Gunsite. Arguably the mecca of firearms training facilities in America.
Naturally, when Buz Mills, Ken Campbell and Jane Anne Shimizu sought me out at SHOT Show to invite me to a Ladies Pistol Class at their facility in Paulden, AZ, I jumped at the chance!
Even with the hundreds of hours of training I’ve put in across the country, I’d never taken a ‘ladies only’ course and was eager to see if it differed from the co-ed training I was used to. ‘Ladies Only’ courses had also been a source of many lively conversations between myself and other women, trainers, and members of the industry so I went into it with an open mind.
The first thing that really stood out was the diversity of the women in the class. A CEO, an archeologist, a doctor, CFO, housewife, writer… older, younger, white, Hispanic – we came from all walks of life for one purpose: to learn how to effectively defend our lives if we had to. The ladies all had different levels of experience with handguns; from little to no time handling a pistol, to seasoned gun owners who were just looking for formal training or specifically, self-defense instruction.
Our class of thirteen was run by firearms instructor Gary Smith who was assisted by Chris Currie and Joe Avila and true to Gunsite form, gun safety was paramount during the weeklong course. The four rules of gun safety are posted throughout the facility and our instructors frequently quizzed the women during different segments of the training.
It was evident at the beginning of the week that a few women were apprehensive when it came to handling, drawing and being confident with their firearm. Timid is the word I would use to describe the overall mood on Monday after we spent the morning in the cool air-conditioned classroom reviewing the basics and learning what we’d be doing on the range.
Of course, the easiest way to get comfortable with a firearm is to use it, so after lunch, we all applied more sunscreen and headed down to the range.
I was shooting a Smith & Wesson M&P Full-Size 9MM rented from Gunsite with ammo generously donated by my friends at Federal Premium Ammunition. I also was lucky enough to have been outfitted by 5•11 Tactical, who sent me out in their very flexible and comfortable Mesa Pant (my new favorite pants ever), their Freedom Flex woven short sleeve shirt and the incredibly cool Women’s Kryptek Rapid Half-Zip Pullover – which, I might add, I wore all day long on the range and felt great in.
One of the most significant features of the Ladies Pistol course aside from the gun safety aspect was the clear, patient direction of our instructors. Not only were we told what the next drill would be, they demonstrated it for us, had us do a dry run, and then we performed it. Let me tell you, for a lot of the women, I could see that what started with confusion quickly turned to understanding and in turn, to proficiency on the range.
Not only did we work on the range on different drills to dial in our shot after drawing from the holster, we split up into teams to tackle the shoot house and the donga. First of all, I could have spent all day in the shoot house, as I have a much easier time moving then shooting rather than standing in one spot aiming at a target downrange.
Slicing the pie, thinking about which way to approach doorways, both open and with closed doors, identifying threats and eliminating them isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you’re going to prepare for the real world event you need to clear your home, this is the place to learn how to do it.
But the donga? Now that was tricky for me. Finding my footing was tricky but doable, then adding in the acquisition of a target, ascertaining whether or not it was a threat and finally eliminating it was another story altogether. I ended up going through it twice and, with the steady encouraging tone Joe used with me, I was hitting 100% at the end of my second run.
Will I ever need to use this skill? Maybe not, but am I a more confident concealed carrier now that I know I can? Absolutely.
On a more personal note, this was my first time training in over a year since my best friend committed suicide. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to stop training, that’s just how it happened. To be frank, I had no idea how making headshots was going to be an issue. I tried and tried, I’m talking at like three yards, but I kept hitting down in the neck area.
Once it ‘clicked’ with me, I started to break down a bit on the line. I fully admit, I teared up and wanted to leave. Chris came over and instructed me to take a few deep breaths and after I explained to him the situation in my head, he calmly affirmed that it would be tough, but asked me a simple question,
“This guy is coming into your house. He’s threatening your family. He’s going to hurt you, Jenn – what would Bob tell you to do?”
“Shoot him in the effing head, Jacques,” I replied.
“Do that then,” Chris instructed me and sure enough, I turned and hit absolutely perfect headshots at 3, 5, 7, and 10 yards.
Sometimes, you’re working through more than just drills on the gun range and I’m thankful I was at Gunsite when I worked through that.
As a group, we also worked on different real-world scenarios, like how to effectively turn around to face a threat approaching you from behind. Possibilities I’m sure everyone knows in the back of their head, but may not have had the opportunity to run through them from a tactical standpoint or, more importantly, to practice them on a live range.
A timid group of women at the beginning of the week found themselves vying for more time on the range on our last day at Gunsite. Literally bargaining with our trainers to shoot one more active target, take one more pass at a drill or to try it at 10 yards rather than 7. It was incredibly empowering and I feel very blessed to have refreshed my own training alongside these awesome ladies.
Taking this course solidified my previous belief that for some ladies, it is more comfortable to learn within a group of women and trust me, I get it. To be honest, this class was so engaged, it’s hard to imagine anyone having an issue with this type of class structure. They asked questions, assisted each other both on and off the range, enthusiastically participated in discussions and were extremely open to constructive criticism – something I’ve not seen in other co-ed classes.
Now that’s not to say I’d advocate for women to take all ladies only courses but this is a great start for anyone who wants to get their feet planted firmly beneath them before venturing into other co-ed courses.
At the end of the day, taking the Ladies Pistol 1 & 2 courses back-to-back is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in the finest instruction for firearms training and philosophy. If you’re on the fence about signing up for this course, either one or both, please take it from me – JUST DO IT. You will not regret it and like me, you’ll be signing up for additional courses before you even leave their facility.
You’ll return home a stronger woman, a more proficient shooter, more intelligent firearms owner and strong advocate for training training, training, MOAR TRAINING!!! (which we should all be).
I can’t thank my good friends at Gunsite enough for inviting me along for this class and believe me when I say, I will absolutely be taking them up on every future offer they’d like to send my way.
Hope to see you there!