Occasionally I get great questions like this one in my inbox. Keep them coming! If I am not knowledgeable enough in the area in question, we can put it
to the rest of the readers and come up with a strong answer for you.
Dear Girl’s Guide,
Hi there. I got a call from my stepsister and she wants to learn to shoot this weekend! I’m so excited that another woman is interested in guns and shooting. I’ve never really taught someone that has never shot before. I know how to teach her all the safety things, but can you give me any pointers on things I should make sure to teach her?
First things first. When teaching someone to shoot a gun for the first time, start with eye and ear protection and the safety rules, as you mentioned. You are on the right track there. All of the good instructors I know tell people to start with a .22 caliber pistol. With a .22, new shooters are able to build good habits without the challenge of dealing a snappy (heavy recoil) handgun. If you do not own a .22, find a range that will let you rent one or borrow one from a friend.
Another tip I find particularly helpful with men and women alike is to do the following: when your student is prepared to take the first shot, stand next to them. Do not back away. If it is appropriate, I also like to keep one hand on the student’s shoulder or back for the entire first mag. It is a non-verbal way of letting them know that you are not scared of the gun and they should not be either. You are not backing away from it. You are not intimidated by it and you feel perfectly safe being near the firearm. Your body language will communicate all of that to your student.
As I mentioned above, for a first time shooter I would start with a .22, then perhaps move to a .38 special revolver. I always make sure not go any larger than a 9mm. Remember that your student is absorbing a lot of information cognitively and physically and you want her to feel comfortable but never overwhelmed. You may be excited to show her what every gun you own can do, but all that information gets a little inundating if presented too quickly. Take your time and do it right.
For rifles, you can introduce a new shooter to almost any caliber, but still keep it to a minimum to ensure that they enjoy their first time at the range. An AR-15 with its low recoil and ease of use is perfect for a newbie. For shotguns, I would start with a 20 gauge. Some of the newer 12 gauge shotguns have fantastic recoil systems and would also be appropriate for newbies, but be very careful and make sure that you are comfortable shooting it before you show someone else. Be sensitive to the impression it will leave on the new shooter.
Keep in mind that this first experience could make it or break it for her relationship with guns. You want it to be fun and pleasant and exciting, but also emphasize the safety rules for your sake and for hers. Your goal should be to help her build a love and life-long relationship with firearms, if possible. Who knows – you might just get new shooting buddy out of it! Good luck and let me know how it goes.