In case you were under the impression that outdoor writers have it all together, let me assure you that we struggle like anyone else. In one instance, I was taking a group handgun class with two well-respected and very experienced instructors. Eight or ten of us (all women) were lined up at the handgun range working on drawing and firing from holsters, slowly and deliberately to get our draw right. The first step of the draw was for your firing hand to go to the gun and establish a grip, while your non-firing hand went to your chest so it would be ready to meet the gun when it was drawn and so that the non-firing hand would stay well out of the way of the gun during the movement. It eliminates any chance of you muzzling yourself with your gun while you are drawing it.
For whatever reason, I was off my game that day, and I repeatedly forgot to press my non-firing hand to my chest at the first step of the draw. The head instructor gently reminded me once and then twice. The third time was less gentle. About the fourth time, she came up beside me, looked me sternly in the eye, and firmly said, “You know what? If you’re not going to do it, I’m just going to quit telling you.” She walked off to deal with another student without another word.
I felt like a child being scolded by her mother. It was a little embarrassing, but it made an impression, and I didn’t forget my hand placement again for the rest of the day. Later, the other women in the class told me they were so sorry I’d been picked on by the instructor, but I didn’t see it that way at all.
My lack of attention to proper form was creating a safety issue, and it needed correction. Initial gentle correction hadn’t worked. When it was issued, the correction wasn’t cruel or demeaning—it was very matter-of-fact. The instructor didn’t call me names or insult me. She just very plainly reminded me that I knew what I had to do in order to correct my error and that she was frustrated that I wasn’t paying enough attention or putting in the work to live up to my potential. I wasn’t being picked on.
So, if you experience a criticism during a shooting lesson, ask yourself a couple of things. One, is whatever you’re doing creating a safety concern? Shooting sports are incredibly safe because we work very hard to keep them that way, and there’s no time for mincing words when someone is being unsafe at the range. If you’re doing something unsafe, you should expect to be corrected, and you can even expect that the correction will be swift and maybe not super nice.
Two, is the criticism or correction based on something you are capable of doing correctly but for whatever reason, you just aren’t? If so, you’re probably not being picked on but are being pushed to help you move to the next level. If you’re getting criticized for something out of your control, that’s another story.
Third, are you being too sensitive? I hate to throw out Dad’s classic “suck it up, Buttercup” card, but as mentioned before, some issues at the range are too important to beat around the bush, and if you get called out for doing something unsafe, you really do need to suck it up and accept correction that’s clearly well-intended.
What you don’t have to suck up is downright meanness, name calling, repeated unwarranted singling out in front of a group, and other indications that you really are being picked on. It doesn’t happen often, but instructors are human, too. Because of our industry’s natural tie-in with the military, some instructors from that background really dig into the whole boot camp/yelling/drill sergeant/tough-on-the-recruits thing, and some shooters learn well in that atmosphere. I don’t, so I stay away from shooting schools that lean that way.
If you do feel like you’re genuinely being picked on, take a break from the line for a minute to gather yourself—tell the instructor you need to be excused and they’ll tell you what condition to leave your gun in before you walk off. Don’t just wander away from the range without warning. Sit down and take some deep breaths while you evaluate the situation and get a little perspective. Go back to the line when you feel ready and when the instructor indicates it’s ok to do so, and speak to them privately at the next break or at the end of the day. Unless they’re just a real jerk, they’ll be willing to talk things out with you, and you’ll be glad you didn’t go over their head to their supervisor. I don’t recommend escalating to that level unless you feel you have no other options, and if it gets to that point, you might be looking for another instructor or another school altogether.
In general, the odds are that your instructor is not picking on you but is doing their best to correct small problems before they turn into big problems. Their top priority, even ahead of teaching you how to shoot, is to keep everyone safe, and they take safety violations very seriously. Even if what you’re doing isn’t a safety issue, you are taking a lesson to learn what you’re doing wrong and learn how to do it better, right? Part of that is taking your lumps and accepting correction when it’s warranted.