Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women
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Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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.

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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.

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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.

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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.

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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.

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women

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).

Gunsite Ladies Pistol Course Training Women
Joe, Gary, Jenn the Gunsite Graduate and Chris!

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!

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  1. Good to see decent pistols being used for the lady’s course…

    My wife took a course from a guy who told her to stop carrying her G26, which she can run well, and to start carrying a snubby .38… she completed the course, but won’t be going back there again.

    In all fairness, it’s Gunsite, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    • A decent pistol should be what everyone carries and trains with… sadly – too many people neither carry a decent gun nor train with it.
      One important point should be: what ever you carry or are likely to carry should be what you train with. There is little to be gained from training with a full-size pistol if you routinely carry a pocket .380.

    • let me guess the person that told her this was over 50? one of the “revolver never fail” group. LOL

  2. “…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…”

    It would have been nice if a disclaimer was at the *very* top of the article as to who financed the content of the article.

    The article itself was fine, but this was in effect, a paid professional endorsement by Mr.Mills, Mr. Campbell and Ms. Shimizu…

    • Not to mention the course she took is a nearly $2k course ($1925). That’s not exactly pocket change for most people. But I would be more than happy to head out to gunsite and take a free course for a week and write an article about it 😉

      • You’ll first have to prove you are worth listening to. That usually involves education, experience, and writing on your own dime.
        It’s completey doable. Get after it.

      • Screw that noise, I’ve got a dairy to run and 4 kids to help raise. Besides, I’m not worth listening to, I’m just another anonymous jackass on the interwebz.
        Truthfully the only thing I didn’t like about the article was the advertisement for her free clothes, which added nothing to the article imo. The rest of my comment was more of the shock of how much those classes cost. I obviously have no idea what it takes to run a facility like gunsite, and obviously what they’re doing is working for them, but to me that seems a bit pricey.

    • It was the second sentence. Right up front. She was 100% clear that she was invited to the course and someone else paid for the course and some of her clothing and gear.
      The integrity box is checked.

        • And you don’t have to. It’s right up there in front, in the lead without having to click through.

    • No, my article is not “a paid professional endorsement by Mr.Mills, Mr. Campbell and Ms. Shimizu”. I was invited to Gunsite to go through the course and write about it objectively. If the training they put me through hadn’t been up to par, I would have informed readers as much, however, it was exactly as I recounted in my piece.

      Additionally, I worked for free from 2013-2016. I cultivated my own sources, paid for my own ammo and training, networked with gun manufacturers and gear companies, and hustled to get my articles out to readers. I did all that to build a name and an audience for myself so I could write in this industry for a living. Which I have and I do.

      jwtaylor is right: we need more outdoor/firearms writers in our industry, so I invite every single one of our very outspoken readers to put in the time and effort that I did to become one. Until then, I will continue to write for women (and men) who are looking for personal insight to help them in their journey.

      • Well said and I appreciate your work.

        As someone who can’t afford training most folks would consider “affordable” I admit reading about places like Gunsite cause a fair bit of envy and even anger that I’ll never get to experience it. However it’s short-lived and I go on to enjoy the articles. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve had some decent training in the past when I was younger and not so gimped up so I rely on that and the occasional range time I can manage.

        Keep up the good work! Take advantage of all the perks you can because you never know when your ability to physically and or monetarily enjoy them may be lost. In my case it started in my late 20’s and has been downhill for the last 20 years since. Don’t take youth for granted either, it’s no guarantee of good health and it can all change very quickly. Make it count, I’ll keep reading.

  3. @jwtaylor

    For some reason it is spelled lede. It has something to do with typesetting.

  4. I was on the fence about signing up for a ladies only course (my husband wants to take a class with me) but I’m officially putting this on my Christmas list!! Thank you, Jenn!

  5. Nice article, Jenn. Passed it to a female friend newbie. But one comment: all industries have terms and acronyms best explained outright (at the risk of tiring out old salts) if newbies are part of your target audience. Few ladies (or men) who’ve never been to Gunsite are going to know what a “Donga” is. Also, a word to all the “all pistols all the time” commenters: the right gun is the one that WORKS and FEELS RIGHT and WILL BE CARRIED by the end user. The “pistols only” pushers are just as bad as the “better use a revolver” crowd. Both work, for the people they work for. (The S&W Shield EZ has helped greatly to open more pistols to the needers of “EZ.”)

    • Donga is the name of a one of the outdoor simulators at Gunsite. It’s a dry wash (dry creek bed for non-desert dwellers) with various good guy (no-shoot) and bad guy (shoot) steel targets for you to engage as you walk down the dry creek.

      The North Wash is more descriptive name for another outdoor simulators…another dry wash with steel bad guys. I believe there is a third dry wash simulator but I don’t recall the third one’s name.

      Gunsite has at least three indoor simulators that are called a “shoot house.” Each has a name such as Sun of Pit (the house is in a earthen walled pit carved out of a hill next to a larger pit simply called the Pit. Hence Son of Pit for the smaller pit.) I don’t recall the names of the others.

      So there’s a little vocabulary lesson. Indoor simulator is a “shoot house.” Outdoor simulator is where you engage targets as you move from location to location. Now let’s use them in a sentence.

      What did you gals do this afternoon? We shot in an outdoor simulator. Which one? The Donga.

      What did you gals do this afternoon? We shot in the shoot house. Which one? Son of Pit.

      Alternately. What did you gals do this afternoon? We shot in the indoor simulator. Which one? Son of Pit.

      Indoor simulator a.k.a shoot house and outdoor simulator will be pretty universal vocabulary at training facilities. Each facility may or may not have a name for their simulators.

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