If you didn’t catch Episode 1 of this Season’s Love at First Shot, what you didn’t see in the video tease above was the back story. In a nutshell…
A young woman went to the range to shoot for the first time and left, never wanting to do it again.
It’s a situation I learn about too often. Sometimes it’s because the range was too busy or too loud. Often times a new shooter is given poor instruction and handed a gun too big or too powerful for her to feel comfortable or competent. Perhaps she didn’t truly understand the safety rules and was scolded or yelled at. Whatever the reason, it’s a missed opportunity for education, and fun.
Often after these bad experiences first timers close their minds to shooting, shooting sports and gun ownership. I love that Erin was open to give it another try. Enter host Natalie Foster, your’s truly and Season 3 of this NRAWomen.TV web series.
I knew a lot about Erin before I even met her. I knew her first and last shot was with a handgun and that she lived in Washington DC where gun control is a hot topic. Her area of focus for the summer was training with the Thompson Center Compass in 30-06. Based on her personal experiences and goals, I made a plan that started where she had struggled the first time, safety.
When it comes to firearm safety, there can be no compromises. As stewards of safe, responsible gun usage, we must enforce it. Erin’s bad experience shooting was a result of her not following firearm safety rules. No one was hurt, but she left the range feeling that “guns” wasn’t something she could or should do.
It’s important to have empathy when taking a new shooter to the range. Everyone has their own thoughts about guns. Their feelings after shooting may be unpredictable. Some love it and want to do it again and again. Others need time to process.
An instructor and/or mentor’s job is to, most importantly, ensure that the new shooter understands the rules of firearm safety. Successful teachers recognize and expect that emotions and excitement can take hold after that first squeeze of the trigger. It’s why I only load one round in a firearm for the first shot and why I get close and personal with my students so that I can be there to direct or even take the gun if need be.
Firearm & Range Prep
A little prep can go a long way. Proper eye and ear protection is a must. You’ll also want to make sure the firearm is clean, lubricated and zeroed (more on that later). Doing this ahead of time helps you focus on your first timer and their shooting success.
When I take a new shooter to the range, I like to bring classic bullseye targets, especially the kind that leave visible splatter so you and your student can see the hits. Not only does it make it easier for you to diagnose issues, but it’s really rewarding, for you both.
I also like to keep the target pretty close. The point is to build confidence and have fun. No one wants to go the range and never make a hit. Keep the shots easy at first. If your shooter is drilling that bullseye look for a way you can boost confidence by increasing the distance or changing to a more challenging target. I love using steel for this. Like seeing that splatter, the “ding” steel makes when hit is so rewarding!
You’ll here me say it often, .22 is a great starter gun! With .22 you have all the benefits of learning to shoot without the distraction of significant recoil. Now, for some reason there are those who become offended or defensive about shooting .22 caliber. Let me be clear. I suggest .22’s not because I think a woman, or man for that matter, cannot “handle” the recoil. The point of this light shooting caliber is to improve basic shooting skills and a .22 is an excellent tool to do just that. It’s also a gateway gun.
Even though Erin uses the T/C bolt gun for much of the summer, I chose to break the ice with the MSR platform and the S&W M&P 15-22. I could see her apprehension when she first set eyes on the gun, especially with how the media has wrongly portrayed these sporting rifles. I explained to her how an AR-15 style rifle can come in different calibers and that we were shooting .22.
Surprised at how small .22 bullets are, Erin was shocked at how light and handy the gun is. She liked how easy it was to set up the stock to fit her perfectly. When she shot that first soft recoiling round with that quiet “puff,” I knew she was hooked.
Sometimes, as experienced shooters, we take for granted many of the details that make a new shooter’s first time on the range a success. Try to remember what it was like as a new shooter. Always follow firearms safety rules and be there to answer questions and concerns calmly and clearly. Choose a fun, easy to use firearm, ideally in .22 caliber. Use targets that give feedback set at a safe and reasonable distances to make your job as a mentor easier and your new shooter’s experience all the more rewarding.
For more, watch my Season 2 video breakdown below on more ways to help a new shooter find their Love at First Shot and stay tuned for more on Erin’s journey from Season 3 coming to NRA.TV.