In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I want to talk about something that is likely to happen at some point in the life of every gun guy: the “range date”. As men who own firearms as a hobby, for self-defense, or some combination thereof; there is probably going to come a day when we need to expose our significant other to the way of the gun. Obviously, there are some guys out there who are lucky enough to have Cupid snag them a gun girl. If you are that lucky guy, I’m probably not talking to you; although there may be some things in this blog that you might benefit from. My primary audience is the guys who are paired up with the girls who have not been exposed to guns or may even outright fear them based on their pre-conceived notions or upbringing. There is a right and a wrong way to go about introducing any new shooter to firearms, but this is especially true when the person is a girlfriend/fiancé/wife. Below is a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” based on my observations as a shooter and an instructor over the years.
Do: Discuss the reasons why you believe exposing her to firearms is beneficial.
Before you take your girl to the range, it is a good idea to talk about the key reasons why you want her to go with you. If you own firearms as a hobby or primarily for sport, the conversation can be framed in the context of sharing passions and interests so that she can better connect with you in the same way that she would by attending a football game with you if she isn’t necessarily into sports.
If you primarily own firearms for self-defense, the conversation should focus on your basic views on personal responsibility and security and how that relates to her. If you have defensive guns stored in the home and she is either living with you or spends a significant amount of time in your home, you don’t want their presence and the purpose behind it to be an unknown. You may want to talk about your desire to protect her and provide for her safety and for her to have a proactive role in that pursuit. This can have the effect of attaching your ownership and use of firearms to your level of commitment to her as a partner.
Don’t: Attempt to turn her into your IDPA/USPSA teammate or integrate her into your self-defense strategy right away.
You have to realize that just like anything else, her passions are not always going to be your passions. This is a big thing to keep in mind if you are primarily a defensive shooter. You may well be adamant about personal defense and consider yourself a “sheepdog”. You may have a tattoo of the 2nd Amendment and a “Come and Take It” flag on your bedroom wall right next to your “go-bag”. Your lady probably isn’t going to be as switched on in this arena as you are. If you expect her to become an advocate overnight and start trying to make her an integral part of your concealed-carry lifestyle, you will very likely overwhelm her. It’s a possibility that she may show interest in the idea of personal defense, but you probably aren’t going to want to throw her right into the deep end at the very beginning. Don’t get offended if she doesn’t take it all as seriously as you do.
Do: Discuss basic safety rules
You don’t want to show up at the range and have your lady acting in an unsafe manner, especially if it is a public range with other shooters around. I recommend keeping the rules simple:
1.) Keep the gun pointed in a generally safe direction.
2.)Put your finger somewhere other than the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
3.) Realize that you are in control of a weapon that if used negligently or maliciously can kill or seriously injure you or someone else.
Don’t: Harp on safety so much that it makes the gun seem like an untouchable death ray.
Sometimes gun guys approach safety with novice shooters (especially women) as if they are incapable of doing something that is really as simple as avoiding touching a hot stove. When we act as if a new shooter is about to walk into the streets of Baghdad just by picking up a loaded firearm in a controlled environment, we are setting them up for failure. If you go into a huge diatribe about safety you are going to end up giving them too much to digest and it will actually make it more likely that they will forget the most basic and important elements of safe gun handling. It will also have a tendency to instill fear instead of respect for the firearm. This can result in reluctance to be in the presence of a gun, let alone handle one; and thereby defeats the purposes of the range date altogether.
Do: Provide clear and concise coaching on the fundamentals and set her up for success.
This is where it can get a little bit interesting. When I have husbands and wives on the range in my classes, I deliberately separate them in order to keep the husband from intimidating the wife through his “suggestions” on her application of skill. If you have the ability, it is probably best to find another couple to go on your range date with. This is a perfect time to “wife-swap” (get your mind out of the gutter)in order to allow someone who is not you to coach your lady on the fundamentals so that when she needs to be corrected, it doesn’t come across as condescending or embarrass her.
If it is just the two of you, just make sure that you are watching your tone and encouraging her successes as opposed to trying to immediately point out her failures. As a general rule, you ought to have a new shooter start at a very close distance (10 feet or less) and have them shoot at a large (torso size) target. Let her get some easy wins under her belt so that she realizes that shooting is not a high level skill endeavor. When we succeed at things, our brain’s dopamine levels are increased and it makes us “feel good” about the activity that we are engaged in. Having a new shooter put holes in the target at close range will make them feel good about their abilities and will likely give them a desire to keep shooting. Once she can consistently put holes in the target you can start teaching her how to shoot multiple shot strings of fire or increase the distance or size of the target as appropriate (probably on follow up dates).
Don’t: Force her to push her limits too quickly.
I had a training partner who brought his wife to the range, and after she had some success at the 10 foot line; he immediately bumped her back to the 50ft line to attempt a difficult shot even for a skilled bullseye shooter. As to be expected, she failed to hit the target. Immediately, her attitude about the training session went downhill and she hasn’t been to the range with us since because she feels like she is a “bad shooter”.
New shooters need to have their successes reinforced far more than their failures exposed. They will make the decision to push themselves when the time is right and you shouldn’t force them into situations that they aren’t ready for. Stick to the fundamentals and let those dopamine levels spike. If you push the envelope too early, your first range date may be your last.
Do: Let her try to shoot your gun and try any other options you have available that might fit her.
Most modern handguns and AR-type rifles are going to generally fit most average sized male and female hands and bodies. There are some issues with comfort at times, but most adult humans are going to be able to operate what reasonable individuals tend to own for personal defense or sport. Your girl shouldn’t have a problem putting some rounds through whichever gun you happen to own and you shouldn’t feel afraid to let her try to shoot your gun just because it isn’t a pink .380. If you have the ability to let her try out different sizes (especially with handguns), that is going to be a good thing, but whatever works for you should work for her at the initial range date unless there are extenuating physical circumstances.
Don’t: Have her shoot your novelty gun or patronize her.
If you own some monstrosity like a Desert Eagle .50 or an S&W .500 etc., don’ t be the guy who makes the YouTube video of your girl hurting herself by trying to shoot it. You shouldn’t be taking her to the range in order to put her in a comical situation; you should be taking her to the range because you want her to participate in your hobby or learn about self-defense. Neither of those is accomplished by doing the “Hey baby try this thing” stunt for the interwebs.
You also shouldn’t patronize her by only letting her shoot some little pink mouse gun because she “can’t handle” anything else. If you have a Glock 19, let her try it out. If she in turn makes the decision to step it down to a .380 after shooting a 9mm, let that be her choice. It is always a mistake, in my opinion, to assume that women can only shoot a .22 or a .380. Let them make that decision on their own. Even the smallest of females are perfectly capable of applying the fundamental skills necessary to control almost any firearm within reason. There is no reason to artificially limit their options because of their gender.
That is my advice for your successful “range date”. Please be mindful, as stated in the introduction, that I am not assuming all women will require this type of introduction to firearms. The truth is; there are plenty of women who could probably use this same advice on their novice boyfriends; and more power to them. That being said, I have found that a lot of women are being exposed to the gun culture by the men in their lives. If you find yourself in that situation, what you do at that first range date can have a lasting impact. Don’t mess it up, fellas.