12 October 2016

Every Girl Should Learn How to Shoot - Part 1 of 4

In July, I was honored as the keynote speaker at the Women's Concealed Carry Fashion Show in Columbia County, NY. I went through my history as a shooter in order to figure out what I wanted to share with the audience, then realized that my journey was the story. And this is how my journey started:

Every girl should learn how to shoot.

That’s where I started my firearms journey almost ten years ago.

Guns weren’t forbidden by my parents when I was growing up, but they just weren’t a thing and I never prioritized opportunities to learn about them.

Still, I felt that shooting was the sort of life skill I needed, just like being able to change a flat on my car. Being a prime customer for road hazard insurance, I had to pick up on how to change a tire…though I’m definitely not ashamed to accept help and generally be useless on the side of the road as I was for both flat tires I’ve had this year.

That’s not where I ended up with guns.

When my husband, Mark, went to a local gun range with his coworkers as part of teambuilding activity, I remembered how much I’d wanted to learn how to shoot as a little girl, and a few weeks later, I shot a real gun for the first time, at an indoor range attached to a popular local gun store.

The gun store attached to the range seemed big and filled with all sorts of mysterious things. You could just walk up to the counter, hand over your ID and cash, pick a gun out of the rental case to shoot, and go right out onto the range. The range was loud and smoky and a little scary, and there were no instructors. I don’t remember much, except that I didn’t really have any idea of what I was doing. After getting the gun loaded, pointing it downrange, and pulling the trigger the first time though?

I fell in love.

Tonight, I’d like to tell you the story of my firearms journey and share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned since I fired those first shots.

In the beginning, shooting was a way to spend time with my husband. We were newlyweds and since I wasn’t long out of school, we hadn’t yet settled into a mutual hobby…something fun we could do together.

Going to the range and shooting a box or two of ammo, followed by a meal or a little shopping, ended up being a perfect low-key date for the two of us, especially back when ammo was a lot cheaper!

We were self-taught back then, but once we started taking classes, we discovered how much there was to learn. And learn I did: basic pistol, defensive shooting, hunter safety, skeet shooting, tactical rifle, competitive shooting. You name it, I was game for it.

I discovered something about myself in those days. Even though I wasn’t very good at shooting, or very good at anything mechanical at all, I could learn. It didn’t come quickly or naturally to me, but I learned to clean my own guns, then maintain them, and now do my own armorer-level work. I do still send the complicated stuff to my gunsmith though!

And while I didn’t have too much trouble hitting paper at the range as a new shooter, I wasn’t quite so successful at anything more complicated.

That was from the beginning of my first full season of USPSA. I had already been shooting IDPA matches for years, and was about five years into gun ownership. I’m not kidding when I say I struggled.

It took a lot of training and a lot of practice, but that’s changed. Even though I used to come in last place all the time at my first competitive shooting matches, that’s no longer the case.

Since I started competing about six years ago, I’ve become a top competitor in my region. At local matches, it’s becoming normal for me to come in the top five or ten in my division and I’ve even won a time or two. In the last year, I’ve had four top-ten stage finishes in major matches. It’s not just my finishes, though: objective measures of my performance are going up. I’m faster and more accurate with a gun than I’ve ever been, and my numbers show it. While I’m not sure I could have found my gun in its holster in one second in the early days, I can now draw and fire an accurate round on target in less than that.

I don't tell you this to brag on my accomplishments, though I am pretty proud of them. I tell you because I was the worst shooter ever when I started and I got here by taking classes, practicing hard, and not losing faith that I could improve. You can get here too.

My improvement and increased confidence in competitive shooting isn’t all, though. I’m also far more confident with guns in all situations now, whether it’s carrying a gun wherever legally allowed, being the only girl in a class or a gun store, or shooting something I never have before.

For that matter, I’m more confident now period. Knowing that I could do all these things with a new and overwhelming tool like a gun helped make me more fearless in trying and mastering other new and overwhelming things.

After all, if I could learn how to operate and shoot guns, how could any home improvement puzzle be beyond me?

If I could travel solo to a new range and compete against people I’d never met before, how could any presentation at the office be scary?

If I could calmly handle an angry and unsafe shooter while acting as a range officer, what vendor or contractor could unsettle me?

Every girl should learn how to shoot. It’s one of the biggest confidence builders in the world, on the range and off.

Read on for part 2, part 3, and part 4...