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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.

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  1. Is that one woman a giant or is the other tiny?

    I have 3 different .22’s (A handgun, a revolver, and my trusty 10/22) that are all great starter guns. They are easy to use, don’t jam (which is discouraging and sometimes scary for new shooters)

    Once someone gets the basics down, I’ll let them try my .45 ACP. Recoil is stout but it’s still a fun gun. Once they realize shooting is easy and fun with the .22’s, there is usually no complaints about the .45.

    I realize I could transition to the 9mm first, but the .45 seems to have more mystique and no one complains.

  2. Every suggestion is a winner, and the biggest winner is “Shut Up!”

    Once you’ve taught the basics and the newbie is safe, please let her enjoy the experience. During future range trips, there will be plenty of time to turn her into Annie Oakley. But if you continue to lecture, there won’t be any future range trips. At least not with you.

    • That’s what I did with my wife. For our first Valentine’s Day, I took her to the range with a P22 and 500 rounds. I made her memorize the 4 rules, showed her how to use the gun, and told her to have at it. She was hooked. All the fine tuning came later. After 7 years, she’s a better shot than I am.

      • After 7 years, she’s a better shot than I am.

        In that case, be very, very careful. 🙂

    • Shutting up is usually a good thing. I took a co-worker with me shooting, He said that he wanted to shoot a 9mm to see what the recoil was like. To say he was inexperienced is putting it mildly. so I went over all safety and operations of the gun, especially warning him about slide bite. Unfortunately, he kept stacking his thumbs at the back. But sometimes you gotta get bit to learn, so I kept my mouth shut. After the ban-aid was in place he never did it again. Now he wants to buy his own FNS.

      • Haaaaaaaaa! The same thing happened to my best friend the first time I took him to the range. I must have told him ten times not to cross his thumbs, but he did it anyway. Now when he goes to the range, he lectures people incessantly about not crossing their thumbs.

  3. Solid advice. I would have a very hard time disagreeing with any of it. Enough can’t be said about safety or about encouragement, and if the new guy wants to shoot the Deagle, I’ll let him as long as he can do it safely.

  4. Yeah, my poor sister just kept seeing my tighter groups and getting frustrated, but really she was doing amazing for her like third time shooting. Cannot emphasize enough encouragement. They need to know the difference between you is just experience.

    • This is why the suggestion to use reactive targets is great. Rather than a group of holes in paper that they can negatively compare to more experienced shooters’ group, just ringing gongs or bouncing pings, as long as they are big enough to hit at the minimum safe distance. I admit I have missed cans from what I am sure everyone on this site would consider an embarassingly close range.

    • Then let her shoot at something that does not involve “groups” at all…steel or some other reactive target that she CAN hit (but it does not matter where).

      Initially, the emphasis (after safety) should be “fun.” Proficiency come with practice, which will never happen if they get discouraged quickly.

    • My favorite reactive targets are A) frozen milk jugs with the jug cut off and B)surplus pumpkins from the day after Halloween.

      The 8 lb milk-jug ice blocks are highly “reactive” and free. They’ll take a few hits from .22LR or 9mm before they are too shattered. Plus they double as “hey I need ice for the cooler on a moment’s notice” really well. The pumpkins, not as reactive but you can see really interesting effects from hollow-point vs FMJ ammo.

      Another good thing about both is that when shooting them out in the woods/gravel pit/anywhere that isn’t a range (of course) is that you don’t create litter that needs picked up. The ice melts and the pumpkins disappear in short order.

    • I bought my 8-year old son a Daisy Red Rider last week and set up a range in our back yard with Shoot-N-C targets. He did great, and I was so proud. Then, he wanted to see Dad shoot and being the hyper-competitive kid that he is, he about lost it when he saw my groups. (I should have known better and tossed a few. He doesn’t get that trait from nowhere.). Lesson learned by Dad, and the next range session will involve aluminum cans and not paper targets that can be measured.

  5. To expand on #4: If you are using paper targets, make sure they are big enough for the trainee to be able to see where the bullets are going. I made this mistake when teaching my aunt how to shoot. I’m used to using 8.5X11″ bulls-eye targets I keep in a folder in my range bag and it didn’t occur to me that she might need something bigger. Well, these proved frustratingly difficult for her to hit even at 5 yards. Lesson learned.

    • Same here, just a stack of printer paper. But on the flip side, some indoor ranges have paper targets that are almost as big as me… and shooting at the torso bullseye is literally shooting at the floor! Never understood that one.

    • Agreed. If you can’t shoot steel, then it’s time to break out the 17-inch Shoot-N-C targets so they get visible, instant feedback.

      Nice writeup, Dan. The “Shut up!” part deserves to be repeated.

  6. Great advice here. I agree about using a .22 as primary tool to get a new shooter to improve. However I like letting a first time shooter shoot a 12ga first so they realize that even something with a strong recoil isn’t that bad. it seems to help them get over their apprehension quicker and be more comfortable with the primary gun used for training.

  7. Everyone ive taken shooting starts out on my s&w 19-4 with 38spc in the chamber, single action, then double action, increase distance, rinse repeat

  8. Good advice, and I have a few things I’d like to add that have worked well for me and that new shooters seem to appreciate. First of all, during the pre-shooting phase (at home, with unloaded weapons, explaining operation and basic safety), give a VERY brief overview of how firearms work. New shooters are usually kind of nervous about handling a deadly weapon (especially if they have been partially indoctrinated by the media to believe that firearms are sentient and malevolent), so understanding how they work can help them to really internalize the fact that firearms are nothing more than tools, controlled completely by the person holding them.

    Second, keep safety tips to an absolute minimum. Sure, the 4 rules are critical, and I’m certainly ruffling some feathers here, but simplicity is better. Again, they will be nervous, so the less information you give them, the better. Make sure they know about muzzle control and keeping their finger off the trigger. The other two are important as well, but for a closely supervised first session with guns, they are also irrelevant, and only so much noise to the novice.

    Third, train them on a rifle. Handguns should not be brought out for the first time shooter. Aside from the reduced recoil (and the fact that the recoil is easier to control, given that rifles have three contact points on the body rather than two), there’s also the safety aspect. Rifles, with their increased length, weight, and bulk, are much easier to keep track of with regard to where it’s pointing. Odds are that if they are holding it loosely with even a modicum of care, it will be pointed safely at the ground. Handguns, on the other hand, take a concentrated effort to keep pointed in a safe direction (held loosely at one’s side, the muzzles will sweep feet and lower legs as they walk).

    • I don’t agree about rifle. Lots of people interested in firearms have zero interest in rifles. My wife has no interest. She learned with about half a dozen shots out of a 22 revolver and then everything else on a heavy stainless steel full size p226 pistol and loved it from the first get go. and she is 5’4″ and 115lbs.

      I have and would start kids on rifles, but would not apply that rule to adults.

    • Adults, maybe. But with kids it is often a rite of passage best experienced with people related to them.

      I had my cousin who is a long time shooter teach my sons and daughters. Each time their other uncle,my brother was there as well, and part of the experience was shooting my late fathers pistols. I think my kids took the experience as very sober but positive kinship ritual.

      I have seen guys teaching their wives and kids at the range badly, but that is the exception more than the rule.

      for long term training though a third party can be good. For whatever reason, most likely blind luck, I am a very good pistol shot. My eldest son was a worse shot than me or his younger sister. I did send him for a couple of session of one on one advanced pistol with an NRA instructor because I think he felt nervous from shooting mediocre in front of me. that was very helpful to him. But for the first times shooting I know he was moved and happy to be doing it with me and his uncles

  9. I have addition to the list, that I once assumed it should go without saying, but then I started going to public ranges:

    Stow your ego. Assuming all the safety rules have been taught and put into practice, and the basics understood, ego may be the one thing to turn a new shooter away. Be a good ambassador. Even the little things may sour the experience of a new shooter who is at all aware and perceptive.
    In relation to giving clear and concise instructions, if you check your ego you’ll not find yourself saying things like “that gun is hot” and other tacti-cool jargon to the bewilderment of not only your newbie shooter, but the seasoned shooters in neighboring lanes.

    Keep it simple, and fun. FUN was not mentioned in that list. Whenever I teach new shooters, archers, etc. (especially kids) my main points are these: Safety, Respect, Fun. Enjoying ourselves is the ultimate goal, and I teach that without mastering safety and showing respect, it can’t be achieved.

  10. Sure, an introduction to firearms is compelling . . .

    but. . . like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest says. . .

    Where do you think she lives? (either)

    : )

    • In all seriousness, I heard (what I believe to be) a great comment on the topic the other day. They said, “bring them to the range”. Use “Range Etiquette” to teach ‘SAFETY’ – like golf etiquette (i.e., you don’t wear your glove on the green while putting because you don’t need it there) you not only get them to think of themselves (personal safety) but others safety, AND you instill in them a form of code, that you do it to hold yourself to a standard, that others are watching, and that it matters.

  11. I would add one step before starting. I would have them explain to me how to safely shoot and show me how they would hold a gun and fire. From there I would provided corrective action and why as well as reinforce the good points they already know.

    Finally reactive targets is one of the best suggestions that is usually left out. Great list over all and one of the best articles I’ve read this year.

  12. My suggestion: for pistol instruction, start with a replica gun and get all of the finger placement and handling errors out of the way

    • I always spend some time with handling and site picture unloaded.
      4 rules:
      2. what it is and what it looks like in practice.
      3. again what it looks like

      Then they dry fire a few times and we are ready to go. I might go first or not.

  13. Another important tip is to use really good ear protection. Inadequate ear protection will scare the hell out of any new shooter.

    • ^This
      I took a young lady from Hungary and her missionary husband to an indoor range and learned a valuable lesson.

      Make them wear a hat!

      She was just starting to get into it when 9mm brass landed on her eye pro and burned the crap out of her eyebrow.

  14. Allow me expand on #2. Not every “expert” or highly skilled in their field is a good teacher. I have found that saying something twice is usually sufficient.
    “The teacher has not taught until the learner has learned.” If the teacher does not let the learner demonstrate understanding, teaching has not occurred. Wife shoot good because of all of these rules.

  15. I am having success teaching a female family member using Laserlyte laser ammo and targets (including some “reactive” laser targets). Even more convenient and unintimidating than a .22. That helps because she is still very new to guns and has somewhat negative views of them.

  16. Having trained a number of first-time users, I’ll have to say encourage them to ask questions, no matter how basic they think the questions are. And always give honest answers.

    To me there are NO silly questions, especially for beginners. It is good that beginners can take advantage of the collective hundreds of years of experience.

    Our local Fudd organization is infamous for being rude, condescending, and even downright abusive when it comes to questions from beginners. And they wonder why they have what are regarded as sloppy handling practices and many incidents, which a partially resolved by draconian range rules.

  17. I had the distinct pleasure of teaching my daughter-in-law how to shoot last week. She is from the Chicago suburbs, with all that goes from that territory in general. She’s never openly objected to shooting in my presence, but rather questioned, “Why?” My response has been a comparison to golf, her game— it’s challenging, rewarding, encourages discipline, etc. Having gone through the safety ed, she used the Glenfield bolt-action .22 that I’ve started a dozen or more shooters on and within a few 10-yd shots was putting them where she wanted. Shortly, she was ready to be done… and that’s the one thing I haven’t seen yet. When the newbie is done, don’t push. She watched others shoot, asked countless questions, commented on how safety was observed, and came away with a very positive experience… and a happy Father’s Day gift for me!

  18. I agree with all, especially #5, as I taught my children to shoot, they started with a 410 and worked their way up. Eventually they got big enough to handle my grandfather’s double barrel 10 G. The same with rifles and hand guns.

  19. If you noticed there was a gun in that picture then I have some bad news for you….you’re not male.

  20. I’ve found that a lever-action .22 makes a great gun to start first-timers on. It’s similar to a bolt-action in its simple manual-of-arms, but racking the lever is a more natural movement to a new shooter than the sometimes-awkward bolt action. It’s very easy to “show clear” by leaving the lever wide open. The tube magazine means lots of shooting between reloads. The only negative is it’s possible to pinch your fingers if you get a little over-exuberant closing the lever.

    Plus, everybody loves to play cowboy, and I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t grin like an idiot while shooting one. You want to get someone hooked on shooting for life? Take them to the range and put a Henry or a Marlin 39A or a Browning BL22 in their hands, set a brick of ammo down, and let the rifle do all the work.

  21. Yeah, we’re going to need more information on the blonde. You know, just to make sure your story checks out. It’s routine….

  22. This is so spot on. Wish there was a way to ‘sticky’ or bookmark on the site as key reference material, as it ought to be the first thing any parent reads thinking about getting kids going. Less talk, more shooting, and they will be hooked for more talk later.

  23. Both cuties in the pic, but I think the one on the right is going to need more private lessons

  24. For folks that are a little skittish, it might be worthwhile to field strip the firearm to “de-mystify” it and present it as a tool or machine. Briefly explain the parts and how they work together.

    Might also be worthwhile mentioning that starting off shooting for fun quickly descends into greater and greater self-demand for improvement – warn them that they’ll get frustrated with themselves and _this_ drives the self-competition in our sport. LOL

  25. If possible, I would also arrange for them to shoot off a bench, with a scope-mounted .22 rifle on a rest (sandbags or whatever). The process is a lot more enjoyable if the new shooter hits the targets consistently.

  26. All training sessions begin in the den. We go over the rules and weapon handling techniques, and do some dry fire. I tell the student the things that will piss off the range marshal, and instruct them in how to load in (no cases, action open, muzzle up), and break down after a session.

    My first goal is to make sure that I do not scare or hurt the new shooter. My father, bless his soul, had me shooting 12 ga and 30-06 at the age of 10. I had neither the weight nor experience to cope with the noise and recoil, and I developed a “flinch” reflex that it took years to lose! I do not wish to introduce bad habits in a new shooter, and my goal is to make a safe and competent shooter, so I train in this order:

    1. Bolt action single shot .22 rimfire rifle. Our CZ 452 has both a 10 rd magazine and a single shot adapter. Once the newbie gets comfortable with single shot we switch to the mag and do 5 shot groups
    2. Semi-auto .22 rifle. Our Ruger 10-22 fills this bill.
    3. Semi-auto centerfire rifle. We also have a Inland M1 carbine, and .30 carbine gives them the feel and noise without stomping them.

    When transitioning to handgun I start with our S&W K-17, then move to an S&W M66 with .38 Spl round nose lead, and (if the trainee is sufficiently competent in handling firearms) a 9mm CZ or Sig.

    I seldom carry more than three firearms to the range, and with one range day per week it may take weeks to get through this program, but it’s an amazing thing to see the students progress in knowledge, handling technique and accuracy.

  27. As to the teacher, evaluate yourself. Are you patient? Do you get flustered and yell at people? Maybe you should teach youself a few things first? Match the learning style and pace of your instruction as much as feasible to the student! If you are familiar with the range you’ll be going to, explain the rules, the physical layout, the routine for managing targets, how it will be pretty loud, even with ear (and eye) protection. Explain the range safety officers’ job and how they are in charge and must be complied with. Relax,Limit the goals for the first session. Safety, fun, getting it right, setting the stage for a good second lession. Progression.

    As to the learner, there is such a thing as “learning styles”. Look it up. Know yours. Are you (for example) a kinetic learner? Do the laws of firearms safety first. Might even spend a few sessions at home with a toy rifle or handgun, to start building safe gun handling habits. Learn trigger finger discipline. Learn not to point the gun at people. Designate one side of the room as “downrange” and never point the gun anywhere but there. Relax, be safe, go at a comfortable pace, have fun. Pick out a few good posts on TTAG that interest you and read them! It’s a good resource.

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