But before I launch into that story, I have to give a little background first.
As I keep saying, I've only been at this shooting thing for a little over 4 years now. But my kids have noticed. So much so that they started asking if "they" could learn to shoot. Now, "kids" is a bit of a misnomer, as they are all young adults, but I was happy that I was at least having an influence. Even though I've been at it a few years, I still didn't feel like I had the expertise to properly teach them myself. Because of that insecurity, I had been kind of putting them off, with a "yes - when we can find time...", and "maybe I can find somebody competent to teach you ... sometime...". I finally realized that I was being a bit like my own father, and I needed to find a fix while they were still interested young people.
We found a perfect solution when my oldest daughter (middle child) decided that she'd like to go to Babes with Bullets Camp as her 21st birthday present. It was a great compromise - I wouldn't have to teach her myself, I could go too, and get some more intermediate level experience, and we could have some bonding time together. Now, because daughter #1 has inherited a bit of my control freak tendency (go figure!), she wanted to at least handle and fire a handgun BEFORE she got to camp. So, in the end, I was forced to do a little teaching after all. We found a day we were both free, packed the range bag, and off we went. It worked out very well - I was proud of both of us for how we performed as student and teacher. She got enough of an introduction to feel more comfortable, but not enough for me to pass on any bad habits - ha!
Camp was in Michigan in June 2013. It made for a great mother-daughter family roadtrip, as she had been in her own apartment for several years, and we don't have daily contact anymore. I was glad that I decided to be a camper as well, since I had rather plateaued-out in my pistol skills at that point. I had developed some ruts and bad habits to be pried out of, and I wasn't sure if I was a hopeless case or not. This was probably a good thing for daughter#1, since it ensured that we would be in different squads, and I would thus not be able to be too much of a "mother" while we were there (She is 21 and living on her own, after all). I did pull rank on her and made her sleep in the top bunk in the lodge though. She says I didn't snore too much, but I think she was just being polite. I suppose I could have always claimed that it was the stuffed rhinoceros in the lobby she was hearing...
It turned out to be a great experience for both of us. My daughter learned a new skill, and Lisa Munson and Sheila Brey were able to pry me out of my rut. We both absorbed a ton of new information, met new friends, and learned some valuable lessons. AND, I was still able to snap a few pictures here and there. It also helped that the other women on my daughter's squad became self-appointed informants (moms stick together - just remember that, kiddies!), who assured me that she was doing great and seemed to be really enjoying herself. This is a girl who played rugby in high school, so I knew she was a tough cookie and would do well. I was exceedingly proud of her.
Upon our return home, we gushed so much at dinner about our experience that both of my other children again expressed interest. My son, who is 25, is not obviously a candidate for Babes Camp, but I told him if he was genuinely interested that I could try to find him some qualified instruction. Then my almost 17 year old daughter piped up and asked how old you had to be to go to Babes Camp. Hmmm, that was a good question. Since she was a minor, I wasn't sure, but I promised her that I would find out.
In the interim, I attended the AR-15.com Rockcastle 3-Gun Championship and Babes With Bullets 3Gun Challenge that I wrote about previously, and a plan began to form. I was told by Babes that a mature 17 year old would be permitted to attend Camp with a parent, and in fact the October camp was scheduled for that very location at Rockcastle Shooting Center. Considering the great Shooting Center venue, and how educational I found Mammoth Cave National Park to be, I thought this would be the perfect setting for taking daughter #2 out of school for a couple days of "Family Educational Roadtrip" as a 17th birthday gift. I'm normally a very conscientious parent as far as letting my children skip school. But this child is an "A" student, and a marching band member since she was twelve. She is very responsible and knows what is expected of her. I was also afraid that if I didn't grab the opportunity "this" season, that next year being her senior year, the opportunity would be lost in the shuffle. I didn't feel guilty about having her miss a day and a half of school in order to tour a national park, and learn a skill that she would be able to use for the rest of her life.
So the plan was hatched for October 2013 Babes Camp at the Rockcastle Shooting Center.
Unfortunately, there was an unexpected fly in ointment of what was a perfect plan for daughter and I - the government shut-down of October 2013. Because of the shutdown the previous week, Mammoth Cave - along with all other National Park Service properties - was closed. Fortunately, private enterprise came to our educational rescue, and we were able to tour two privately operated caves in the area - Diamond Caverns and Hidden River Cave - one a "tourist" cave, and the other a cave and museum that provided an excellent education on groundwater flows and dangers of surface contamination. We learned a good bit about the geology and ecology of caves, but daughter#2 was not enthralled with the cave crickets - they looked a little too much like big spiders -- shiver! We were able to have our educational experience after all, but we had a back-up plan just in case. I figured if all else failed, and anybody asked, were going to say that our educational trip was for "Field Studies in Applied Ballistics". Who can argue with studying physics? LOL!
For camp this time around, I had decided not to be a camper myself. Having just attended in June with daughter#1, I was still working on what I had learned then. But, since I still had to play chauffeur for daughter#2, I decided to offer my services as a go-fer and helper, and offered that I would just pay for my own lodging and meals. Deb Ferns immediately accepted my offer by email and said they always needed extra hands. Thus was born, a Babes camp "Minion" - LOL!
My Minion duties proved to be a valuable experience, as it enabled me to see an entirely different view from behind the firing line. When you are a camper, you are busy stuffing your brain with new experience up on the line - you aren't aware of what is happening "Backstage" to make it all run smoothly.
The main thing I saw is that there are no such things as Gun Camp Fairies - these ladies work their behinds off!
The work started well before I ever arrived on the scene -from organizing registrations and payments via computer, to arranging lodging and meals for the campers. Then apparently, there was packing up the trailer at the Miculeks with loaner guns, equipment and ammo, and the drive to the locale. Once there, someone had to arrange check-ins, and someone else had to start fitting the ladies with loaner equipment, and keeping track of who got what.
While all that was happening, I was occupied with making sure that daughter was where she needed to be, and got the equipment she needed. But as soon as she was set and in good hands, I was off to be a Minion.
My duties included: running errands to buy water and supplies, handing out camp-supplied ammo from sponsor Atlanta Arms and Ammo - while keeping track of who owed how much for how many boxes, refilling water bottles for instructors who couldn't leave the line, taping up hot spots on hands, and band-aiding boo-boos. I was also tool runner, ride-giver, assistant target stapler, and photo printer. Also when things got busy, I got drafted into helping supervise gun bagging and unbagging for the beginners at the safe table. Because I was able to help, that meant that someone else was freed up to provide extra teaching and eyes on the line, so I was very glad to do it. In fact, it was an honor to "give back" a little to a program that has given me such a boost.
Just as I had hoped, my daughter took to the whole experience like a duck to water - even better than some adults do, I was told. I can't help but think that this is due to her marching band and majorette experience. The girl marched for seven miles in high heeled go-go boots in the Tournament of Roses Parade. She is quite used to spending long hours on her feet in the hot sun, following commands and listening for further instructions. Gun camp was probably a piece of cake compared to that. She fit right in with a group of women who were old enough to be her mother. She was even a year younger than Lena Miculek, who was an instructor at this camp. I was very proud of her, and I got to take a lot of pictures.
While all this was happening, in the interim minutes when I could perch on my camp stool and just "watch", I got to witness an amazing transformation take place. There were women here, including my daughter, who had never handled a firearm before in their lives. (Unlike her sister, we weren't able to get daughter#2 to the range for an intro before camp). In two and a half days, I watched these women go from tentative, timid beginners to safe, purposeful shooters. They went from first shot ever, to drawing from a holster and shooting while moving -- in less than 3 days. It was inspiring! The instructors were patient, kind, reassuring, encouraging, supportive ... I need some more adjectives here. It was also fun to watch the campers "gel" together as a group. Some had come with a buddy, or had been to a previous camp, but they were strangers to "eachother". By the end of the first day, there were fast-friends made, and mutual support happening. I seriously doubt that many other firearms courses have participants giving each other hugs, and exchanging email addresses by session's end. I've experienced it several times myself, but it was interesting to watch it happen as an outside observer this time.
Honestly, the camaraderie is the thing that keeps me coming back. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I don't have many female shooting friends that are local. I even joined A Girl & A Gun Women's Shooting League in hope of finding some more local women to shoot with, but there aren't any chapters near me yet. So, Babes events are where I get my "girls and guns" fix. It's where I'm not a weirdo. It's where I fit in. Even my daughter noticed. She mentioned to me how much she enjoyed going out to dinner with the group of campers and instructors. She really got a kick out of listening to the stories everyone told, and the adventures the instructors talked about. Unlike most teens, she didn't mind being the youngest one at the table, and listening in. How many times does your kid tell you THAT??!
The icing on the cake experience for me was the Mini-match on the morning of the last day. This is where the instructors set up three mini "stages" as if the campers were shooting a USPSA match. I expected that I would just be watching my daughter. But then I was asked if I wanted to shoot too. I brushed it off, with a "No-No, I'm a Minion this time - this is her turn". But I was encouraged again several times, and I finally gave in and drove back up to the lodge to grab my gear. I'm so glad I did. It was a tremendous experience as a mom to be able to shoot with my youngest child on the same squad, and to be able to watch her demonstrate her new skills. I was even running the score sheets while she was shooting. How many moms get to do that? To say that I was merely proud of her would be an egregious understatement! And her mile-wide grin told me everything I needed to know about how much she enjoyed herself.
Now, to teach my son...