“Hey Babe, want to go shooting today?” I asked my wife. She was off for the day, and I could break free for some firearms-related amusement. I had recently joined the Arnold Rifle and Pistol Club and she and I had not yet gone together. “No, I have an appointment – call Number Four and see if she can go.” (I refer to my minor grandchildren by their birth order when writing about them on the web, hopefully to give them a modicum of privacy). Though I had been taking Number Four’s cousins shooting for some time, the adorable Blonde Four had never wanted to go. Adamantly not interested. “Oooh, Grandpa – I never want to touch a gun,” was one of her regular responses to my invitations . . .
But somewhere along the line, she changed her mind. She told me some months ago that she would like to learn to shoot, so I have been texting her invitations from time to time. Dick Heller encouraged me to do the “Take Your Daughter to the Range Day” thing, so I tried to get her to go on the specified TYDTTRD Saturday. However, she is a busy, popular girl. “I have plans this week, maybe next week.” was her last reply. Still, I sent her a text at my wife’s prompting.
When my phone beeped with the arrival of a text, I told my wife “This is Four telling me she is busy.” Then I actually looked at the message.
Where at im with dad.
It took me a moment to interpret the text (I’m old school that way, my texts use capitalization and punctuation – and occasionally ALA citations and footnotes) and realized with delight that she wanted to go shoot. Bonus – my son would come along.
I text her some details. We meet near the range, and after exchanging hellos and hugs, we climb into her dad’s SUV and drive to the range together. Along the way, I review with her the FOUR RULES OF FIREARMS SAFETY.
- Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.
- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot (while I like Farago’s “booger hook off the bang switch” version, but I choose to keep it less disgusting for Blonde Four)
- Know your target and what is behind it
“Bear in mind, sweetheart, it is a gun range, so you will hear lots of ‘bang’ and ‘pow’.” I say, remembering how the noise of an indoor range used to unnerve and distract my wife. “It may make you jump – don’t worry, you’ll be fine and we’ll be safe.”
We take up a spot at one of the combat bays – 60 foot wide bays backed by an earthen berm and bordered by giant concrete blocks. Sure enough, gunfire makes her jump a bit, but being prepared, she smiles and laughs. “That did startle me!”
I have a package of foam earplugs of varying colors. She picks the pink, which is why I bought this particular package. My son stuffs a pair into his ears as we place the guns, targets and ammo onto a convenient table.
At the ARPC combat bays, they expect us to set up a firing line. Nobody is to handle a firearm behind anyone’s back. We discuss this, and we keep firearms in their cases or holsters back at the table where we originally set up.
“We are going to start with an airsoft gun.” I say to Four.
“What is ‘airsoft’?” she asks.
“An airsoft gun fires little round plastic balls – a bit bigger than a BB” I respond. “It will hurt if you shoot yourself with it, but not ‘go to the emergency room’ hurt.” I point to a spot on my calf where a tiny divot has been removed by a self-inflicted airsoft strike from a few days back. “Just follow the four rules, and you will be just fine.”
We walk to the target wall – a 4×8 sheet of corrugated plastic that we hang our targets on. “Sweetie, even though I doubt anyone would be back here, we need to check to make sure there is nothing behind our target.” Blonde Four and I look, and find nobody staked to the ground on the berm.
I unpack and load the CO2 powered airsoft pistol. It’s a bit bigger than the Ruger SR22 I have brought along, but the loading and magazine release are similar to actual firearms. The slide does not “blow back” but it with it has serviceable sights and is a great, relatively safe and really cheap way to get people used handling, clearing and aiming a firearm.
We cover stance and trigger control, aiming at paper plates we have hung on the target wall. I use paper plates instead of bullseye targets for beginners because the pressure to hit the center seems quite a bit less. I have 12” and 10” plates. We start with the 12”.
“Babe, all you have to do is hit the plate. If you can hit the plate, you are doing great!” Her dad helps her with grip, and reminds her about sight picture. She sends a few plastic pellets down range. Soon, she hits the plate. A little more help, she is consistently striking the plate.
With an empty magazine, I have her “clear” the pistol – mainly just removing the magazine from the airsoft pistol and pull the trigger while pointing downrange, more or less like you would to show clear after an IDPA stage. We walk back to reload and focus on safe gun handling practices. “Shooting is like anything that is dangerous. You can do it without hurting anyone or yourself if you are thoughtful and careful – like driving.”
“Can I load it?” she asks, referring to the airsoft magazine.
“You bet.” I reply. She deftly begins adding little plastic pellets to the metal magazine.
After a few more trips back and forth to the firing line, I note that Miss Four has been mindful of staying in control of the firearm. We empty a few more magazines of pellets and I ask her if she is ready for the .22.
“Yeah” she replied enthusiastically.
I remove a round from the box of Remington .22 LR, and show it to her. She takes it from me and looks intently. “This is called a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Do not be fooled by its size. A lot of people are hurt and killed with this, perhaps because they think it is just a little bullet. Guns that fire this are dangerous, like any other firearm, and we treat it with as much respect as any other gun.”
Four nodded soberly, and we loaded the magazines for the Ruger SR22.
I bought the Ruger SR22 pistol specifically to help friends and family learn to shoot. Its recoil is very low, and it is small enough for youth and ladies’ hands. It handles more or less like a firearm one would carry for self defense. I am not a fan of the safety – but I am generally not a fan of safeties at all. Alas, a .22 pistol with no safety, made in America, (and carried by my local gun shop Mid America Arms) was a bridge too far.
Miss Blonde Four takes up a stance under her father’s watchful eye. She loads a magazine.
“OK babe, now you have to pull back the slide to put a round in the chamber.”
“Like this?” she asks, as she pulls back the slide.
“All the way, then just let it go.”
She complies, and I tell her “OK, it is ready to shoot.”
Four pauses for a moment, then lets a round fly. “POP!”
I expect her to look back at me and grin. Lots of people do that, and the muzzle drifts into an unsafe direction. I am prepared to remind her of rule 2, but instead, she retains her focus and prepares to shoot again. “POP” and a hole appears on the outer edge of the paper plate.
“Good shooting.” I praise.
It is a bright sunny day, so we take the occasional break from the sun and heat. Four sits in the shade a few times, and we let her set her own pace. My son and I shoot a few of our bigger guns in the interlude. Blonde Four returns for a few more turns at shooting after adding a set of earmuffs to augment the earplugs. She is getting progressively better.
After shooting a string that is consistently in one group, we are ready to improve her marksmanship. “When it is low and to the left like that, it usually means you are kind of jerking the trigger. Slowly squeeze the trigger. When the gun goes off, it should be a surprise to you.”
On the next magazine, I set up a paper plate with a Shoot-N-C target. Four takes aim, and begins peppering the black circle, creating bright dayglo green halos. She is shooting nice and straight.
As it turns out, she is not squinting with one eye to shoot, but is in fact keeping both eyes open to create her sight picture. This is something I am working hard to master. That she could consistently hit a 12” paper plate from about 30 feet is astonishing.
At the end of our session, Four agrees to shoot the .357 revolver – loaded with .38 Special rounds. She lets off three before she wearies of it. She has been a very good sport so far, but I can tell she is hot, tired and ready to be done. We pack it in.
I think sessions like this is how responsible gun culture can prevail. Four went from being adamantly opposed to guns to someone who is on her way to enjoying shooting sports. The shift is in part was the culture where she lives – pretty much everyone in her life is a redneck. Still, a bad gun experience could have ruined her ability to enjoy it. A few key takeaways.
Safety – By emphatically emphasizing the emphasis on safety, I believe we mitigate anxiety. Women are, in general, more cautious than men, girls more than boys. We need to honor that. On the other hand, our goal is not to instill fear, but rather respect. Work to strike a balance.
Prepare – I did not realize how much the sound of firing guns would affect my wife’s disposition when we first went shooting. Knowing that now, I think it is important to mentally prepare people for that before you enter a shooting environment. Talk about recoil and flying hot brass.
Ease Into It – The airsoft gun has proven to be an excellent training tool. It is a low-risk way to introduce the form and function of guns. Moving from airsoft to a gentle .22 has made teaching marksmanship much easier as it has eliminated most of the flinching and anxiety for new shooters.
Let the New Shooter Set the Pace – I like to shoot, and can do it for a long stretch. New shooters are going to feel anxious, and the stress of that anxiety will make their tolerance much less than that of an experienced shooter. Be there for their benefit, not your own. When I take a new shooter out, I am OK with not shooting at all.
Save the Testosterone for Another Time – While I find R. Lee Emery as amusing as the next guy, being yelled at with colorful insults is only amusing for the observer. Patience and good humor is far better for the novice shooter to become familiar with and comfortable around firearms than a string of salty invectives.
If you are an intense gun person, perhaps ratchet back a few notches. How can you tell? Do you like to go to the range with two or more of these items:
- “Tactical” pants – pocket count => 8
- SERPA holster rigged to float mid-thigh
- OD green Gadsen flag ball cap
- Mirrored sunglasses
- AR15 with “combat” sling
- Gloves with Kevlar knuckle armor
- UnderArmor turtleneck of any kind
Perhaps consider leaving the firearms introduction to someone who is less of a douchebag. If you find this offensive, then I am talking to you.
I had a great time with my son and granddaughter, and I hope to have a new shooting buddy for the future. Blonde Four told my wife how much she enjoyed the outing.
Hard to beat a day like that.