Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend New Shooters

The Thanksgiving weekend brought me two opportunities to take new shooters out to the range; one expected, the other unexpected. Let me get in to a little background on training.

The first opportunity was my oldest daughter. I have promised all of my children that I would teach them how to shoot a gun once they were eight years old. I had planned on doing this at a range near our home sometime near Christmas, but since for Thanksgiving we decided to visit my brother and his in-laws own a bit of land, I decided to do it then.

Some quick background. I don't hide firearms from my children. They know I have them and I'll let them hold them (properly following the 4 Rules) whenever I get a new one or I'm cleaning them after a range trip. I do keep them where they cannot access them without my help. So, the initial training of my children started long ago. But this was the first range trip for my daughter. My brothers and I had set up some old hay bales and a table about 5 yards away facing a hill (always a good backstop). My daughter chose the target we would shoot at (paintballs), and I also set up a steel swinging target and an old shovel head that I brought down.

I made sure everything was set up before hand so that my wife and I could walk out with her (don't want to introduce her to the drudgery of setting up the shooting range just yet). We had a review of the 4 Safety Rules and discussed how we would follow them. Then it was time to break out the firearms (all .22LR). One at a time. We started with the revolver. I showed her how to check the cylinder and then load the rounds. I took one shot at the target, exploding a paintball. Then I let her have the chance. The hammer was difficult for her to cock back, although she was able to manage it. After firing the whole cylinder we unloaded the revolver, and went to look at the target. She had almost hit two paintballs.

We returned and I asked whether she wanted to do the revolver again or use Momma's gun (semiautomatic). She wanted to use Momma's gun. So we put the revolver away and got out the semiautomatic. I explained how the action worked briefly, and then we put two rounds in the magazine (one for me and one for her). I showed how to rack the slide and then took a shot. Then I handed the gun to her and she took her shot.

With the semiautomatic, she was much more successful and was able to hit three or four paintballs. She liked Momma's gun a lot and went through several magazines. The only thing she didn't like was the flying brass. Then I was ready for the rifle. I don't have a youth rifle yet, so I might have to get one. Even full sized .22LR rifles are huge for kids. Basically, we had it tucked under one arm and she was shooting it from a seated position. Getting a sight in the scope was difficult for her because she is right eye dominant, but can't close only her left eye very well (probably related to the surgery she had earlier this year). After a few shots she was rather frustrated so I let her shoot Momma's gun again. She did say that she likes the semiautomatic (not having to charge it each time) but doesn't like the flying brass. Anyone know of a brass catcher that works on a Walther P22? I might as well get the sound supressor for it too!

As I mentioned before, the second opportunity was unexpected. I have a relative (who will remain anonymous for this blog to protect her identity) that we will call Janet (again, not her real name). I had taught Janet's husband to shoot previously and they were both at Thanksgiving with us. After shooting clay pidgeons on Friday afternoon with Janet's husband, on Saturday morning I made the joke that she should come and watch us shoot clays that afternoon so that she could see her husband's skill or watch him get knocked on his backside with the double-barrelled 12 gauge.

Laughter all around, and then as people dispersed to go and do chores, she quietly came up to me and said "I'll go shooting with you for a little bit this afternoon." OK, that is a total shock! If you can ever imagine someone who you would think would never pick up a firearm, Janet is it. She grew up in a place and culture that views firearms as objects that only kill people. At lunch I casually mention to Janet's husband that I am going to go shooting with her after lunch. He looks at me and says, "You'll never get her to go shooting."

"I don't have to convince her, she asked me." A dumbfounded look crosses his face. A short while later, Janet's husband and I go out to set up the range. "I have one rule for you." I say to him.

"What's that?"

"Keep your mouth shut. I'm the instructor here and I don't want her having any distractions."

"No problem, I'll do whatever you say."

Janet came out a short while later and I asked her about her experience with firearms. She had shot a rifle once about 20 years or more ago. We started by going over the 4 Safety Rules. I showed her the application of each one (as with my daughter), including looking behind the backstop. I then had her repeat them to me.

We started off with the revolver. One cylinder of that and she was ready for the next firearm (why people don't like revolvers, I don't know, I think they are a blast!). The semi-automatic handgun was next. We were shooting at a swinging target from about 5 yards and she was able to hit it several times. Next we went to the rifle. I told her that she needed to aim about 1 inch higher with the scope since we were so close (5 yards). She was able to hit the target again.

Then we moved the table back to about 25 yards and had her take another 10 shots at the target, this time aiming for dead center. All shots were hits. After this I asked if you wanted to try anything in caliber's about .22LR? She was willing as long as the gun wasn't going to come back and smack her.

So I pulled out the 9mm and the Tokarov. I lined up the cartridges on the table so she could get a visual idea of how much more power each of these cartridges held. I explained where each one was used (US military, law enforcement and Eastern Bloc). I then shot the 9mm first so she could see the reaction of the firearm and the target. The swinger when hit with a .22 makes a plunk and moves slightly. With the 9mm, it swung a full circle. She then shot the firearm once. We repeated the process for the Tokarov.

Now that she had been introduced to handguns and rifle, I wanted to let her have a feel for a shotgun. I had a 20 gauge single shot that had a decent recoil pad (it was one of the ones I was using to shoot clays the day before). I set up a couple of water jugs and grabbed three rounds of bird shot. The picture below is the only one of her. She didn't want any pictures holding a gun. After emphasizing that she needed to hold the shotgun tight to her shoulder (unlike a .22LR rifle) I took aim at one of the water jugs and blasted it into oblivion.

She then took her chance with two shots and was finished for the day. She did comment to my wife that she could see how shooting guns could be enjoyable for some people. Is she going to go out and buy one, most likely not. But she was willing to go through the experience, and now if she is ever asked if she has shot a gun she'll be able to say yes. Handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Who knows, maybe the next time we get together she'll want to go shooting again.

Since there were plenty of water jugs left, Janet's husband, my brother (who was hosting the shindig) and I had to dispatch them. Janet's husband started complaining about the recoil after barely perforating a water jug with a couple of rounds of bird shot. So, I pulled out the slugs. Janet was still hanging around and basically I showed her that a slug was a giant bullet for a shotgun. Janet's husband was able to redeem himself by successfully exploding two water jugs. My brother also exploded some water jugs. During this I happened to glance at Janet and my wife and saw that a big smile crept onto her face as each jug exploded. Maybe that is what this world needs to solve more of our problems. We all go out onto the back 40 with our shotguns and explode water jugs. There is some primordial urge of everyone I've met to smile when they see some harmless everyday object, like a water jug, explode. It certainly brings me happiness. Remember, just because the plastic is shredded, doesn't mean it can't be recycled. In fact, they are going to shred the plastic anyway, so they should give you a bonus for turning in water jugs that look like this because you have saved them some money!!

Finally, I had to shoot the board of paintballs with birdshot to splatter most of them. Then, I shot the swinger with the slug. While the .22 made it go ping, and the 9mm and Tokarov made it do a flip, the 20 gauge slug turned it from a swinger, into a spinner.

Lessons learned:

1) Have a third person watch with new shooters and act as the "Safety Spotter." While you are concerned with a million things to make sure the outing goes well, it is always good to have someone catch (and correct) any violations of the 4 Safety Rules that you miss. The person doesn't have to be very experienced (my wife and Janet's husband worked fine), but they do need to know proper application of the rules.

2) Explaining a sight picture is a lot easier if you have a pencil and paper (or pre-printed pictures), I wish I had have had this.

3) Lots of varied targets are fun. Everyone likes to shoot at different things.


  1. Reputo,

    Great job introducing new shooters to the sport.

    It sounds like you did especially well with Janet. Way to go Sir.

  2. Good work! This is likely the #1 reason why gun rights are on the return in America, more people are buying guns, and more people are going to the range for the first time.

    As for Revolvers Vs. Semis it's all boils down to personal preference. I love them both but it took me a while to warm to revolvers, I thought Semis were more intuitive and 1911s are SAO which is easier for weaker hands.

    Meanwhile my wife prefers revolvers because she can see everything working and the controls are simpler.

    I like to bring both for range trips for that simple reason. On a first trip we ALWAYS end up shooting more of one type than another.