In Parts I and II of this series, Ana and I discussed how to help your wife or girlfriend purchase her first concealed carry handgun. Now that she’s made her decision and bought her firearm, it’s time for the final step: the range.
- Help Your Wife Purchase a Concealed Carry Firearm, Part 1: The Talk
- Help Your Wife Purchase a Concealed Carry Firearm, Part 2: The Search
- Help Your Wife Purchase a Concealed Carry Firearm, Part 3: The Range
Carrying a handgun won’t do your girlfriend much good if she can’t use it effectively. She doesn’t have to be Jerry Miculek, but she does have to be good enough to put shots on target, under pressure, out to about seven yards.
Towards that end, it’s important that she get out to the range on a regular basis. But if your wife is anything like Ana, she doesn’t see the range as the most enjoyable place to spend a Saturday afternoon.
“Growing up, trips to the range were more of a frustration than anything else,” she told me. “I know I need to practice, but sometimes it’s hard to prioritize range time over the million other things I have to do.”
I don’t think Ana and I are alone in this regard. Regular dates to the range are among my fondest dreams, but Ana isn’t quite as enthusiastic.
So, in this final installment, I want to cover a few strategies for helping your wife or girlfriend develop her handgun skills—and have fun in the process. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m gearing this advice towards firearms newbies. If your significant other is already kicking your ass at the range, you’ll want to look for more advanced techniques.
Before we dive in, just a quick disclaimer. I’m not a psychologist… or a marriage counselor. If you think teaching your girlfriend to shoot might endanger your relationship, you should probably consider contacting a qualified firearms instructor in your area (more on that in a minute). Remember, this should be fun. If it isn’t, you might be the problem.
Also, if you are a firearms instructor and have experience working with first-time gun owners, please leave a comment below and describe your experience. What worked? What didn’t? What kinds of drills and advice seemed especially helpful? We’d love to hear from you.
Where and When to Shoot?
First, remember that public ranges can intimidate new shooters, even if they’re accompanied by an experienced instructor. Private land is always the best place to teach someone to shoot. There’s no extra noise, no ranger officers, and no one to offer that oh-so-helpful unsolicited shooting advice.
If you don’t have access to private land, try to pick a time when you know the range won’t be too busy. Most ranger-goers are friendly and sympathetic to new shooters, but the fewer people watching, the more comfortable your wife or girlfriend will be.
Learning a new skill always entails a certain amount of frustration, but there are ways to encourage a new shooter even as they’re struggling to put shots on target. One of those ways is to make the targets larger. Seeing holes in paper or hearing the ring of a steel target can be encouraging even if the hits aren’t dead center. Conversely, there’s nothing more discouraging than firing a round and not knowing where it landed.
Ana and I started shooting at a large paper target (12×12”) from three to five yards. With a little advice on grip and stance, she was hitting the paper every time.
The goal here is to make it easy for her to succeed. Help her build some confidence. You can start working on more challenging drills later. Right now she needs to know that pulling the trigger can land a shot more or less where she wants it to go.
The more comfortable she gets, the more her accuracy will improve. As long as she has the correct fundamentals (firm grip, solid stance, smooth trigger pull), it won’t be long before you can start having fun.
We practiced three drills during our first range session. None of them were complicated, but they added a layer of interest beyond a simple target.
The first was the classic 5x5x5x5 (leftmost target in the picture). The goal is to land five shots within a five-inch circle from five yards in five seconds. We nixed the time requirement, as that turned out to be a bit too difficult. Ana was able to land three or four shots within the circle at the beginning, and all five by the end of the session.
Next, we tried a simulated index card drill (bottom target in the picture). The goal was the same—land five shots within the target—but the target page shrunk the “index cards” to simulate shooting at different distances. Ana shot all the targets at three yards, but she was able to simulate five-yard and seven-yard distances by shooting at the smaller targets.
Finally, Ana tried her hand at some controlled quick fire. We simply stapled a regular sheet of printer paper to the backstop, and Ana tried to land six shots in a row as quickly as she could from five yards away. Many of her shots hit low and to the left, which told me she was probably jerking the trigger.
“Trigger jerk” occurs when the shooter can’t pull the trigger without moving the sights. There are a number of ways to address this issue, but the most effective is…
…dry fire. Dry fire allows a shooter to practice a smooth trigger pull without the surprise or intimidation of an actual gunshot. It’s helpful for all shooters, but it’s especially useful for new shooters who still aren’t acclimated to the noise and recoil of live rounds. Dry firing teaches a shooter that she can pull straight back and through a shot without flinching or jerking the trigger.
We usually practice by aiming at light switches, doorknobs, or any other smallish point of aim around our house. Most modern centerfire pistols can be dry fired without damaging the firing pin, but we use snap caps just to make things more realistic.
Practice on the Cheap
There’s no way around it: counting admission fees, range sessions with 9mm can cost upwards of $80 a throw. If we go every weekend (like we should), we’re spending enough money each month to make another car payment. I don’t even want to think about how much we spend on range time every year.
One way to make practice cheaper is by using .22 caliber ammo or air guns. Many companies make kits that convert your 9mm into a .22, which can significantly reduce your ammo budget. But even if you can’t find your exact gun in a .22, practicing with any compact or subcompact handgun will improve your accuracy and gun handling.
The same goes for air guns. Some companies make air gun replicas of popular handguns, which you can use in your garage or basement. This allows a shooter to acclimate herself to her firearm’s control and practice marksmanship for a fraction of the cost.
Obviously, your significant other should still practice with the handgun she’ll be using for self-defense. But training with smaller caliber firearms can be incredibly useful, both in terms of money and in terms of reduced recoil and noise.
In a word, yes.
Plinking at the range is great, but nothing beats professional instruction tailored to your wife or girlfriend’s specific needs. You can give her the basics, but only a handgun training class can give her everything she’ll need to survive a self-defense shooting. Classes can be expensive, but it can also be a great opportunity for you both to learn something new.
If you don’t have the funds at the moment, many reputable firearms instructors have produced training DVDs that can also be helpful.
I hope reading about our experience has been useful and instructive. Again, if you have anything to add, please feel free to comment below. I hope these articles, combined with your comments, can provide a useful resource for anyone looking to help their wife or girlfriend purchase, carry and shoot their first concealed handgun.
About the Author: Jordan Michaels is a new convert to the gun world. A Canadian immigrant to the United States, he recently became an American citizen and is happily enjoying his newly-acquired Second Amendment freedoms. He’s a communications professional, a political junkie, and an avid basketball fan.