by Erin Ogletree
Five years ago when I first shot a gun at an NRA Women on Target program, I knew my life would never be the same. In the course of eight hours, I moved from fear and ignorance to appreciation and understanding of an area of life that previously had seemed wildly dangerous and incomprehensible. Not long aft erwards, I bought my first firearm, headed out to the range, and began an adventure that continues today.
With additional training and lots of practice, my skills improved and I became more confident, and not just in my ability to protect myself. Fear about anything became an enemy to be confronted, not avoided. The eff ect was so positive that I immediately began off ering to take friends and acquaintances with me to the range to teach them how to shoot. Like a true gun evangelist, I turned every idle conversation to shooting and my love for it. When challenged about my zeal by skeptics, I’d invite them along to the range. I made more than a couple converts and eventually became an NRA-certified instructor specializing in working with new shooters.
Not every woman’s first experience is so positive. Some women initially encounter a gun as a victim of armed robbery or burglary. Others have lost family members to gun violence or suicide. Quite a few are handed guns to shoot without adequate training by a boyfriend or a husband just to see their startled reaction when the gun goes off . Understandably, such women have a lot of unlearning to do to overcome their resulting fear of and aversion to firearms. Over time, I have concluded there are a few simple things that contribute to a constructive first shooting experience.
Learning to Shoot is Not a Spectator Sport
Frequently, a husband or boyfriend calls seeking firearms training for the woman in his life. While I affi rm their good sense and recognition that a professional should have that honor, I also share my experience that everyone, man or woman, learns firearms best without having a significant other watching. Learning without a loved one around encourages honest reactions to the experience, focus, and prevents performance anxiety. Further, I note that asking that they are not present during training is akin to advising parents not to teach their own children to drive – wise advice indeed.
Focus on Safety First, Middle and Last
Learning to shoot can be fun and exhilarating, but it is also deadly serious. Gun and range safety is therefore always the first and last thing we cover and what we talk about and observe throughout training. Establishing and maintaining a safe learning environment is critical for all new shooters, but especially those who arrive at the range with a little terror in their hearts. Controlled ranges where safe gun-handling practices are enforced by range safety offi cers and observed and modeled at all times by the instructor can encourage calm in new shooters, enhancing the learning environment.
Explain and Use Correct Terminology
New shooters not only have to learn new skills; they usually have to learn a new vocabulary, too: Revolver, semi-automatic, cylinder, chamber, muzzle, bore, caliber, frame, action, recoil, magazines, cartridge, casings, trigger guard, safety, and slide to name a few. Although it can seem overwhelming, I encourage students to learn and use the words during training. Why? Because using correct terminology in any new endeavor builds confidence. Also, it helps new shooters accurately describe what they like or dislike about a firearm and/or the shooting experience. Being articulate about gun terminology also helps later, when explaining to a gun store clerk what they are looking for in a firearm.
Let Students Talk
Before we begin, I ask students how they are feeling about learning to shoot. I assure them that whatever they are feeling – apprehension, excitement, nausea or elation – is fine. I encourage them to focus only on safety and learning the basics about their firearm and shooting, and that those are my only goals for our time together. This relieves some of the pressure they may be feeling to appear competent or unafraid. We take breaks during training and check in on how it’s going. I let them guide how long we continue working on any given skill, and help them understand that consistency in shooting comes with time, practice and mastering their gun. And that it’s normal for it to take a lot of time and practice before they are happy with their shooting.
Because consistently shooting well generally comes with practice, I assign homework. I teach students how to safely dry fire at home and a few simple drills to practice the next time they head to the range. I also encourage them to come back and repeat basic training with me in a few months as a lot of what they hear the first time won’t be retained. I encourage cleaning firearms regularly, not only because it’s good for the gun, but because the more they handle their gun away from the range, the more comfortable and confident they will feel with their gun at the range. And aft er a few demonstrations of the technique, I have them load and unload their firearm several times, as well as how to clear a gun if it malfunctions in any way, such as failing to extract a casing. All of this is designed to help them understand firearms as tools that are to be respected but that can be controlled and mastered. And because women tend to be relational, I encourage students to find other women to shoot with on a regular basis through a local Well Armed Woman chapter, if available, or forming their own informal shooting club with friends. Learning to shoot has an amazing effect on some, but not every woman will leave the range a shooting fanatic. Some decide it is not their thing but are pleased to understand firearms better and how to be around them safely. I advise students that if we leave the range with no more holes in us than when we arrived, we have achieved success. Wh
ile that’s true, I don’t feel my job is complete unless she leaves with a smile and a commitment to continue practicing, as well as a whole new attitude about conquering fears.
Erin Ogletree lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is a mother, retired attorney, and an NRA-Certified firearms instructor. She provides firearms training to women, men and children and off ers Concealed Weapons Permit classes through her company, Trigger Happy Training. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org