By Eric L.
How do you get your little girl to shoot…and enjoy it? As a father of a 5-year old girl, I’ve been making mistakes since the very day she was born and here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way trying to cultivate her appreciation for shooting.
1) Set and communicate simple yet attainable goals: Seems obvious enough. Yet it’s so easy to forget. The first time I took my daughter I didn’t have any goal in mind…none…it was just get out there. But what I thought was carefree fun quickly spiraled into chaos . . .
I couldn’t communicate because I didn’t have a clear objective in mind, so it was naturally easy to get frustrated as we tried to accomplish whatever was in the moment. My failure to set and communicate a simple yet attainable goal made the very first outing quite dismal. We hopped from safe handling, to sight alignment, to trigger control, to eye dominance, to muzzle awareness…in the first 10 minutes. In hindsight, I would have made the very first outing focused solely on safe handling at the bench and following range commands only…which would mean not worrying about shooting or hitting a target. Pending a successful visit, the next outing would build on a logical add-on like sight alignment, then a separate session on trigger control, and so on. It’s equally important to communicate those goals so your daughter understands the purpose of the range visit before she gets there.
2) Rehearse at home what you’ll do at the range: One of the things I did right was to rehearse the range commands and practice the basic loading/unloading process with my child at home with an empty gun. It was always done seriously, safely, and methodically so she could practice repeatedly in a controlled and quiet environment. I’d estimate about two dozen practice sessions before we ever set foot at the range. The practice gave her confidence, let her work out the sequence of activities, and provided her a safe environment to ask questions.
3) Reward accomplishment and make it special: Despite a disastrous first visit and her not getting even a single hit on paper we did manage to get ourselves to a Wendy’s restaurant after the range time and reflect on what she did accomplish. The act of setting aside a special lunch to reward her for the effort helped re-establish a positive spin on the event. When she finally did manage on a subsequent outing to hit the bullseye she got another treat. All this to say positive reinforcement keeps your child engaged. Go big with the verbal praise! Finally, we posted her most recent target up in her bedroom and she gets to show it off to her friends. I’m planning to take a day off from work for the next range trip and she’s already asking me when that’ll be.
4) Get on paper first…then get on target: I was a real idiot on the first trip…I set the target at 50 yards…a 3 inch or so red bullseye on a circular black background. That was too far to see easily and too difficult to hit. So she ended not hitting the paper at all and being disappointed. Instead, I should have set her up at the pistol range – say 15 yards max – and start with the attainable objective of HITTING THE PAPER…yes, just aim center of a clean sheet (back of a target for example). When we did that, she was able to quickly dial in on paper then started tightening up her groups so that 5 shots all stayed inside the 8 inch target. The next time we’ll start at 15 yards again then move the target out to 25 yards. It’s also a good idea to consider what target you use. The black background made seeing the blued front sight and blued rear aperture almost impossible. When we switched to a popular white background with orange accents, her shots got closer and closer to the bull.
5) Personalize so it’s all hers: The Crickett .22LR single shot she shoots is entirely her choice. It’s pink since at the time pink was her favorite color. She’ll be collecting stickers that she’ll want to adorn it with. Personalization makes it, well, personal. You start to own it when it’s an expression of you. I admit it was quite awkward sighting in a pee-wee pink .22LR but I’d do it in a heartbeat even now. She picked out her eye protection and hearing protection as part of the ownership process too.
6) Suppressors are a girl’s best friend: It’s not a coincidence that suppressor ownership in the US is taking off. However, less noise and less recoil are great reasons to own a rimfire suppressor for your daughter to use. If your daughter is particularly sensitive to noise, try to get range time during a weekday session rather than during a busy weekend. It also helps if you can setup on one end of the range rather than in the middle. The best is if you can arrange for her to shoot on private land so she doesn’t have to contend with noisy range neighbors. I found that excessive noise really bothered my daughter and was the one thing I needed to consider high priority.
7) Enjoy it yourself: Clearly, if she sees you’re enthusiastic and speaking highly about your shooting experience, all the more reason she’ll enjoy it. On the contrary, if you’re being a grump and you don’t seem to be having fun – or at least don’t speak about it positively – don’t blame her if she’s hating it.
I hope these 7 things give you some food for thought. It’s no secret that women are the fastest growing segment of the shooting and gun owning/gun buying public. All the more reason to get our “young women” started early and on the right track.