by Linda M. Gilbertson, Lead Pistol Instructor 2014
I remember when I was a youngster, going to a week-long summer camp in the Central Oregon Mountains. We stayed in cabins with bunk-beds and a Camp Counselor made sure that we got to bed on time and to every event the following day. We ate well, played hard and I remember that week with fondness. In 2008, I had the opportunity to attend a week-long shooting camp for women, 18 years and older. We stayed in cabins with bunk-beds. Called the NRA Women’s Wilderness Escape, there were no Camp Counselors as we got ourselves to bed on time and to the next shooting event each day. We ate well, played hard and made lasting friendships. I returned again in 2011, this time as an NRA Certified Instructor, and here I am again in 2014. I’m hooked, I’m addicted and I’m having a BLAST, literally and figuratively. So, here’s the story.
As my husband and I drive through the gate of the NRA Whittington Center outside Raton, New Mexico on September 18th, we feel like we’ve stepped into another world. The 33,000 acres acquired by the National Rifle Association in 1973, sits in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with expansive views and rugged terrain. This area, once busy with coal mining, has been replaced by farming and ranching. Magnificent rolling grasslands give you the feel of the wide open spaces the early settlers experienced as they traversed the Santa Fe Trail. If you sit quietly and listen you can almost feel the low rumble of the Conestoga wagon wheels and hear the lowing of the cattle as they pass by. At 6,300 feet elevation, the air is clean and crisp. Elk, Mule Deer, Turkey, Antelope and Bear abound in this area and their quiet demeanor demand our respect and patience as they go about their daily activities.
We are here for the next two weeks, September 20th – October 5th. I’m returning as a Pistol Instructor and my husband is joining me for his first year as a Rifle Instructor. Besides Pistol and Rifle, the ladies attending this event also experience Black Powder Muzzle-loading, Sporting Clays and Archery. In the evenings they’ll enjoy Game Calling & Survival, a Refuse-To-Be-A-Victim class, and a Wine Social with Fashion Show. A local western wear store named Solanos, supplies all the clothing, and the instructors are the models. The ladies have an opportunity to shop at Solanos during an evening, and experience the local ambiance of Raton, as the town open their doors to welcome the ladies.
The participants are no longer housed in cabins with bunk-beds, but are lodged in Competitor Housing which had several wings, each with a kitchenette and several two-person rooms. All meals are provided at the dining facility located at the Shotgun Center, a short distance from the main entrance. The main entrance also houses the Frank Brownell Museum, a library, conference room and gift shop. At the gift shop, besides traditional shirts and coats, you’ll find beautiful jewelry, the latest handguns, rifles and ammo, shooting accessories and souvenirs to delight everyone on your shopping list. A short distance from the entrance, just off Road A, is the Sante Fe Trail Marker & Statue of Charleston Heston on horseback. The statue is called “The Scout” and overlooks the Santa Fe Trail, a tribute to both the man who was a famous actor and President of the NRA, and the settlers that passed through this area in-route both east and west.
To assure the participants have the best time possible, nationally recognized instructors from around the nation, volunteer their time to provide the ladies with the adventure of a lifetime. The instructors are housed in the Founder’s Cabins named after prominent donors and NRA Legends. The shooting sports they are responsible for instructing, are at numerous locations around the Center, with most along the base of the mountain range. These locations separated by several miles, require transportation for both instructors and participants, or a good set of jogging or hiking shoes as a few of the instructors demonstrated every morning at sunrise.
The weather during these two weeks combine wind, rain, hail and sun, but never deter the ladies attending. Each day as they move to a different shooting discipline they bring all their weather and insect gear, prepared for whatever might occur. This time of year, monsoon storms blow in late in the afternoon creating spectacular sunsets. The mornings are particularly beautiful as the Elk bugle their presence and fog hangs low along the mountain ridge. Many times during the instruction day, ceasefires are called to allow the indigenous animal inhabitants to mosey across the firing line in-route to a water hole or grazing land. Of course, a camera is the most important item needed to record the many shooting success stories, animal encounters and breath-taking scenery.
Near the end of each week session, the ladies have an opportunity to try their hands at Long Range Rifle, 3-Gun Competition, Henry Rifles, and a Mock Archery Hunt. One of the most popular events Long Range Rifle, gives them the opportunity to fire on a 10’X6’ white steel buffalo target at 1123 yards, definitely a once in a life time experience! All the ladies successfully hit their target, thanks to expert instruction and a steady hand, and their success is memorialized on a T-Shirt they can proudly wear.
The Women’s Wilderness Escape is a yearly opportunity. Two weeks during the fall are available and which week you attend is your choice. The cost of attendance includes lodging, meals, and all activities and instruction. I believe you’ll agree it’s a shooting camp you’ll always remember and friendships you’ll not forget. Check out the NRA Women’s Wilderness Escape on the NRA website and see if you’d like to go to camp for a week. I believe you’ll agree it’s a BLAST!
For 2016 dates and to apply, contact: (800) 672-7435 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.