“You have to love and trust a woman a lot to teach her how to shoot.” Truer words have never been spoken, and I have to thank Steve Grankowski for telling me that when I decided I wanted my wife Susan to learn how to shoot; it implies that you love someone enough that you want to insure their safety, and trust them with a weapon. Let’s face it when the Zombies are munching on the neighbor kid’s brain you really do not want to be walking your significant other through safety and loading procedures. Aside from the zombies, having a woman (or man!) who knows how defend herself/himself, and having a permanent range buddy are a great thing. Then of course there is also the fact that having someone else who shoots means your firearms purchases may not be scrutinized quite so closely provided you are willing to share. Since I got back into shooting and helped spark Susan’s interest in shooting, I am consistently amazed at the number of guys who are shocked that my wife shoots (and how well she shoots), and ask how I got her interested. I should add, that this article will really focus on my experience, but ladies if your husband or boyfriend doesn’t shoot you can use the same tips to help them from being zombie chow.
When I purchased my first pistol I faced a challenge when it came to my wife. Sure we had been married for 25 years, and she trusted me to have a gun, she was just not too sure about having one in the house, or ever using it. Sure she grudgingly applied for a FOID card ( Firearms Owners IDentificaton card for you non-Illinois residents) so she could hit the range with me, and asked about the basic operation of the gun; but that was the limit of her interest. When her card arrived, and before she we hit the range with me she studied up on basic range and firearms etiquette and safety. I even made up targets for her to tryout since she had qualms about shooting silhouettes and thought bulls eye targets were boring (she got zombies). Academically she was ready, but that first range trip left her with a distinct disinterest in ever going shooting again. I made every almost basic mistake you could make when I took her to the range that day.
Personally I love small local shooting ranges, my local favorite is Rinks: they are inexpensive, give you unlimited time, have great rentals and some great people working there. It is also an older range, with target hangers you crank out to your firing distance by hand, no real sound dampening between lane stalls, and was in dire need of updating their ventilation system (they have since updated the ventilation AND will be doing a major renovation in September 2016… It’s gonna be great!!!). To me it has the same worn appeal of a neighborhood bar, comfy because of it’s years of use and the great people working and patronizing the place. But, to my wife it was noisy, smoky and intimidating. When we got to the range early on a Saturday, and had about an hour to kill before we got to shoot, for me an opportunity to browse, to her an hour to build up anxiety. When we got our lane, I ran through a mag on my gun, and then handed her the other mag and let her take the firing position, hanging close behind her for encouragement… which made her more nervous. After 15 rounds of 9MM she had had enough.
Okay let’s analyze what I did wrong:
1. To someone who has never shot before, a shooting range is scary, whether it is indoor or outside. Trying to concentrate with people blasting away all around you while holding a lethal weapon in your hands is only marginally more fun than trying to kiss an alligator on the mouth under a tin roof in a hailstorm. Try to pick a time when the range is less crowded, encourage your new shooting buddy to wear double ear protection (ear plugs and earmuffs), and give them LOTS of time to acclimate to the range itself. Let them watch, see what other people are doing and realize that it is actually filled with people who are operating their weapons safely; if they do not want to shoot that day – DON’T MAKE THEM. You may even want to splurge on that first range trip to someplace that is a little bit nicer.
2. Start your partner on a gun that is not going to make them flinch when they squeeze the trigger. If you have a .22, let them plink away, if not, rent one. Personally I love shooting .22, it is fun and lets me really assess my form. For new shooters the lower caliber allows them to develop their skills with minimal recoil, muzzle flash and the explosive boom of other calibers. If they want to move up to a “bigger” gun after 50 or 100 rounds, let them. Now ladies, you may have to entice your guy into something smaller than a Desert Eagle .50 cal; just reassure him that he doesn’t have to compensate for anything.
3. Don’t hover over their shoulder. You should have walked them through the basics before you hit the range. If you rented a gun, show them the way it functions, or have the range master do so. Watch them, but give them space. Do not interrupt them after every shot, let them learn and if you need to give them tips do so during reload times. If they run into a malfunction they will let you know and you can assist. Let’ face it, this is someone who knows the best and worst about you, they have a loaded firearm, do you really want to harass them after each shot they put down range?
Now even with these mistakes a couple weeks after our range trip we got to spend time with some great friends, who also like to shoot and almost everything I did wrong was corrected. We went to a much more “state of the art range” which we pretty much had to ourselves. Susan got to shoot a .22 caliber, which she loved in spite of it being pink. We let her decide when she was ready to shoot, and since it was only the 5 of us, we stopped firing when she stepped up to the line. And nobody rushed her or hovered over her when she started shooting. The result, she was shooting tight groups, and having fun. Hell she shot better than I did and purchased her own gun (not pink) within a week. We had created a monster.
Once I knew Susan was interested in the sport, I really thought about what I did going forward, and really fostered that interest. The experience really made me look at how people work with new shooters, and I have spent the last year paying close attention to people on the range and in the gunshop. So here are a couple other things to help develop a new shooters interest.
1. Do not tell them what to buy. I am sure that you would not buy a gun just because you heard it was great on YoutTube. You would want to handle it, see if it felt good in your hand, and (if possible) test it before hand, do not assume because it feels good to you, your significant other will feel the same, I could digress here into all manner of things in a marriage but we will keep it PG 13. The best thing I did when Susan purchased her first gun was to encourage her, give her opinions when she asked, but always keep in mind that the gun needed to work for her, not me. Also guys, just because it is Pink or Tiffany blue, that does not mean you need to steer her toward it – not all girls want girl guns.
2. Do not force somebody into a bigger caliber when they buy their first gun. If they want a .22 let them buy one. You will be happier that they can put 10 rounds of .22 caliber ammo into a 2 inch radius if the need arises than to have a larger handgun they are uncomfortable with. Besides remember what I said about purchasing firearms, they will move up when they want to and that means new guns!!!
3. Yes you may know more than they do, but you do not need to prove it at every opportunity. This is the same as hovering over their shoulder, and it usually happens when you move up to separate lanes at the range. I seems to notice this more when someone starts to shoot better than expected, and that leads me to my last point.
4. Do not be shocked or intimidated when your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend starts to shoot way better than expected. Just because they never fired a round does not mean they can’t shoot. I look at it two ways, First, that person never had bad habits to break, and they learn the right way quickly. Second, if you really do your job well, they are going to learn fast because they are enjoying it.
Okay that’s enough for now, the zombie finished with the neighbor kid and I need to back and help Susan in setting up the bunker…