AAR: Ladies-Only Basic Pistol 1 & 2, March 30, 2019

By Becky Dolgener

KR Training hosted two ladies-only classes March 30, 2019 at the A-Zone Range. Basic Pistol 1 and Basic Pistol 2 are generally taught as co-ed classes, but this special offering gave ladies the opportunity to train in a special class. The curriculum was the same as that used in co-ed classes. Basic Pistol 1 incorporates and expands upon NRA Basic Pistol instruction and serves as the range portion of that class. Basic Pistol 2 builds on that knowledge and lays the foundation for KR Training’s Defensive Pistol Skills 1 and subsequent courses with more target presentation and trigger press work.

I co-taught the classes with Tracy Thronburg. It was the first time either of us had taught this curriculum at KR Training. We began the day in the classroom with seven students who showed up with open minds and specific goals that carried a common theme: they wanted to be comfortable enough with their skills and safety to carry a defensive firearm.

As graduates of the Cornered Cat Instructor Development program, that theme wasn’t unfamiliar to Tracy and me. In our preparation for the class, we discussed key points of instruction we agreed were crucial to setting the stage for the students’ continued success in progressive defensive pistol training:

  1. We couldn’t overwhelm them with information.
  2. We had to make it fun (for women, that involves lots of talking and questions).
  3. The techniques had to be transferable to subsequent training.

The Morning: Basic Pistol 1

Basic Pistol 1 is a class for brand-new shooters. The goals include the students understanding safety rules and the fundamentals of safe gun handling and accurate shooting. While it sounds simple enough, this is a lot of information to impart to new shooters in just four hours. Students have the option to expand the coursework by taking the NRA Basic Pistol online class, which none of our students had opted to complete before the class.

The classroom portion of the morning went well. Our students had a few preconceived notions we addressed within the framework of the class, but we also added some discussion specific to women. We found that the majority of our seven BP1 students had been given bad advice about safety, gun handling, and buying their first gun. None of this came as a shock to Tracy and me; as women ourselves, we shared our own experiences facing unsafe practices and advice offered by well-meaning but ill-informed people. The ladies appeared both surprised and relieved to learn that their experiences weren’t unique, but are some that all women share.

On the range, Tracy and I took a different approach to allow all the women to try all of the loaner guns Karl had provided, plus my own Sig P320F 9mm with a small grip module. We started at 3 yards with guns on barrels and the NRA Basic Pistol targets. Working with one gun, the ladies incorporated the fundamentals we discussed in the classroom and had practiced with blue guns in a set of dry-fire drills. We then worked on loading sequence, then on to one-shot drills, then 5-shot drills in a 4-inch circle. Each woman on the line had the opportunity to experience shooting a variety of common semi-automatic carry pistols in the most popular calibers. Pocket pistols typical of women’s first gun purchases were excluded from the lineup, since we wanted them to have a positive shooting experience and small guns are difficult for new shooters to handle safely and shoot accurately.

Big Take-Aways

Gun selection was huge with this class. We discussed that the concept of gun fit was one not readily embraced by a male-dominated gun culture, and that anyone of any gender working a gun counter was most likely not well versed in gun fit or felt recoil. One student had hands the size of a 10-year-old child and showed up with a Glock 19. Another student with very long fingers walked in with a Glock 42. A third mentioned she had a revolver at home that she hated—a story that’s all too familiar to everyone who has ever trained women shooters. The students appreciated the opportunity to try out all of the different guns on the line, even though doing so put us behind schedule about 20 minutes.

Overall, the morning was a success. We saw women go from shaky and insecure to loading and firing multiple firearms with confidence. The extra repetition of the entire process helped Tracy and me work on areas that proved challenging for some of our students:

  • Filling magazines, which is difficult for weak hands “in the workspace.” Many older students had a hard time loading magazines with tight springs. The S&W Shield 9mm was a predictable culprit. We didn’t offer UpLulas because we wanted the ladies to try techniques that work with larger muscle groups and make it less of hand strength issue.
  • Establishing a proper dominant-hand grip from first contact with the gun. The students tended to try and pick up the gun one of three ways: with a pincer grip, with a fist around the grip, or with a finger on the trigger. We spent a lot of time going over Tom Givens’ admonition to “get all the grip you’re ever going to have on the gun” from the first contact.
  • Gripping the gun hard. This was evident when students had to readjust grips and consistently dropped shots low. Long fingernails and weak hands weren’t as much of an issue as the comprehension of how hard they really needed to grip the gun, a challenge all new shooters face. Those shooting guns with grip safeties learned this lesson multiple times: if you don’t grip it hard enough, it won’t even fire.
  • Racking the slide. No surprise here. Racking the slide is a concept that seems foreign to most beginners, but particularly women who aren’t inclined to be forceful with their movements. Through repetition and more than a few feed issues, they learned to sling-shot the slide and stop helping it forward. Locking the slide back also requires a study in ergonomics for women. Men can lock a slide back while working inefficiently due to greater hand strength. Women need a little more coaching in positioning to work the slide-lock while also moving the slide and remaining aware of safe muzzle direction and trigger finger discipline. The students agreed that the Shield and Glock 42 were the most difficult slides to rack and lock back, while the Shield EZ was a crowd favorite.

While a cold front blew in wet and angry at the end of our time on the range, we still saw lots of smiles and an ever-increasing cadence of questions and “A-ha!” moments. Our debrief at the end of BP1 was full of comments about increased confidence and “I can’t wait to show my husband/dad/boyfriend” some specific skill or safety procedure.

The Afternoon: Basic Pistol 2

After a quick brown-bag lunch in the range classroom, we reconvened with 6 students, two of whom were new to the training day. Basic Pistol 2 classroom time includes a recap of the safety and fundamentals elements of BP1, with additional general information that relates to the students’ specific guns like ammunition selection and cleaning. BP2 applies the concepts of BP1 within the scope of defensive firearms carry, culminating in a Texas DPS License to Carry live-fire qualification. Half of our afternoon students already had their Texas LTC, but only one regularly carries a pistol. All 6 women passed the qualification while shooting in bitterly cold (for Texas) and windy conditions that required the use of every target stand weight available.

Ladies at the March 30 Basic Pistol 2 class work on filling magazines while Tracy Thronburg runs the line.

Student Physical Discomfort

Every instructor knows that the most dangerous time of any training day is about an hour before the end of class (or, the “4 o’clock stupids,” according to Kathy Jackson). That’s when instructors and RSOs know to be on high alert for students who are tired or otherwise uncomfortable becoming lax on safety.

Two of our all-day students were ladies nearing 80 years old. Paired with the blustery cold front at our backs, the long day took its toll on our students and their targets. We took frequent breaks despite the class running long to preserve sanity and safety. We dealt with falling targets at inopportune moments. I sent one student inside to warm up because she could no longer feel her fingers and was shaking violently. She insisted that she could continue to shoot, but the safety concerns here were a no-brainer. Five minutes in the classroom helped her finish the LTC qual with a passing score, a feat she was proud to tell her whole family about.

Another elderly student was having a hard time with low ready. She had learned compressed ready earlier in the day, so she chose a spot somewhere between the two and squinted at her EZ, which refused to fire because her grip fell apart in the T-Rex ready position that had become her default. When we spoke about it, her hands and arms were tired. Her eyes were tearing up due to the cold wind, and she couldn’t see the front sight when fully extended to target. She managed to eke out enough strength and determination to pass the shooting qualification, a goal she was proud to have met despite her physical discomfort.

Why Ladies Only?

These two classes were a case study in why it’s important for women instructors to offer classes just for women. While Tracy and I regularly attend co-ed training classes across all disciplines and think nothing of it, there’s no way these ladies would have sought training without the promise of an all-female class. They told us as much.

While the class was forming, we had a gentleman request to observe the class because his female friend would be attending at his urging. Tracy and I declined to allow the observer. In our experience teaching new shooters for more than 16 years (combined), what we’ve found is that women who sign up for women’s-only events or classes expect no male interaction. The presence of a man changes a class dynamic for the women taking that class. When women are in a beginner-level class with men, they stop themselves from asking questions for fear of looking like a “dumb girl.” It’s not that the men don’t have the same questions, it’s just that they’re mostly unwilling to reveal that they don’t already know the answer.

Women need a lot of information to make informed decisions. While they may share learning styles with men, they thrive in a setting where interaction and discussion are encouraged. Yes, women like to talk! It’s because of their highly social nature that women who are just learning how to shoot will most often seek out ladies-only classes and events, like the ones offered by A Girl and A Gun Women’s Shooting League (of which Tracy and I are both members, and I facilitate a chapter in Temple). This class day gave 10 women who would not have otherwise trained the opportunity to learn gun safety and accurate shooting fundamentals in a woman-friendly environment. Both classes ran long. Instructor time management can address some of that overrun, but it was necessary for our students to talk through their nervousness, ask lots of questions and share stories that helped them connect with each other and with us. That connection builds trust, and women have to trust that they are safe before they’re able to do something intimidating and a little scary like learning how to shoot.

At the end of the day, that’s just what they did. Despite the cold, despite the wind and rain and tears and sore feet, they persevered and learned new skills that will serve them well at the gun range, in future training classes, and as armed citizens. I’m grateful to Tracy and Karl for offering this opportunity, and I hope to schedule another ladies-only class day soon at KR Training. We’ll just add another hour to the class schedule for Q&A.