Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mother's Day Class

A couple of weeks ago I helped teach a Mothers Day Course for novice female shooters. This isn't exactly a Utah Polite Society event, but it was kind of interesting and I thought I'd write it up here anyway. It was organized by Weldon Anderson, one of our members who teaches Utah CCW courses though his company, Self Defense Solutions. We get a lot of our new shooters through Weldon, since he highly recommends getting more advanced training in his CCW classes. Weldon asked his friend Paul, Harold Green, and I to help out with this class. I really enjoy teaching people to shoot. Lately I've been spending most of my time at our events running drills and scenarios. Running the stages does involve quite a bit of teaching, but it's usually somewhat more advanced stuff like using cover or making tactical decisions. Harold Green and Robin Hood have been handling most of our new shooter instruction. While I like teaching the more advanced things, I enjoy teaching new shooters as well, so I jumped at the chance to help out.

The astute among you will note that Mother's Day was over a month ago. The class was held on Mother's Day weekend in years past, but the weather in early May isn't always nice (Hendrickson Range is just down the road from Park City, so it's at a fairly high elevation). Doing this in June makes pleasant conditions more likely. Nevertheless, the Mother's Day name stuck. The class was for women only, to give them a chance to shoot without having their husband/boyfriend/father looking over their shoulder while they're learning to shoot. It's aimed at novices, but the level of experience varied from those who have never shot a gun before to those that had a fair bit of shooting experience, but no formal training. There were a little less than 20 ladies in the class.

Weldon spent about half an hour going through range safety procedures, basic shooting skills and operational procedures for each type of gun. He also gave Harold and I a chance to shill for the Utah Polite Society. Some of the ladies seemed fairly receptive, but some of them were looking at us a bit askance. That's to be expected, I guess, many of these ladies were generally quite new at this and I'm not sure some of them were really ready for our emphasis on defensive handgunning. After the lecture portion of the evening was finished we split up into two groups, with half the class staying with Weldon and Paul and the other half coming with Harold and I. Harold is an experienced revolver shooter (though he carries a Glock these days) so we took all the ladies with revolvers (some of whom also brought semi-autos) plus a few more to balance the groups.

We started out by explaining the operating procedures of their guns to the ladies that needed some instruction in that area. Quite a few did. Even those that had shot before didn't necessarily know how to load, unload, or otherwise operate the pistol they had brought. Guys, if you take your gal out shooting, don't just put a loaded pistol in her hand, teach her how to operate the gun.

There was quite a variety of guns on display. Everything from Single Action Army clones in .22 long rifle to a S&W M&P semi-auto. Probably the most common single type of gun was the .38/.357 caliber snubnose revolver. This is, unfortunately, rather typical. There is a tendency to push novice shooters, particularly women, towards snubnose revolvers because they are fairly simple, small, and easy to carry. I think this does them a disservice, however. The snubnosed revolver is an easy weapon to learn, but a difficult one to master. There's very little to learn as far as operating procedures and not much that can go wrong, but the long double action trigger pull and short sight radius makes them very difficult to shoot well without a lot of practice. In the right hands, it they can be effective self defense tools, but it takes a long time to get to that level. As I said in my article on Choosing a Defensive Handgun, I think new shooters a much better off with a point and shoot semi-auto, like a Glock, XD, M&P, or similar gun.

Explaining the operational procedures for most guns was fairly easy. The one really odd one was a Phoenix Arms .22 semi-auto. This little mechanical wonder has two separate manual safeties (one on the frame, one on the slide). More disturbingly, you can't rack the slide unless there is a magazine inserted, meaning the standard procedure for clearing a semi-auto (drop the magazine, lock the slide back, inspect) is impossible, since there has to be a magazine in the gun to rack the slide and the magazine cannot be ejected with the slide back. This just seems like an invitation to a mistake during the unloading process that could lead to an ND.

A few of the ladies had arrived at the course without a pistol. Harold got them set up with a Walther P22, which they seemed to enjoy shooting. These gals also expressed interest in shooting his Glock 22, so he let each of them run some rounds through it, which they also seemed to enjoy quite a bit.

Once everyone knew how to load and operate their guns, we got started shooting. Some of the ladies were a little hesitant at first, but we eventually got everyone shooting. Muzzle discipline was very good, finger discipline somewhat less so. Shooting abilites varied pretty widely, as some gals had nice tight groups at about 5 yards, while other's had trouble staying on the 8.5"x11" paper the bullseye was on.

One of the ladies was consistently placing her shots no higher than 2" below the center of the target. I figured this was a flinching problem, so I had her dry fire through a cylinder, then shoot another cylinder with mixed dry fire and live. Every time she pulled the trigger on a dry chamber, you could see the gun jerk downward a little bit. The flinch was pretty obvious. I perscribed lots of dry fire practice and mixing dummy and live rounds in her gun at the range.

One of the ladies brought both a box of .38 Special and one of .357 magnum for her revolver. After she shot her way through the .38, she switched over to the magnum loads. Even standing next to her, the difference was notable. At her urging, I shot a cylinder full of the magnums, and I have to say that the recoil was pretty brisk, even in a steel framed gun. I can imagine that magnum loads in a scandium gun would be downright painful.

I hadn't gotten a chance to put any rounds through my own gun the whole night, so after most of the gals had left I decided to run a mag through my Glock. I drew and shot 14 rounds of fairly rapid sighted fire. When I went to slide lock, I did an emergency reload, got back on target, then reholstered. As I did so, I heard a voice from the other end of the firing line say, "Woah, that was cool! I want to learn how to do that." She was evidently quite impressed by the reload. So, I think we may have gotten one or two of them interested enough to show up to a Utah Polite Society event in the future.

Overall, I had quite a bit of fun. I always enjoy teaching and it's very rewarding to help introduce novice shooters to the discipline. All the ladies seemed to enjoy it and I think the all were able to get something out of the experience. As for me, the big grin that tends to appear on the face of someone who's just been introudced to something as fun as shooting is it's own reward.

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