Most New Female Shooters Learn From Men. Here’s What Both Need To Know

Sooting Lesson

Photograph by Rick Adair

Given the growing number of women taking up the male-­dominated sports of hunting and shooting, it’s likely that you, as a man, may teach a woman to shoot. Or you, as a woman, may learn from a guy. Since Caitlyn Jenner is the only person I can think of who can share both male and female perspectives on sport, and she’s not returning my calls, I teamed up with Holly Heyser of the California Waterfowl Association for this topic. Heyser has taught women to shoot and been taught by men. Together, we came up with this advice.

MEN TEACHING WOMEN

Guys, you may know a lot about shotguns, but you have no idea what it’s like to be a woman at the shooting range. Start by imagining yourself the only man at a hoop-dancing class, and then do the following.

1. Check Eye Dominance Right Away
Far more women than men are cross-dominant—that is, right-handed and left-eyed or vice versa. Test your student for eye dominance before shooting. Heyser is right-handed but shoots lefty. "I learned I was cross-dominant before I ever bought a shotgun, so I've never shot right-handed," she says. "I can say from personal experience that teaching a right-handed newbie to shoot left-handed isn't hard. She has no habits that need to be changed."

If a new shooter is cross-­dominant, teach her to shoot from the side of her domi­nant eye. If she is center- or co-​­dominant, let her pick a side and block the off eye with translucent tape on her shooting glasses.

2. Offer to Take the First Shot
Many women are apprehensive about shooting for the first time. Heyser asks female students if they would like her to take the first shot, and they invariably say yes. That way they get to see and hear what shooting a gun is like before they try it themselves. Also be sure to bring low-recoil loads, either 3⁄4-ounce reloads or Winchester Feathers.

3. Use a Prop
Men and women see the world differently, and this applies to lead. A visual aid helps bridge the gap. Heyser's favorite instructor uses a miniature clay target (I use a shard from a broken bird). Hold it up near the muzzle, and then try explaining lead in terms of clay lengths, instead of feet and inches.

4. Save the Sarcasm
Men often insult one another as a sign of affection, but this rarely goes over well with female students, says Heyser. "When women hunt or shoot together, they cheer great shots and re­assure one another after misses. When you inject sarcasm, women shut down to avoid being subjected to more of it."

5. Make Gun Cleaning Part of the Lesson
Heyser says that it is empowering to female shooters to learn how to take a gun apart, clean it, and know how to fix something if it goes wrong. It helps provide a sense of control that boosts confidence.

WOMEN LEARNING FROM MEN

The man teaching you may know lots about hitting targets but very little about teaching women. Take it upon yourself to prepare, and to be your own advocate.

1. Build Upper Body Strength
Shooting a shotgun, especially a heavy waterfowl or target gun, requires a fair amount of strength. Either hit the gym before your first lesson at the range or buy yourself an 8-pound barbell and work out at home.

2. Dress Right for a Day of Shooting
Wear a sports bra, Heyser advises. The toe of the stock can dig into tender areas, and compression helps. Many sports bras also lack the little rings on regular bras that can bruise when driven by recoil. A shooting vest with a shoulder pad compensates for most women's lack of natural padding around the collarbone.

3. Pause for Breaks
Remember: This is a shooting lesson, not an endurance challenge. If you are getting tired or losing focus, ask your instructor for a break. It doesn't mean you're weak. If you need to stop after one box of shells, that's O.K.

4. Ask Questions
Many men assume women just want to know what to do—and not why or how doing it works. If having extra knowledge gives you more confidence—or if you're just curious—don't hesitate to ask.

5. Insist on the Right Coach
Certain teachers connect with certain students, male or female, better than others. "Think of a shooting instructor—even if it's a husband or boyfriend—like a hairdresser," says Heyser. "If you're not happy with him or with the results you're getting, just find a new teacher. Getting the right fit makes a huge difference in the end."

GEAR TIP: Quack Pack

Quack Pack

Rig’Em Right’s Refuge Runner bag ($120; rigemright.com) holds a cased shotgun on one side and a spinning-wing decoy and stake on the other. The main compartment carries at least two dozen blocks, and there are D rings inside for the carabiners of your Texas rigs. Padded shoulder straps, a chest strap, and a waist strap distribute the load and keep the decoys up on your back and not banging against your legs. —P.B.