Teach me to shoot: Part 10
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This is the continuing fictional saga and guest report of a man teaching a woman to shoot. Today Jack starts teaching Jill’s friend, Jamell, how to shoot.
Our guest writer is reader, Jack Cooper. Take it away, Jack.
Teach me to shoot
by Jack Cooper
This report covers:
- Getting started
- Wants to hunt
- Field trip
- Watch the crowd
- Etiquette lives!
- High art
- They do a deal — sort of
- Diana the huntress
- Big girl, big rifle
- Next time at the range
I told you that I had promised Jill I would teach her friend, Jamell, how to shoot. Of course Jamell already knows how to shoot on several levels. She met Jill at a Babes with Bullets camp, where both of them took the Beginner Handgun course. So she not only knows how to shoot, she is also a recent graduate of one of the best training courses in the U.S. My job was to fill in the blanks that weren’t covered at the camp; subjects Jamell has never been formally taught.
We met at Jill’s apartment and talked awhile. I found out she knew most of what I’d taught Jill, except for the part about firearms etiquette. Just like Jill, she wasn’t even aware it existed. So I covered everything. Things like never pick up a gun that’s not yours unless you ask permission first. That’s fundamental, yet I see people do it at every gun show. And, from that one simple rule flow many other rules that are obvious when you understand the first one. Things like always ask permission to examine the gun after you have picked it up. That’s permission to open the bolt or pop out the cylinder or rack the slide — basically anything you need to do to see whether the gun is loaded. If you don’t know how a gun works, always ask the owner to show you before handling it. Not only are some guns unique in their operation, a particular gun may have a problem that has to be address as it is handled.
When one person hands a gun to another person, the second person examines the gun to see whether it is loaded, even though the person who just handed it to them just finished doing the same thing. People who aren’t shooters think this is either redundant or insulting to the first person. Jill understood it because surgeons often do similar things. Jamell was surprised to learn it, but she saw how it would help lower gun “accidents.” It’s my contention that there are very few accidents with guns. people used that term to cover for the mistakes they make in proper handling.
Wants to hunt
Jamell told me the reason she wants to learn to shoot a rifle is she wants to hunt. She knows what she did with her father was just plinking at targets of opportunity and now it is time to get serious. Hunting is a common theme among women coming into shooting today. After defense it probably ranks as the second most popular reason to learn to shoot.
Rather than just talk, I decided to take both Jamell and Jill on a little field trip after our initial discussion. One of the largest gun shows in our area of the country was running this Saturday, so we all loaded into Jill’s car and went there. Surprise number one happened at the door, when Jill flashed her NRA life member card and got a discount off admission. I didn’t know she had joined yet.
Watch the crowd
I told both Jill and Jamell to watch the people at the show and try to spot any safety infractions or incidents where firearms etiquette was not being observed. It soon became obvious that this was going to be a daunting task, as they both saw numerous infractions right away. My ribs became sore from their elbows during the first 15 minutes of the show. So we decided to watch the show for awhile, then gather someplace out of the crowd where we could talk about what we’d seen.
Jamell noticed that most of the dealers were very safe in their handing of guns, but their customers were a mixture of both safe and sorry. She finally realized she could spot the people who weren’t going to be safe by how they dressed and by their age. I told her that was profiling and she responded, “So? If it works, why wouldn’t everyone do it?” Why not, indeed?
In fact, all the older dealers did just that! I told both of them to watch how those dealers dealt with their young male customers — especially the ones who were dressed in, shall we say, pop garb. That’s cargo pants belted below the waist with cuffs dragging the floor, tee-shirts with skulls on them and baseball caps on backwards. When they went back to observing, both of them saw what I meant. Many of those boys were picking up handguns (always semiautomatics) from the tables without asking, pointing them at their friends with their fingers on the triggers. A few even turned the guns on their side, gangsta-style. In one instance it was actually embarrassing because all the handguns were held together with the same rubber-sheathed steel cable. When the guy picked up one gun rapidly, he sent several others tumbling out of their boxes and crashing into each other. The dealer actually said, “These aren’t toys, son!”
This lesson was so powerful and these kinds of customers so prevalent that I had to direct both ladies’ attention toward something else, to keep them from being overwhelmed. I asked them each to watch an older small dealer as he dealt with a single customer. We all went in different directions and agreed to meet again in 30 minutes.
When we were back together, both women had lots to tell. Both had seen a couple of the small private dealers talk to just one customer and they saw the firearms etiquette I had been talking about. Jill was impressed by what she saw. She told me she thought I had been overstating the etiquette points, but these guys were doing just as I explained. Jamell had seen something similar, but she also saw something else — something that was to going change the entire direction of her training.
She had visited the table of a man who makes muzzleloading rifles, and she watched him show them to a customer. “Those rifles he makes are works of art! After the customer left I stepped up and asked the dealer to show them to me. When I picked one up I was amazed by the natural way they felt. That’s the kind of rifle I want to learn to shoot!”
Oh boy, was this unexpected! Jamell is a sculptor, so she has an eye for beauty, and being female only strengthens that. But I have never before seen a woman respond to any firearm so strongly. Even Jill, who now loves to shoot, just thinks of the guns as a means to an end. For Jamell, the Pennsylvania rifle is an end all unto itself!
She took us both back to this maker’s table and I had to admit she was right. His rifles were gorgeous. They were also quite expensive. The one Jamell liked best was a .45-caliber flintlock done in the Lancaster style. The barrel was 48 inches long and the rifle stood nearly 6 feet high. Jamell is tall, so it didn’t look that large in her hands, but the pull, which was 14 inches, was too short for her. That rifle had a $6,000 pricetag on it, so this was way outside of any box I might have envisioned.
The stock was honey-colored curly maple with figure all the way to both ends of the stock and it was covered in bas-relief carvings and German silver shapes. It had a full stock that stopped about a half-inch short of the muzzle. We were all impressed when the dealer slid one of the carved metal pieces out from the bottom of the ornate cheekpiece and it turned out to be the handle of a fine wire flashole pick. He told us all flintlock shooters carry such a pick in their possibles bag to periodically clean out the flashole, but his were built right into the stocks of his rifles!
They do a deal — sort of
The maker liked the way Jamell appreciated his work. As artists, they were kindred spirits, and the two of them talked for a long time. When he learned that she is a sculptor he asked her if she could make something for him. The upshot of the meeting was he promised to build a rifle to fit her and she promised to show him her portfolio of animal sculptures. They decided to wait to talk about the price for the rifle until after they knew all that was going to happen.
She talked about that rifle all the way back to Jill’s apartment. She said she didn’t even care about shooting it — she just wanted to hold it and look at it. OMG! I just made a gun nut! Well, that would help me with her training. We set up an appointment for me to come to her studio one evening during the coming week, where I would start her with the Daisy 499, just as I had Jill. But, because of what happened at the gun show, I also brought a surprise.
Diana the huntress
I started her training with the Daisy 499 in exactly the same way as Jill. We were never going to shoot handguns, though, so I had also brought along my Diana 66 breakbarrel target rifle. While it can’t compare to the beauty of that long flintlock rifle she’s having made, there’s a fundamental beauty to how well it is built. Jamell saw it right away and I actually had to insist that she start with the 499. She really wanted to shoot that Diana! Well, Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt, which is the primary reason Jamell wants to learn to shoot a rifle in the first place. So I shortened the 499 lesson to just 2 targets and got her started shooting the pellet rifle.
She has 10 meters in her studio if a door to the supply room is opened. We placed my UTG BB/pellet trap on a shelf in that room and used a studio light to light it. We started with the 499, and then when it was time for the pellet rifle we just backed up.
Big girl, big rifle
Jamell is big-boned and strong. She has to be, to be a sculptor. So holding the Diana 66 offhand is no problem for her, once I showed her the correct way to do it. Like shooting a handgun with one hand, there is also a right way to hold a rifle offhand so that the skeleton takes most of the weight. It does help a lot, but there are limits, too. I don’t think Jill could ever adapt to the Diana 66 that weighs 11 pounds, but it worked very well for Jamell.
The offhand rifle stance is something like the handgun stance, in that the placement of the feet determines where the upper body naturally wants to point. Jamell is right-handed, so she turned to the right for the rifle. That’s the opposite of how you would turn for a handgun. And for a rifle the turn is even farther than it is for a handgun — almost a fiull 90 degrees. The rifle comes across the chest, almost touching it. Not quite but it’s close.
The elbow of her left upper arm rests against her rib cage to support the weight of the rifle. She doesn’t have as much meat on her ribcage as I do, but she does have some muscle on her upper arms. Some women and young children have to throw the hips out to the left to help align that arm, but Jamell doesn’t.
The rifle rests on either the flat of the palm, the knuckles of a closed fist or on the tips of the off hand fingers. Which one depends on the length of the shooter’s arm Jamell used her fingertips. When she was in position I showed her that the weight of the big rifle was entirely supported by her off hand. The buttpad on the 66 is deeply curved and held the butt to her shoulder. It’s actually against the top of the right bicep, next to where the arm joins the shoulder.
Next time at the range
Her first 5 shots netted a 39. She shot another 3 targets and never got above a 37 after that. Obviously practice was what she needed, so I left her the rifle, pellets, safety glasses and trap. But I already knew enough. She is ready to shoot a firearm at the range. And because she wants to shoot a muzzleloader, I will take my Dixie Gun Works Po Boy percussion rifle to the range for the next session. True she wants to shoot a flintlock, but I don’t own one. A percussion gun is the next best thing. The Po Boy is a muzzle loader on which she can learn most of the techniques.