January 8th, 2012 12:33 PM
Tips/Tricks to Instructing Women
I've seen lots of people on here either getting or wanting to get their instructor credentials and asking for advice. If there is one thing I've learned from both shooting as a woman but also instructing it is that men and women are different. I've spent a few years on ranges and in classes and have learned some things by great instructors that have really helped me and other women gain better control over their firearms. I've also seen some practices that not only fail to help women but frustrate them and make them feel defeated.
Even in our own classes, I appreciate that my husband has the insight to know when his techniques are not working and the humility and grace to turn a student over to me (particularly a female student) and watch her develop. It was a great compliment to hear him tell me I have a way with some students that seems to just click and flourish. When I stopped teaching on the range due to my pregnancy he asked me to give him some tips to teach those more tender students since I couldn't be there to do it myself and the following is what I came up with.
First, however, if you are a spouse or significant other and think this is going to be a guide to get your wife/significant other to shoot I'm afraid you are in the wrong thread. This is for women who already want to learn. Also, if your spouse or significant other DOES want to learn to shoot and you want to teach her, use these tips at your own risk. It's been the experience of many an instructor that spouses or boyfriends as instructors are bad things. The emotional dynamic can ruin a lot of good advice.
Second, this is advice for instructors of newer shooters. More advanced classes require an expectation of pressure and challenge and come with their own dynamics and, hopefully, your female students will already know and understand their differences and have a working knowledge on what she needs to do to keep up with her classmates. For the new shooter, however, there are some male/female dynamics that an instructor of those students can use to help understand the differences between his (or her) male and female students.
So, with that being said, let's roll.
The Issue: Strength
A woman's strength comes from her hips and core. No matter what television will have you believe, a relatively wimpy guy is still going to have more upper body strength than even some of your more muscularly-toned female students.
How It Affects Shooting
A woman's lack of upper body strength means she's going to experience muscle fatigue faster and need a little more effort in being able to control a larger caliber firearms or small firearms with medium calibers that pack a lot of punch. This is going to result in poor grouping and flinching which results in thrown shots. As fatigue increases her hands may shake or cramp, her shoulders might hurt and she may have a hard time keeping her arms stable. It might also result in pain in the hands and frustration with shooting in general.
What You Can Do About It
Remind her that her strength comes from her core and that if she tries to rely solely on her upper body strength she's not going to have a good experience for long. For long-term shooting and results, a woman needs to learn to use her whole body in the shooting process. I often tell my female students to "press" the gun out towards the target as though they were trying to push open a heavy gate with the muzzle of the gun. If she doesn't get the visualization you can do a practical application and have her press on a wall or door (with some resistance applied) with her bare hands. She may start pressing with just her arms but when it doesn't move she will automatically lower her center of gravity and start pressing from her abdomen and channel that strength up and into her arms. That is the state she wants to be in when shooting. It will increase her control and her stamina.
This "press" will also help her extend the firearm in a such a way as to obtain the optimal grip and sight alignment. I have yet to see a female student who does not improve to even a minimal degree after learning to engage her core and channel that strength into her upper body.
If she does get to the point of muscle fatigue that cannot be fixed, you can transfer her to a rest where she can work on sight alignment, trigger control and grip without worrying about her arms shaking or failing and ruining her experience.
The Issue: Grip
She has smaller hands that are going to minimize her contact with the firearm and make her have to work for control.
How It Affects Shooting
If you tell a woman her grip is not strong enough her natural response is going to be just to clamp down harder with her hands. This might be necessary to a certain degree if she really does have a lax grip but you don't want her to be white-knuckling it either. Her hands are going to reach a point of fatigue very quickly, she's going to loose control and start to see the negative results in her target.
What You Can Do About It
The first step in correcting a grip is, of course, to make sure as much flesh as possible is contacting the firearm. It makes sense that the more contact you have with something the better control you will have of it. After that, instead of concentrating solely on getting her to increase the strength of her grip, work her up from her core to her fingers. "Engage your abdomen.. now your shoulders... now your arms.. now your hands." Remind her of that strong press like she's trying to press open a door with the muzzle of her firearm. You'll find her control will increase but it will be proportionate to the rest of her body, more easily sustainable and won't cause cramping or fatigue in her hands.
The Issue: Flinch
A woman hears better than a man and her hands are more sensitive.
How It Affects Shooting
That little explosion men don't think is all that big of a deal can be much more of an assault to a woman's senses. It leads to quite a bit of flinching that, of course, has negative results on targets.
What You Can Do About It
Unless it's a female only class, I recommend not putting a woman on the firing line first unless she volunteers. Let her body adjust to the noise of gunfire. If you watch first time students closely, when those first shots go off it's almost always the women you will see involuntarily jumping. It has nothing to do with her unwillingness to be there. It does not mean she's afraid or timid. It just means her body is doing what it's suppose to do by alerting her and preparing her to fight or flee. Of course, it goes without saying that you should never make a woman feel ashamed for having an automatic startle response. It is a very natural, physiological response to such an assault to the senses. If, however, a particular student seems to be extra sensitive to the noise of gunfire it's a good idea to keep a can of disposable ear plugs and an extra pair of muffs in your range bag and offer them to her discreetly so that she can double her hearing protection.
Once she has adjusted to the noise of gunfire it's time to adjust to recoil. Anyone who has taught firearms knows that both men and women develop flinches. Many times they do not know they are flinching because it comes at the exact moment the gun goes off and gets lost in the recoil. Dry firing and alternating dummy cartridges with live ammo are known and reliable techniques for identifying a flinch.
Sometimes, however, the flinch is caused by the gun itself. Often times a woman is sent to class with her husband's gun or a gun that her husband has picked for her or even a gun she picked for herself based upon it's small size and her lack of education and understanding of recoil vs felt recoil can mean she is very shocked and uncomfortable with the gun she is shooting. Though it is, indeed, important for her to learn to control her own firearm or the firearm she is going to use, if she never gets a feel for what shooting can be she may be too frustrated and put off from shooting to even try to master her own gun.
Having a mid or full size firearm in a medium caliber can be one of your greatest teaching aids. While many instructors will move to a .22 I strongly believe that past the first couple of confidence-building shots you are doing your students a disservice if you don't encourage them to move on to a higher caliber that forces them to incorporate more control. My Glock 19 gets a major work out during classes as I will often have my female students put a few rounds through it if they are struggling with their own firearms. The caliber is big enough where they are going to have to incorporate more strength and grip for better control, the firearm is large enough to absorb a good amount of felt recoil and allow for a good, solid grip, and it's not too heavy or big to the point they are intimidated by it or feel their flinch is getting worse.
Of course it's not always cost effective to let students use your gun and ammo if they are having problems with their own so I try to keep the round count they put through my gun to be about a magazine worth and those 15 rounds or so (when used effectively) are enough to show the student what I wanted them to glean and we move back to their own firearm. If, however, they are also shooting 9mm I don't worry about the wear on my gun and allow them to use their own ammo in my gun if they would prefer.
Calibers such a .40 S&W, .357 SIG, 10mm, .357 MAG, or almost any mid-size caliber in a pocket-sized pistol are more likely to result in flinching so keep an eye on women who bring these firearms into class. Do not make them feel weak or tease them about their firearm choice but be ready to step in and assist if/when the flinching starts.
Another type of flinch comes from adjusting the grip at the moment the gun fires. It's often caused by the pinky pulling the firearm down and results in low impacts on the target. If you've already ruled out sight alignment, temporarily have your student take a overlapping pinky grip like so...
The student does not have to shoot like this constantly, just until they learn to not let their pinky pull their shots low. This is especially helpful on small pocket guns that men often cannot even get a pinky on but women can. Because of the small size women can wrap their hands around them more effectively (including their pinky) you will often see more pinky interference as they clamp down on the firearm in anticipation for the high amount of felt recoil they are about to experience.
Women are not men. A simple comment of, "Don't be an idiot," to a man can be laughed off but the same comment to a woman could result in her not wanting to participate for fear she is making a fool of herself. A woman who is afraid of looking like a fool does need a bit of hand-holding, encouragement and reassurance. They will often take your words very literally so instead of saying, "line up the sights and pull the trigger" you may have to say, "Line up your sights, and, while keeping those sights aligned, apply steady pressure to the trigger..." etc.
Not many woman likes to be singled out of the group or used as an example (even if it's a good example), especially if she is not yet confident in what she is being asked to demonstrate and/or the only female in class. Both praise and correction should be done one-on-one and I find that using the "sandwich" method works best for keeping both men and women positive. I find one thing they are doing right, one thing they need to work on and another thing to praise them for.
Of course there is a time to get more strict and bossy (particularly if there are any safety concerns) but for beginners who are just taking their first shots I try to keep the atmosphere reassuring and positive.
Particularly, with women, the more comfortable, confident and relaxed they are the better their accuracy will be. If they are intimidated, scared, worried or embarrassed you will see it in their target. There is a time for pressure, artificial stress and challenging but it shouldn't be until the student has gotten comfortable with the basics of safety and control. The more stress and pressure you put on a new student the more you are going to see safety start to slip (fingers on the triggers, muzzles starting to wander, etc). Remind them it's perfectly okay to put the gun down and walk away or ask questions. Asking questions always makes a woman feel like you are interested in their experience and helping them... "How did that shot feel to you?" "How does that grip feel?" "Do you feel balanced on your feet?" And following up her answers with assurances or suggestions. She'll feel guided rather than dictated which will go a long way to making a positive connection with her.
Of course, as my final disclaimer, these are only a few tips from a woman shooter and instructor. Each individual is unique as is each class and this is by no means a generality for all women. Nor does it mean there isn't a lot more out there on the subject.
January 8th, 2012 01:26 PM
Wow, superb post. Thank you.
For those who are looking for a book about teaching women to shoot, I recommend Vicki Farnam's excellent books
Teaching Women to Shoot: a Law Enforcement Instructor's Guide
Women Learning to Shoot: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers
January 8th, 2012 01:58 PM
that was great. Thank you. I've taught a lot of women to shoot, mostly rescued from hubby/boyfriend, but the overlapping pinky and pushing the gate open are definitely going to get incorporated. I've found many women are reluctant when told to bend forward at the waist to get their weight behind the gun - your gate example is going to help a lot. I've gone to your website and corneredcat for info as well. Any other tips would be appreciated.
January 8th, 2012 02:39 PM
women , no one actually, takes kindly to being smart mouthed, harshly criticized or demeaned when they came to be learned
many corrections, be it posture, grip...wharever--often are better understood when some background regarding why or how it is that the way I'm trying to show you, works
also in working with women i always explain how it is that we are going to be very close together physically at times
ask if this is OK with them and to let me know if at any time they become uncomfortable
never had a problem.
i believe that if you reason something out together in advance, all involved having input, troubles are very thin if at all.
Arthritis sucks big-big
Why do those elected to positions of power than work so hard
to deny those same opportunities to the same people who empowered them
January 8th, 2012 03:11 PM
Thanks for the excellent post Lima. As one of those people who recently had a thread about getting my instructor ratings. I greatly appreciate it.
One thing I noticed when my training counselors let me sit in on a couple classes, is that generally the women bring a lot less ego to the courses, and are more willing to take suggestions to improve how they are shooting. Men seem to think they should be shooting a ragged one hole group (even with their brand new pistol they have never shot before), and start getting frustrated when they don't, making their group size bigger.
I've seen several female students who just seem happy to get a round on the target, then a few rounds later they realize it isn't that hard, and how to make adjustments to sight picture, and then they wind up with some pretty good groups (sometimes better than their husband/bf's groups).
Anytime I take a new shooter (which I have done for a while when a friend would ask), male or female, to the range I take along a Mark 3 22/45, a mid sized .38 (like my S&W model 64), and my Sig 225. I have found that these firearms are pretty user friendly to everyone, for the reasons you describe. Then if they feel comfortable and want to shoot a .45 I let them, but aside from a gentle nudge to the .38/9mm after a few good mags, I let the progression go at their own pace.
Fortes Fortuna Juvat
Former, USMC 0311, OIF/OEF vet
NRA Pistol/Rifle/Shotgun/Reloading Instructor, RSO, Ohio CHL Instructor
January 8th, 2012 03:42 PM
As a new female shooter/soon to be carrier, I love reading your stuff and watching your videos. You should consider putting all of this into a book for women. I have not read other books or websites of other female expert shooters/instructors (I'm sure there are dozens out there and maybe this has already been covered?) But you seem to have covered subjects relating to female shooters that the guys just can't cover in a way a woman can. Your info on carrying while pregnant and concealing under a woman's wardrobe were very informative for me and I will definitely refer back to it when necessary. Great job!
January 8th, 2012 03:56 PM
A well thought out and articulated post.
"There is a secret pride in every human heart that revolts at tyranny. You may order and drive an individual, but you cannot make him respect you." William Hazlitt (1778 - 1830)
Best Choices for Self Defense Ammunition
January 8th, 2012 04:39 PM
If I had to place a wager, I'd say that probably 90 percent (at least) of all bad teachers fail because they talk too much. Students learn by doing. The goal of a firearm instructor at the beginning stage should be to get the student drilled and knowledgeable on the rules of safety. Sight picture, stance, and gun operation should be kept brief and try to get the shooter to run through several magazines before making any corrections, assuming the bullets are safely going downrange.
The new shooter needs to just get comfortable pulling the trigger, handling recoil, and needs some personal time for experimentation and familiarization.
Then, the instructor can begin to impart small bits of information on an as-needed basis. None of this contradicts anything Lima has said above - this is only in addition to her remarks.
"It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first."
January 8th, 2012 05:17 PM
Just a few related thoughts: I find that men are more likely to anticipate recoil than women. Women tend to have more difficulty with sight alignment. I never allow a man to be on the range next to his wife or daughter. Not much is more pleasurable as an instructor than to teach a woman to shoot better than her husband in the same class. Is that wrong of me?
I hate hearing "I'm going to teach my wife to shoot then she can take a class" in the gun store. That's a recipe for bad training, frustration, and failure.
The preceding post may contain sarcasm; it's just better that way. However, it is still intended with construction and with the Love of my L-rd Y'shua.
NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, Tennessee Certified Instructor
January 8th, 2012 09:46 PM
Another gun/caliber to avoid for new shooters is the airweight .38. I once saw an elderly man give it up after firing 5 shots from his brand new airweight.
February 22nd, 2012 09:33 PM
February 23rd, 2012 07:32 AM
Limatunes - please seriously consider writing a book. Two books: one for instructors who anticipate having ladies in class and one for ladies who wish to carry. Write it in Word and self-publish through Lulu.com. I'm in for a two copies of each!
February 23rd, 2012 09:03 AM
What a good lesson and thread. I chuckled every so often as you convinced me that men and women are different. Never realized that and I have been married 50 years--ha ha. In my house my wife has no interest in firearms etal and I learned "yes dear" many years ago. When I want a new toy it really is simple--I get my new "jewelery" and she gets her new "jewelery". Her diamonds, however, are more expensive than my semi autos.
February 23rd, 2012 10:03 AM
I have taught several womens Only handgun classes.
My best advice for anyone trying/doing this.
Suggest and guide them. Don't tell them what YOU think they want to know.
Provide the information they need to know and enjoy the class.
PS. I have also noticed that the women don't think they were born knowing how to shoot.
February 23rd, 2012 10:11 PM
Great post... I mentioned it to my wife and she was like "yeah that makes total sense". I swear even after being married for years on end I am still learning about her
"The world is filled with violence. Because criminals carry guns, we decent law-abiding citizens should also have guns. Otherwise they will win and the decent people will lose."
-James Earl Jones
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