It took me about 10 minutes Sunday morning to get grumpy. It wasn't that I was exhausted from Saturday's striper fishing trip - my third consecutive guided outing this year with nothing to show for it, and my first trip of the year under a blazing sun.
No, it was my computer. When I turned it on at 6:45 a.m. and checked for cool stories on hunting and comments on my blog, there it was. Someone had told me about a fun annual squirrel hunt in October. I'd said, Hey, I'll be in that state in October. Maybe I can go. He responded overnight, No, it's men only.
Well, thanks for letting me know about it, I thought. If I grow a "Y" chromosome by October, count me in.
I could go on at greater length, using vivid language, about how this made me feel, but as luck would have it, the reason I was waking up at that hour was that I was heading out with my friend Hellen and her friend Lucrezia to a women's shooting clinic at the True Sportsman Club in Amador County.
I don't know exactly why men need their own outings, though I'm guessing it has to do with free-for-all farting, frank discussions about the knockers they saw on some chick the other day and complete freedom to express their doggy nature.
But I can tell you why women need our own outings: Because we've been shut out. Rich, the True Sportsman Club instructor who kicked off the day Sunday with a basic lesson about firearms, even apologized for it. "If you go into a sporting goods store, chances are you'll be treated with a little less respect than men," he said.
Beyond that, we're pretty intimidated about learning to shoot around men because we don't want to look like we "shoot like girls."
Rich assured the 34 or so women at Sunday's event that women in fact make fine shooters because of our generally strong hand-eye coordination. And today was the day they could put that to the test, shooting a wide range of firearms for the first time, not just without fear of looking stupid in front of men, but with the knowledge they would be surrounded by women, who have a tremendous knack for supporting one another.
These women came for a variety of reasons: Some were afraid of guns and wanted to conquer that fear. Some had always wanted to learn how to shoot.
Hellen and Lucrezia came to take their first shooting lessons ever because they want to learn to hunt. Hellen is my colleague, the English professor, who learned that I was a duck hunter when we were at our university's graduation in December and promptly announced she wanted to hunt ducks too. (Click here for that story, and here for all the steps she's taken since then.)
Lucrezia, Hellen's friend from San Francisco, had inherited a shotgun from her grandfather and wanted to learn how to hunt with it.
Lucrezia's biggest fear going into Sunday's clinic was not shooting well. She's a perfectionist. She really wanted to nail it. I hear you, sister.
Hellen feared recoil. She'd already tagged along on two hunts to see if she was OK with the killing part of hunting, as well as the grime and early hours. She'd even bought waders, a jacket and a blind bag. But she's tiny, and she worried that guns were going to smack her around too much.
The women were split into three groups that would rotate through stations: shotgun, rifle, handgun. Our group started off with handguns, which was a great disappointment to Hellen, who had no interest in them at all.
Until she started shooting. Check this out. To see more clearly what she's doing to the knock-down targets, click on the photo to see a larger version.
So, yeah, she was pretty excited about that. And she liked it even better when she shot the paper targets, because now she has something to tack up in her office at the university. Late with your homework again? Really...
Wah, I don't want to shoot handguns. Indeed.
After that, we all sat down for lunch at picnic tables under a mulberry tree, and wow, was it cool watching the transformation in the women. They'd arrived in the morning looking not so much nervous, but closed-down, faces not revealing anything. Now everyone was smiling, excited and relieved. They didn't suck! They weren't afraid anymore!
Next was rifle shooting with all kinds of .22s - lever action, bolt action, peep sights, scoped, the works. Lucrezia was a madwoman. When other women were retiring to the shade - Lord, it was HOT - she kept jumping up over and over again to slay the targets.
Back in the shade, Hellen and I sat near a mother and daughter who'd come out together. "Your daddy would be so proud," mom said. Daddy used to be an Army sharpshooter.
"I've always wanted to go shooting with him," the daughter said, "but he's never taken me."
In unison, the women around the table said, "He will now!"
Finally, it was time for shotguns. The women in our group would be shooting trap. The club provided a variety of 12-gauge shotguns for right-handed shooters, but Hellen is left-eye dominant, and she worried about the kick of a 12-gauge. I'd brought my gun, a 20-gauge that has been adapted for left-handed shooting. It would be too big for her - I'm six inches taller than she is - but I figured it would be better than a bigger, right-handed gun.
I watched her walk up to the instructor and get her first lesson on mounting a shotgun. I was beaming with pride and brimming with excitement. There's something delicious about watching someone go through that initiation (which I suppose is why veteran hunters sometimes get a kick out of my newbie hunting stories here).
Then she said it for the first time: "Pull!"
The clay shot out. She fired way too fast and missed it. Most people did that on their first shot Sunday. Then the instructor gave her some more pointers, and pretty soon she was hitting clays.
Now, if it's hard shooting trap with a gun, it's even tougher shooting it with a camera, but here's a sequence I caught with Hellen following the target then absolutely shattering it. If you'd actually like to see the clays in the first two images - not just the arrows - click on the picture. But it's hard to make out the clays at any resolution in the third shot - that's how hard Hellen broke that thing.
That was it - a fine ending to a fine day. Hellen and Lucrezia had fired dozens of dozens of rounds. They'd gone from trepidation to exhilaration. We thanked Kathleen Lynch, the organizer of the event, and piled in my car to head back to Sacramento bathed in blessed air conditioning.
We talked about almost nothing but the shooting for the hour-long drive home. Lucrezia, who had come here because she wanted to use her grandpa's shotgun, had fallen in love with rifle shooting. Hellen was jubilant not only that she'd hit targets, but that the recoil of the shotgun hadn't hurt her. Now she knew for sure that the money she'd been earning on extra assignments at school would be going toward her own shotgun.
Now both were ready for the next steps: hunter safety training, more shooting lessons, and ultimately, their first hunts.
And I was feeling a little better about that "no women allowed" squirrel hunt business. In truth, I don't mind that men need a little space to be themselves. And besides, we don't really need to tag along with the men to have a good time hunting and shooting - we actually do quite well on our own.
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Next women's shooting clinic: NorCal women, if you missed this shoot and would like a chance to try something like it, California Waterfowl is offering a women's and kids' shooting clinic Aug. 16 in Morgan Hill. Click on the image below for a printable image of the flyer.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008