THE DOs AND DON’Ts OF INTRODUCING WOMEN TO SHOOTING
Originally published in Recoil Magazine, Issue 20
You know who you are. You’re the guy who shoots a lot, maybe competes a little. You sometimes browse the online profiles of female shooters, secretly wondering “Why can’t my woman be like that?” Well, guess what? She can. And she probably wants to. But, chances are, you’re approaching the matter the wrong way. Now, I’m not a firearms instructor, but I compete a lot and I often get asked by female (and male) friends to take them to the shooting range for the first time. And, like many people, I learn from my own experiences about what works and what doesn’t when introducing a woman to shooting. Here is my list of do’s and don’ts:
1. DON’T quiz her on it in the middle of dinner or while she’s getting her makeup done in the morning.
I shouldn’t have to list them. Honestly, if you don’t know these rules, you have no business teach-ing someone else how to shoot. Being safe is fundamental to any sport, but particularly when you’re dealing with objects that put holes in stuff. I’ve been repeating these four lines to my daughter since she was little and lately I’ve entered the practice of printing them on the back of my card and handing them out to new shooters. However you choose to approach it, just don’t skip this step even if — no, especially if — she claims she’s been around guns her whole life. And don’t ambush her to recite them at your will — she’ll memorize them by herself, I promise.
2. DO ask a friend to teach her, preferably another woman.
2. DON’T try to teach her yourself.
Unless you want a war at home. Women don’t like to be told what to do by their significant others (well, maybe some do, but I’m pretty sure those are called unicorns). My husband tried it a few times — I nearly scratched his eyes out. Your best course of action is to track down a reputable female instructor in your area. Failing that, enlist the help of any good shooter (male, female, hired gun, or family friend). They’ll probably do and say the same things you would, but they have a major advantage: they’re not you! Hubby does that sometimes — when I make mistakes, he asks a buddy to come and tell me to try this and that. Works fine, and preserves world peace.
3. DO give her firm verbal commands.
3. DON’T yell at her.
Giving clear, firm commands to someone handling a firearm is a good thing. For one, they are (or should be) wearing hearing protection and it will be a little hard to hear you. Second, you need to ensure they are safe and follow directions. But yelling at a woman and making her cry is a sure way to guarantee she won’t come back. Ever.
4. DO introduce her to firearm safety, shape, and functionality before shooting.
4. DON’T just hand her a large-caliber cannon and watch her fall on her butt.
Ironically, what you say and do before you even hand her a firearm is even more important in making her comfortable than shooting itself. One of the most common mistakes men make is to give a high-recoil firearm to a female newbie the first time and watch as it violently kicks her back, or worse — jumps out of her hands and hits her in the 10.
Don’t laugh; not funny! She will work up to large calibers, just like I did, but shock therapy is not appropriate here. Ideally, show her various guns, explain how they function and begin with a training pistol such as the SIRT I like to use. Then proceed with something tame like a .22 or possibly 9mm. No, .40, .45, or .44 Magnum are not tame. If you start with any of those calibers, she will either give up or jerk the trigger for eternity.
5. DO teach her the basics.
5. DON’T try to teach her everything all at once.
Posture, grip, sight picture, and trigger control are the most important skills for every shooter, regardless of their level or gender. Sounds simple enough, but lecturing on it all at once won’t do you (or her) any good. Pace yourself and explain one thing at a time.
6. DO bring her along with your buddies to the range.
6. DON’T treat her like one of the dudes.
If she likes to (learn how to) shoot, she’s cool, all right. So bring her along! Contrary to popular belief, many women enjoy manly hobbies, myself included. Shooting, hunting, fishing, off-roading, poker, golf, strip clubs… OK, maybe not the latter, but you get the idea. However, just because she enjoys these things doesn’t mean she’s not a lady. So keep the burping, farting, and chest bumps for your bros and treat her with care and respect.
DO buy her a gun.
DON’T pick it out yourself.
If you like her, you’ll buy her a gun. If you love her, you’ll let her pick it out herself. And don’t be stingy — some of us have really good (meaning expensive) tastes.
7. DO repeat instructions.
7. DON’T get agitated if she makes the same mistake more than once.
Despite our reputation, we women actually follow instructions very well. The problem is, we overthink and often have too many things on our mind, so we get distracted or forget. Expect to repeat yourself often. Don’t ever say, “She’s just not getting it” — unless you enjoy getting slapped up-side the head with a full magazine…
8. DO gently push her to lean forward.
8. DON’T shove her neck like an animal.
One of the hardest things for women to learn is to be more aggressive with their stance and lean forward. It just feels weird and unnatural at first. Do explain to her the benefits (stability, recoil control, etc.) and do gently push or tap her back to remind her to lean forward. Squeezing or shoving her neck while she is shooting may result in unfavorable, potentially deadly consequences. Or at least couch condemnation for a week. Just don’t do it!
9. DO give her constructive criticism mixed with positive reinforcement.
9. DON’T constantly point out only what she’s doing wrong.
I pride myself with having a thick skin, taking criticism well, and generally being able to poke fun at my own downfalls. Yet, it really hurts my feelings when my own husband constantly tears my performance apart. In recent months, he’s gotten in this annoying habit of approaching me as soon as I finish a stage and volunteering the information of everything I did wrong. Way to kick me while I’m down, babe! Instead of sticking your foot in your mouth, try praising her for the things she did right. And, instead of pointing out her mistakes, try suggestions along the lines of “Why don’t you try this. It will help you accomplish that.” And just like that, instead of a jerk, you’re a hero!
10. DO introduce a timer. Eventually.
10. DON’T shove that thing in her face and remind her how slow she really is.
Buzzers make us nervous. Period. I actually have a theory there is something in their sound frequency that scrambles brain waves — male and female. But, like any shooter, eventually we have to try doing things faster and the only way to measure progress is by timing it. You should, however, be tactful about it. Act like it’s no big deal, keep the timer behind her, but close enough to hear, and never say, “That was too slow.” Instead, make a game out of it and try, “That was awesome, but I know you can do it faster.” And remember, comparing her speed to yours is not a good idea — until she starts beating your time.
11. DO teach her double taps.
11. DON’T be a splits Nazi.
Double tapping is one of those weird skills you struggle with and one day you just miraculously get it. Teaching her how to double tap early on will save her a lot of frustration long term. I was not smart enough to do that and struggled for a long time with being unable to double tap. I had an irrational fear I’ll miss with my second shot and I genuinely thought I couldn’t move my trigger finger that fast! What finally did it for me? Hubby set up a steel popper about 10 yards away and told me to shoot it as many times as I can before it falls down. I can comfortably do about six now! But, he did not pressure me or time my splits like he would his own.
12. DO teach her different shooting positions.
12. DON’T do it on the first day.
It would be lovely if we all got into ideal shooting position every time we shot. However, the reality is that in both defensive and competition shooting we are going to be subjected to the most bizarre acrobatic tricks sometimes. While you can’t plan for everything, you’ll do her a favor if you show her some of the more common alternate shooting positions — prone, on one knee, one-handed, laying on your back, etc. Just don’t do that on day one.
13. DO encourage her to try competition.
13. DON’T force her or call her a sissy if she is not ready just yet.
The best approach, in my experience, is to bring her to competitions to watch. If there are female competitors there — encourage her to watch them, talk to them and ask questions. It took seeing other women do it to convince me that I can too, and now I hope I can pay it forward. We are a very supportive community that welcomes and encourages new shooters and you should take advantage of that. Whatever you do, just don’t tease her or you’ll be stuck with the ever-popular “It’s just not my thing” excuse for eternity.
14. DO make it fun.
15. DON’T poke fun at her or call her cute.
The most important advice, and the one I want to leave you with, is to always make it fun. Laugh, joke around, and don’t be too serious or it will go from recreation to work in no time. And save the poking fun for later, when she’s more confident. Also, don’t call her cute, try badass — she is holding a gun, after all.
15. DO remember we are different.
15. DON’T ignore this advise.
Now, I don’t know if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but we do learn to shoot differently. Follow this advice and I promise you — even if you don’t train the next Annie Oakley, you’re bound to score some brownie points. If nothing else, they’ll come in handy next time you come home and say, “Honey, look what I got from the gun shop”….
Your friendly neighborhood gun lady,
Photos Credit: 5.11 Media & Ralph Horne, Copyright 2015
Special thanks to my friend Wendy Dickey for being my “model”.
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