Shooting Like a Girl

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On this cold February morning, I’m walking around the “pits” – three sided enclosures created by giant concrete blocks. These are shooting bays at the Arnold Rifle and Pistol Club south of St. Louis. I have spent the last hour or so developing numb fingers in pursuit of setting up six “stages” for an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) match. Most of us are some form of old fat white guy, so when the slender figure wearing a black, white and red letter jacket rolled up towing a red collapsible cart, I knew it was either a young woman, or a very slight man. It was, in fact, high school senior Emily, here to compete with the boys . . .

The letter Emily earned for her jacket was for chorus, and when she’s not tooling up to punch holes in targets, she’s singing in school. She’s currently in the cast of Anything Goes and has performed the lead in Annie Get your Gun. I didn’t think to ask which was her favorite.

Miss Emily isn’t shy, but she is quiet. She gives thoughtful answers to questions. “What attracted you to this sport?”

“I like being in control of so much power” she responded.

“You enjoy mastering something that is dangerous?” I replied, paraphrasing her thought. She nodded “Yes.”

“Do you play any other sports?” I asked.

“Yeah, I used to play soccer” she said. She told me that injuries kept her off the field.

“How does this compare to playing soccer?”

She thought for a moment, pausing in her pre-match preparations. “Well, doing well on a stage is like making a great pass or scoring a goal.”

Emily is known as a shooter at her school, Triad High. As with any other sport, she’ll occasionally duck out early to attend a match with the blessing of the school.

Her father, Steve, is clearly proud of his daughter. He’s getting ready for his own match, too. Steve’s wearing what looks like a team shirt, the gun culture equivalent of a bowling shirt. “She is a great shooter” he states plainly. “She can shoot among the best here.”

I note that Emily is sporting a wheelgun. “Yeah” says Dad. “She said she was not being as accurate as she wanted, so she wanted to switch to a revolver. She asked me if we could get her a revolver. I went down to the gun safe and pulled out that Smith and Wesson 586 .357. It hadn’t been used since the 1980s!”

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At my request, Emily pushes her jacket aside to display her shooting rig. The big Smith rests snugly in a form-fitting Kydex holster. Emily then provisions a speedloader with ammo, dropping a cartridge in each of its six slots. She then places it on her gunbelt, the extended handle protruding up for fast access.

Emily and her dad reload their own ammo. “We will set up and reload ammo and use it here on the range. I enjoy it” she says.

Later, after I shoot my own stage, I get a chance to watch Emily in action.

“Shooter ready?” shouts the safety officer who holds the electronic timer high so its beep can be heard through her ear protection.

Emily nods. The timer beeps and she begins. Before her are three targets that must be shot in “tactical sequence” meaning that each of the three equal threats must be shot once, then shot again. There is a penalty if you don’t follow that order.

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She hustles from the first firing position to the next. She finds her spot, reloads and engages more targets. In the end, she puts up a score of 51.48 seconds, somewhat below average for the day.

Safety is paramount with IDPA and Steve’s a certified safety officer. Certification requires coursework and tests. Steve is part of the cadre that makes sure the four rules are observed at all times. Safety officers (SOs) watch shooters carefully, looking for errors that could lead to unsafe conditions such as failing to keep the muzzle of a pistol pointed downrange. As a father, I imagine Steve’s extra watchful given his daughter is out there.

“Part of any sport with a bunch of guys is ‘ball-busting’” I say, and suddenly feel sheepish for using that term with Emily. She takes it in stride as I continue. “Do you get more, less or about an equal share?”

“I get the same” she said, smiling just a bit.

Her father Steve interjects, “She dishes it out and she can take it, too. When someone gives her a rough time, we just point to the scores.”

“Do you feel respected out here, shooting with all these old fat white guys?” I ask.

Emily nods with a small grin, “I do.”

Later, I join a group of nearly 30 at a local barbeque place, Main Street BBQ in Pevely MO. Emily and her dad sit next to each other and enjoy a meal with their friends. The conversations vary widely, though there’s a lot of gun talk and the aforementioned ball-busting over how well one performed or how epicly they failed. I admitted to running out of ammo (for some reason I thought 70 rounds would be enough). My excuse: .40 caliber range rounds were scarce in the gun shops I frequent.

Emily mostly listens quietly, enjoying her lunch. She doesn’t speak much, but not out of shyness or discomfort. She’s taking it in, probably learning, picking up tips for her next competition. For about an hour she and her dad bask in the warm camaraderie, welcomed and well-regarded. It would be hard to find a more fulfilling way for a father and daughter to spend a day together.