Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicks with guns - it's a beautiful thing

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.

Our day.

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...

Lucrezia was pretty fantastic with the handgun, too. After Hellen brought back a paper target with some excellent groupings, Lucrezia brought one back with two bulls eyes.

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.

* * *

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


Tom Sorenson said...

Hey, that's awesome! I like to take my wife shooting - and she loves it! She isn't real great at bow shooting, yet, but she'll get for a rifle shot - she is way better than I am and she's only been shooting a few times. She's got a knack for it.

That's great that that event is available in your area! Sounds like a blast!

Dan said...

Go get 'em! I used to take my daughter shooting when she was young and she soon passed up dad. She was positively demonic with a rifle and was invited to join the junior olympics.

She's currently interning with NCIS and last week she sent me a photo from the agency qualification range. There's my little girl, tearing up the range with a M-4. Damn, I'm proud.

You never know what skill set will serve you later in life... so teach them all.

Holly Heyser said...

It's really nice to see girls - and women - get the chance to try this. Whether anyone says the words "no" or "you can't" or not, many of us grow up believing we're not cut out for this.

Tom, I definitely want to take up archery, but I went and tried out a bow and I was such a weakling - 35-pound pull. I actually do some decent weight lifting, but apparently not with the muscles you use for bowhunting. Oh well, all in good time!

Anonymous said...

That's such a cool story and sounds like a great day. I wish they did something like that in my neck of the woods, but as far as I know, no one does. Maybe I'll have to see if I can get something going.

Holly Heyser said...

Really? Nothing? Check with your state hunting agency - they may know of some opportunities. I didn't get my start with one of these programs, but they're really fantastic.

Blessed said...

That is awesome! As soon as Lil Sugar is old enough she and I are going to go to one of those clinics, just for the the fun of it. I can shoot and do a pretty good job, but I'm always shooting around the men in my family and it gets a little nerve racking at times, I'd love an opportunity to shoot without that pressure.

I always hit the ducks and geese I'm hunting but I have horrible luck at trap shooting. I do better with targets and a rifle although I've never hit a deer.

As for left-handed shotguns, I haven't found a semi-auto that I'm comfortable with, I prefer a tang safety over a trigger safety so I shoot with Mossbergs and Brownings. With the Mossberg the spent shell ejects across my face, the Brownings are nice because they eject out the bottom of the gun. One of these days I'll get a left-handed shotgun, until then I'll rely on my handy little Mossbergs.

Holly Heyser said...

My Beretta ejects on the "wrong side" too, but I never, ever notice the empty shell flying out, because I'm always looking at the target and obsessing over whether and how well I hit it. I definitely do NOT always hit the ducks and geese I shoot at! And I have yet to land a goose entirely on my own - I'm always the second shot on a crip. Next season will be better, though - I learned so much this past winter!

Marian Ann Love said...

Great Post go girls!!!

Anonymous said...

Sure am glad they have these events so the women and girls can get out and share this experience. Sounds like an awesome day for all involved. Congratulations to Hellen and Lucrezia on some fine shooting (I noticed Holly didn't mention her own shooting results), and welcome to the hunting community.

Holly, I do have some reservations about some of the rationale for gender-specific events, but they don't seem appropriate here. I think I'll ponder more on these thoughts over at my blog.

SimplyOutdoors said...

That's awesome. I love having the wife come and shoot with me. We are about to make it a family affair here pretty soon when our first one arrives in October.

There is no better activity then shooting. It requires skill, discipline, and is a ton of fun.

Othmar Vohringer said...

So he said, “No, it's men only” well that’s their loss then. Glad the day turned out okay for you. Personally I never could understand why there have to be “women only” and “men only” events in our hunting tradition. It somehow seems so medieval. Most fun events I have had the pleasure to attend are does where the sexes are mixed.

Holly Heyser said...

Ha! Well, the guy who said it has emailed me and explained some of the initiation rituals that wouldn't actually work with women. Use your imagination. It sounded gross.

I said this in a comment over on Phillip's blog, but the comment is awaiting moderation, so I'll repeat the relevant parts of it here:

Honestly, I’m ambivalent about a lot of gender exclusive things, because I love men, and men have a tendency to feel ridiculously comfortable around me. But from what I saw at the women’s shooting clinic I went to on Sunday, women-only events may be the only way you get some women involved.

I hunt mostly alone or in mixed groups, but I’ve been on a couple women-only hunts and I’ve found they have a couple qualities you don’t find in hunts when men are there. Some men like to rib each other for bad shots; women are more inclined to be supportive, cheering good shots or brushing off bad ones, saying things like, “Oh, that was an impossible shot.” The result is it feels a little less competitive and intimidating. (Even if men don’t rib us, the fact that we see you doing to other men it is intimidating.)

There’s also a tremendous sense of adventure - just the girls going off and doing something that most of the world thinks we can’t do at all, or can’t do by ourselves. I always find myself grinning a lot more on all-girl hunts. Similarly, there’s a difference between just hunting with my boyfriend (huge sense of partnership and bonding that makes me feel so excited to be with him, so lucky to have found him in the first place) and hunting with other guys without my boyfriend (feeling of “I am not just a hunting girlfriend - I’m a hunter who can carry her own with anyone”).

I really enjoy each of these types of hunts, but I’ll continue to support any opportunity that helps women take up hunting, even if it means making it women-only, because doing otherwise would be shooting ourselves in the foot. Men are leaving hunting in droves; women have the strong potential to bolster our numbers. If we follow strict equality down the path of extinction, what good does that do us?

So, yeah, "ambivalent" is the word. I love all types of hunting parties, and I never felt the need for a women's only party, and as I said in this post, I understand men need to just be men once in a while too. But there's no doubt it stings when someone says, "Sorry, you're not welcome here."

Holly Heyser said...

Oops, I should clarify, I never felt the need for a women-only event to get me into hunting. I actually love my girl-hunt days and look forward to them.

Anonymous said...

I won't teach my girlfriend how to use a rifle because i'm afraid she will shoot me. it's as simple as that.

...just kidding...she actually learned just recently :)

Holly Heyser said...

LOL. Interestingly enough, the instructor who kicked things off Sunday said someone had done a survey of former burglars once, and they said the thing that scared them the most was a woman with a gun who didn't know how to shoot it. Ha! Fear us!

Blessed said...

OK - I need to clarify (just what I get for commenting while I'm half asleep) I don't ALWAYS hit the ducks and geese I shoot at but I hit them often now. Of course, since I didn't hunt anything last season and we haven't gone target shooting recently I'd probably be lucky to hit the broadside of a barn now!

Anonymous said...

Hey Grumpy,

I think it was Grandpa James who opined that women are a lot like a shotgun. Ya just never know when they're gonna go off.

Holly Heyser said...

Hey Squirrel Boy -

I think you just didn't realize that was a loaded gun you were handling there.

And if you think you got me going, you should see the debate that's raging on Phillip's blog now. Craziness!

Anyway, next time you hear about a squirrel hunt where women can participate in the initiation rituals, let me ... wait. No! Don't let me know. I hate hazing. Dude, let's just go hunting!