My wife and I have expended a whole bunch of ammunition over the past couple weeks, as we took some friends to the range for some bonding time and so they would get the chance to try their hand at shooting multiple types and calibers of handguns. Everyone did quite well and we all made it out of the range alive, but it's hard to get over the feelings of apprehension I get when handing a fully loaded handgun to someone without a lot of experience. I've been through the drill multiple times and learned a few valuable lessons that some folks might find beneficial if they're thinking of introducing a youngster or adult to the shooting sports.
- Start your training session at home. Teach the control features and operation of the firearm in a comfortable environment free of noise, distraction, and live ammunition. Now is the time to make mistakes and discuss malfunctions, not when your dealing with a loaded weapon and shaky hands. Snap caps are a great substitute for live ammunition during early training sessions.
- Stress Safety and control over accuracy. Hitting the target is great but it's much more important not to get hurt and learn proper technique. Shooting tight groups at distance will come soon enough if the principles are sound and the training is good.
- Start simple and small. Your budding shooter will appreciate starting with a .22 or something loaded with standard target/training loads rather than high-power hunting rounds because the recoil will be quite a bit less and the gun won't jump around as much. They're less likely to develop a case of the "flinches" with a lighter load. Don't start someone off with a lightweight platform in a large caliber either since they're easy to carry on long hikes but do nothing to absorb the recoil.
- One round & one round only. Load the gun with a single round each time until the shooter is comfortable with its operation. This is particularly important with semi-automatic firearms that don't require additional manipulation to load subsequent rounds after the initial shot.
- Stay close. The teacher or coach shouldn't be more than an arm's length away from the student while they're in the shooting position. You need to be right on top of matters if something goes wrong and it's your job to prevent a loaded weapon from being pointed in any direction other than down range.
- Shoot often. Skill and proficiency increase with each session so it's important to build upon each trip to the range by celebrating the victories and learning from the mistakes. Everyone has a bad day every once in a while, so less than perfect shot placement is to be expected. The speed, and accuracy will improve.
- Right/left eye dominant? Figuring this out before hitting the range will eliminate a lot of frustration and sighting issues that deter from having a quality experience. Right or left handed may also be an issue but it's more difficult to address since it's a matter of firearm design and shooter compatibility. Unfortunately not everyone can afford to have both left and right handed versions of the same gun.
- Make it fun! Shoot reactive targets like tin cans, bowling pins, steel plates, clay pigeons, or splatter targets with awesome graphics that give instant feedback on shot placement .
Shooting has been part of my families heritage since long before I was walking the earth and I can thank my father for taking the time to teach us pretty darn well. We started with BB guns, moved on to .22 rifles and 20 gauge shotguns, and ultimately into the big game calibers we used for deer and woodchuck hunting. A lot of hours were spent at the range and in the field doing what we all loved to do. He wasn't into the handgun side of things so I've had to do a lot of reading to become confident enough to teach others on a small scale basis but even I have my limits and would refer someone to the professionals if I thought they were going beyond my abilities. Brantley Corp offers classes that cover a wide range of subjects (some of them right in our own conference room) and many of the local gun shops hold training classes on everything from gun cleaning to advanced techniques and tactics. It just depends on how serious you are.
Teaching someone to shoot can be quite rewarding for both parties and I think it's a special part of passing along your passion to your own children. My wife and girls know how much I love to send rounds downrange so there aren't any fights about spending too much money or time shooting as long as I take them along every once in a while.
Properly teaching someone to handle firearms, even on a limited basis, will ensure that preventable accidents don't happen to someone you love, and maybe you'll discover a new shooting or hunting partner in the process. I think I've created a few over the past month. Good Luck and Be Safe.
Brian "Beastman" Eastman