By Jay D.
Some friends and I recently took a trip to the desert to go shooting. In our group were two women with little to no experience with guns. After observing what worked and what did not work for them, I have several tips to help us teach effectively and make the whole experience more enjoyable. The following tips apply especially to women and young shooters but are helpful for introducing firearms to anyone . . .
1) Give clear and concise instructions. Every new shooter needs to hear the basics when they go out until they can repeat them from memory. The basics that I’m referring to include the safe handling of firearms, how to operate the gun, how to grip the gun, how to aim and how to pull the trigger. The best teacher will cover these subjects with the fewest words that fully explain each. When in doubt, err on the side of giving less instruction for every topic except safety. Nothing ruins a range trip like someone getting hurt or causing property damage.
2) Shut up! Just as important as the instructions is the opportunity to put them in practice. A good friend of mine with far more marksmanship skill than myself brought his wife shooting with us. She asked me to her the basics. I did so to the best of my ability. On the firing line she fired a few rounds and looked back at me and my friend for reassurance. I nodded and encouraged her to fire more rounds; my friend decided she needed more instruction. I deferred to him as the more experienced shooter and went about loading magazines and talking to some other people at the range. After about 10 minutes they were still on the firing line with my friend explaining the finer points of trigger control and sight alignment while his wife stood holding a gun, not having fired another round. As with any subject, not everything can be learned at once. New shooters need the basics and only the basics when starting out.
3) Be encouraging. Learning to shoot can be tough. Not hitting the target is discouraging. New shooters will need constant affirmation that they are on the path to becoming a better shooter. Saying anything even remotely demeaning about a shooter’s performance on one of their first range trips can be devastating to them and discourage them from future excursions with you. Remember, you want them to come back for more.
4) Use reactive targets whenever possible and bring them in close range. For newer shooters hitting the target is critical. I prefer a reactive target for new shooters because it instantly tells them they did a good job, which reinforces that they are shooting correctly and encourages them to continue. I highly recommend shooting at reactive steel, bowling pins, milk jugs filled with water, or just about anything from the Champion Duraseal line of products. Whatever target it is make sure it is a large as possible and can safely be fired upon at close range. If you must use a paper target at an indoor shooting range or wherever you may be then bring the paper in close. For handgun shooting try placing the target inside of 7 yards (21 feet). Some new shooters may scoff at shooting a target so close. Have them try it and see how good a group they can get. If they want to go farther out then okay but encourage them to stay close so they can see how they’re doing.
5) Don’t start a new shooter out on your 44 magnum, 45-70, 7.62x54R, 30-06, or 12 gauge. These calibers, and many others which I did not enumerate for the sake of space, are not appropriate to use when learning basic shooting skills. The recoil will cause severe anticipation, possibly pain, and may discourage the shooter from further pursuing the hobby. The same principle applies for weight; do not use a lightweight gun and large caliber that would have the effect of increasing felt recoil. My suggestion for new shooters is always a 22 long rifle chambered rifle or pistol. Should a new shooter ask to shoot one of my “big guns” I would certainly allow it but only after I believed they could do so safely. For some new shooters the whole point of going to the range is to shoot the most powerful gun available and there is no reason not to let them do so as long as they do it safely.
6) Don’t demand perfection. We are talking about beginners. From my perspective, the most important results of a range trip with new shooters are that they learned how to be safe and had enough fun that they want to come back and do it again. Being nitpicky about form is counterproductive as they would be less likely to continue with practice.
The suggestions above are not intended to be a comprehensive list of everything to do when introducing someone to shooting. They are tips to remember when you find yourself on the range with someone new. My hope is that we can be even better at introducing new people to our wonderful hobby and instill an appreciation of our 2nd Amendment rights.