Monday, September 23, 2013

Why Shooting?

This is the question that is always out there. Why guns? Why shooting sports? Why not golf... or tennis... or something a little more sedate for a woman of my age and profession? I can only answer for myself, but for me, there are a variety of very good reasons why.

My first reason, as I've stated in previous posts is "Family Tradition". Although Action Pistol and 3-Gun weren't on my father or grandfather's radar, firearms and the outdoors were a very large part of their lives. It was a part of who they were. My childhood was filled with family game dinners of grouse, pheasant, woodcock and venison; and a day afield with the dog was something my father would have chosen any day over a trip to Hawaii.  I don't have many prospects at this point in my life for going back and picking-up wingshooting skills, but target shooting and skeet is something that IS within my reach.

My second reason for enjoying shooting is that the skills acquired in target shooting are transferable. I can't use golfing skills to defend my life, and I can't use tennis skills to put meat on the table; but the shooting sports teach skills that CAN be used to do both of those things if I need them to. In short, my sporting life offers real-world applicability.

Another reason I enjoy shooting sports is historical.  Marksmanship (or womanship?) is a skill that has been prized since the Dawn of Man. Marksmanship (whether with spear, bow, or slingshot) meant survival both for the individual and for the tribe/clan. In more modern history, since in the 19th century, marksmanship - in the form of archery and javelin, and several shooting sports - has been a part of the Olympics Games every four years. While I can never hope to be a multi-gold medalist shotgunner like Kim Rhode, or a biathlete like twins Tracy and Lanny Barnes, I can enjoy local shooting sports competitions, and try to be the best that I can be at whatever level I can achieve.

Another personal reason that I enjoy shooting is that I have found the shooting sports helpful in my medical practice - and no, I don't usually treat gunshot wounds. Shooting sports - especially timed ones- are helping me learn to better manage adrenaline. You may not think that a small town general pediatrician has a lot of adrenaline stress to deal with, but you would be wrong. Trying to keep a tiny, sick, premature baby alive until the NICU Transport Team arrives from 20 miles away can be very adrenaline-inducing. The pediatrician may seem calm on the outside, but on the inside, her heart is racing and her brain is trying to process a great deal of information in a short period of time. This is where the shooting sports come in. In IDPA and USPSA, half the battle is being able to keep your stage plan in your head, and adjust it on the fly, while under the adrenaline stress induced when the timer goes Beeeeep! Practicing how to deal with the adrenaline rush when the situation is NOT life and death can be very helpful for the times when it IS.

I also enjoy shooting, because it is an "individual" activity, that is still a group effort. I can be the lowest scoring shooter at the match, but I am still part of my squad. I am scored individually, but I still need to be a "team player" - pasting targets, taking a turn on the score sheets, etc. Even if I am at a lower skill level than others on my squad, I can still interact with them and learn from their experience. I have not found this to be as true in sports like cycling and skiing. In those sports, I beat myself up (and then gave up) trying to keep up with those that were at a higher skill level than me. My friends who were higher level skiiers went off to the double black diamond slopes while I puttered around on easy blues. If I saw them at all, it was at lunch. I did enjoy skiing with friends, but it really meant that I skied alone. It got old. Not so in shooting, in my experience. In shooting, I might be on the same squad as a top level competitor. We each get our turn, everyone helps paste targets, and everyone is social. AND I get to watch them do their thing - which can be amazing to see. I learn a lot by watching.

Shooting appeals to my inner perfectionist - there is always more accuracy and a better time to "shoot" for (pun intended). There is also a nearly unlimited learning curve. If I get bored with a particular aspect, there is always a different caliber or firearm type or style of shooting to branch into. For instance, I currently have no desire to branch into Cowboy Action shooting, or get into the minutiae of reloading my own ammo, but those detours will always be available if I change my mind. Then, in addition to all that, there is all of the paraphernalia to be acquired if one has a bent toward retail therapy. The shooting sports offer nearly limitless options if you are a person with a thirst for learning new things as I am.

In summary, I'm not a world-class shooter. I won't be winning any medals in my lifetime. Nobody talks about me at trade shows. But I really have a helluva good time. I hope explaining the above may help someone who doesn't know anything about the shooting sports (or might even be borderline hostile toward them) understand a little better the motivation behind pursuing them. I'm only one woman, but I don't think I'm terribly atypical.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Defense of Pink

I like pink. I admit it. I know that not all women agree with me, but for me it says something about where I am in my life.

I know there is a lot of talk in the outdoor industry about "pink for women" - not all of it popular talk.
Some think it's sexist to market pink firearms and gear to women, but I don't think that's automatically so. I think it depends upon the motivation behind offering the pink. If the motivation is to create a "pink ghetto" that all women get pigeon-holed into, then that's wrong and sexist. But if the motivation is simply to offer more choices than black and khaki, then who could have a problem with that?

I've analyzed my pink desires and here's what I've come up with for me personally.

I like color and I like "bright" - that's the first thing. One of my fascinations with sewing - and quilting in particular - is that I get to play with color.  Most firearms are "basic black", and just as an LBD (Little Black Dress) is supposed to be part of every woman's wardrobe, an LBP (Little Black Pistol) is sometimes part of mine. Pink provides an outstanding contrast with basic black. Pink and Black go together like strawberries and chocolate! So if adding color to my shooting life makes me happy like strawberries and chocolate, then why shouldn't I have it?

Another reason I like a splash of pink on the range is simply a recognition of reality. I've mentioned before that I just can't carry off the "Tammy Tactical" style. I look silly. I remind myself of Mulan when she first tried on the armor that is twelve sizes too big for her. So for me, it works to wear a pink T-shirt to help balance out the Carhart cargo pants. I look a little more incongruous that way, but at least it's not like I'm wearing a "uniform" that doesn't suit me. The practical part of me also likes that pink baseplates make my dropped magazines easier to find in a gravel or cinder shooting bay.

But the bottom line issue, I think, is rooted in how I grew up. When I was a young girl in the sixties and seventies, growing up with two brothers and three neighbor boys, being a "sissy" was a thing to be avoided at all costs. That's not to say that I didn't have a pink bedroom and Barbie dolls, but Barbie dated GI Joe and drove his jeep. I had my own GI Joes, too. In that era, in my family, there was not a lot of respect for anything female - "Women Drivers" were scorned, "Women's Libbers" were scorned - you get the idea. (And yes, for you younger women out there, it was within my lifetime that girls were "allowed" to wear pants to school, and girls were "allowed" to play Little League.) In my formative years, it didn't take me long to learn that if I wanted to earn respect from men and boys (and they were the only gender whose respect was really worth anything at the time), I had better avoid the "sissy" label at all costs - and pink was "sissy". In fact it was the veritable Scarlet Letter of Sissyhood. It was both an overt message and a subconscious one, and it stuck with me for a long time. Honestly, it wasn't just me - it was society-wide. Do any other women of my age remember the trend for women's "business" attire in the early 80's? I recall dark navy suits with shoulder pads, and scarf bows to mimic neckties. I had just such an outfit that I wore for college interviews. Did we realize at the time that we were trying to dress like men in order to fit in with them and be taken seriously? Probably not on a conscious level, but because of my formative years, I pretty much avoided pink in my adulthood like the plague. Until now.

Nowadays, I am at a completely different level in my life (and society has also changed). I have worked hard, taken my licks and EARNED my right to do and look however I want. I've decided that I've reached a point where it's okay to embrace my inner pink. For me, it's almost like reclaiming something that was lost. 

I'm not so afraid of "standing out" in a crowd of men anymore, even if I am the only female shooter on the range (as is sometimes the case in club matches). Using a splash of pink for me is almost like saying "Yeah, I'm a girl and I'm here - ya got a problem with that?". In fact when a friend recently teased me about my bright pink shirt, I smiled and reminded him that he didn't have any trouble finding me on the range, did he?  A few decades ago that would have been unthinkable for me to allow myself to stick out like that. Nowadays, I think it's healthy to embrace the sport and make it "mine" in whatever way works for me. And if using some judicious pink accomplishes that, then Yay for me!

I also think the color trend has been healthy for male shooters. Now it's not just pink that is out there, but red, and blue, and purple, and zebra stripes, and pretty much anything you can imagine if you look hard enough and use enough Duracoat. It's now not a big deal for men to order a red, white, and blue flag motif from Brilliant Backstraps, or a red scope mount from Warne. It's becoming "okay" to deviate from the "uniform" - and I think that's wonderful for both women AND men.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"S" is for Shooting ... and Also for Sewing

In my profile I briefly mentioned that my hobbies consist of 3 S's - Singing, Sewing, and Shooting. I happen to swing back and forth between the three with wild abandon, depending on my mood for the day ( or week, or month...). Sometimes they even overlap a little, which is what I'm going to talk about today.

Remember that I just recently spoke about my cleaning routine - mostly my non-routine? The biggest exception to this is my living room carpet. Reason being that the living room carpet is the main staging area for my sewing habit. Yep, it's a "Habit" - yep, like a drug habit. Seriously. Playing with the color and texture and pattern gives me some kind of weird dopamine fix, and takes me to a happy place. (It's almost the same happy place as when I finish a USPSA stage and smell the spent gunpowder, or lock an acapella chord in my quartet.) The carpet can't be dirty, or all the fuzz and cat hair and popcorn crumbs stick to the fabric when I'm laying it out on the floor. So, the vacuum pretty much never leaves the immediate vicinity of the living room.

While popcorn crumbs and cat hair are a lovely thought, I'd rather not have them contaminating my handiwork. Especially when I'm laying out a partially completed quilt for Soldiers' Angels Germany, as I've managed to do seven or eight times over the past couple years. The Soldiers' Angels at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany provide homemade quilts and tied blankets, clothing and hygiene items to military personnel that have been medically evacuated out of Afghanistan and worldwide - usually without an ounce of their own gear along, and sometimes without a stitch of uniform left unshredded. So, it gives me an even bigger happy-boost to know that the color and pattern that is brightening my day today may soon brighten the day of a wounded or ill service member far from home. The stuff I manage to send is a tiny drop in an entire ocean of donations that they need, so if you like to sew, or can tie a fleece blanket, consider Soldiers Angels during your next project session. The specifications for what they need can be found on the website.

Recently, during a lull in my quilting, I had another sewing brainstorm. This time, it was directly related to shooting, and came to me during a local IDPA club match. Up to this point, I had been using a floppy old Hawaiian shirt for my cover garment. It was flimsy,  got in my way when re-holstering, looked terrible (not that looking fashionable on the range was really my goal), and was generally unsatisfactory. But, I had web-searched official-looking neato tactical vests, and just couldn't justify the money to myself. Not to mention that I just can't carry off that "Tammy Tactical" look. As it often does, the practical voice in my head whispered, "You could make something like that for a lot cheaper". Yes, I have voices in my head - don't tell anybody, mkay - it might affect future background checks.

A personal challenge began to take shape. The personal challenge I made to myself was to see if I could make a shooting vest ONLY out of fabric and supplies that I already had - thus costing me nothing but the price of a pattern, "if" I could find one. I stewed this idea over for a few days and started going through my fabric stash. (Any woman who has sewed for 20 or more years knows what a fabric stash is. I don't think I've thrown away any leftover fabric pieces bigger than 2 inches square since 1990.) I went straight for a bag of twills that I hadn't gotten into since I was pregnant with my last child. Here was a goldmine - denim leftover from making maternity and toddler jeans, flowered twills from a gym bag and a jumper I sewed, khaki twill for a pair of shorts I planned, but never made - it was perfect! There was even matching thread, and a strip of velcro leftover from someone's Batman costume. But the stroke of genius that I'm proudest of was remembering the mesh bag that my Uncle Mike's shooting belt came in. A chunk of that would make a perfect back ventilation panel.

"Damn Stubborn Woman" - that's what guypal called me when he offered weblinks to vests for purchase, which I politely declined due to the challenge that I had issued myself. I do think he thought I was nuts, but he did offer me advice for how the thing should hang. I think he used the words "nipple line"...

With the moniker "Damn Stubborn Woman" as further impetus, I found a Simplicity pattern, altered it so as to be nearly unrecognizable, and set to work. The end result just tickled me to pieces. But, I had more fabric scraps left, so I also tried a second vest, using lessons I had learned from making version 1.0 to make version 2.0. What I really, really liked was that there was nothing "tactical" about these vests. I was going to be practical, and look a little feminine -- not like I was trying too hard to be "Tammy Tactical". Here are the results...

I've since had people tell me that I need to go into business. But the reality is that I sew for fun. I already have a demanding career. I sew because it makes me happy playing with the colors and textures, and if I had to do it for a living or with a time deadline it would lose its allure. Just like the quilts I make - you couldn't pay me enough for the time and love I put into them. That's why I give them away - it makes me happy to make someone else happy. You could never pay me enough to make up for that feeling.

I posted this not to advertise a business, but so that other women with a modicum of home sewing talent could see what is possible with a little imagination. Sewing and Shooting are not incompatible hobbies, and you don't have to be locked into only what is available for the men in the sport. My next imagination project is a quilted "cover" for a carry holster. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On Cleaning - Guns, Bathrooms, and Anything else

I'm on-call this weekend, which means that I am chained to the pager for the better part of three days straight. Which means that it is difficult to accomplish much of anything outside the house. Even a trip to Wally World for groceries and shampoo can potentially be interrupted at least twice by calls about diaper rash and headcolds that can't wait until Monday. (Don't get me wrong -- I'd much rather have these kinds of calls than an emergency call from the Nursery that they need me NOW!) But because of the potential for these kinds of interruptions, I usually stick close to home and don't try to do any shooting. Which means that I feel like I should actually "do" something at home... like cleaning.

I'm a bit Elizabethan about house cleaning. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have bathed once a month whether she needed it or not. Actually, my house would be much dirtier than Ole Bess, if truth be told. Now, that's not to say I don't meet health codes -- depending upon your interpretation -- but the sign on the back of my front door clearly states that "Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here". I just tonight cleaned a wad of cat hair out from behind the toilet ... but my kitty has been gone for ten months. Suffice to say that if you have OCD, just don't drop by unexpectedly. I need at least two weeks' notice.

And no, I won't hire a cleaning lady - I just don't like the idea of strangers touching my stuff - not to mention that I'd have to clean before the cleaning lady came, just so I wouldn't be embarrassed by my own squalor.
I'd love to know how the Pro Lady Shooters who spend their time on the road manage the housecleaning. Maybe if they're not home, the house just doesn't get dirty? Or maybe they just have husbands who actually do housework.

I'm not much better about my firearms. They probably get cleaned once every few hundred rounds. A few drops of oil and a boresnake - the equivalent of a PTA Sponge bath - is about all they get in between. Currently, I've been back from the AR-15 Rockcastle 3Gun match for two weeks, and my guns have not yet been touched. It was bad enough when it was just my pistol - but now it's THREE guns that I have to clean. Do they make dishwashers for firearms?

Seriously, you should have seen me the first time I needed to field-strip and clean my then-new semi-auto rifle. I remind you that although I have long-distance gun guy friends, that there is no husband or boyfriend (or firearms elves) to do this for me. If the gun needs cleaning there is no use looking around the room and batting my eyes, because there ain't nobody else. I "armed" myself with a book called Green Eyes & Black Rifles, and a how-to DVD video I picked up at the NRA Show. I also had the brilliance to remember that I had an old stained mattress pad in the linen closet. Viola! A [semi] white gun cleaning pad that spanned the width of the living room floor, and would hopefully show up any springs or little pieces that managed to escape. (I do occasionally surprise myself with a really good idea.) I was extremely proud of myself that I managed the entire process even down to the extractor pin, AND got it all back together again, AND didn't have anything left over!

Pistol cleaning is pretty easy, but now there's not just the AR process to go through, there's the shotgun as well. Since it now has a magazine tube extension installed (done by myself as well, thank-you-very-much), it is a bit of a bigger pain to disassemble. It also involves another bolt to figure out, so I don't think it's going to happen this weekend. All I need is to have things half disassembled and get called to the hospital for an nursery emergency, leaving a partly functional (and unsecured) firearm lying in the middle of the living room floor. Then there would be the hassle of trying to remember where I was in the process when I finally got back.... "Hmmm... Was it this thingy going onto that thingy ... Or the other way around?"

Anybody know if Brownells carries Firearms Elves?

A Word About Cognitive Dissonance

You may have seen these words in the subtitle of my blog heading and wondered what the heck I was blabbering about, so I thought I'd offer a little explanation and context.

Merriam- Webster Online defines cognitive dissonance as ": psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously".

Often this conflict produces discomfort, which can cause an individual to alter their beliefs to reduce the dissonance, and thus make those two conflicting beliefs come more in line with each other.

For instance, assume you are a person who believes that "Pediatricians are nice people". At the same time you also hold a belief that "Guns are bad, and people who use them are evil." Then assume that you meet a nice pediatrician who enjoys using guns. Doesn't that throw your two preexisting beliefs into conflict? To reduce that conflict and the feeling of discomfort it produces, you might be left with two alternatives - either soften your views on firearms, or harden your views on pediatricians.

My hope is that such people who come in contact with me, come away with some cognitive dissonance that might produce an inner conversation such as this...

 " Dr. Late Bloomer is a really nice lady, and she takes care of babies and sick kids. But, I just found out that Dr. Late Bloomer likes firearms ..... Soooo, maybe firearms aren't so bad after all,  because my other alternative is to believe that Dr. Late Bloomer is an evil person, and I know that isn't true."

...At least I "hope" that is the inner conversation that happens.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wherein I Become a "Babe"

By way of background, back when I went with Guypal to that big show in 2007, I came across a table where there was a lady with a book and some flyers. It was something called "Babes With Bullets". Apparently, there was this group of professional women shooters who would get together for a camp somewhere and teach other women to shoot. What a fantastic idea! But at the time, I knew nothing about firearms,  I was a divorced mom in medical training, and something like this was not even on my radar.... yet.

Remember that first IDPA Match that I just talked about - the one that really lit my fire? Well, that turned out to be the last match of the season (insert heavy disappointment music - Wah, wah, waaahhhh). I was so fired up, but I was going to have to wait until the following Spring to get another fix. So, during this time period, I searched for, and found a deer rifle and went to the family deer camp for the very first time in my life -- but that is fodder for another story on another day. A long, cold winter was looming, and after Deer Camp, the internet was my only solace.

I decided to Google Babes With Bullets again. Unfortunately, due to various family commitments, I was unable to attend camp on any of the dates they had available. Thus, I contented myself with watching their videos. Which I did - all winter long. As it turned out, I had yet another long cold winter under my belt before I would be able to attend a camp.

Meanwhile, I continued to shoot mostly by myself, with the occasional monthly match tossed in, where there were on average two other women besides myself.  Sometimes it was just me. I was essentially the only woman in any of my circles for whom firearms was a hobby. I was a bit of a "weirdo" in that respect. Fortunately, all the men I shot with were very supportive. I learned something new from the RO's at virtually every match I attended. They were all my "teachers", and I continue to be deeply grateful for that. They never made me feel like I didn't belong.

By the middle of the SECOND long winter without shooting, I had found "Babes" videos on  OutdoorChannel dot com too!
I was becoming an internet "stalker" of sorts, and I finally emailed Camp Director Deb Ferns about it. She sent me a very gracious email in return and encouraged me to try really hard to get to camp. Turns out that the camp in April in Louisiana was going to fit my schedule perfectly! I just had to figure out how to get there.

Finding out how to fly with my pistol was a whole other experience that I won't bore you with here, but it did put another roadblock of anxiety in my way that I had to overcome. Suffice to say that the experience did not live up to my fears, and I arrived safely at Kay Miculek's home range in Louisiana on a beautiful Spring afternoon in 2011.

Babes Camp was... well, it was pretty much as Deb Ferns describes it, "Part adventure camp, part pajama party, and part firearms training". Campers eat together, and bunk together for the better part of 3 days, so there is a bonding that happens that allows a great deal of emotional support during the firearms learning curve. For many women, this is the essential ingredient that helps it all gel. It also keeps them coming back for more camps - and bringing their friends/daughters/coworkers with them. If you have never attended a shooting event where the participants clap, cheer, hug, and "woo hoo" for eachother, then you haven't experienced "Babes".

This particular camp was the first time that they offered pistol and rifle training together. Thus, this is where I was re-introduced to my previous casual acquaintance the "Evil Black Rifle". Since I had essentially "self-taught" my deer rifle by this point, (again, another story), I was grateful for some in-person long gun training, and a chance to get to know the AR-15 style platform.

Turns out, it was a great deal less intimidating that I had feared.  The AR-15 is in fact, quite female-friendly. The adjustable stock made it easy to adjust to my short arms (unlike my deer rifle). It was also a smaller caliber than my deer rifle, so it didn't pound my shoulder like I had become accustomed. It was also lighter weight and easier to handle than my wooden lever gun. To top it off, the camp had loaners from Smith & Wesson in not only the usual .223 caliber, but also the .22LR caliber which was even lighter and easier to handle for beginners. I could not have been prouder of those little holes that I punched in my paper plate!

Throughout the entire three days, I got great instruction from the likes of Kay Miculek, Lisa Munson, Annette Aysen, and Sheila Brey. Yep, me - a "nobody" - had the Greats of Women's Shooting standing at my shoulder and giving me encouragement. It was unbelievable!

All of this was just a wonderful experience for me, but the thing that topped it all off and almost made me cry (Okay, DID make me cry) was that amongst these Ladies, I was NOT A WEIRDO!! I cannot express to you what a feeling that was, to be surrounded by other women who enjoyed shooting! For the first time in the nearly two years since I had bought my first firearm, I was NOT standing out in the crowd as the only female - I was SURROUNDED by females! In fact, I think the only man around for miles, was the shooting legend Jerry Miculek, and that's just because he lived there. For the duration of that camp, the great Jerry M. was relegated to hauling benches, setting stages, and snaking the septic line after the ladies clogged it up. It was completely surreal, and an experience I will NEVER forget!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Down Zero!

I had my pistol class under my belt and was set loose --- now what? I needed to practice... and practice... and practice in order to appease the inner control freak and get comfortable. But I wasn't a member of a gun club, nor did I know anybody who was a member of a gun club. Thus, I took to the internet again and found a nearby public range set up by the state DNR. That worked for a little while.

But the problem was that I was a 46 year old female alone at a public range out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I was the only one there, which I preferred. But sometimes I wasn't.  Most people were nice, but they were nearly always men, and nearly all of them couldn't resist the "Hey little lady, whatcha shootin' over there" kind of approach. Some of them gave me the heebie jeebies. I also didn't like leaving my pistol on the bench unattended around some of those guys when I went downrange.

The solution appeared in form of my pistol class instructor. He sent an email around to his class grads saying that he was holding a little pistol demo at his club, and encouraged us "new grads" to come.  The demo match consisted of two simple "stages" - one with about 5 steel poppers (heavy metal plates that fall down when hit with a projectile), and one with three cardboard silhouettes. I was the only female (again), and four or five of the guys from our class showed up. Let me tell you that the first time I made one of those poppers go "ting" and fall down - I was hooked! It was immediate gratification and confirmation that I hit my target, and it was awesome! It was the start of a whole new world for me. My instructor mentioned that it was obvious that I had been practicing, and I told him about my woes on the public range. He offered to sponsor me into his club so that I could have a locked gate between me and the yahoos. Problem solved!

There was me - all the practice time behind a locked gate that a girl could want - and I took regular advantage of it for several months. But.... dare I say it?... I was getting bored. I was getting regular and consistent target hits, and that made me VERY happy, but there was no one to share it with. Sure, I posted a few pics of my targets on Facebook, but there's only so much of that you can do before you wear out your welcome. I was banging away at paper that just stood there, and I was doing it alone. By this point I knew from talking to guy friends and my brother that there were organizations called IDPA and USPSA out there that had you shooting with groups of people at different kinds of targets AND at the kinds of steel targets that gave me such a thrill that day my instructor set them up. But I was intimidated - didn't you need a holster for that kind of game? Didn't you need to be "good" in order to do that? But still, I took some baby steps in that direction.

I asked guypal and my brother for holster and belt advice. Turns out that a good stiff belt to hold it all up is almost as important as a good holster - who knew? Women's fashion belts were definitely not sturdy enough, so I ordered myself a good "instructor"-style belt. Then I ordered a good holster and even something called a "magazine pouch", which turned out to be not a pouch at all, but a molded cupped holder for pistol magazines that one wears opposite the holster side. Turns out that in order to play these shooting games that you need not just one, but several magazines to hold all your ammo, and thus several magazine pouches to hold your magazines. So, I kitted myself out in the meantime, but was essentially "all dressed up with no place to go".

While I was still hemming and hawing about trying out a club match, my brother took me to his range when I was up for a visit, and showed me the basic commands and things that I needed to know "if" I decided to try out a match. He showed me what a "safety area" was and how to use it. He had me draw and fire under commands several times to make sure I knew what I was doing, and doing it safely. ( Control Freak - remember? I needed to know exactly what to expect if/when I decided to take the plunge.)

To that end, once again the internet came to my rescue. I "Googled"... and "Googled" again - videos of USPSA and IDPA "stages" to watch, videos on working from a holster, and ultimately the names and locations of clubs who had matches that I might be able to attend. In the end I decided on IDPA - simply for convenience sake. The club where the monthly matches were held was 2 miles from my house, and everything else was over an hour away. I emailed the club president and match director, explained who I was, and what my skill level was, and asked for advice and information about attending a match. He replied with a "New Shooter's Packet", advice about what I needed to bring, and said that I should ask for him when I arrived at the match. He could not have been nicer, and it did ease my anxiety quite a bit.

The day of the match arrived, I found the IDPA club off a local rural road, and once again pulled into a grassy lot full of pick-up trucks -- alone. This was becoming a recurring theme. I asked for and found the Match Director and he guided me through the process of signing up for the match, even though I "thought" I just wanted to watch. He assigned me to a very kind young father and son who would walk with me and explain the match as we went. I had only watched two stages when the Match Director asked if I was ready to shoot. I hesitated, but I had brought my gear - it was in the car - and he knew it. He prodded me - "Oh c'mon, it'll be fun, just go gear up!".... So I did.

I nervously stepped up to the line, and the Safety Officer reminded me to have fun and be safe. He said to ignore the timer as much as possible and just make my hits. The timer went off, and when the dust cleared, I had finished my first stage! As I bent over to pick up my empty magazine, I remember hearing "Down zero... down zero.... down zero....I thought you said you were a new shooter?"

I just beamed!!! That was the best compliment anyone could have ever given me! And, it turns out - the best encouragement to continue in my new hobby. It was October 2009 - six months after I made my first gun purchase.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Handgun Education

So.... I decided to start my firearms education with a handgun. I had no idea, however, where to start or how to start. I bought and read books upon books about self-defense and handguns. But ultimately there is only so much reading one can do before actually "pulling the trigger" ( pun intended) on shopping in-person and an actual purchase.

Let me digress for a minute and explain how I came across my first group of gun advisers besides my previously mentioned guypal. A few months beforehand, while doing some research after reading my Dad's copy of Band of Brothers, I had stumbled across a website full of paratroopers. This group, known as APO, or is full of current and former "brothers of the silk", who after a few months of making sure I wasn't a looney ( Ha! fooled them!) became the most eager advisers for a first gun purchase that any woman could ever have. It was like having a website full of uncles and brothers looking over my shoulder! Now, I'm not recommending this route for everyone - it just happened to work out for me personally in a "serendipity" kind of way. And, I learned a whole new swearing lexicon in the process! There will be no repetition of these new terms here, however, as I am trying hard to not let these "colorful" terms creep their way into my pediatric usage accidentally!

So, it was to these guys that I first turned for advice. Between them and Guypal I got all kinds of suggestions for a first handgun - from a .22 Sig Mosquito, to an S&W .38 special revolver, to a Glock 19 and an XD 9. It was quite the selection to choose from, but it at least helped me narrow my choices. Much as all the great advice helped, it was done long-distance over the internet though, so it was still up to me to do the actual shopping -- alone.

The shopping part was a great challenge to my inner control freak. I tend to not like the unfamiliar, but at the same time, the novelty was a little exhilarating. Walking into that first gun shop was really thrilling, but also intimidating, and it didn't help that the proprietor was condescending and lied to me about the availability of the guns that I wanted to look at. He wanted me to buy what "he" wanted me to, and what he already had in stock, not what I was actually interested in and what fit me. Suffice to say that I left, and never went back.

After looking and handling several different models at several different stores and even a dreaded "gun show" (where I found that the VAST majority of sellers were actually licensed gun dealers, not nefarious criminals in trench coats) I finally settled on a Glock 19. It fit my hand, and had a reputation for running under almost any circumstances - in other words, I didn't think I could screw it up! The fellow behind the counter at the store was kind, and informative, and gladly showed me how to take it apart and put it back together. Thankfully due to the state that I live in, the paperwork was easy, the background check went quickly, and before I knew it, I was a firearms owner! Then, the entire drive home I kept thinking. "Oh my gawd, I have a gun in the car - NOW what do I do?" As I recall, the explanation I rehearsed for if I got pulled over before I got home would have probably had any State Trooper rolling his eyes and just sending me on my way.

The next step was to learn how to use my new purchase. Again, the men who offered me advice were long-distance friends, so I had pretty much no hope of any of them being able to teach me, and I knew ZERO women who were shooters. So I turned again to the internet. A web search for pistol instruction led me to the NRA website and and zipcode search for classes and certified instructors. I found that there was a Basic Pistol class in my area in a couple weeks - Ta-Da! I emailed the instructor ahead of time, because, being a control freak, I needed to know EXACTLY what to bring, EXACTLY where to go, was my pistol purchase okay, etc, etc, etc ad nauseum.

Fortunately for me, the instructor turned out to be a very indulgent fellow, who was very encouraging and answered all my questions by email before I even got there. It's a good thing too, because I had a huge surge of apprehension pulling in with my little Honda into the parking lot full of pickup trucks where the class was held. It reminded me of my first day of Med School - walking in as a 38 year old divorced mom. I had a huge surge of "Oh my GAWD, what am I DOING here?!"

Buuut, just like I survived Med School, I survived my first firearms class, and passed with flying colors! Whew!