A new year, a new start, blah, blah, blah. Everyone is doing lots of deep self reflection but me. I'm having a pity-party. I'm 38 years old and just like everyone else, my life has taken a completely different direction than I had planned. Most have been really good changes in my life but...I've got a bit of envy for the 2016 beginning female shooter.
In 2008, I started going to the range weekly after our house was broken into and I was told to get armed. This was the second time my home had been violated in my life and I was done being a victim. I traded my chalk for a revolver and insisted we go to the range every week.
Now I've worked in IT since 1998. I work in IT because I don't like women and I prefer to be around men. I have no girly talents when it comes to my physical appearance and never have. I wear jeans and polos every day. My friends tease me that "homeless" is one of my hairstyles. Thank God baseball caps are required when shooting. Although I don't have a large collection of shoes, I do have more holsters than shoes. I carry in the same spot but some holsters just work better with some activities or clothing.
Over the past eight years, I have been one of the women trying to bring more women into the shooting sports. When I first started shooting, I was always the novelty or token female at the range. No matter where we were, I was the ONLY female shooter. I'd like to think I didn't have a chip on my shoulder but I'm sure I did.
Only one range ever treated me badly but lots of gun stores did and wouldn't talk to me until Knitebane showed up. Anytime there was a female only shooting event, I would attend. I joined every female gun clubs in my area that my schedule allowed. I didn't want to be alone and that was my only motivation! I met a handful of women who where more advance than me but most had even less experience than I did or no curiosity to learn more than they had to. At times, I was like that too.
There were multiple events that pushed me to learn more. Very few were flattering. I often learned due to the kindness of strangers but I had no goals and learning was sporadic and inefficient.
In 2014, I became an NRA Basic Pistol instructor because one of my rare female friends didn't want to be the only female in a class of 30. That got me into volunteering at NRA Women on Target events as often as I can where I get women to shoot a revolver or semi-auto for the first time.
As a couple, Knitebane has been a huge supporter of my passion to educate women. He is known for his female friendly attitude which prompted a local ladies group that I'm not even part of to make him their Chief RSO! He's going to become an instructor before you know it.
I hadn't planned on keeping the NRA certification, it was just to help out a friend but I forgot how much I love teaching. I've taught GED Math classes, college computer classes, riding instruction, and dog training. The Ah-HA! moments are a little different but they're still there and it is addicting.
In 2015, I took The Well Armed Woman Certification course and have a quota to meet of students I work with each year plus my own minimum training requirements. It has actually been a good kick in the tush and the women are all very, very supportive. Most were tomboys and almost everyone has the same motivation - to empower other women to take charge of their own safety, encourage newbies to commit to the training and time it takes to become proficient, and make sure no one has a bad experience (like most of us did) when they first go to the range - the exact mentor we wish we had when we first started.
As I work at becoming a better instructor, with Knitebane as my RSO, I see that my beginner students have a much easier start than me. It is positive, it pushes them but doesn't overwhelm them, they have clear goals for at least the first six months to a year as we work through the NRA Winchester Marksmanship Qualification program, and they are all smiles at the end of the day. I look at their groupings and compare it to where I was a year after going to the range weekly (and paying for one on one instruction) to where they are after just ONE or TWO afternoons with us and...IT ISN'T FAIR!!!
To be honest, I love it when a woman puts her trust in me to show her that guns are not scary and that she can do this. I love that she will have opportunities that I did not have. I love that women are focusing on training for self-defense, not just getting a gun because their husband bugged them to. I love that they are having fun and being supportive and encouraging to the other women around them because it's really fun to shoot like a girl.
This post is triggered by an article over at The Cornered Cat that was notionally about why female shooters don't get advanced training. On that subject Kathy Jackson is the expert and I can find no fault with her findings.
But what triggered me screaming at the monitor was the same blind spot that the gunny community seems to have and seems to be willing to stubbornly excuse when pointed out. It might seem like I'm singling out Kathy for chastisement but I'm not. Most of the gunny community seems to share this problem. An earlier article by Kathy also stems from the same problem so I hoped that she'd spend a little time looking into the root cause. She didn't so I'm going to.
What's the problem? Well bust my buttons, there seem to be a lot of people shooting themselves with their own guns while holstering. Gosh, I guess it's just the way things are. Maybe some people can be trained out of the problem but I guess it's just something that happens and no one is to blame.
Let's reflect a bit on the way things used to be, shall we?
Once upon a time there were single action guns and single/double actions guns. Actually they weren't really called that because you had cowboy pistols (single action) and service revolvers and 1911s (single/double action).
Cowboy guns had holsters that usually covered the trigger but so what because you didn't holster while cocked. In fact the retention on a cowboy holster requires that the hammer be down since the loop is only long enough to go over the hammer spur when the hammer is down:
If you had a single/double action revolver, you carried it with the hammer down in a holster that fully exposed the trigger like this:
That's a modern reproduction of the Bill Jordan style of holster that was extremely common back in the day. The exposed trigger is no accident. It was purposely made that way.
This was considered common sense because only an idiot would have a holster that could push your finger into the trigger upon holstering a gun with no safety. Since revolvers don't have safeties the lack of material that might force an accidental pull of the trigger while holstering is a safety feature.
If you had a single/double action 1911, you carried it in a holster that covered the trigger but you also carried it cocked (pay attention here kids) AND LOCKED. This was considered common sense because only an idiot would carry a gun with a 4 lb. single action trigger without using a safety. Specifically, a safety that didn't involve the trigger finger.
Fast forward to today. The tacticool crowd says to use a hard Kydex holster that covers the trigger and a gun with no thumb safety and says to stuff said gun into said holster. Shockingly, sometimes the newbies (and some oldbies) make the gun go bang.
And the same crowd then lambastes poor newbies for doing it all wrong. Of course, that crowd never seems to get around to discussing what part they had in setting those people up to fail.
Let's sum up, shall we:
We went from the world pictured above to the world we have now because:
Double action guns should have single digit trigger pulls. (Because Glock)
Holstered guns should not have exposed triggers. (Because Scary)
Safeties are superfluous. (Because GLOCK PERFECTION!!!!)
All guns should be like GLOCK! (Because Marketing)
Yeah, people should keep their booger hook off the bang switch. It's one of the rules after all but why do we have three more rules? If you just obey that one rule all will be well, right?
As it turns out, not so much. People are fallible so we have other rules that will often save us from ourselves even if we violate one of them. But if we make changes to our guns and gear that increase the likelihood of disaster for violating one rule then we have departed from wisdom.
Setting up the trigger as a single point of failure is stupid. Compounding that with holsters that invite negligent trigger manipulation is dangerous.
Stupid and dangerous all in one package. How efficient!
So when the inevitable happens remember who owns part of the blame.
We went to see Brave back in July simply because it is about a princess who knows how to use a bow. Today it is being released on DVD and I'm looking forward to watching it again. I loved the movie but it got me thinking about how women responding to violence with violence is still a bit taboo in our society. It often takes something tragic to make a woman decide to start taking control of her life and learn about firearms. Very few of us will ever be physically strong enough to fight off a man but guns are a great equalizer. Why aren't we raising our daughters to value their own life and give them real self-defense training?
Of course there are exceptions. The best man at our wedding and his wonderful wife have successfully raised an amazing daughter. She is strong, capable, intelligent, and heading out into the world on her own now. Being the only girl with an older and a younger brother, she's learned how to defend herself. She is not afraid to be competitive when needed. She can shoot very well and has no issues standing up to guys that try to show her how its done. I'm a touch jealous of her upbringing.
On the Fourth of July, the best man had friends over and took the kids out back to work on their rifle skills. He came away with this:
"I had somewhat an epiphany a few days ago, while giving shooting instruction to some awesome young women that I know. Most guys want to hang out with girls that shoot. But most guys are too cheap to actually sacrifice what it takes to purchase decent weapons, much less ever get to the point where they actually "teach" a woman to shoot. Remember this "girls" - A boy will invite you to play "Airsoft" and try to impress you and gain your attention. A man will teach you to use a deadly weapon in order to protect yourself because he is naturally inclined to protect what is physically less capable of protecting itself. Learn to discern between each and choose wisely."
Reading that makes me realize just how lucky I am that Knitebane fell into my lap when he did because I was barking up the wrong tree when looking for a mate. I think I once told him, "I don't need a man. I can zip up my own dresses, open my own jars, and make my own money." It really was just dumb luck that I found an honorable man.
"Women are empowered! We can take care of ourselves! We don't need men to protect us!" I remember being told this in Health class in Jr. High when discussing sexuality. There was some discussion of self-defense but nothing of actually picking up a gun to even the odds. Apparently just thinking we were tough was going to protect us.
My family history has its own cases of violence that I almost repeated. It was generational and I grew up hearing bits and pieces but I never got the full story until just a few years ago. A common thread was sexual assault led to fear which lead to finding a strong and capable protector whose price was often steep. Sometimes just verbal abuse, sometimes beatings, and sometimes facing fits of rage that have become legend. Although I grew up with a wonderful father, the family history still had influence. Then I had an unfortunate incident with a neighbor that changed me forever. He did very little physical damage but tons of emotional damage. Suddenly I was repeating the family history and was driven by fear. I did not trust men and saw no need to involve them in my life. I can recall my fears being manipulated even more by women who were "trying to help me" by promoting my fear and encourage me to embrace being a victim, e.g. All men are rapists. I fell for it.
When I finally decided to give men a try, I was already a legal adult. The first man I dated was a Desert Storm veteran, very handsome, long blond hair, very protective of women, but abusive and controlling behind closed doors. I ran as soon as I realized what was in store for me. The string of failures just kept getting longer but I was starting to figure out what I should be looking for early in the relationship.
My mother was afraid she had not broken the circle because it was pretty obvious to everyone that I was looking for a protector. There was a very conscious awareness in me that I did seek comfort in Knitebane because of his strength. I knew he would defend me to the death from the first time he held me as tight as he could. What I didn't realize at the time was that he was going to encourage me by any and every means possible to learn to defend myself. That's a man who loves his wife!
Contrary to what most people would believe, the twelve year difference between Knitebane and myself has been a benefit for me more than him. With age comes patience and I taxed all of Knitebane's patience dealing with my fears. Somewhere in my mid 20's, I decided the world was not so scary and I went overboard with my new-found freedom. I never got hurt but I took chances that were probably not the smartest. Knitebane was always a broken record talking about getting us into a concealed carry class and I just ignored him with a "Yes dear." It took ten years and our house getting broken into before I finally started taking him seriously.
The past few years, others have been joining the chorus. Every time I see our gunsmith, Tom, he lectures me on how it is MY responsibility to learn how to defend myself, not Knitebane's. Just like I can't carry a cop around with me all the time, I can't carry my husband around with me either.
Having a gun isn't a talisman. You have to know what you are doing. Some may disagree with what I'm going to say but as long as I don't become complacent and actually do continue to improve my skills, I stand by my decision. Almost all of my formal instruction has been in short, hour-long individual lessons. For handgun training, I don't have much more than five or six hours of formal instruction. For two years, I did not carry my gun with me because I thought I needed more training but never actually pursued it. This year I started to carry daily on body with the gun I've had the most instruction with, a revolver. When I first decided to do this, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and would draw over and over again. This is very different from .22 steel match and firing from a low ready. There is still much to learn and perfect but I'm not crippled by the fear of the unknown anymore.
I respect and acknowledge the full responsibility carrying a gun brings. I don't wear a gun to kill, I wear a gun to live. My life is valuable and worth protecting.
Last night, Knitebane mentioned I should go read Garand Gal as I am often out after midnight. "Nothing good happens after midnight." True. I have been witness to someone fleeing from police at 02:00 after trying to steal a radio. Our neighborhood is an undeveloped subdivision with lots of half-finished and never lived in buildings. There has been a lot of theft here too. This spring, an obvious drug user attacked our car while we were at a stoplight 3 miles from our house. Well within walking distance. Knowing all of this, I still walk close to midnight with the dogs because I procrastinate till the dogs start threatening to redecorate the house if they don't burn off some steam. I should not be putting all of us in danger like that. I thought I was doing my best to not be stupid and embrace Knitebane's thinking of if there is trouble there, don't be there. It was a good wake up call.
Knitebane and I have discussed our training goals and we realize that getting training for me has got to be at the top of the list of priorities. The last semi-auto we purchased has picked me as its new owner. It was never meant for me but the gun decided. I shoot fairly accurately with it but I know I can be better. I do NOT have good muscle memory when it comes to drawing from concealment or even a holster and trying to get the safety off. I've been watching a lot of gun shows lately and I noticed just how the pros do a lot of dry fire practice and just rehearse, rehearse, rehearse before they actually shoot one bullet. This should not have been an epiphany for me but it was. I used to play in my High School band and we would rehearse without ever playing a note, just singing and fingering the music. I worked on my embouchure with just my mouthpiece. Breaking things down without ever playing a note still built the muscle memory, still reinforced how my part mixed with the rest of the band. It was not uncommon for the entire band to rehearse marching without playing or sometimes even carrying our instruments but we were still rehearsing and successful in competitions.
After realizing I can still improve without being at the range, I turned to the one closest to me for help. I take advantage of Knitebane a lot when I'm learning something new because I am a firm believer in very physical training. If I need to adjust something, don't just tell me, TOUCH ME. I also like to use mirrors and video to see what I'm doing and how I'm doing it right or wrong. So the Sunday before the election, we worked on me drawing from a holster with retention and just a cover garment. After about 5 minutes, we saw some improvement. I love to shoot just for fun but I also need that muscle memory and once a week is going to take a long time to get it.
2013 is thankfully still seven weeks away but I have some goals for myself between now and the New Year.
1. 15 minutes of drills with an unloaded gun 3 to 5x a week.
2. Review the budget and our calendar and try to get into at least 2 self-defence classes before summer 2013.
3. Get back into some form of competition. Learning to deal with stress is important and it gives me a goal to work towards.
4. Schedule another Appleseed shoot for us. Don't know how long it will take me to make rifleman but I know I can do it with practice.
On October 7, 1777 Sergeant Timothy Murphy of General Daniel Morgan's Sharpshooter Corps shot Brigadier General Simon Fraser from his horse as Fraser tried to rally the crumbling British lines at the Battle of Bemis Heights (Second Saratoga). At at distance of about 300 yards Murphy's fourth shot passed through Fraser's abdomen and ended any hope the British had of reversing the tide of battle that day. The loss of Fraser prompted a disorganised retreat toward their previous pre-battle positions and sniper fire from Morgan's Sharpshooter Corps hit the hat, coat and horse of the British commanding general, General John Burgoyne. The shot from Murphy's rifle ended Fraser's life, the possibility of the British winning at Bemis Heights and the career of General John Burgoyne.
The victory of the fledgling American Colonial Army at Second Saratoga was trumpeted in Europe by American messengers. The news of this battle induced King Louis XVI of France to throw his weight behind the American cause (or more to the point, against the British) which continued on until the final battle at Yorktown. Thus, Murphy's shot can be said to have won the entire Revolutionary War, although he did have some help.
The Appleseed project, run by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association, aims to instil in those who attend the skills and spirit of those few that used their superior marksmanship to help free a people and found a nation.
Fellow blogger Sean at An NC Gun Blog organised a group of local bloggers to attend a two-day Appleseed training evolution at the RWVA's home range in Ramseur, NC. The RWVA kindly waived the normal $70 attendance fee for the bloggers but there was no indication that we would be treated any differently than any of the other attendees.
Mrs. Knitebane took advantage of the $10 fee for women and she will be posting her observances later.
The Appleseed site says that the most important thing that you should bring with you is a teachable attitude. They list some other, minor items that you might want to have, like a rifle.
The instruction and the attitude of the instructors was first rate. Later in the day one of the instructors was relating a story of how he was telling a student that her habit of flipping the safety on for magazine changes was slowing her down. Her reply of "But that's how I was taught!" caused the instructor to tell himself, "Okay! Stop instructing!" This is a markedly helpful attitude and shows that while they have knowledge they want to transmit to the students they are also aware that their way is not the only way. What matters is what works.
The first day consisted of a safety briefing and then a level-set test with a modified AQT target called a Redcoat. This consists of a long, skinny target set up to simulate shots at increasing distances by shrinking the size of the component targets. The single target has 100, 200, 300 and 400 yard head-and-shoulders components and then a postage-stamp sized square target that simulates a 250 yard head shot.
We then transitioned to a sighting in session with instruction and drills. After three rounds of 5 shots each I was punching a small, ragged hole in the center of each sighting area. This was to be my best shooting of the day. After this, it all went to hell.
We now moved to the marksmanship portion of the day. We shot at modified Army Qualification Test targets. The orginal AQT targets are all the same size and are to be used at 100 yards and then increasing distances. Instead the Quick-and-Dirty AQT targets start out 1/4-sized for use at 25 yards and then decrease in size to simulate increasing distances. This cuts down considerably on the need to trudge down ever increasing distances to change out targets.
The AQT challenge consists of four runs against four parts of the target. Each course of fire is 10 rounds.
The first is a single target at 100 yards engaged while standing. The next is two targets at 200 yards with a magazine change engaged with a standing-to-sitting transition. The next is three targets at 300 yards with a magazine change with a standing-to-prone transition. The last is slightly different from the traditional AQT. The original AQT target uses eight targets at 400 yards. The fourth run of the QDAQT uses four targets but scores them double. This target is engaged while prone.
At first we were doing AQT drills which would be a bit of instruction on the part of the target being taught, including proper body positioning, sling use, sight alignment, sight picture, breath control and trigger control. The point of the instruction was to find what they called the Natural Point of Aim (NPOA), a place where the rifle naturally points. We would adjust our entire body position to then move the sights to the target, ensuring that the NPOA was on the target. Then we would go shoot that part of the target.
This went at a fairly rapid pace. The standing wasn't too bad. I've been shooting standing forever. When we moved to the sitting position the wheels came off for me. They showed us a position that included sitting cross-legged and putting the elbows outside the knees. I simply could not get comfortable in that position or any of the alternate sitting positions we were shown. As a result, by the time I got down into their sitting position, got relaxed and got the sights on the target I could get two or maybe three shots off before thde 55 second time limit was up.
The transition to prone wasn't quite as bad and the prone position and techniques that we were taught were quite useful. With four separate targets on the last run there is a tendency to want to muscle the rifle over to the next target rather than moving the entire body and maintaining NPOA. This almost always causes misses.
After the AQT practice had taken up most of the day we moved to the actual AQT. I sucked. I could regularly get 50 out of 50 points on the first, and 80 or so out of the last, but the middle two, especially the second standing-to-sitting run, were killing me. I finished out with a max score of 186, far from the required 210 to score expert.
While all this was going on we were treated to two other things that went on all day. The first one was planned. During the day and over lunch we were treated to history lessons about the Revolutionary War, the American rifleman and detailed lectures on the activities of April 19, 1776 at Lexington and Concord, MA. This was nicely done and there were several participants that noted that schools really don't teach history much any more.
The second was unplanned by the staff but not entirely unexpected. The sky opened up at about 10AM and treated us with varying levels of wet all day long. The covered shooting stations held up well but the trips to the target stands and back ended up making us all a bit soggy.
By the end of the day my continued inability to score well had me tired and frustrated. Most of what the instructors were teaching was very helpful and my prone shooting was greatly improved but I was starting to think that I'd never master the sitting position. This was especially irritating as I've made some pretty good shots and taken deer from the sitting position that my grandfather taught me.
We attended dinner with some of the instructors and other students and lots of lessons learned bounced around. During dinner the largest part of the storm that had drenched us thundered over.
The next day started out grey and wet too but never really got as wet as Saturday. The level of instruction tapered off too as we set about doing AQTs and getting more one-on-one instruction. By the third run of the AQT I had decided that the Appleseed-taught way of shooting sitting was simply not going to work for me. Neither was their primary method of sling use. The way they suggest, using the end loop of the GI sling around the bicep, looks very stable and maybe with extended practice it will be for me too but I've been using the hasty sling method for a long time and it works for me.
On the third run I switched sling methods and used my own sitting position.
This would never have happened if the instructors were not flexible. They understand that not everyone can do it their way. They're all volunteers. They want people to learn to shoot. Results, not slavish attention to THEIR WAY matters most and if that means letting someone shoot standing on their head, they'd be good with that.
I shot one more AQT but couldn't best that one so I helped the Mrs. with her practice, got my patch and listened to the founder of Appleseed, Fred, talk about his mission.
I'm very happy that I managed to qualify expert and earn that patch. I'm also aware that I've still got a lot to learn. I'd like to hit a higher score. I'd also like to shoot it with a centerfire rifle. Just to be curmudgeonly and contrary I think I'll do it with my AK.
And a big thank you to our host for this event, IronPony. His guidance, advice and patience turned what could have been a disappointing and frustrating event into something great.
This won't be my last Appleseed shoot.
Does that mean that a short post is supposed to be funny?
I'm working up a longer post about my trip to Ramseur, NC this weekend where me and the Mrs. attended a two-day Appleseed shooting event. Also forthcoming are gear reviews on some of the items we took. I've also got a movie review in the works and the Mrs. is planning a write up on her experience at Appleseed too.
In the mean time, feast your eyes on this:
The QDAQT requires a 210 to score "Expert" and receive a rifleman patch.
See the patch? Oh yes I did.