For many years, women have been coined the weaker or fairer sex, but times are changing rapidly. Women are involved in high ranking jobs and positions all over the world. They are highly educated, very motivated and women within the shooting sports are no different. Women like Smith and Wesson’s, Julie Golob, 10 time U.S. Practical Shooting Association National Champion; Canadian born, Susan Nattrass, six-time Olympian and triple medalist at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia; and Germany’s Sonja Pfeilschifter, Women’s Olympic Rifle Shooter. These are but a few of the women who compete on a professional level in shooting sports. Before these ladies became champions, they all started with little or no firearm experience. As they were once new to firearms, you now have the opportunity to become knowledgeable and skilled with them as well.
Here’s what I’m recommending for you to get started in the shooting sports. Start by looking in your phone book or on the web for local shooting clubs and ranges. See if they offer beginning shooters classes for women and recommend this idea to them if they don’t. Seek professional firearms instructors, they will teach you the latest techniques and help you shoot safely. It is easier to build on a foundation of good shooting instruction than to erase bad habits that may get you or someone else hurt or worse. Professional instructors will also provide you with a list of starting equipment you will need for the course. In some cases the club or range will provide you with the equipment and firearm you will need for the class with your course fees. Women only classes will allow you to feel comfortable and ask questions without feeling intimidated. Remember, the only bad question is the one not asked. You are there to learn to shoot, so get your monies worth and have fun doing it.
If you need to bring your own equipment, here is a simple list of things you will need. Purchase or borrow one pair of hearing protection, either earmuff style or foam ear plugs. I recommend the earmuff style as they will be reusable and easy to put on and take off as needed. There are many styles and colors available and even electronic options for enhanced volume while speaking and noise reduction while shooting. It is very important to wear your hearing protection while shooting or around others who are shooting. Exposing your ear drums to high decibel levels of noise will eventually damage your hearing. Using your equipment properly will protect your hearing and help you concentrate on shooting, not flinching from the noise the firearm makes. Prices begin at C$15.00 and up and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores or retail establishment.
Purchase a pair of eye protection with poly carbonate lenses. These lenses are impact resistant and in the rare event of a mechanical failure of the firearm or ammunition, your eyes will be saved. Construction safety glasses are great eye protection for shooting and come in many styles and colors. They can be purchased at any good home improvement store. I suggest a wrap around style with dark lenses for daylight and clear, yellow or amber lenses for indoor ranges. The prices for good eye protection will run from C$20.00 to C$35.00 for a basic pair. While you’re shopping for eye protection, ask yourself, “How much are my eyes worth?” Never skimp on safety equipment. You wear them for protection and they can be replaced. You must always wear your eye and ear protection while shooting; you get only one set of eyes and ears, and they can’t be replaced.
Now if you can’t cash flow professional instruction because of poor economic times, what are your choices? Well just about everyone knows someone who shoots, whether it is Mom or Dad, brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles or just your best friend. Only you know who you can trust and feel comfortable with to teach you the skills you will need to shoot well and safely. Once you have decided who that person will be, ask them to teach you what they know about shooting. I recommend a safe place away from the distractions of society that allow you to concentrate on the task at hand. Ranges tend to be busy and loud and the rules sometimes get in the way of good one-on-one instruction. One-on-one instruction is key; leave the distractions of the world at home so you can really soak up the information that’s being presented to you.
Now your chosen instructor will no doubt bring all the tools of the trade with them, like targets ammunition and shooting gear, but the one most important thing is the firearm you will be using. Not everyone has an arsenal of firearms to choose from, but I would suggest you buy or borrow a small caliber revolver like the .22 rim fire. .22 Revolvers are inexpensive and the ammunition is cheap and plentiful. .22 Revolvers are easy to load, shoot and unload and don’t have a lot of noise or recoil (the upward force caused by the ammunition firing inside the pistol) to distract you while shooting. Use a full size pistol, these usually have a 5 inch barrel, and are easier to hold and control. Stay away from compact and sub-compact pistols for now, they are sometimes hard to control for a beginners. I would also stay away from semi-automatic pistols for now until your shooting skills improve. Semi-automatics are more complex in their operation and require more training to handle and shoot properly.
If you or your instructor only has a semi-automatic pistol then I suggest the smallest caliber that is available. .22, .380 and 9mm are not bad calibers to learn on, they are small and have light to moderate recoil to contend with. Just remember, your friends and family that are already into shooting will most likely have the firearm you need so don’t be afraid to ask. Allow yourself enough time to learn the basics, I teach the basics at home on my kitchen table. Using dummy rounds (ammunition that does not contain powder or primers), I teach loading and unloading and with an empty and double-checked pistol, dry firing to help establish good grip, target acquisition and trigger squeeze. This helps you get use to the pistol and teaches you not to be afraid of it. When it comes time to shoot live ammunition, again allow yourself time to learn and enjoy your new hobby. Rushing around is not a productive way to learn to shoot and will cause mistakes and can be costly.
Try to find a good spot to shoot, with a good backstop for the bullets to impact harmlessly such as a dirt berm. A cool, sunny day is preferable but weather doesn’t always cooperate. Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and bring along water and snacks. Take at least one 15 minute break per hour to refresh and hydrate as needed. About two hours is a good start, but you may be having so much fun you don’t want to stop. Time moves fast when I teach people to shoot, we go through 4 hours in no time and everyone involved has told me they had a blast, excuse the pun. The more time you spend shooting, the more comfortable you will become. But comfortable can be dangerous if you forget the basic rules of firearms safety. So let’s cover those so you are aware of them at all times while handling any firearm.
1.Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction.
2.Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
3.Always keep your firearms unloaded until ready to use.
Other good rules to follow:
1.Know your target and what’s beyond it.
2.Treat every gun as if it were loaded always.
3.There is no such thing as an accidental discharge, only negligent ones. See rule number 2
Now these rules vary widely from print to print but the message is the same and when you stop obeying them, someone gets hurt.
The biggest thing to remember; unless you’re a born natural at shooting, it takes time to hone your skills. I have seen women and men get discouraged because they can’t hit the bull’s eye from the start. You must learn the basics and as you become better at those, the rest will follow suit. A good instructor watches you shoot, not necessarily the target, so they can make improvements and suggestions as you learn. They watch for certain signs and help you make adjustments, like making sure you know how to use your sights correctly. Getting you comfortable and using a few tricks along the way helps improve your overall performance. If your instructor has the heart of a teacher, they will be patient with you and guide you. Watching you improve and keeping you motivated is what an instructor is there for. The biggest thing to remember is your there to learn and have fun. I have always said, “Your worst day at shooting beats your best day at working.”
If you stay dedicated and learn all you can, whether through instruction, reading or practice, you will do great. I started shooting when I was eight year old and 35 years later, I’m still learning. As your skills increase you will branch out into other areas like, shotguns and rifles. For me there is nothing better than firing a 120 year old rifle that has history. But there are some things to consider, because firearms have a dark side. You will meet people who will not like you shooting or owning a firearm. They believe they are inherently bad and cause needless deaths. But through education and experience we can tell them that firearms are safe if used by law abiding people. No gun in history has ever killed a single person on its own; it’s the hand that wields it that has bad intent. Firearms are tools like any other and can provide hours of fun, put food on the table and protect you and your family. If you like what you’re doing, becoming a responsible gun owner just makes sense, and will help make it stronger. Join like minded people and groups that fight to save your right to target shoot, self protection and hunt. The Canadian Firearms Association wants and needs your support.
I hope you have found this article as fun to read as I had writing it. My passion for the shooting sports is only eclipsed by the love of my family, who are all shooters by the way. My goal is that you become a law abiding, responsible and educated shooter and hunter. One day you will get the opportunity to teach other women the skills you have mastered. This is the only way our hobby will survive, so be proud of what you do. About 17 years ago I taught my best friend and my wife to shoot; now she is highly skilled in the use of pistols and I am encouraging her to become an instructor and teach other women to shoot. Whether she does it or not, I am very proud of her level of skill and dedication, and I encourage you to do the same. Never let anyone tell you women can’t shoot, because their badly mistaken. An uncut diamond starts out as a rough stone, but with a little time and attention from a master cutter, it becomes valuable. We all started as a rough stone in something and sometimes it’s frustrating learning something new. But persistence and dedication will hone you into a well seasoned shooter you can be proud of.