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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.

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39 Responses to More On Teaching New Shooters

  1. The outdoor range that I belong to has a great rule for new shooters. The first time they shoot a pistol they are only allowed to shoot one round. After they show they can handle that without recoil issues they are given 3. After that they can shoot whatever number of rounds they wish, one at a time of course. I understand this was a response to someone who was not real strong and was given a high powered handgun. First shot, recoil, second shot through the guy standing behind the shooter, killing him. That’s the story. Not sure if it is true but it demonstrates a few good points. 1. Make sure a new shooter can handle the recoil before going further.
    2: don’t stand directly behind someone on the range. The one round first shot rule makes sense to me.

    • That’s a good idea, especially when that first shooter is someone with a small frame, like the person I’ll be taking shooting for he first time Sunday.

    • Loading only one cartridge for a first time shooter is also wise because they sometimes violate one or more of the Four Rules in the initial stage of the learning process. Since you only load one cartridge in their firearm, it is impossible for them to harm anyone or anything after they shoot that single cartridge — even if they muzzle sweep someone or pull the trigger on the (now) unloaded firearm.

    • “After that they can shoot whatever number of rounds they wish, one at a time of course”

      How do you shoot more than one round at a time? Some type of multi-barreled weapon?

  2. I really like the idea of starting with a 5 shot group for a baseline, using it to set a reasonable goal for the day and then working to achieve it.

    • Thanks! It’s something I started with my brother in law’s first range trip. We didn’t have a lot of time so I wanted him to do something that would be very easy to improve on.

      I figure that the first time shooting just needs to be about putting an easy mark in the win column. There’s always time to work on moving and shooting, finding cover, shooting fast, etc. But for the first outing, build that confidence up with an easy to achieve goal.

      The best is when they ask if they can take their five shot target with them.

  3. nope.

    sara is a woman in full, in the modern age. she and her biological like cannot ever offer the position that women need different approaches to life. sara, et.al. are fully capable adults, no different from men; settled law. it is petulant, silly, and indicative of a not serious person for sara, or any female, to note, point-out, ask for, or demand preferential or different consideration than what would be given a non-female. days of different skills, capabilities, emotions, and deference to non-males are long in the past, tossed to the dustbin of history. it is disrespectful of women for anyone to bring-up differences between men and women as a justification for any lessening of standards of behavior. women struggled long and hard to be treated the same as men. let women enjoy their status without regret or favor.

    • Wish I had special status. White, male, middle aged, non vet, wage earning working stiff, non union, non religious, non political. Such sadness.

      • “if a man says something in a forest, and there is no one around to hear, is he still wrong?”

        my female roommate thinks i lack even a simple grasp of the obvious.

        • I would award you teh interwebz for the day, but it’s almost midnight and I would feel as though I shortchanged you….

        • “i am highly educated, well trained, and compliant.”

          If you were as “highly educated” as you claim, you would capitalize the beginning of a sentence…

          Just sayin’…

          🙂

        • i refer you to the great writer e.e. cummings, and his disdain for the contortions of the wrist required to incorporate capital letters (which serves no actual purpose).

          gabh mo leisgeul

        • thank you, and happy christmas to you and yours.

          pip, pip, cheer-o and all that rot.

          eh?

    • George from Fort Worth,

      You do realize that only a small minority of women are card carrying members of the FemiNazi movement, correct?

      If you are teaching a woman and you know for certain that she is a FemiNazi, by all means treat her no different than any man. Otherwise, I encourage you to give your female students the benefit of the doubt and adjust your teaching to their individual qualities.

      • i have taken numerous beatings (some for extended periods) in my journey to a fully-realized metrosexual. i now completely understand that the only difference between males and non-males is that one or the other can conceive and incubate offspring. generations and generations of human experience was based on the ignorant and false notion that non-males were unable to perform a lengthy list of functions that were reserved to men. this division of the species led to generations of lost contributions to society by non-males, and we are still suffering from that loss. non-males are 100% able to do anything a male can do. to differentiate is disrespectful, cruel, and probably subject to criminal charges (if not, should be). sara is a pathetic example of what millennium of thick-headed, mindless, ignorant, incapable and arrogant males have wrought. any non-male seeking advantage based solely on a presumption that non-males are just naturally due that deference should be branded with some sort of indicator that they need re-education about the state of the world in the modern age. once such non-males are sufficiently educated, the symbol of shame would be removed, and those non-males put in positions in society monitoring and controlling the mental illness of males.

  4. Haven’t read the other article, but after the last 3 decades of range time being part of one of the first few dates, my experience is that Kee’s pretty spot on.Just like teaching anything.

    Women (at least the ones I’ve taught to shoot in the beginning) are far better out of the box than men. Perhaps it’s ‘proving’ they can do it, or the excitement of doing something that’s supposed to be ‘manly’ (city girls). Whatever the causality, only 3 or 4 have dropped shooting, regardless of dropping me or vice versa. My buddy has a 13 yo daughter hitting tennis balls at 200M with a scoped .270. First time she shot it. The 25-30 yo men at the same gathering were failing miserably.

    • Women are generally much better out of the box with small-bore rifles (.22 or 5.56). Many women are intimidated by handguns at first, imagining that a 9mm will have the recoil of a 50 AE.

      • It has been my expierance that women/girls are for the most part not encumbered with the baggage that men/boys seem to acquire in their formative years and youth.
        Women, for the most part, seem to come to the range the first time with a greater respect for firearms, and a willingness to listen and learn without having to unlearn bad habits or preconceptions.
        From my expierance women come to the table with an unemcumbered natural ability to shoot a firearm. One of two things happen at this point.
        That natural ability is crushed by someone who has no ability to teach and who may indeed have an overly inflated sense of their own abilities. OR …
        They (the student) find someone who understands their needs , has nothing to prove themselves, and can impart the information in such a manner that it is a plesent and enjoyable expierance culminating in the students self satisfaction and sence of accomplishment.
        Many of the professional women whom I’ve had the privilege to serve with over the years are as good as, and a fair number, better than their male counterparts at the use of firearms. I have never come across one who I would be uncomfortable at having my back or who’s back I would be uncomfortable in covering.
        It all starts with a persons desire and someone to mentor that desire.
        From this one persons POV your view is well taken an solid. Start small, come along at the best pace of the student, end up with a solid partner with a good skill set.

      • Anon, those I’ve ‘trained’ always wanted to do the pistols, they had no interest in rifles initially (as always, YMMV).

        I usually start them out with a .22lr. Which lasts about a mag or two, tops. Then it’s on to a 9mm, or the .357 DE. If they’re really hard, they always grab the Eagle. After that, it’s on to the hand-cannons which is where some throw in the towel and walk back, and others want a 14″ XP100 in .50BMG…

  5. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the article yet, I just got a great laugh out of the title.

    “More On Training New Shooters”, which is a great pun. And I’d bet everyone here has seen a moron training new shooters.

  6. I’m still waiting for that article telling me how to train a hyperactive 9 year old nephew who won’t listen to anything you say and just cranks out shots from his Red Ryder BB gun as fast as he can but can’t or won’t hold the rifle properly because he’s cross eye dominant. His dad and I both agreed he needed a bit more maturity before handling any of my .22’s. I tried to get him to work on proper grip and aiming with a Crosman 1377 pellet gun (single shot, slows you down, makes you concentrate on proper aim) but he got tired of it, or rather, tired of pumping it 6-8 times then loading, set it down and ran off.

    So you can tell I’m not a parent, nor am I married. But I would still like to help next time they visit. PS: His dad is super laid back and patient compared to me. Maybe too much so. But he did bring a fifth of Elijah Craig to the firepit, so I do wonder at times. 🙂

    Enjoyed the writeup, as well as Sara’s.

    Tom

    • Tom,

      Many boys are full of energy. It sounds like you and your nephew’s dad made the right call holding off on advancing to rimfire.

      In the future consider a more holistic approach and plan for an entire day (or at least half a day). And, integral to that plan, take measures to manage your nephew’s energy. Not only will that help him focus and be effective, it will also show him how serious the matter is. Start off with the right food. Make him a nice breakfast with a lot of protein and almost no starch or sugar … and continue to emphasize protein and limit starch and sugar throughout the day. That means no sweetened cereals, no pancakes and syrup, no donuts, no pastries, no cookies, no cake, no fruit juices, no soft drinks, and a minimum of chips, pasta, bread, etc. And do NOT let him consume any drinks with caffeine! DO let him have all the meat, eggs, cheese, milk, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and water he wants.

      After putting optimum food into his body, have him do something vigorous and even slightly strenuous for a bit. Have him jog a half-mile or so. When he returns, have him lift some light weights (like half-gallon milk jug filled with water) for 10 minutes or so … and make sure to ooh and aahh at his weightlifting and egg him on. After all of that, let him rest for a spell. While he is resting, you can review the Four Rules and teach him proper grip, stance, etc. After he has had a chance to rest and let his muscles recover, you can move on to actual trigger time.

      And make sure to keep an eye on him: if he starts to squirm and get ants in his pants, take a break for 10 to 15 minutes and do something that gets him moving. Play tag. See who can walk the fastest without actually running. Do some jumping jacks and some push-ups. Then, settle back down with a quick review of the Four Rules and get back to trigger time.

      This is a recipe for success. Boys in particular are energetic. We can ignore it, fight it, or recognize it and manage it. I opt to recognize and manage it.

  7. The trainer has to be confident, calm, and patient, and make it easy on the new shooter. That is how a one-on-one instructor worked with me (Glock 17, safety discussion and dry fire first, then one round at a time, begin at 3 yards, move target back until student starts missing.) Like every new shooter, I did not know what to expect from the recoil. Once I learned that in a full size 9mm it was pretty much nothing, and out to 7 yards I could easily hit the center of the target, I was good to go. I taught our daughter to drive the same way. Empty parking lot on a weekend, foot off the gas and learn to steer and brake first, add gas but not over 20 mph the first few times out. She gets on her boyfriend when he wants her to go shooting with him because although out of the box she outshot him with a rental .22, she is not comfortable with the recoil on his gun, a 9mm compact. I have seen a lot of instructors work with new women shooters going up from .22 through .45 so that they could experience the different calibers and find where they were comfortable. Overhearing the comments, many of the women were not comfortable with the larger calibers, yet I know a woman who prefers a .45. Treat each student as an individual.

  8. Both articles were great. I read some of the comments in Sara’s which just prove that many men don’t get the differences between men and women and learning.

    I was a professional coach for many years in different sport (not firearms), and worked with a lot of men and women. You have to absolutely approach each person as an individual and the basics apply to all. But a good instructor will realize that everyone is different and there are huge fundamental differences between men and women. I found that men come in to learning with a chip on their shoulder 1st, learning comes second vs. women who come in to learn 1st, and often a bit of intimidation is there 2nd that might affect their learning. Some women are able to deal with it better than others but it’s normally there.

    Men need to prove themselves and that gets in their way. Women don’t carry the ego baggage and end up being the best students. Now of course there are varying degrees of all this and these are generalizations but it’s true and I’ve got a lot of years under my belt of working with both genders.

    Sadly, what Sara is trying to explain won’t be understood by a lot of male instructors and that’s too bad. Just as men come into learning with an attitude, they can also be instructors with attitude and have a hard time self reflecting to “get it” that men and women are different learners. Call it bad bedside manners…some will just not be able to figure it out.

  9. One must consider the emotional maturity and experience of the student. Got a 7 year old? A single shot BB gun or pellet rifle. Teenagers at a Boy Scout Camp? Single shot .22’s, pump 12 gauges with target loads, blackpowder single shots, and 25-35# bows. Interestingly, there’s a fair amount of overlap between the NRA safety materials and the Boy Scout merit badge handbooks. For most others, a .22 pistol is a good start.

  10. I would also add do not overwhelm the person with lots of technical info, jargon, politics, etc. Let them form their own questions and opinions and give them concise answers to any questions they do ask.

    I cannot stress this enough, keep the politics minimal. You can explain why a law is a certain way or why something is interpreted differently they what is obvious, but do it dispassionately and factually. No newbie wants to hear a rant about how the ATF is evil and blah blah blah, when all they ask is a simple question about a law. You give the person the education, and guide them in the correct direction and they will come to the same conclusion that your rant is based off on their own.

    I’ve done this first hand many times just by explaining the intricacies and pitfalls in different laws. A perfect example is, when demonstrating with my AR, explaining how it could have been a pistol and then explaining the whole pistol to rifle and rifle to pistol situation. Every single person has said that makes zero sense. They came to that conclusion themselves with no interjections on my part that the laws, congress, ATF, etc are intellectually impaired.

  11. @Tyler Kee
    Hey Tyler,
    Your points were a good follow up and support for anyone who might find themselves teaching or imparting information to another who is either new to or a novice at whatever the course of study is.
    I’m always impressed that there are those who actually seem to not just understand this process but are in equal or greater amounts able to put that knowlage in the hands of others.
    A well stated and considered piece of writing and instruction. I’m going to make a copy and add it to my file of training materials along with Sara’s.
    Information is power! Pete sends…

  12. If something is wrong, remember the 9 year with the UZI, say SOMETHING. Guns ARE dangerous and telling a child to not play with fire is the right thing to do, tough on the ego. I dated a woman 5’3 3/4″, tiny sweet woman with little hands. I show her how to shoot my Glock 9mm. Almost every time it would smoke stack. Her hands were very small and seemed to have no weight to hold it down. She was not afraid and was a good shot but the recoil got her most times. No double standards put DC politicians on Obamacare and SS.Thanks for your support and vote.Pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

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