I have Katniss scratch fever: How do I learn to shoot stuff?

December 16 | Guest post by Beretta Fleur

For the answer to this question, we turned to our resident gun-shooting, pin-up modeling, Homie hostess with the mostest, Beretta Fleur.

{ Battle Ready }
Thanks to aryll for uploading this photo to our Flickr pool!
Homies, I'd like to learn to shoot stuff. Targets, mostly. Maybe with guns, maybe with arrows — honestly, I'm flexible, and I don't have any solid goals for these skills — it just looks like fun and seems like a good thing to know how to do (in case, you know, zombies). But I have no idea where to start.

I don't know anyone who shoots anything with anything (besides cameras) and I'm super intimidated by the idea of wandering into a shooting range knowing absolutely NOTHING.

Do I need to buy anything upfront? How do I pick a weapon? Or find a woman-friendly shooting range? (A lot of the ones around here are hunter-centric, and hunters can be kind of a boys club.) Are some weapons better for chicks with no upper body strength?

Basically I'm as clueless as can be and would love some total n00b advice on learning how to shoot things.Alex

I began shooting as a n00b about five years ago, with no more shooting experience than a fun childhood gym class or two with archery and foam targets. Now I shoot NSCA competitive sporting clays, own a shotgun, own and carry a handgun, have taken hunter safety courses, have guest blogged for Beretta USA, and am an NRA member.

Here's what works for me…

The fastest and easiest way to get into the sport is to call or go to a local Skeet and Sporting Clays Range, or Firearms Range and speak with the staff there on available training and/or classes, or when someone there can help walk you through trying out one or two guns. More on that below.

First things first:

As soon as you hold a gun or before handing it to someone else, check if it's loaded, including opening it to check the chamber (not just the magazine). Always. Learning that, and these other Basic Firearm Safety Rules, will give you more confidence.

If you can, take a firearms safety class at a range near you, great, but it's not a legal prerequisite. Gun clubs, hunt clubs, and ranges LOVE women shooters. I've never felt unwelcome walking into a gun range. Everyone wants to help you (okay, sometimes that's annoying) and everyone is glad to see you, especially if you're determined to learn, and you're concerned with being safe.

What to Buy:

  • "Eyes and ears" (glasses and earplugs or over-the-ear headphone-looking earplugs). They are cheap and you'll use them every time you shoot.
  • Look for a range that loans or rents guns.
  • If you plan to shoot long guns, see about borrowing or renting a padded shooting vest from the club, as these are pricey.

Long Gun Ranges:

If you can, begin with "long guns," meaning shotguns, and try out a round or two of Skeet or Sporting clays (It's like Disc Golf only with guns). In my opinion, they are much tougher to be careless with than handguns and the ranges are "safer": there are loading limits (1-2 rounds at a time), there's only one general type of gun, and since it's a dedicated sport there aren't a lot of n00bs. Once you get used to shooting a gun, moving on to handguns is easier, and if you plan to hunt birds, sporting clays is good practice.

The con is that it's pricey and it will make you sore and they are heavy, but if you do it often you will build up the strength. .20 gauge is fun and what I started with, before I moved on to .12 gauge.

Handgun ranges:

Sadly these are where I've seen "I can't believe that idiot just did that" moments. Just be hyper-aware and don't be afraid to report anything stupid you see happening. I prefer outdoor ranges than indoor, as they are quieter and less claustrophobic.

Get a range master to show you the basics of loading and unloading, and only load one round at a time until you get the feel of the weapon and can load and unload (and check to see if it's unloaded) practically in your sleep.

A .22 is an easy gun to shoot and is a good way to get used to handling a handgun. I tried a .22 and a .38 before I settled on a nice .9mm. (If you find it's hard to open the slide with upper body strength, try pushing and pulling with your shoulders.) Not to be controversial, but if you have access to an AR, they are very easy to shoot. It's like a cross between a shotgun and handgun. I don't prefer them but they are easy. Steer clear of anything larger than 9mm as you start out, or any "subcompact" guns, as they are tougher to hang onto.

More info

Every law-abiding gun owner I've ever met has been nice, even-tempered and MORE than willing to educate about shooting, safety, and weapons. Just like any other hobby or trade, the interwebs is filled with info on programs and classes and other good stuff, from firearm basics to self-defense, carrying, and hunting.

I found this Offbeat Home thread to be hands down one of the best threads I've ever read on gun ownership — both pro and con thoughts expressed. Kudos as always to the Homies! It's definitely worth a read.

I am always open to answering any questions, as well.

  1. My nephew and boyfriend are getting into bow and arrow shooting! There's definitely up-front equipment cost and some potential dangers, but it's a fun hobby that is more accessible to most people because it's generally less of a cost than a handgun (you can often find them used at a steal, especially after hunting season) and it's easier to find a free place to practice. The biggest decision to make is whether you'll use a traditional bow (recurve) or a compound bow, which has a mechanism to help you pull the string and often adjust the weight of the pull (but requires special equipment to restring, and generally costs more).
    Some gun ranges and sporting good shops offer bow and arrow lessons, and often will let you have hands-on time with some of their products to get a feel for what will work for you.

    3 agree
  2. I want to get into archery! I went to a 'open house' but I am not sure how to really jump into i.

    1 agrees
  3. I really want to get into Archery too! (targets though not hunting) and I dont know where to get started all the adult Archery clubs or classes I can find are focused on hunting and the ones that aren't are usually for kids… I'm going to keep looking, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one wanting to explore the sport.

    2 agree
  4. I did archery long, long ago in summer camp as a kid. I also know someone who got into archery in college and became relatively competitive on a national (maybe even international?) level. It seems like a great sport because (I expect like other kinds of shooting) even if you don't start at age 7 or whatever, you can still become highly skilled and competitive. Not that going to the Olympics is everyone's goal, but the idea that you could, theoretically, become that good is kind-of cool.

    1 agrees
  5. Having grown up learning archery at camp, continuing to shoot at my local JOAD (Junior Olympic Archery Development) program, competing as a teenager and on the Columbia Varsity Archery team, I am SO excited to see other ladies getting interested in archery.

    The best way to get into archery is to find a range and ask someone who works there if there are classes. Some ranges have started offering Groupons with lessons. Some of the ranges are mostly for archery, but many are just general hunting stores with ranges in the back. Don't be intimidated by hunting stores/ranges. It is true that you'll get some extra attention for being a woman, but not in a judgmental, exclusionary way. Men in hunting stores are impressed by women who want to learn to shoot.

    Depending on the range, you may need to buy your own equipment. If you've never shot before, ask a few local ranges (depending on how many are reasonably nearby) if they loan out equipment during lessons or if you can rent some equipment before making an investment.

    If you're concerned that you don't have much upper body strength, you should probably start with a recurve bow rather than a compound (three string) bow. That doesn't mean that recurve is any less awesome (I'm a recurve archer), but compound bows generally take more force to pull back initially than recurve bows do. Then again, you'll be holding the full weight of the draw on a recurve bow until you release the arrow, whereas the pulley system on a compound bow ends up holding much of the weight once you complete your initial draw. It's a personal preference, so if you have an opportunity to try both out, that would be great.

    If you live in the NY/NJ area, you could try the following indoor archery clubs/ranges:
    Queens:
    Proline Archery
    Queens Archery

    Brooklyn:
    Gotham Archery; this place is new and appears to be great for new archers: http://nypost.com/2014/06/27/new-brooklyn-archery-outpost-gives-gowanus-a-sharper-image/

    Northern New Jersey:
    Targeteers (Saddle Brook); this is where I bought all my equipment, and I started coming in here when I was about 12 to buy my equipment and to shoot in the junior archery league. I never felt uncomfortable despite this being a hunting store.

    Wo-Pe-Na (Clifton); this is a club, not a hunting store, and you'll need to bring your own equipment.

    Bloomfield Archers (outdoor archery club)

    There are plenty more, but these are the few that I'm familiar with. If you live in another area, just start googling local archery ranges. Good luck!

    3 agree
    • Been looking for a place to learn in the Baltimore/DC Metro area to start with lessons and target time for recurve bows. By the time I find them, I feel like sending them a pitch for new websites. Many have been unresponsive.

  6. I've always wanted to do archery, and when I finally got around to it, the first Hunger Games had just been released. I waited a few months, because I didn't want to be thought of as a Katniss fan girl haha. I had a look around and found that most archery clubs in NZ wanted you to do an introductory course before joining. I found a place that sold archery supplies that did 3 lessons for a nominal fee and gave you a certificate at the end that allowed you to join a club. I enjoyed those lessons SO much, but unfortunately I can't afford to buy my own equipment yet to join a club. I definitely encourage you to find somewhere to do a few lessons first, it will build your confidence and allow you to see if you like it or not before making the investment.

    2 agree
  7. I'm glad that offbeat home posted this article about guns. As a licensed gun owner, married to a ranged safety officer and avid hunter, it's nice to see people who aren't into guns not bashing gun owners or calling us gun nuts. But I disagree with the author's comment on starting to shoot on a shotgun. My dad tried to get me to shoot with a shotgun when I was in my early teens and I was turned off until my early 20s. I would start with a 22 caliber rifle. My husband is a big fan of the Ruger 10-22 for beginners. It's a light weight rifle with virtually no recoil. It's a good rifle for small game. I also wish this article was a little more specific about the types of guns and general safety for people who have no firearms expirence. I think it's almost irresponsible to leave those basics out. It would be like putting someone behind the wheel of a car who has never been in a car and not telling them how to use brakes.
    Rule number 1: treat and handle every single firearm as if it were loaded.
    Rule 2: never aim at anything unless you intended to shoot it.
    Rule 3: you are responsible for anything the bullet that fires from your gun hits and destroys. Including other people and objects.
    There are a lot more rules but those are the basics. I really believe this article should mention those basics.

    10 agree
    • Erin, thanks for your comment. I actually stated very clearly that safety was first and a link to basics has been provided. I doubt my article can be fairly called "irresponsible", considering I did state several times that education and safety are key. I would never advise anyone to pick up a gun without proper safety training. This article is a conversation about learning to shoot in general and getting into the hobby and sport. We're all responsible adults here. In shooting guns, as in life, we need to make smart decisions and be aware of being safe when we partake in adult activities. I am not a firearms instructor but I do encourage learning from one.

      As for long guns, well, they're what worked for me and made me feel more confident, whereas it took me over a year of shooting before being comfortable picking up a handgun, which I found to be very sobering and not "fun" at all. I have introduced several women and men to firearms beginning with long guns… and as I'm thinking others have with hand guns. I expect interested parties would be inspired to go out and get in training and community to see what works for them. And yes, Homies, if it wasn't abundantly clear… safety first. 🙂

      3 agree
  8. My husband took an archery class because he wants to grow up to be Katniss Everdeen, and he loved it. There were tons of women in his class, and he found it both fun and a good stress-reliever. Plus, he didn't have to buy any equipment, he just checked it out from the facility.

    1 agrees
  9. Ooh! Ooh! I just picked up archery a couple of years ago, though it wasn't anything to do with the Hunger Games, just something I'd wanted to do since I was a little kid. First thing to note, depending on where you live, you may not be able to find a woman-friendly range and/or shop that is close-by. You may just have to figure out your preferred way of handling it, which is different for everyone. My approach has typically been one of either humor or stern reprimand, and sometimes a bit of both.

    Here's how I went about getting into archery:

    1. Find a local archery club. I literally just googled the name of my city and 'archery club,' and found the one closest. They had a facebook page, which had information on where and when they met. So I showed up at a club practice and introduced myself. I'll admit, this approach takes some guts, and I was nervous as hell, but it paid off. I got lucky that there were women who were in the club as well as men, but even so, people tend to be impressed when you take this sort of approach, and as a result, may offer more help and information.
    2. Get some recommendations for archery shops and the people who work there as well as names of people in the club. The archery community tends to be small, so people know each other. If you can name-drop, it'll get you in faster. (Make sure you ask for shops that have a range and that will rent equipment to you.)
    3. Go to one of the archery shops recommended to you, and ask for whomever was recommended to you by name.
    4. Tell them that you are new to archery, and that so-and-so from XYZ archery club said to speak to them about learning to shoot. They should be super happy to see you (businesses love referrals, after all), and can help set you up with a target and some rental equipment. Many places will also offer a bit of instruction (in many cases free of charge) to help you get started.
    5. Shoot for at least an hour. You will be super exhausted. This is normal.
    6. Decide whether you enjoyed yourself or not. If you're not sure, return to the shop a few more times to practice with the rentals and make up your mind.

    If you decide you like it enough to buy equipment:

    – A reasonable starter bow will run you about $120. PSE Razorback is the bow I started on.
    – You can buy used, refurbished arrows for about $20 for 6 arrows.
    – Optionally, you can buy a very basic quiver for about $7.
    – You may also need to pay range fees or, if you join a club, club dues, which vary. You can shoot at home with your own target as well, but I really recommend shooting with a group— you learn a LOT faster that way. Also, archery has a pretty strong culture of giving away or selling at a steep discount old equipment to friends and acquaintances, so it can be a great way to get good equipment on the cheap.

    Hope that helps!

    2 agree
    • Erin, this is very helpful. I'm also wanting to get more into archery and possibly bow hunting, and these are great tips on how and where to get started.

  10. I am so happy to see a positive post about gun ownership! My parents first taught me gun safety when i was around six years old, and I spent my childhood at ranges and plinking in the desert. I hadn't shot anythingin maybe 8 years or so, and in November my gun-collecting partner bought me a Glock 42. We have spent every weekend since holding target contests between the two of us, and I am proud to say I retained most of the knowledge from my childhood. I would suggest to a first time shooter to go to a range and speak with the employees, they will be able to discuss all the basics and they will be happy to share their knowledge. As far as what gun to start with, that is entirely personal preference. For example, I am not great with rifles, because I am very curvy and my chest gets in the way. But I know a lot of people who started with rifles and loved it. Also, a lot of people think there are certain guns that are better for women, this is total BS. The guy at the gun counter might push you towards a little pink snub-nose but that does NOT mean it will have the best handling for YOUR individual preferences. I would suggest trying a 1911 at some point. They have very little kick and are easy to load and rack.

    4 agree
    • Thanks for your input, Alexandria. Yes to the smaller handguns being trickier to handle. That's also a great point. I was told a Beretta Nano would be great but I can't hold onto it well. I prefer my 9mm compact, for control; the smallest I use is a Sig 380.

  11. I've been to one gun range (twice, unfortunately) where I was treated poorly by the guy behind the counter just because I was a woman. I knew more than one of the other guys and it was obvious, so it had to be because of my gender. The other ranges that I've been to have been wonderful to me and other women that I've gone shooting with. My point is that if the first place is full of jerks, there are other places that aren't. Just keep looking!

    1 agrees
  12. Ack, OP here! For some reason this article didn't pop up on my RSS feed and I missed it even though I was warned it was going up 0.0 totally my bad. Thank you SO much for the advice, both the author's and in the comments- I'm definitely going to have a good look at what's available in my area and see what I can find 🙂

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