January 03, 2011
There was a time, not too long ago, when most of those involved in the shooting sports learned their skills through training that was handed down through their family. Kids were taught the important rules of gun safety from family members. Young hunters first went out with their parents and learned to identify, stalk, and collect game. They were taught to judge distances and how to make every shot count because family members knew these skills were an important part of the shooting sports, and shooting and hunting were an integral part of the family's activity.
There is no quick fix when it comes to shooting prowess. The defensive handgunner must be well versed in defensive tactics, speed reloads, drawing techniques, the use of cover, and a whole raft of other skills that sure aren't going to be learned overnight.
Today, however, we find more and more folks taking up the shooting sports when it has not been a part of their family tradition. In many cases these are people who have reached an age and an employment level when they have the time and the funds to take up an interesting outdoor hobby. Many of them want to take up shooting and hunting without having that lifetime of training to support it.
You can ask just about any hunting outfitter for stories of "dude" hunters and get an earful. Some outfitters will tell you about hunters arriving for an expensive guided hunt with rifles that have not been sighted-in. Their scopes were mounted at the gun store, and they didn't know enough to know that they had to be sighted-in for a specific load. Others arrive at the hunting camp with all sorts of new gear that they don't have a clue how to assemble--or use. Worse yet, when they finally do sight some game they fire off a magazine of ammunition without coming anywhere near their target because they don't have a clue about marksmanship, judging distances, or field shooting positions. And we've all been to shooting ranges and seen some shooter operating his firearm in an unsafe manner simply because he doesn't know proper gunhandling and range safety procedures.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that chooses to apply the quick fix to just about any endeavor. All you really have to do is just read a magazine article or two and look up a few sites on the Internet and you're in business. Right? Wrong. In the shooting sports there's just no quick fix.
Shooters must begin by learning how to safely operate their firearm of choice. Safety should always be the first concern. Then they have to learn the complicated hand-to-eye coordination that is necessary to firing the gun accurately. Learning these basic shooting skills takes time and a lot of practice.
If hunting is the new shooter's goal, then he also has to learn to fire his gun from various field-shooting positions that are necessary in the hunting fields. In addition, he has to learn to clearly identify game, judge its worth as a trophy, and also to gauge the distance to determine if that game animal is within the hunter's effective range.
Some new hunters will simply assume that they can bluff their way through these hurdles and no one will ever know that they are new to the sport. My friends, that approach is rarely successful. I suppose they think that their outfitter, guides, and hunting pals will make fun of them. The simplest and easiest solution is just to take your guide aside and tell him that you are new to this type of hunting. Tell him that you need his advice and that he will have to coach you on the hunt. You'll be amazed at how many outfitters and guides are willing to do this simply because happy hunters are generally repeat customers.
Those who elect to carry a defensive handgun are often in this same boat. Most states' licensing laws call for a very minimum of classroom sessions. These licensing instructors are far more concerned that you learn the state's law pertaining to using that handgun.
Their job is not to teach you to shoot.
Besides knowing how to operate your handgun safely and accurately, the defensive handgunner must also be well versed in defensive tactics, speed reloads, drawing techniques, the use of cover, and a whole battery of other skills that sure aren't going to be learned overnight.
Nor will these techniques be learned by reading a book or, perish the thought, watching some adventure movie. Extensive training is mandatory for the defensive handgunner.
Probably the best route for the new shooter is to get some training at a recognized firearms school. This may not provide any shortcuts to developing shooting skills, but it will keep the student from having to unlearn bad shooting habits. Training and practice are the two things that will build the skills necessary to become a competent gunhandler.
I can recommend two shooting schools that I have attended. They are Gunsite in northern Arizona, and Thunder Ranch in Oregon. Gunsite was founded by the legendary Col. Jeff Cooper, and the staff maintains the tradition set by him. Thunder Ranch is run by Clint Smith, a former peace officer and my good friend, who has had the experiences to back up what he teaches. Another school that I have not personally attended but I hear good things about is the Valhalla Shooting Club.
All three of these schools offer training for the defensive shooter. The new shooter will come away with a good foundation upon which to build his own personal shooting sports. In addition, the training staffs at these schools are among the nicest people you'll ever meet.
In the meantime, the rest of us old gray-haired shooters need to be alert for the new guys at the range and in the hunting fields. A kind word and a friendly piece of advice might be all they need to help them make the shooting sports a safe and enjoyable part of their lives. The family of shooting sportsmen is a pretty important part of our lives. I'd like to see it keep growing, wouldn't you?