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Teaching Women to Shoot

“Here, shoot this,” said Tom.

“What do I do? How do I hold it and what if I push the wrong button?” Molly replied. “Ok, I’ll shoot it.”

Boom! “Ouch! Damn that hurt! Is it supposed to hurt like that?” cried Molly.

“Were you even aiming the gun at the target?” Tom yelled. “That shouldn’t hurt. Let’s try this again.”

Does the above scenario sound familiar? That was me nineteen years ago learning how to shoot. I have to admit that I loved the fact that I could shoot the gun, but I was terrified each time, because I didn’t understand what I thought was a complicated thing capable of killing me. I knew I needed to hold perfectly still during each shot and I failed at that miserably. I didn’t understand how to truly use the sights on the gun and looking at the target confused me because I couldn’t focus on the sights and target all at once. Finally, I didn’t get a chance to look at the box of ammo and wasn’t shown how to load the gun on my own, it was just handed to me.

It’s not rocket science that men and women are different creatures, so why do some people teach men and women the same way to shoot? Let’s face it, men are more logical and have great spatial skills and they can pick up a gun and seem to have a pretty good idea of what to do. Women, on the other hand, are emotional and we have to go through every single step to understand how the gun works.

Frank, an instructor of mine, told me to learn from Vicki Farnam and Diane Nicholl in the book Teaching Women to Shoot so I could really help address women’s issues when it comes to shooting firearms effectively. The authors were pioneers in helping women shoot and as I read the book I finally started to understand what I needed to do. I had a lot of “Aha!” moments and after nineteen years these authors addressed issues I had dealt with for many years.

The fundamentals of shooting need to be addressed one by one and presented in detail and in an orderly sequence for women to comprehend them. I will address the following areas that need to be taught to women: safety, gun parts, slide lock, fit, grip, stance, sight alignment, trigger control, recoil, and follow through.

The first step with teaching guns is always teaching the four universal safety rules as follows:

  1. All firearms are always loaded.
  2. Never point a firearm at anything you’re not willing to kill or destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until on target and ready to fire. This is known as the master grip.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond.

Next, show the master grip and focus on ALWAYS keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

In our Pretty Loaded gun class we go through a power point that explains all the parts of the gun and we show a video to the students so they can visualize how a semi-automatic pistol and revolver works. It’s very important for women to understand every part on the gun, because it is very intimidating to not know what each button or lever does.

I always take the time to reiterate that the only thing on the gun that will make it go “boom” is pressing the trigger and the trigger requires 5 to 12 pounds of pressure depending on the gun. I have actually had students think that the magazine release or slide lock lever fired the gun also.

We then talk about clearing the gun and doing a chamber check and go over this slowly with each student until they are comfortable. Women struggle with this part depending on the size of their hands, the size of the gun, and their strength.

Have the woman point the gun down range with a master grip and turn her body 90 degrees to the right (assuming right handed shooter). The gun should be held close to the body and rotate the gun so the ejection port is tilted towards the ground. Place the weak hand over the top of the slide as far back as possible and do not cover the ejection port. The strong hand is then positioned on the gun so the thumb is underneath the slide lock lever. Then push the hands away from each other, pushing the slide lock lever up when the notch is above the lever. This is an area where we always make them focus on where the gun is pointed during this process. The slide locking back needs to be mastered safely and many times to make it comfortable for them. 

The next topic is how to hold the gun properly and this is where you need to pay attention to grip. A lot of women hold the gun the wrong way and then they end up being injured by slide bite or they limp wrist the gun and it doesn’t cycle properly. To grip the gun, place the grip of the gun in the web of the strong hand between the thumb and index finger. The strong hand should also be as high as possible on the back strap of the gun. The weak hand is then placed as high as possible on the side of the gun and is wrapped on top of the strong hand so the index finger is under the trigger guard. The thumbs should be pointing up and parallel to each other and touching the slide (I know that some people advocate a thumbs forward grip, but the “lineage” of my instructors has been thumbs up). I tell my students that the strong hand has a push feeling and the weaker hand has a pull feeling so the gun is secure.

A gun that fits the woman is very important and it will be more comfortable and precise to shoot so make sure the slide should line up with the bones in the forearm.

The weaver stance works well with women because the weight of the gun is kept closer to the body with the arms bent and this helps with muscle fatigue. The strong side foot drops back and the other foot is forward as if in a fighting stance. It is important to not let the shooter lean back at the waist to counter balance the weight of the gun.

The next thing to focus on is sight alignment. To do this correctly, the front sight is aligned with the top of the rear sight with equal space on either side of the front sight while pressing the trigger. It is important to explain that our eyes only focus at one distance at a time and it is impossible to keep the sight and the target in focus at the same time. Once things are lined up, focus on the front sight with the back sights and target blurred. A great tip here is to explain the arc of movement and it is impossible for anyone to hold completely still. It is important to continually reconfirm the position of the front site and make any adjustments as she presses the trigger.

Trigger control is very important and it is critiical to not allow the finger to fly off the trigger after the gun fires. The finger holds the trigger all the way to the rear during recoil and after the sights are aligned the finger allows the trigger to move forward enough to reengage the sear so the trigger can be pressed again for the next shot. With most modern semi auto pistols, this audible and tactile position is called the “trigger reset”. This takes some time and muscle memory to master this, but should be addressed immediately.

Recoil is probably what scares most women about shooting a gun. Recoil produces movement and noise and this can startle women, making them more anxious. It is very important to have good ear protection and sometimes doubling the ear protection helps with this problem. The most important thing is not letting the woman shoot too big of a gun for her hands or too large of a caliber. This is where the proper grip and stance will really help with recoil. Make this initial experience a good one so they are not anxious every time they shoot.

Follow-through is the last issue we address. If they look over the sights at the target just before, during or after the trigger press, then the shot will be a miss. Proper sight alignment and minimizing the movement of the gun for a fraction of a second it takes for the gun to fire and the bullet to travel the length of the barrel and past the muzzle will improve accuracy.

The final thing to teach women is how to read a box of ammo and look at the gun to see what ammo works with the gun. The more you can have them take responsibility for their gun and “own it” will make them remember important information. The difference between target and defense ammunition is something to carefully point out as well. All ammo is not created equal, and it’s especially important to be sure the defensive ammo of choice functions well in that specific firearm before deeming it worthy of trusting your life to.

The next time you want to take the woman in your life shooting try to follow the steps above and you will probably have a great experience. Even better? Get a trained instructor, especially someone who works well with women if they are available in your area.

Be Safe. Be Empowered. And become LOADED!

About Beth Warford

Profile photo of Beth Warford
A native of Dickinson, Beth is the founder and owner of Pretty Loaded. She graduated with honors from the University of Mary with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. She has had specialized ICU and Sedation experience in numerous Children’s Hospitals which has given her extensive experience performing under life and death moment stress. Beth has had 18 years of concealed carry experience, and has been thankful for that opportunity, especially working off hours and in less than safe conditions as a young nurse. She is married and has 4 wonderful young girls, lives on a farm, and is CFO for a local health care practice owned by her husband. Beth has had significant firearms training with an NRA Certified instructor and more specialized defensive training with others. She is also an avid upland game hunter and has a private shooting range for honing her skills. She recently has become a NRA certified instructor in the disciplines of Pistol Instructor and Personal Protection In the Home (first and currently only female certified in this discipline in ND) as well as Affiliate Instructor for the United States Concealed Carry Association, of which she is a member. Additionally, she has had training in the martial art Krav Maga from Master Tomas Reis (www.ndkravmaga.com) which she found very empowering for her own personal protection and defense education. Beth’s inspiration to start Pretty Loaded came from numerous female friends asking Beth to teach them to use a firearm and basic defense mentality. Although she’s a “the glass is half full” kind of person, she believes in the mantra “it’s better to have the skills and not need them than need the skills and not have them” and doesn’t take the safety of she and her family for granted. Beth credits her training from Fortress Defense mentors (www.fortressdefense.com) and NRA Instructor,Bruce, (www.safeshoot.com) as being critical in focusing her vision on the importance of training women specifically. Her husband, being a student of defense, combat, and firearms for 20 years has always been vigilant and supportive of her development as a skilled and empowered woman. Beth feels women need to learn situational awareness, self defense mindset skills, and basic handgun training to be fully well rounded in defensive skills. Her goal is to create Women Warriors to protect themselves and their loved ones from the low life thugs that walk our streets and force their evil upon unwanted victims. Be Safe. Be Empowered. Be Loaded.

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  1. Profile photo of Art

    Well written and a great explanation of information from a woman’s point of view. Like the Pretty Loaded video training, there are many essential tips found in this article. It bears reading multiple times. A collection of articles like this would be a useful handout for any firearms instructor.

  2. Thank you Art! That means a lot coming from a person with your history and experience.

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