Having never picked up a gun in her life, my new friend Sally mounted a 20 gauge and took aim. The 5-stand course featured multiple trap machines and looked out over the breathtaking mountains that surround the NRA Whittington Center. Sally had our entire group on the edge of our seats as she blasted the clay on her first shot! We all cheered and smiled while Sally, a breast cancer survivor with a double mastectomy shouted, “It feels fantastic!
“That’s what keeps instructors coming back,” said Dale Mullin, one of the amazing volunteer instructors who made this moment possible.
The Women’s Wilderness Escape (WWE) was incepted in 2008, and since then instructors and participants travel from all over to Raton, New Mexico, to learn, make friends and have fun shooting firearms. I had the pleasure of attending what I’ve taken to calling “Adult Summer Camp” for the first time this year. Over the course of one week, participants were exposed to shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, rifles, muzzleloaders and bow and arrows.
Sally’s first firearm experience was a positive one, prefaced with a classroom session and surrounded by instructors and supporters. However, not every woman is so lucky. The Women’s Wilderness Escape is the ideal place to learn, because it provides new and experienced shooters alike with the knowledge, tools and social network to safely shoot, buy, store, clean and operate multiple kinds of firearms.
WWE guests were split up into cabins, which became our groups for each activity. The shotguns range was our first stop on day one. The coaches were knowledgeable and maintained a positive attitude both inside and outside of the classroom. They never gave negative corrections like, “Don’t stand with your feet so close together.” Instead, they always had a positive suggestion like, “Try spreading your feet apart just a little!” This teaching method not only keeps students confident, but has also been proven to be more effective. If you hear something negative, that’s all that’s on your mind, and you’re bound to keep doing it. By hearing what you should do instead of what you shouldn’t, you naturally visualize the correct thing to do.
One of our shotgun instructors committed to this teaching method was Carol Smeltzer, a former All-American shooter who won a team medal competing for the United States in Russia. However, she didn’t start out that way. At first, Carol was nervous about guns, wary of their size, noise and general foreignness. Carol figured that the only way to overcome her fear was to understand it. She started shooting to become more comfortable around firearms and push herself out of her comfort zone. And then her talents took off. Her instructor urged her to compete, and eventually, the match that would qualify her for the All-American Team got her on a plane for the first time.
The shooting sports opens all kinds of doors to firearms enthusiasts. Women in the firearms community specifically are some of the most open and inclusive people I’ve met. While my cabin-mates varied from new shooters to a concealed-carry permit holder since 1978, we all had a passion for firearms and the outdoors in common. Day one at the Women’s Wilderness Escape set the tone for a week of fun on the range. Keep up with my five-day adventure chronicles of shooting in the gorgeous southwest here, on NRAWomen.com and find out how you can do it too at NRAWC.org.