I’ve taken many women to the range for their first shooting experience. They were all excited to try shooting, but there were other emotions, too. Some were nervous; others were downright afraid. Several of them asked me to teach them how to operate their husband’s handgun because they didn’t feel comfortable having a gun in the house that they didn’t know how to shoot—a wise thought. To date, every new shooter I’ve introduced to firearms has thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and most have gone on to purchase their own guns and continue to shoot regularly.
Taking someone shooting for their very first time puts some responsibility on your shoulders to do it properly. You want any new shooter to enjoy the experience so they want to join the 2A community and become an active participant in the shooting sports—not humiliate them, hurt them or otherwise drive them away. Here’s how you do that.
1. Emphasize Safety
Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and when you’re teaching a newbie, that goes double. Before the gun even comes out of its case, go over the safety rules, and keep a very close eye on the shooter when she is handling the gun, watching where she points the muzzle and paying attention to her trigger finger. And don’t forget eye and ear protection for everyone!
If she is nervous about guns in general, you might share with her that the shooting sports are extraordinarily safe, and that’s because shooters are diligent about following gun safety rules. Learning how to handle a gun safely will likely put many of her fears to rest.
2. Explain Everything
With the gun unloaded, talk about how to aim it and let her aim it at the target. Help her with her form or grip. Show her where the safety is (if there is one) and how it operates.
Go slowly, explaining everything you’re doing or asking her to do it too. Demonstrate how to load and then safely unload the gun, and then let her load it herself. I usually like to shoot the gun a couple of times myself so she can watch what I do and get accustomed to the report.
When she is ready to shoot, stand safely behind her and let her know she’s free to take the safety off and squeeze the trigger when she’s ready. Be aware that she might fire and then turn to you and grin—just watch her muzzle if she does so. Remind her to turn the safety back on if she’s not going to immediately fire again.
3. Start Small
If possible, I try to start a new shooter of any age or gender on the smallest gun I can. For handguns and rifles, that’s a .22 LR. For shotguns, a 20-gauge is ideal if you have access to one. If not, use the lightest loads in the lightest-recoiling 12-gauge you can. I recommend avoiding the .410—it’s fine if she’s just shooting a paper to pattern the gun or get a feel for how shotguns work, but if you’re on the skeet field or sporting clays course, she’s not going to be able to hit much of anything with it.
If the shooter wants to learn to handle a particular gun because that’s what’s in her home, I try to start her on the same style/action—a .22 LR revolver if she’s got a .357 revolver at home, a .22 LR semi-automatic if she needs to learn to handle her husband’s 9mm, etc.
Start with the lowest-recoiling caliber or gauge you can so she gets the feel of shooting without having to worry about pain. Then step up to the larger-caliber gun, warning her that it will have more kick, but it won’t be painful if she holds it properly.
4. Make It Fun
The more fun you have, the more she’ll want to do it again. You know what’s fun? Hitting the target. Get close (safely) and make it easier for her to hit what she’s aiming at.
And remember that kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy reactive targets. Shooting balloons, shaving cream cans, or steel targets that spin and ping is fun for everyone, so ending your session with something like that will let you leave on a high note and leave her wanting more. Whatever you do, make sure you quit while it’s still fun. Making a newbie shoot 100 rounds of sporting clays when her arms are worn out and her shoulder started hurting five stations ago is too much, and the next day, she’s likely to remember the pain more than the fun.
5. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage
Let her know that she’s going to miss (especially with shotguns), but encourage and celebrate when she hits. You’re not looking for perfection here—safe handling and getting accustomed to the firearm is the main goal.
6. Follow Up
The biggest factor in turning a brand-new shooter into a lifelong shooter is your follow-up. Text her the next day to ask how she feels and let her know you enjoyed the range time together. A couple weeks later, invite her to go again. Ask if she has questions or if she’d like to try another type of shooting. If she expresses interest in purchasing her own gun, offer to help her try out various models and pick one out.
You can share articles you like with her, let her know when your favorite sporting goods store is offering a concealed carry class, and otherwise keep in contact with her about shooting-related issues. Certainly don’t be pushy, but do encourage her to keep shooting and support her future endeavors.