That Very First Shot

The National Shootings Sports Foundation’s First Shots’ program has introduced 50,000 people to the shooting sports—and 44 percent of them have been women.

As she waited to have her first-ever experience shooting a handgun, 33-year-old Crystal Eisenhower was pretty sure she’d made a mistake. A huge mistake.

Eisenhower was at The Sportsman's Shop in East Earl, Pennsylvania about 90 minutes outside of Philadelphia, attending a First Shots event co-sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Eisenhower and the other participants had gone through some firearms familiarization and a safety briefing. She was waiting in the anteroom outside the state-of-the-art indoor range while the first group of new shooters made their way to their shooting stations.

“I was very nervous,” says Eisenhower, a resident of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. “When the first person fired that first shot, I jumped and hid behind someone else. My eyes started to tear and I immediately started thinking of excuses to get out of the room. I thought to myself, 'I can't do this.' I was terrified!”

The complete newbie to firearms was both curious and fearful of guns. She blames the news and entertainment media for a good deal of that fear.

“The only firearms knowledge I had before this event came from the television news and cop shows,” says Eisenhower, a data analyst. “These sources usually show guns hurting and killing people. They showcase all the dangers involved with firearms. It makes them quite intimidating.”

So why did Eisenhower even bother to attend the First Shots program?

“It seemed like a safe way to indulge my curiosity and overcome my fear,” she says. “And it was free.”

When Crystal Eisenhower (right) was waiting her turn to shoot at a First Shot’s event she was pretty sure she’d made a mistake. A huge mistake. But when her turn came, she was taught to shoot safely and was soon have such a great time that she now shoots often.

But she did find the courage to stay in that room, and eventually enter the shooting range with her group. She calmed down when her instructor showed her how to shoot safely.

“My instructor was wonderful and took his time with me, made me feel safe,” Eisenhower says. “We started off without the gun, focusing on my stance. Then we went to an unloaded gun so I could perfect my grip and experience pulling the trigger. Finally, we moved to live ammo. After the first shot, I immediately felt more comfortable. I ended up being pretty good at it. Truthfully? I had a blast, and didn’t want to stop.”

The experience was so positive for Eisenhower that she plans on attending more shooting events, and is now looking for a handgun of her own.

The NSSF's First Shots program started in 2005 at a shooting range in Springfield, Massachusetts Created by the NSSF, the event was originally designed as a way to bring more people to commercial handgun ranges. But as First Shots events popped up across the country, and the feedback began coming in, NSSF realized this venue could serve another very crucial purpose: bringing new people into the shooting sports—and keeping them there.

Now celebrating its 10th Anniversary, First Shots has introduced 50,000 people to the shooting sports.

This fall and winter, First Shot events will be held at ranges across the nation. Check the First Shots calendar for events near you.

Six-month follow up surveys of First Shots participants reveal that:

• 43 percent have returned to a host range an average of six times

• 56 percent have met local requirements for handgun ownership

• 53 percent have introduced another shooter to the sport

• 49 percent have purchased an average of $560 of equipment

• 44 percent of the participants have been female

“The program is aimed at giving individuals an opportunity to try shooting for the first time, without having to make a huge financial or time commitment,” says Tisma Juett, First Shots Manager. “Our belief is that after taking these first shots, these people will be more inclined to continue to shoot at the host range. And there’s a very good chance they will become lifelong recreational shooters, hunters, and advocates for firearm safety and the shooting sports.”

For ranges hosting a First Shots’ event, the NSSF provides ammunition, targets, safety literature, and a complete instructor’s Power Point presentation, plus 50 percent of the cost of cooperative advertising.

This summer, First Shots started its “Big City Tour” in the Dallas area with three events, then following up with the Philadelphia metro-area where Eisenhower came on board. Past events have been held in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Sacramento, Washington, D.C., and other major cities across the country.

This fall and winter, First Shot events will be held at ranges across the nation, and are listed on the First Shots calendar here.

The First Shots’ program was started 10 years ago in 2005 at a shooting range in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Juett wasn’t surprised to hear of Eisenhower’s negative view of firearms thanks to the mainstream media.

“A good percentage of the First Shots people I talk with mention the media as their prime source of information about guns,” says Juett, and the message they get is almost always negative. This is why a hands-on program like First Shots can be so effective. Once people are given an introduction to firearms by experts, and are schooled in the safety requirements, people can totally change their view of firearms.