By Eric L.
How do you get your little girl to shoot…and enjoy it? As a father of a 5-year old girl, I’ve been making mistakes since the very day she was born and here are some of the lessons I’ve learned — many the hard way — while trying to cultivate her appreciation for shooting.
1) Set and communicate simple, attainable goals
Seems obvious enough, yet it’s so easy to forget. The first time I took my daughter shooting I didn’t have any specific goal in mind…none…it was just get out there. But what I thought would be carefree fun quickly spiraled into chaos.
I couldn’t communicate because I didn’t have a clear objective in mind, so it was naturally easy to get frustrated as we tried to accomplish whatever was in the moment. My failure to set and communicate a simple yet attainable goal made the very first outing quite dismal.
We hopped from safe gun handling to sight alignment to trigger control to eye dominance to muzzle awareness…in the first 10 minutes.
In hindsight, I would have made the very first outing focused solely on safe handling at the bench and following range commands. Which would mean not worrying about shooting or hitting a target.
Pending a successful visit, the next outing would build on a logical add-on like sight alignment, then a separate session on trigger control, and so on. It’s equally important to communicate those goals so your daughter understands the purpose of the range visit before she gets there.
2) Rehearse at home what you’ll do at the range
One of the things I did right was rehearse the range commands and practice the basic loading/unloading process with my child at home with an empty gun. It was always done seriously, safely, and methodically so she could practice repeatedly in a controlled and quiet environment.
I’d estimate about two dozen practice sessions before we ever set foot at the range. The practice gave her confidence, let her work out the sequence of activities, and provided her a safe environment to ask questions.
3) Reward accomplishment and make it special
Despite a disastrous first visit and her not getting even a single hit on paper, we did manage to get ourselves to a Wendy’s restaurant after the range time and reflect on what she accomplished. The act of setting aside a special lunch to reward her for the effort helped re-establish a positive spin on the event.
When she finally managed on a subsequent outing to hit the bullseye she got another treat. All this is to say positive reinforcement keeps your child engaged.
Go big with the verbal praise. Finally, we posted her most recent target up in her bedroom and she gets to show it off to her friends. I’m planning to take a day off from work for the next range trip and she’s already asking me when that will be.
4) Get on paper first…then get on target
I was a real idiot on the first trip. I set the target at 50 yards. A 3-inch or so red bullseye on a circular black background. That was too far to see easily and too difficult to hit so she ended up not hitting the paper at all and being disappointed.
Instead, I should have set her up at the pistol range — say 15 yards maximum — and start with the attainable objective of hitting the paper. Yes, just aim center of a clean sheet (back of a target for example). When we did that, she was able to quickly dial in on paper then started tightening up her groups so that 5 shots all stayed inside the 8 inch target.
The next time we’ll start at 15 yards again then move the target out to 25 yards. It’s also a good idea to consider what target you use. The black background made seeing the blued front sight and blued rear aperture almost impossible. When we switched to a popular white background with orange accents, her shots got closer and closer to the bull.
5) Personalize it so it’s all hers
The Crickett .22LR single shot rifle she shoots is entirely her choice. It’s pink since, at the time, pink was her favorite color. She’ll be collecting stickers that she’ll want to adorn it with.
Personalization makes it, well, personal. You start to own it when it’s an expression of you. I admit it was a little awkward sighting in a pee-wee pink .22LR but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even now. She picked out her eye protection and hearing protection as part of the ownership process, too.
6) Suppressors are a girl’s best friend
It’s not a coincidence that suppressor ownership is so popular. Less noise and less recoil are great reasons to own a rimfire suppressor for your daughter to use, too. If your daughter is particularly sensitive to noise, try to get range time during a weekday session rather than during a busy weekend. It also helps if you can set up on one end of the range rather than in the middle.
The best is if you can arrange for her to shoot on private land so she doesn’t have to contend with noisy range neighbors. I found that excessive noise really bothered my daughter and was the one thing I needed to consider a high priority.
7) Enjoy it yourself
Clearly, if she sees you’re enthusiastic and speaking highly about your shooting experience, that all the more reason she’ll want to do it and will likely enjoy it, too. If you’re being a grump and you don’t seem to be having fun — or at least don’t speak about it positively — don’t blame her if she’s hates it.
I hope these seven things give you some food for thought. It’s no secret that women are the fastest growing segment of the shooting and gun owning/gun buying public. All the more reason to get our “young women” started early and on the right track.
This post was originally published in 2014.