Being new to the gun industry is a little intimidating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so, but whether it’s because of my lady bits or it’s naturally occurring to both genders (though I can’t forget to mention the 53+ other genders all the young’uns these days are talking about), pursuing a recreational or professional familiarity with firearms is no small task.

So where do you start? Honestly, everyone’s story is their own, and there’s no one way to do it. I didn’t even shoot for the very first time until I was 22, and three years later, here I am. While it’s difficult to definitively outline the steps in a person’s journey to becoming a better shooter, there’s certainly a few important aspects I believe apply to anyone interested in firearms – regardless of who and where you are, and how and why you learn to shoot.

Your motivations & goals

Why do you want to be a shooter? Is your interest purely recreational – something you’d do for fun every once in a while – or do you believe it’s a skill imperative for any person wanting to protect themselves? Does shooting for sport and competition pique your interest, or do you prefer to exclusively learn skills that would help you survive in an emergency situation? If you are a supporter of the 2nd amendment and want to take advantage of your right to defend yourself, you need to ask yourself just how far you’d be willing to go if the moment arose where the use of your firearm was required. Your answers may change and grow over time, and by no means are your current aspirations a binding contract, but this is a helpful step in planning out your future as a shooter.

Do your research

As with any trade or craft, going into it blindly may not result in the best “first impression.” Having done some preliminary research on what to expect will help you avoid less-than-pleasant surprises and get a better picture of what your experience will be like – regardless of how much information you actually retain or memorize. In today’s Information Age, we have almost unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, and curating even a simple knowledge base is now easier than ever. Read up on the kinds of shooting you’re interested in, whether for competition or leisure or self defense. Watch a video on the basics of firearm mechanics and physics. Look up available classes and training in your area, as well as what shooting instructors there are and what their clients think of them. Research local laws and regulations in regards to firearms and their applications. All of these will help you be better prepared in the first stages of your journey to becoming a shooter.

Go outside

You read that right. As constructive as it is to conduct research, you can’t profess to really be any good at something until you actually put it to practice, right? Shooting is no exception. An important part of your experience as a new shooter is simply getting out to your gun store/range of choice. The people at a gun store are often industry veterans who devote not only their professional lives to the firearm community, but also their personal lives. You will find welcoming smiles and friendly advice at any gun shop that’s worth a damn, simply because they know their role in helping to shape your future as a responsible shooter and/or gun owner. Stepping inside a gun store allows you to actually see firearms in person, as well as handle them (and sometimes test them out on the range) and get a better feel for whether the gun is a good fit for you. A piece of advice I learned from a professional; “you don’t have to know a damn thing about a gun to know whether it’s right for you.” This is a tool that you will potentially own and utilize for years to come; if it doesn’t sit right in your hand, or something seems off, there is always a better option out there, and it’s better to know that now than after you made a blind purchase off the interwebs.

The gun store/range you choose will also be able to give you advice tailored to your specific needs and situation, including what classes and resources for beginner shooters are available. If the shop does not include its own range, they will surely be able to provide recommendations on what venues are around for you to choose from, as well as which of them would suit your needs best.

Before you shoot

Regardless of how it is you start your shooting career, proper firearm handling and personal safety practices are and always will be your #1 priority before you ever touch a gun. It doesn’t matter if you were educated by a world renowned instructor or a 2 minute video on Youtube; safety always, always comes first. If you memorize anything when it comes to firearms and their handling, it would be the 4 rules of firearm safety, or at the bare minimum the very first one; all guns are always loaded. Remember that. Repeat it to yourself. Tattoo it on the inside of your eyelids. Keep repeating it until you’re chanting it in your sleep. Tired of it yet? Good. Now keep going.

  • Treat all guns as if they were loaded.
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you have made the decision to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target, as well as what is in front of it and what is behind it.

In addition to the 4 rules of firearm safety, you will need to wear eye and ear protection every time you shoot. It doesn’t matter whether you’re inside or outside, whether you get to shoot a gun with a “””silencer””” or if you’re doing dry firing drills; you need to get into a habit of both having and utilizing eye and ear pro at every shooting opportunity. Eventually, you may find it best to buy your own pair instead of using spare ones at the range, but whether they’re owned or borrowed isn’t nearly important as you actually remembering to wear them.

Develop support

Arguably one of the biggest influences in my shooting career has been my boyfriend, who I actually met through the range I used to go shooting at and which he was then manager of. If you are fortunate enough to have a close friend, significant other, family member, or other acquaintance who has a solid knowledge base on shooting, it can be one of the best ways to get started, simply because they can both help to educate you, and calm your nerves while doing so! Since going to the range by yourself can be intimidating, having someone you know with you can help you focus on what you’re learning.

If this isn’t the case for you, taking a class or training session is an excellent alternative that can be equally, or even more valuable. You shouldn’t worry that it won’t be inclusive or welcoming enough for you; sessions offered by professionals to beginners are catered to people exactly like you, looking to learn but not sure where to start. Classes exclusively open to women are way more common than you’d think, so don’t imagine you’ll be the only girl among a room filled with closet Rambos. They are also tailored to suit the needs of any shooter participating, regardless of their firearms experience (or lack thereof). Should you have any other worries or questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to them, either! They’ll be more than happy to help make the experience for you, their client, even better.

Be aware & receptive

After these basic guidelines, the rest of your progress to becoming a better shooter will be contingent on your ability to absorb the information around you. This is not to say that you should internalize and memorize everything around you – this isn’t Jeopardy, and trivia doesn’t make a great shooter. The goal, rather, is to simply be receptive to your experiences as they happen, so that over time you can learn to analyze them and use them to your advantage.

As an avid supporter of the 2nd amendment and a firm belief in my responsibility to ensure my own safety, I have learned the importance of situational awareness. Wikipedia describes it as “the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed.” To me, it’s about being at a constant state of awareness that is actively looking out ways to learn, to improve my skills, to acknowledge noteworthy events, and to act in a way that helps meet my goal of bettering and defending myself. But even with survival being the ultimate goal, using the methods of situational awareness can simply improve your focus beyond what you might be capable of while in a “dormant” state of mind.

You’ll watch movies and start to notice things – improper grips and failures to reload, what kinds of guns are used and the tactics implemented. You’ll go to the range one day and realize hot brass is not very pleasant, and next time perhaps you shouldn’t wear that low-cut shirt. You’ll start to do inventory every time you go out the door, making sure you don’t leave without your purse, keys, or gun. You’ll learn the difference between single and double action, and when to call it a magazine and when it’s actually a clip. Even holding a toy gun or drill or spray bottle, you might notice your subconscious trigger discipline kicking in. It’s all a process of submerging yourself in the culture, and it’s a process that I too am still working on and probably won’t ever truly end.

All you can do is get started, and it’s never too late for that.