooting and hunting. Still, it’s very likely that a man will teach a woman to shoot, and there are some things that both parties need to know about each other to make the experience a success.
I teamed up with Holly Heyser of the California Waterfowl Association for this topic. Heyser has taught women to shoot, and has been taught by men. Together, we came up with this advice for both genders on the shotgun range, though much of it applies to handgun and rifle shooting as well.
MEN TEACHING WOMEN
Guys, you may know a lot about shotguns, but you have no idea what it’s like to be a woman at the shooting range. Start by imagining yourself the only man at a hoop-dancing class, and then do the following.
1. Check Eye Dominance Right Away
Far more women than men are cross-dominant—that is, right-handed and left-eyed or vice versa. Test your student for eye dominance before shooting. You can learn an easy way do that here.
Heyser is right-handed but shoots lefty. “I learned I was cross-dominant before I ever bought a shotgun, so I’ve never shot right-handed,” she says. “I can say from personal experience that teaching a right-handed newbie to shoot left-handed isn’t hard. She has no habits that need to be changed.”
If a new shooter is cross-dominant, teach her to shoot from the side of her dominant eye. If she is center- or co-dominant, let her pick a side and block the off eye with translucent tape on her shooting glasses.
2. Offer to take the first shot
Many women are apprehensive about shooting for the first time. Heyser asks female students if they would like her to take the first shot, and they invariably say yes. That way they get to see and hear what shooting a gun is like before they try it themselves. Also be sure to bring low-recoil loads.
3. Use a prop
Men and women see the world differently, and this applies to leading the target. A visual aid helps bridge the gap. Heyser’s favorite instructor uses a miniature clay target (I use a shard from a broken bird). Hold it up near the muzzle, and then try explaining lead in terms of claybird lengths, instead of feet and inches.
4. Save the sarcasm
Men often insult one another as a sign of affection, but this rarely goes over well with female students, says Heyser. “When women hunt or shoot together, they cheer great shots and reassure one another after misses. When you inject sarcasm, women shut down to avoid being subjected to more of it.”
5. Make gun cleaning part of the lesson
Heyser says that it is empowering to female shooters to learn how to take a gun apart, clean it, and know how to fix something if it goes wrong. It helps provide a sense of control that boosts confidence.
WOMEN LEARNING FROM MEN
The man teaching you may know lots about hitting targets but very little about teaching women. Take it upon yourself to prepare, and to be your own advocate.
1. Build upper body strength
Shooting a shotgun, especially a heavy waterfowl or target gun, requires a fair amount of strength. Either hit the gym before your first lesson at the range or buy yourself an 8-pound barbell and work out at home. You’ll be more comfortable and confident.
2. Dress right for a day of shooting
Wear a sports bra, Heyser advises. The toe of the stock can dig into tender areas, and compression helps. Many sports bras also lack the little rings on regular bras that can bruise when driven by recoil. A shooting vest with a shoulder pad compensates for most women’s lack of natural padding around the collarbone.
3. Pause for breaks
Remember: This is a shooting lesson, not an endurance challenge. If you are getting tired or losing focus, ask your instructor for a break. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. If you need to stop after one box of shells, that’s O.K.
4. Ask questions
Many men assume women just want to know what to do—but not why it works, or how doing it works. If having extra knowledge gives you more confidence—or if you’re just curious—don’t hesitate to ask.
5. Insist on the right coach
Certain teachers connect with certain students, male or female, better than others. “Think of a shooting instructor—even if it’s a husband or boyfriend—like a hairdresser,” says Heyser. “If you’re not happy with him or with the results you’re getting, just find a new teacher. Getting the right fit makes a huge difference in the end.”