Training protocol: Teaching a woman to shoot

The Louisiana state fish is something special.

Here’s a truth we’ve learned through hundreds of gun-training classes and thousands of students — call it the Hutchinson Dictum: Most guys buy the gun they want for their wife or girlfriend.

Here’s the second one, call it the Hutchinson Sub-Dictum: “There’s a special place in Hell reserved for gun-store salesmen who sell semi-auto pistols to women who know nothing about handguns.”

They come into my classes, proudly and nervously clutching their brand-new center-fire semi-auto pistols — chosen for them either by a clerk at a gun store or their significant other, who happens to favor that particular pistol.

When I see one of these combinations of inexperienced gun owner and semi-auto enter the class, I know we are going to have to spend extra time with the lady, perhaps even keep her after the class for more personal instruction.

I am insistent our students leave our classes fully confident with their handguns. If they have to be kept an hour or more after the class, we will work with them as long as it takes.

I recently taught a small class of young women, all friends and acquaintances, who had been saying they wanted to learn gun safety and shoot but just didn’t have the time to take the complete state concealed permit course.

I told the whole group if they would come to the range, I would give them a 3- to 4-hour short course. They only had to pay for the range, ammo and targets. The training would be free. We passed the information to perhaps 20 ladies, but it was Easter weekend, a bad time to get young mothers and women with families together.

Five showed up, all nervous and anxious to get started. Most had husbands who had a bit of knowledge of firearms. One brought two guns supplied by her husband.

This young woman was so nervous about the guns that simply laying them on the table in front of us, empty, with their actions open, kept her fidgeting. She couldn’t decide where to push the muzzles — she didn’t want them pointing at us, but she didn’t want them pointing at her own midsection. With six people sitting around a table, it was hard to not have the muzzle pointed in the general direction of someone.

She was so hopolophobic (irrational, over-wrought fear of guns). When I picked up a semi-auto and worked the action, she would jump every time the slide slammed into the chamber.

We overcame a lot of that in two hours of discussing “Use of Deadly Force” and state law and concealed carry. I had them work the actions of various revolvers and semi-autos many times until they could drop magazines, open cylinders and lock slides back like pros.

We went out on the range, and I proceeded with the protocol I have developed over the years with each of them.

Unless they had shot their guns a considerable amount, all started off the same way. They fired 25 to 50 rounds of .22 rimfire in my small S&W Model 317 “Kit” gun revolver or my Ruger Mark 1 semi-automatic.

Upon completing that stage, I would then hand them a 4-inch barreled .38 Special revolver, and have them shoot it double-action (pulling the trigger to cock and fire the gun) with a standard-velocity .38 Special.

The transition to this heavier gun, with slightly more noise and recoil, is almost always seamless.

Frequently they will comment that it makes more noise, but they are so entranced by making small patterns with the .22, the slightly heavier recoil and louder noise is barely noticed.

Once they have gotten used to the trigger and action of the larger revolver, I move them to a snub-nosed 5-shot .38 Special.

This is the gun I really want them to learn, but if I started them on one of these smaller guns with its sharp bark, flash of fire from the 2-inch barrel and its noticeable recoil, I might never have convinced them to pick up another gun.

Moving from the 4-inch to the 2-inch barrel and experiencing the first shot generally elicits a comment of “Oh, it kicks more.”

Then they go on and shoot the heck out of the target, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

I have never had this protocol fail to work. In fact, after working up to the small snub-noses, I can easily transition them to a center-fire semi-auto. Most prefer staying with the revolver, however.

In the case of the lady so terrified of guns, she was nervous just looking at them lying on the table, I started her exactly like this — with the .22 “Kit” gun.

The next gun she fired was my 4-inch Model 66 Combat Magnum with warm .38 Special loads in it. She stepped up to the heavier gun, louder loads and more-pronounced recoil without even a comment, and kept shooting, engrossed in trying to keep all the shots together on the paper in the vicinity of the “X” ring.

When I finally stopped her and handed her my Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver), I thought she was ready. But this is a .38 Special snub-nosed revolver with an innovative composite frame. It’s light and has a fierce recoil with +P loads.

But we were shooting standard load rounds, and her only comment when the first bullet fired was, “Oh, it kicks more.”

She proceeded to keep on pumping aimed fire into the center of the B-27 target.

She was the last student, and she had young-mother things to do for Easter. She grinned and said, “Thanks, I’ve really enjoyed this. I’m not scared of them anymore.”

“You’ve got one more thing to do before you go,” I said. “Load five rounds in that little revolver, and face down range. That target is an aggressor. He’s going to be coming at you like an armed assailant. I want you to fire all five rounds as fast as you can put them in his midsection. I want fast, aimed fire — as fast as you can aim and pull the trigger.”

Her eyes wide, she turned to the target area and loaded the gun. From about 15 feet, I started rapidly bumping the target carrier toward her in stops and starts.

When the target reached about ten feet from her, I started screaming “Shoot! Shoot! Now! Now!” in her ear.

She emptied all five shots in half-second intervals as the target bounced erratically five feet from her.

Not a single shot fell outside the 8-ring. Most were inside the 9-ring. One touched the 10-ring.

I gave a rebel yell, she turned to me with a look of absolute exhilaration, and whooped, grinning wide enough to crack her jaw.

“That was fun,” she gasped, catching her breath. “I can’t believe I did that!”

She emailed me later telling me how impressed her husband was with her targets, and now he was going to buy her a handgun for Mother’s Day, and what did I recommend?

Another hopolophobe converted to a shooting enthusiast — one more young woman who will no longer be food to the heathens, no longer will feel she has to have a man to protect her and her young.

You want to talk about women’s power?

We empower women — with .38 Specials and good solid firearms training.


Hutchinson’s books The Quest and the Quarry and The Great New Orleans Gun Grab (co-authored with Todd Masson) are available by calling 800-538-4355 or by going to

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