Sep 24, 2011

New Shooter

It's not often I get to take a truly new shooter to the range. New York's gun laws are a bit of a headache, and a lot of gun owners are "closeted". There's no secret handshake or anything, some of us just don't talk about it.

I had been chatting with Kay a bit when she mentioned a picture I had posted, taken of me at a clay shoot a couple months ago. She asked if I had other guns and said she'd been to Camp Perry to try shooting but found it a bit overwhelming for a new shooter. (Imagine that! ARs and the National Matches overwhelming a new shooter!) The instructors there apparently did the best they could but suggested she get a .22 and some practice. We set a date and headed off to the range with several .22s along...

When I got to the range (slightly ahead of time) I opened up, turned on the lights/vents (oh did it need the vent, too... musty!), hung a basic target, opened up the rifle cases and set them aside, etc. Kay arrived a few minutes late (mediocre directions combined with a poorly-marked range) and we had a brief rundown of the safety rules.

That's when she dropped a bomb on me: she's cross-dominant. Right-handed and left-eyed. At Perry, their answer had been, "Well, you can either learn to shoot left-handed or right-eyed. Good luck." My answer wasn't much better, but she had been using iron sights at Perry, and my rifles are mostly scoped. I suggested she try shooting right-hand/right-eye with the scope and see what happens.

One of the things I've found with new shooters - particularly new female shooters - is that they don't often have a preconceived notion that they Know How To Do It. A 20-something guy coming to the range for the first time might be offended by starting with a bolt-action rifle, single-loaded, and a front rest. For Kay, it was a logical start to the process.

I brought out my MkII, dialed the scope all the way down (our indoor range is 50', 3x is more than enough magnification), and ran through the basic manual of arms. The bench at our range is at a weird height, so we found a stool for Kay to sit on, and I had her dry-fire a few times to get used to the trigger feel and how the bolt would work. We put on ear and eye protection, and I loaded one round into a magazine, and showed her how to load the rifle. She smacked the trigger, flinched, and jerked her head off the stock instantly to look for where the shot went.

Half an inch low and right - right on the edge of the X-ring. I haven't seen a grin like that in a long time, and it helped to remind me why new shooters can be so much fun.

I showed her how to load a magazine, and we used two rounds so she'd have to work the bolt between shots. Those two went a half-inch low center and a half-inch low left. My rifle is zeroed for 50yd, not 50ft, which explains that consistent half-inch low. I explained that to Kay along with a brief touch on ballistics and she got it. She kept on plinking from there and turned the center of the target into one ragged hole - the Savage is great for that.

After a few magazines like that, we started addressing form issues - trigger slap and follow-through in particular. One trick I learned from my Appleseed days to correct trigger slap and teach follow-through is to ride the shooter's finger with your own - and then hold it in place after the shot breaks. After I did that twice she was doing great on her own. Then we talked about maintaining the cheek weld. I showed her what happens when the head is moved after a shot, with a slight exaggeration of effect.

She didn't quite believe all that could affect the bullet while it was still in the barrel, but agreed to try keeping her head down... and the groups she was shooting went from 1.5" down to nickel-sized. Then she believed me. ;-)

After she'd torn out the center of the target with the Savage, we tried the Marlin 795. Again, a run down of the manual of arms, then she put a couple rounds down range ... and not one of them was even on the paper. We talked about sight alignment a little more, and determined that she had focused on the front post (good) and completely ignored the rear notch (bad). When she lined those up, she put a nice 3" group on the page. Not great, but the factory sights on the 795 are awful, and it's nowhere near the inherent accuracy of the Savage. Two magazines later, she went back to the Savage, and we swapped to a Zombie Target.

Kay asked, "Where should I shoot it?" The answer was obvious: "It's a zombie. Only head shots count."

She settled back in behind the Savage and started chewing up the eyes, then started trying other spots. A dime-size group on Bob's nametag. A quarter-size group in the "V" of his collar. And so forth.

As we ran out of time, I offered to let her try the 22/45, which she seemed a little hesitant about but was game to try. We talked about grip and stance a bit, then ran down the manual of arms, tried one shot, then a half-magazine from five yards. She did fine, putting in a 5" group at a steady pace.

With that done and her hesitation gone, I offered her the last gun I had with me - a S&W Model 67 loaded with my mouse-fart target loads. It's certainly a step up from .22, but so mild in recoil that nearly anyone can handle it. She jumped at the chance, so we looked over the revolver and I had her try dry-firing. That worked fine, but when it had live ammo in it, she wasn't able to pull the trigger through a double-action stroke and keep the sights on target. I'm not sure if she hadn't realized it when dry-firing, or if this was a mental block. We unloaded the gun and I explained single-action and had her dry fire it that way a couple times with much better results.

I put two rounds in the gun, closed the cylinder to the right chamber, and handed her the gun. She lined up her sights, cocked the hammer, and squeezed off a nice shot into the upper chest of poor Bob. Another shot and his collarbone was gone. With those two gone I asked if she wanted to go for more and she nodded enthusiastically. Six more shots, six more holes in Bob. Not bad at all for a first-time shooter.

During some of our down-time Kay was asking some really good questions. She has a pre-teen son at home, and she asked what the best way to lock up a gun was if there were kids in the house. I suggested a couple padlocks on a hard case as a minimum and pointed out that an actual gun cabinet - even one of the sheet-steel StackOn types - was far more secure. I also explained that I believe guns in the house should NEVER be a mystery or taboo topic for kids - they should be a tool like any other, and if Junior wants to see Mom's rifle, all he has to do is ask and it can come out for show and tell.

She asked if we have kids (we don't) and how I stored my guns given that only adults live in our house. Some people will scream "OpSec! Don't tell anything!" ... I am not one of those people. The best way to bring people into the shooting world is calm, rational answers, and that's what I gave: a gun that is not in use - either on the way to the range/field or being carried by me - is secured in a fire safe.

She asked what other guns I have, and THAT one I did deflect a little. Since she had shot ARs at Perry, she asked about that in particular - and I confirmed owning one. As to the others, I simply left it at, "I have a few other rifles and a couple shotguns."

When we were talking about pistols, I mentioned that I sometimes carry a revolver (which surprised her) and she asked if I had a concealed weapons permit. (I do.) She expressed some reservations about that concept and a bit about gun laws, and I pointed out that someone who has gone to the trouble and expense of getting a pistol permit in NY is, generally speaking, a very law-abiding citizen. I didn't push the issue, but I saw the wheels turning in her head.

She also asked how a .22 would cost, and I was fortunate to have the gamut along for the ride - from the bottom-end Marlin 795 at a hundred bucks, through MrsZ's 10/22 for a couple hundred, up to my Savage for several hundred. I offered to help her pick a rifle when she decides she wants one, and to go with her to a local gun shop for the process. Yes, Dick's has them, but they have a limited selection and moderately high prices; a gun shop will order anything she wants and she'll get MUCH better service.

The wheels were definitely turning and I think we have another one on the edge of becoming a citizen.

(No pics to protect Kay's privacy.)


Bubblehead Les. said...

I'd recommend that she gets a 10/22 or a Remington 597 or any other clip-fed 22 vs. a Tube Magazine like a Marlin 60. New people can get a little antsie having the Muzzle so close to their face when they have to reload, and we don't want to have them leave the fold because their SubConscious is Screaming "There's a GUN Pointing at me!"

Old NFO said...

Congrats for a nice job, and thanks for taking the time!

doubletrouble said...

Good on ya for making another shooter.

"...jerked her head off the stock instantly to look for where the shot went."

I learned from an older shooter I highly respect (even OLDER than me!), that if you look to see where you missed, you will have done so.

Cheek weld, follow through. This is from a guy who can shoot the pieces from the clay you have already hit.

Wisdom, it is. /Yoda off/