Sara’s post about instructing women could not have been more timely as I’d returned home the day prior from teaching a woman how to shoot. I read through it, and like most things in life, found a couple points I liked, and some stuff I didn’t really agree with. But then I watched with a sort of morbid fascination as the comments section turned on Sara for her views that women don’t learn as fast and aren’t as rugged in their emotional hardiness. Or something. With all due respect, I’d like to offer an addendum to her post . . .
To be clear, I think that women are strong. According to a special I watched on TLC, women give birth which sometimes involves pushing a small human out of an orifice undersized for the task at hand. From what I gathered, this is incredibly painful, yet millions of women do it each year.
For comparison, I smashed my thumb with a hammer a couple weeks ago which necessitated me performing my best Peter Griffin Peter Griffin impersonation. So anybody who thinks that women aren’t strong or hardy is deluded. That said, I’d change the title of Sara’s article from “Advice for Instructors of New Female Shooters: Be More Patient” to “Advice for Instructors of New
Female Shooters: Be More Patient & Other Stuff.”
I’m not an instructor by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, but I shoot a pretty decent amount and I’ve taken some instruction from some great shooters, which has allowed me to pick up a few things along the way. And with all due respect to those who struggle with it, given the right equipment and environment, I’ve never found issues getting people to reliably put five shots in a sheet of copier paper from seven yards with a handgun after less than one hour of time. Most new shooters can do it inside of fifteen minutes.
The picture at the top is of my dad and me some time last year. He’s owned a Series 70 1911 since the early 80s, and to my knowledge, it’s the only heirloom gun we have. I spent a little bit of time with the gun a couple years back, and it has been a point of pain in my dad’s life that I can generally shoot circles around him with his own gun. So last year, on one of my visits home, he plopped down a couple boxes of .45 ACP and the case containing that 1911 and said “You’re going to teach me to shoot.”
My dad is not my ideal student. He’s generally a little grumpy, he doesn’t take feedback – constructive or otherwise – very well, and he’s gotten to his position in life mostly through sheer force of will. So he’s a little stubborn. Not to mention the fact that years of manual labor and a couple motorcycle wrecks have left him with various maladies that affect his flexibility and general level of health. The good news is that if he sets his mind to doing something, it’ll get done.
Armed with a .22 pistol I’d brought along for the weekend, and a couple 9 mm handguns that seem to be within arms reach always, we took the drive down to the range. Like I usually do, I had him run a magazine through his pistol without any instruction at all. Those are the hits you see on the steel target. They are low, left, and spread out. We worked through the finer points of stance, grip, and trigger control starting with the .22 and moving through the 9’s with lots of dry fire practice in between. After that was done, I had him load up a mag in the 1911 and he threw down the group he’s pointing at in the photo above.
Fast forward to this past weekend. I found myself at a family friend’s ranch helping my mother celebrate a rather important birthday surrounded by some of her friends. The common theme among the group seemed to be a love of guns, hunting, and the outdoors as well as an affinity for conservative politics. One of the guests had mentioned to my father at some point before my arrival that his wife was having difficulty shooting the new GLOCK 19 he’d purchased for her. Naturally, my dad said “When Tyler gets here, he’ll help her out.” Which is how I found myself on an impromptu range with a couple boxes of ammo, a fairly new GLOCK 19, the wife, the husband, and me. After that experience, and reading Sara’s article, I felt compelled to put the following list of do’s and don’ts together.
If you’re a spectator, DO observe the golden rule
By virtue of being on the range, open to instruction by choice (or not in this case), a person is showing some vulnerability. Without having to actually say it, they are communicating that they’re putting some trust and faith in you to help them better themselves. That is a tenuous little bond and one that’s prone to being broken irreparably within minutes. It also happens to be a pretty stressful situation for the brand new shooter as new information is flying at them, and they’re suddenly tasked with operating something that can easily kill them or someone around them. That is not the time to hoot and holler and point out that your wife has missed the target completely, which is what the husband felt was the proper course of action. Out of respect for my parent’s friendship, I stayed tight lipped while the voice inside my head kept screaming, “Tell him to shut his mouth and leave.” When I’m working with a new shooter, I’d prefer it just be the two of us for the same reason I don’t take my dog to the dog park to teach him a new trick. Cutting distractions to the minimum helps everybody focused. If you’re a spectator, default to keeping your mouth shut. If you feel compelled to say something, make sure that it is positive and encouraging even if you clearly see the person sucking it up.
DO cover the 4 rules
I’m not big on teaching people things that they already know. I usually feel like I’m coming off as condescending and rude offering instruction that someone has already received. And I make it a point to keep my own mouth shut unless someone specifically asks for help. That said, I put feelings aside for a safety briefing. If you want to hold your pistol sideways and exclaim “BLAM!” each time you pull the trigger, I won’t stop you. Hell, if that helps you shoot well, I might try it too. But I do not skimp on talking through the rules of safety.
DON’T select the wrong firearm
I’ve met people who think the funniest thing in the world is to hand a brand new shooter a .44 Mag with full power loads. Oddly enough, they seem to leave a trail of disillusioned shooters in their wake. I generally try to start every new shooter with a pistol or rifle in .22 LR. Assuming that isn’t available, light(er) recoiling calibers like .223 REM and 9 mm preceded by copious amounts of dry fire. I loathe a person who sets up a new shooter to fail. Don’t be that person.
DO let the new shooter show you what they’ve got if they feel comfortable
This is sort of a universal rule for me, but I approach most new instruction opportunities with the understanding that I don’t know the the first thing about how they shoot. Let the new shooter, if they’re comfortable, show you what they can do. My mother has never received any formal instruction, and even with a poor grip and stance, she was easily able to score vital zone hits with a handgun on her first time out. Her recoil management was obviously poor thanks to her grip and stance, but she was registering hits, so we focused on cleaning up those minor issues which allowed her to rain lead on a steel target with accuracy and speed. There’s no need to cover material the person already knows if they’ve already got it nailed. Which leads to the next point.
DO set clear expectations and achievable goals
Letting someone shoot five to seven rounds lets you and the student establish a baseline. From there, you can set clear expectations for what success should look like which you and the student can mutually agree on. These two points are something I learned from my first session with Karl Rehn at KR training. He made me shoot a diagnostic test (which I failed) and then started class with an overview of what we were going to cover, and what we’d be able to do at the end of the day. With the nice lady I worked with over the weekend, she shot her first five, few of which impacted the target board, none of which hit the piece of copier paper I’d stapled up there. I asked her how she thought she did, to which she replied “Not great.” I told her that she hadn’t shot me or any of the people behind us, which was a successful day at the range in my book. Then I suggested that we work on getting her to register five hits on the piece of copier paper. I asked if she thought that was a good goal for the day to which she replied “Yes.”
DON’T talk too fast
I’m very guilty of this. I love guns. I love when people want to shoot. And I love when people invest a little bit of time, and get markedly better. All that excitement gets me talking faster than a native New Yorker. I have to consciously slow it down and remind myself that all the info in the world won’t help anybody if I sound like the disclaimer guy at the end of a Viagra ad.
DO check in
Ask small, easy to answer questions along the way. I’ve been coached in a lot of activities besides gun handling. At one point, I was a collegiate hurdler which is one of the more technical running disciplines. Thankfully, I had a great coach who would ask me how I felt about specific points of the hurdling process as a way to work on my various deficiencies. Inevitably, he’d lead me down a path of self discovery about where I was screwing up. I’ve also been coached in swimming and weightlifting, and both of those experiences were enhanced by coaches that “checked in” often to see how I was feeling. Forcing students to be introspective will help them a great deal as they go off to shoot by themselves.
DO keep it brief
The human brain needs some time off to comprehend and digest what has been thrown at it. Break up your instruction into bite sized chunks no more than thirty minutes at a time. Make sure that the achievable goals you set can be reached in that amount of time, and adjust the expectations down if you think you won’t be able to get to that point in the allotted time.
DO act patiently
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who you’re teaching, or really what you’re teaching. If someone was generous enough to show you some vulnerability, the least you can do is be patient. If you doubt your ability to lock it up and approach the teaching process with patience, do yourself and your prospective student a favor, and politely decline the request. Frustration is inevitable when it comes to teaching someone a new thing. How you deal with it is up to you. When I’m frustrated teaching someone anything, I make it a practice to smile and find something constructive to say.
Ultimately, the opportunity to teach someone is a gift that the student gives you. At some point, all of us have been new shooters, and if we look back on that experience, my hope is that it was a positive experience. I learned to shoot from a lifelong hunter at the tender age of 9. He was incredibly thorough, safe, and encouraging. He fostered a love of firearms early on in a safe and encouraging environment. By doing so, he created a lifelong shooter, hunter, and gun rights activist. I think all of us really love guns and shooting and it is important to remember that we’re passing along that gift.