I am not a particularly athletic woman. Nor am I coordinated. Or outdoorsy. My vision’s pretty subpar on even the best of days. I’m really into nerdy, indoor activities. I don’t hunt. I don’t eat meat. I don’t like sudden, loud noises. I’m awkward and nervous in new scenarios.
So, naturally, it was with great trepidation that I accompanied my husband to an outdoor shooting range — a skeet range — to try out his step-dad’s firearms for the first time with some friends.
Oh geeze, they’re gonna see me and eat me alive. They’re gonna know I’m not one of them. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A fake. A phony. A fraud. I’m going to be asked to leave and never return.
I grabbed my protective eye and ear gear and shouldered an empty shotgun and followed Marcus to the registration desk, my palms slick with anxiety.
“First time here?” a range member near the lobby asked us as we racked the guns and headed in. I nodded and smiled, looking at everything around us and trying not to flinch when shotguns would go off in the near distance. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you set up and show you how it’s done. Meet me up there,” he pointed to a staging area up a hill, “when you’re finished in here.”
We signed in, paid our dues and walked up the short hill, shotguns shouldered and bags of ammunition at our sides.
The man waved us over to a bench, let us get set up with our safety equipment, and walked us up to a row of microphones facing a bump protruding from the grass in front of us.
“Ladies first! You’ve shot before, right?” I nodded, having done a few rounds at the local shooting gallery with a smaller handgun. “OK, and you’re a lefty? Ah, that will make this interesting.” He manipulated my arms and stance like so many newbies before. “Stand like this, and hold the gun like this. Good.”
He pointed out the sights, gave tips on how to line up with the clay pigeon, and stepped aside to walk my friend through the same steps. He turned back to me when she was set up. “Now, you’re not gonna shoot yet, but I want you to see what this looks like. Lean into that mic and give the command. It’ll be backwards for you, you lefty, so this should be fun.”
I leaned backward toward the mic stand. “…Pull?” I said tentatively.
“Say it like you mean it! I know you’ve got it in you!”
PHWOOSH. The clay pigeon launched in front of us. I traced its path with my sights.
“You got a feel for it? Good. Now,” the instructor said, “let’s try it for real. Load your gun.” He stepped back. I opened the shotgun, pushed in a shell, snapped the shotgun closed. Safety off, hammer pulled back, deep, steadying breath as I pulled it back to my shoulder.
“Pull!” I wasn’t loud enough. “PULL!” PHWOOSH. BANG! …I missed.
“That’s OK! We’ll try it again. Load your weapon.”
Eventually, I made contact. The clay pigeon exploded into a cloud of bright orange dust over the sagebrush. Everyone in our party cheered. My friend next to me hit hers, and more cheers erupted from the group. We sat down and let the boys have a turn. Then we were back up.
By the end of the session, the instructor was joking with us and teasing me for my height-based aim issues. (“I see the problem! Your aim is off because you’re too tall for your gun!”) And eventually, though he always hovered nearby, he didn’t walk us through the setup; we just knew what to do.
I can say with some ease that at the end, the girls were easily outshooting the guys.
“You guys are buying the girls lunch, right?” our instructor teased.
Those clay pigeons never stood a chance.
We ended up intermingling with a new group of shooters shortly before we left. They too could tell we were beginners, but they never shamed us or made us feel less than welcome because of our experience. Like our instructor before, they were our biggest supporters at the range that afternoon.
I have to admit, I almost didn’t go because I was scared. Not of the guns or of messing up, but of being ostracized for my outsiderness.
And dang it all if all of the shooters that I’ve met so far haven’t been the kindest, most welcoming group of enthusiasts ever.
There are jerks in every circle, but I’ve not yet met them. Every time I’ve returned, I’ve only been greeted with warmth, excitement and acceptance. It’s almost like they actually want someone else to know and love the hobby just as much as they do.
Novel, I know.
I’m not athletic, coordinated, outdoorsy, a hunter, a rough-and-gruff person, nor blue-collar, nor a touter of ‘Murica. I like skinny jeans and scarves and graphic design and animals and Japanese cartoons.
And I am pretty good at target shooting.
Some stereotypes are just made to be broken.
The next time you want to try something new but its rumored community gives you pause, ignore the nagging doubt. Just give it a shot. You might be pretty good at it too.
Post Script: As if proving just how new to the shotgun society I am, some of you may have noticed my incorrect interchanging of “rifle” and “shotgun”, as well as the misuse of “bullet” when I should have said “shell”. I’ve since corrected the terminology scattered throughout this entry.
If any of you noticed, thank you for not pointing it out for all to see or for trolling me. To those who did notice (namely, my husband and my mom), thank you for being nice about it. I will learn (and remember) my terms eventually!
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