Monday, October 30, 2006

New Shooter Report

This is Emily...

...Who REALLY likes this picture, because unlike most of her normal pictures she doesn't think this one makes her look goofy. Pretty girl isn't she?

Emily is a good friend of ours; close unto family even. She watches our kids, she nearly lives at our house, and she's almost sorta kinda seeing my best fried Jim (almost sorta kinda, because Jim is an inconsiderate idiot who does things like not show up for dates; but he's cute and charming enough that he gets forgiven afterwards).

Emily is also English, born and raised until her pre-teen years; though she's been living in the Phoenix area for the last 10 years.

Unfortunately, like many women; Emily has been in some physically abusive relationships. Like many women, she was made to feel that she had no power or control. Like many women, she stayed under the power and control of these abusive men until she absolutely couldn't stand it anymore.

Thankfully, she decided that she was going to do something about it, and she's out of those situations, and learning to take control of her own life, and her own power.

Also like many women, up until Saturday, Emily had never fired a gun.

We definitely needed to change that.

So, after briefing her on Thursday night about safe gun handling, and the basic manual of arms of all of the guns we would be taking with us to the range...

Actually, wait a sec, let me interrupt the progression of the story here for a lesson on instruction:
One thing I always do, before I ever go to the range with a student, is sit them down in a comfortable setting, and show them how to safely handle weapons, ammunition, and their own bodies around firearms. I give them as much time as they need, in a place where they feel safe and un-intimidated; and I let them ask as many questions as they want.

I also run them through what we're going to do, and talk about; during our trip to the range. Finally, I warn them that I WILL yell at them if they are doing something dangerous; but the yelling will be "trigger", "muzzle", or "stop"; and is absolutely and only for their safety.

The range is no place for someone with no experience with guns other than television to handle their first firearm; they are often scared enough as it is. With all the noise, and unfamiliar things, and pressure to do things right... some people just shut down and can't handle it; and that is the LAST thing you want to happen.

A persons first experience with firing guns should be pleasant, and fun. It shouldn't be scary, or intimidating, or disappointing.
Anyway, back to the story.

So, Saturday afternoon, we packed up the truck, and went out to a popular shooting spot in the desert, where we could be informal, move around a bit, and use all of our gear as we wanted. The more casual atmosphere, without any strangers around can sometimes be a better setting to introduce new shooters.

I started off by demonstrating grip and stance, repeating what I had done in our house two nights before:

Unfortunately at this point my Walther P22, decided to develop extraction problems (I probably just hadn't cleaned it well enough I.E. barely at all since the last range trip... ooopsie), so we weren't able to start her on it like we planned.

Another note: When you are shooting with a first time student, always test fire the gun for at least five rounds, ensuring proper function, and demonstrating proper technique and safe gun handling to the student; THEN let them emulate you.

We had set up a .22 popper about 10 yards out; and I still wanted to start her with a .22; so I got out my Marlin 880SQ. Normally a scoped heavy barreled target .22 with a bi-pod isn't what you want to demonstrate basic shooting with, but hey, you make do with what you have. The good thing is, the Marlin is a pure joy to shoot.

Like most women who have never shot before, Emily had some trouble adjusting to a shooting position, especially with the proper placement of the butt of the gun (men arent much better by the way, just different). Like most women, she naturally want to put the butt either in her armpit, on her bicep, or put the point of the stock, on the point of her shoulder. This just feels more natural to most women at first, because they aren't used to having something high up on the pectoral. It can be very uncomfortable in fact for women with large breasts, or high breasts; or who are wearing a pushup bra (and have you noted that pushup bras have become the norm lately?).

Also, like most students, Emily had the habit, of reverting to what she was doing before she was shown the proper technique. So we would put the rifle and her hands in the proper position, and then without even noticing she would adjust herself back to the improper position she was in before we started. She also kept moving her head and hands around on the rifle, rather than moving the rifle, especially when adjusting aim.

This is all normal for first timers. It's extremely unnatural to have a 3 foot long piece of metal rigidly fixed to your body. It's extremely unnatural for people who are trying to adjust what they are looking at to move their whole body, instead of their head or eyes. It takes a lot of practice to develop the habits, and muscle memory for the positions, of a shooter.

This is a part of the process of learning to shoot. You shouldn't let students re-enforce their bad habits, but don't be so strict about position and the like that they don't have any fun.

After a few minutes of coaching, she was ready to go; and here she is, about to fire her first shot from a firearm, EVER:

She hit it too.

So after about 20 rounds on the rifle, she was a little uncomfortable from being in the unfamiliar body position; and she'd popped enough spinner plates and random range debris; so we moved on to pistols.

At this point, we were going to start her off with Mels .357 (shooting mild .38 of course), but Emily really wanted to try my 625; and honestly, the 625 is even easier to shoot than a 3" SP101 (bigger frame, but still OK for small hands, soft rubber grip, quite a bit heavier etc...) so we put her on the 625.

Yup, her first pistol shot was with a big'ol .45

And she didn't have a problem at all. This is a woman who barely has the hand strength (see how thin those arms are?) to cock the hammer or rack the slide on most of my guns (even after showing her the easy way); but she was able to handle the recoil of the .45 just fine, in the right gun.

Her very first shot was just to the right, and just high of the 4" aiming circle.

Now again, she has the first timers bad habits. She kept shifting her grip, she kept twisting the gun left/right/up/down rather than moving her whole gun/arm/upper body unit etc... These motions just aren't natural to the beginner. She also has the typical first timer issue (especially with women), of wanting to lean back, so we kept having to move her back to nose over toes (that's what you see me doing above, I'm holding her hip and back position, but even then just before firing she is always trying to lean back). Also, as I mentioned, she has a little problem with upper body strength, and cant hold a heavy gun like the 625 out at arms length for too long without getting unsteady.

Again, these are normal issues for first times, especially for women. Yes, we want to teach them proper form, but we should also just shut up and let them shot some times. So long as they aren't doing anything dangerous, and you keep reinforcing the proper technique, they'll get it eventually.

So after a few cylinders full from the 625, we put up a clean target, and had her shoot two cylinders full from Mels SP101. When she was done we pulled the target and held it up to my chest.

"See here? All these holes are in the lethal zone. This is your first time, but you would have been able to put all ten rounds into the kill zone on a bad guy. It's not hard to be able to defend yourself."

I think that is one of the most important lessons we can ever teach a newcomer to firearms. The media and the gun banners are lying; you CAN defend yourself. You can and will be able to hit the bad guy and you can and will be able to stop him. Your gun wont be taken away before you can shoot them, and you don't have to be an expert marksman to put a goblin down.

You just have to know the basics; you need to have a gun; and you need to have the will.