Safety and Training

Training: Interacting With Female Shooters

Woman shooting a semi automatic handgun wearing a pink and brown ballcap

Like many of you, I have wide interests including history, my church, my family, and old cars, trucks, and jeeps. Shooting is just one part of my life, but a very important part. After all, the books and training are bread and butter. As a conservative in the true sense of appreciating and living American values, I believe in a free marketplace of thought, but I can be very persuasive in stating my views. When the opportunity comes to indoctrinate a young shooter into the proper use of a firearm, I am always ready.

Woman holding a silhouette target
This student is proud of her first round with the .22 revolver.

As might be expected, a goodly percentage of the shooters that attend my training classes are female shooters. Some have developed an interest in the shooting sports, others are curious. My good friend Audery came to support my efforts early on in the birthing pains of the training company. As always, she had a fine time interacting with others, asked good questions, and learned something about firearms.

Others attend the class because they have developed a survival instinct. For some, shooting brings a certain amount of a challenge. Done correctly, there is a challenge but the challenge isn’t insurmountable, and the subject matter and graduation exercises are geared to the shooter.

Most of the folks who attend my classes learn to use a handgun safely and attain a concealed carry permit. Few will become gun cranks, but there are some who get the bug. After all, handguns are interesting, but we cannot overpower the students with too much information. This applies in our personal lives as well.

Handgun instruction at the shooting range
Each student has individual problems and deserves individual instruction.

Many of us wear our interests on our sleeves. It doesn’t take a keen observer to spot a Harley Davidson fan. Some like knives and speak the language of steel. When curious, friends or acquaintances seek us out, and we should understand the place they are at the moment.

Going to the gun shop is sometimes a disastrous encounter. The good ol’ boys behind the counter could sometimes use a Dale Carnegie course. I am glad to see manufacturers offer products geared to female shooters. One of my daughters loves the pink handled firearm. The other girl, a serious shooter, could care less. One of my friends related an experience at a well-stocked shop. The clerk showed her a woman’s gun with pink handles. She is a shooter and knew what she wanted.

All of her life she has been told what car is best for a woman so she drives a truck. She is quite capable with a five speed or a .45. Remember, salespeople have to deal with every type of shooter and so do trainers, so let’s give them a break. As an example, I recently counseled a middle aged woman who would have liked to get a concealed carry permit until she found out she would have to fire the pistol! She didn’t mind the legal study and the NRA safety course, but just didn’t wish to fire the pistol. There is one in every crowd and salespeople have to deal with them.

Woman shooting a .22 caliber pistol
Beginning with the .22 caliber pistol leads to a lot of fun shooting!

However, the problems are not related to gender. Men and women make the same mistakes. Most purchase a first gun that is too big to carry. Others purchase a handgun that is too small for personal defense. A common mistake is purchasing a poor quality handgun.

Very few seem to stick with the first handgun they purchase. Only with good education and a bit of study behind them will they be able to make a choice that is beneficial. As an example, I am contacted by a good number of folks who do not yet own a handgun. They wish to take the course after they purchase their handgun. I strongly suggest that those who have not yet purchased a handgun take the course first. They will have a much better idea of the level of complication and comfort they are willing to adapt to. Fortunately, I have a wide mix of loaners.

There are lookouts for female shooters. Often, I find the females in my class have no one in the family who is a ‘gun person.’ This is increasingly common even in my southern state, and many of the students have moved from other states. It’s all new to them, and perhaps that is for the best. They are beginning with a clean slate.

Woman shooting a revolver for the first time
With the proper technique, moving from rimfire to centerfire handguns isn’t daunting.

I am going to state the facts from my experience. I may step on a few toes, but like a good preacher, if I do not stick to the Gospel, your blood is on my hands. Many of my female students become good shots. Some use the .45 automatic well. From a fledgling attorney to a 17-year-old reservist, the ‘girls’ have impressed at every turn.

Realistically, female shooters become good shots but seldom engage in as much maintenance as men. They do not enjoy cleaning a pistol as much as men do. I have to admit a certain embassy with them and do not enjoy cleaning as much as changing grips and springs. Men, of course, are much more likely to tinker with what isn’t broken and this comes up often as well. The female student isn’t inclined to field strip the pistol. The military girls in my classes are a different story, but then Uncle Sam has done a good job with them.

In common with male shooters, the first handgun a female shooter shoots or purchases should be a good quality .22 caliber. The Ruger Standard Model is close to perfect. For those who wish to skip the .22 and need a defensive handgun right now, the snub nose .38 is very difficult to argue against for many reasons. But the ideal course is to begin with the .22. For this reason, I keep a Ruger .22, Browning Buckmark, Colt .22, and a number of conversion units on hand.

Emily Campbell shooting 9mm Beretta handgun
Emily Campbell handles the Beretta 9mm well, but then, with a number of tours in Afghanistan and Iraq she should!

Let’s face it, if my friend, and ex MP, Joe Kelly isn’t too tough to qualify with the Colt .22, no one is! The most motivated students, unfortunately, are those who have previously been assaulted. Confidence in the handgun and a concealed carry permit, as well as a good working understanding of the firearm, go a long way toward aiding these women to defend themselves, if need be.

If you are the right kind of trainer, you can never let the ability to pay determine whether you take on a student. Many of these good girls are financially distressed as a result of their assault or the nerve-racking effects of an assailant or stalker. I cannot recall the number of young girls and elderly women robbed, beaten, or assaulted in my city. I wish they had been better able to defend themselves, but on more than one occasion, the assailant has made a bad choice in victim selection. The result is gratifying to the right-minded.

The choice in handguns for a female comes up often, and often the choice is made before they take the class. The .38 snubnose revolver remains an excellent, all-around choice for most female shooters. Perhaps the worst performance I have seen is from female shooters armed with some type or .40 sub compact, purchased by a well meaning parent or spouse. It is like buying your Dad the gun you really wanted for Christmas.

woman loading a revolver at the shooting range
This young lady wrote for Belle Magazine and wanted to see what it was all about. She had a lot of fun!

I have had male students who also had difficulty with these light, high-pressure numbers. If I could not control a 9mm automatic or a snub .38, I would skip the rest and go straight to the .22 Magnum. I think veteran cops, hunters, and the author are all in embassy on that one. If you cannot control a .38, then the .22 Magnum is the piece for you.

A revolver may create a bulge on a woman’s hip like a boa that has swallowed a possum, and she may prefer a light 9mm. But the revolver may be placed against a felon’s chest and the trigger pulled repeatably. It will not jam in the worse case scenario, an intimate-range attack.

Many of us have been shooting for 30 years or more and know our business. This wisdom may seem murky to students and is best delivered incrementally. The female student—and the male—may not realize that just any handgun won’t stop an assailant. She may not quite understand the difference in quality between handguns. Then again, males are sometimes no better at choosing quality gear. A man whose mind has been clouded by the popular press and various unscientific studies and secret sources is no less difficult to sway. But women learn quickly and once they are determined to learn to shoot, watch out! There is, however, another piece to the puzzle.

woman sitting at the table of a gun class
Pay attention in class and your development is guaranteed.

An important fact was slow to dawn on me, but it remains true. Many women regard those of us who are armed as a lifestyle with about as much fear as they fear thugs. Don’t doubt it! Recently, an elderly friend at church, the archetypical, fine southern woman remarked that it was a shame that even in her rural neighborhood she had to go to the expense of having a burglar alarm installed. She remarked that her 74-year-old husband was too old to fight.

I replied that the alarm was a good version, but any alarm could be bypassed. I counseled that she should consider a pistol under her pillow. (Despite the many modern devices for keeping a handgun close by in safety, my Grandmother kept a pistol under the pillow. It worked for her.) The fine woman bristled and replied, ‘We have never had a pistol and never will!’ I can only pray for her.

Another almost criminal mindset is propagated by a commercial I am certain you have all seen. A woman returns from what seems a happy date or perhaps a woman is home with the children. As she settles in, a perpetrator kicks the door open. In one rendition of the commercial the woman calls the man’s name. There is the inferred situation of an abusive or violent ex. The alarm sounds and the intruder panics and leaves.

Woman with pink muffs shooting a revolver
The author’s friend Audrey isn’t ‘gunny’ but a great supporter.

Those of us who have served as peace officers find this advertisement sheer marketing nonsense. An alarm, particularly a fire alarm, is a fine thing but this commercial is a fantasy. An intruder motivated by profit may indeed run if he finds someone at home. But an abusive, violent offender doesn’t care. They are bent on causing human misery and suffering.

They have been recognized, what do they care? They are in practically as much trouble if they leave or stay. I don’t know what the police response time is in your area, but I bet it isn’t five minutes. And I enjoy living in the jurisdiction of a very good Sheriff’s Department. A lot of mayhem may be perpetrated in five minutes. This is the kind of unadulterated BS we have to address and offer a counter education to in our training classes.

I am not going to gloss over the psychological differences between men and women, as they are vast. I think that what is interesting is the choices women make. They are often very independent. When it comes to firearms instruction the father or spouse concerned with the female’s progress needs to turn them over to a qualified trainer. The give and take inherent in a loving relationship is diminished when one becomes the trainer.

Woman shooting a semi automatic handgun wearing a pink and brown ballcap
This young woman is a fine shot, and for some time was the author’s right hand in training.

The female student will become discouraged with initial poor results until she realizes that it can be done. A few demonstrations of the possibilities and then hands on skill building is required. Women do not have the ego problems men often do and progress quickly. If the student has the will to learn, they will. And when you are dealing with the distaff side, always remember that female shooters are very important for us if the shooting sports are to survive thrive and grow.

Sometimes shooters are on the edge and need a liberal dose of reality. While men are equally blind to danger, they seem to feel that they can handle situations they cannot. Females simply believe that they are somehow immune to danger. It may seem self-serving for a trainer to attempt them to convince them to take the class, but nationwide we all need to take the same track. Everyone needs training!

However, with all due respect to the equality of the sexes women need training more than men. Women are more often targeted as victims of violent attack. Serial killers and active shooters alike are far more likely to target women in their rampages. Often, women are the primary targets and men have simply gotten in the way. Women are not a minority; there are as many women as men more or less. Many female shooters are interested in the sport and also interested in personal defense. If you were in a gun-related sales field, you would do well to treat them well. If you are a professional trainer, you must be alert to the nuances and differences of female thought. To ignore this significant portion of the shooting fraternity is a disservice to all concerned.

What training differences do you see between women and men? As a woman which handgun do you prefer or does the female shooter in your life prefer? What lessons have you learned in a shooting class? Share your answers in the comment section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (17)

  1. Probably true, but for my aunt, her hands small and not much strength…she really needed something smaller and controllable. Thank so much for your input.

  2. I’m a certified NRA pistol instructor, military veteran, and have trained at Gunsite and Whittington Center. I teach a women’s defensive pistol class which is most often attended by ladies who have gotten their carry license but don’t really know how to shoot or much about gun safety. (I only teach women because all men already know more than I do!)
    I’ve had wonderful results and it is very satisfying to see women show up in the morning unsure about their pistol and abilities, then leave 8 hours later confident and competent, and most importantly safe. I even had our county sheriff ask me to teach his wife as he realized that spouses are not the best teachers.
    Obviously eight hours is only a good start, but I emphasize the importance of practice. I’ve had two ladies go on to train at Gunsite and elsewhere and start an NRA Well Armed woman chapter in our little town.

  3. I’m a 5′ female who has shot many guns and train as often as possible. I have my concealed carry as well. Nobody would ever know that I carry either my .40 or my 45 on my hip at all times. But that’s just me. The one bothersome thing is when a female goes to a gun store with little training who wants a weapon for protection, and the salesman sells her a 357! True story…this happened to my aunt some time after she had been raped. She is now living closer to family and is carrying her 380 which obviously suits her much better. Great article by the way. God Bless America!

    1. TS, I’ve been both a trainer and gun store sales rep and I can tell you the .357 makes plenty of sense BECAUSE it will take all levels of .38Spl ammo as well. Many users never progress beyond wadcutters in their Magnum and that’s ok. But reality is many of the .38 models are dying off in favor of the .357 because manufacturers need to streamline the product offerings.

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