The shooting sports are becoming more and more popular, with firearms enthusiasts spending more time at the range and in training schools. And it’s not just men who are doing the training — it’s increasingly women who are hitting the schoolhouse.

Women have shown a significant increase in the use, training and purchases of firearms. Women’s involvement with firearms has been on the rise for the past 10 years. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there’s been a growth of nearly 40 percent over the past couple of years. So as a trainer, I’m going to take a look at how to build a training environment for women and how do we as a shooting community meet their needs. 

When we look back in time, men and women played very different roles. Our focus points were different. Men played the role of the hunter/gatherer/protector, taking care of the women and providing for the family. Women focused on raising children and running the household. Both needs had to be met to be successful in life. Some of this mentality still carries over into today’s time as well. I believe it is this way of thinking that might be causing issues in the training world. As Sam Cooke says, “A change is gonna come.”

Now you have to understand that I am writing this article from a couple different perspectives. My wife currently works in a male-dominated profession. She has been employed with a local fire department for over 13 years, and she has shared some of her experiences with me. I am also a father of two amazing girls, both 10 years of age. Recently I have taken the time to poll several female shooters from both the tactical and competitive fields. They have shared their personal experiences with me on what works and what doesn’t at shooting academies or outside training classes.

I have been a firearms instructor since 2004, and I am very fortunate to work with a lot of people with different skill levels, both men and women. I also represent companies within the competitive arena, where I get to compete with some of the best male and female shooters in the country.

So what needs do women have that must be met on the range? I strongly believe that there are a lot of misconceptions out there among firearms instructors when it comes to teaching women.

I think we must first identify the differences between men and women on the range. When it comes to shooting a handgun, there are five fundamentals of shooting: Stance, Grip, Sight Alignment, Sight Picture and Trigger Control. If we break those fundamentals down and what it takes to accomplish them, there’s only one that might cause some women an issue: grip.

Grip plays a role in a couple of different ways. It helps to build confidence in handling the weapon based on how it fits and feels in the hand. Grip helps to steady the gun prior to taking the shot and helps manage recoil afterwards. Seeing this firsthand on the range, I found that some women have trouble getting their hands around the grip properly. Either the gun was too big or their hands were too small. A mismatch like that can cause a lack of confidence in gun handling and can cause issues with recoil management. So it’s important to make sure the gun is a proper fit.

Another area that needs to be addressed is the different learning styles that men and women have. Have you ever read the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus? This book deals more on the lines of the different ways men and women communicate with respect to relationships, however, I believe the main idea still applies. Men communicate in very simple terms, and if there is something wrong, we do our best to fix it and move on. Women, on the other hand, want to know why and how. They like to have more information than just what is on the surface. By having all the information, they can better process whatever is going on.

Now how do firearms instructors take this information and build a better training program for women? First, you must know your audience and the intent for taking your class. Knowing the goals or the expectations of your students will give you the foundation of where to start the class. If you start off talking about slide lock reloads and half your students don’t even know what a slide lock is, confusion has already set in. Students might be taking your course for different reasons, and all will have different skills. Take the time to learn a little about each of them and a little about their past when it comes to shooting.

Secondly, you must be thorough in your explanation of what it is you want your students to know. Just because a student expresses their training history, they might not always be “squared away.” Give instruction that builds a student up step by step. Sometimes skipping steps will leave out the most important parts. They might have been self taught to draw from a holster and reload, but might have never been shown how to prep the trigger during these tasks. This little piece of advice can help accuracy greatly. Try to avoid trendy or “in the biz” terms. Students that were never police officers or in the military might get hung up on terms or acronyms you use. If they are spending time trying to understand you, then they could miss the point of your instruction. Assume nothing.

So be sure to ask, “Are there any questions?” I use myself a lot as an example in my classes, the good and the bad. I demo everything I want the student to do. That way they get to hear it, see it and then do it. Sometimes my demos don’t go as I had visualized. I simply laugh it off and try it again. This takes the heat off my students and shows them that I make mistakes too. By doing this, I have found that all students will interact more in the class and we can all learn from it.

Lastly, check your personal feelings at the door. All students attending classes are there to learn. No one likes to be singled out or made to feel like everyone is watching them, so don’t create these issues in your class. Give the proper instructions or tips for that student and move on. Too much attention creates a learning environment full of stress. At that point, they are focusing on issues created in the class, not the instruction you are giving. Each student should walk away with the skills you have taught them. They all might not be able to perform at the same levels, and that’s OK. You’re doing your job as long as your instruction is clear, relevant and on point.

To close, I would say that students are exactly that, students. You are going to have some good ones and you’re going to have some bad ones, both male and female. Be sure to treat all of them with the same amount of respect. Stay focused putting your attention toward giving a clear and precise message.

Some of the best advice I was given when I started teaching applies just as much to women as it does to men: “Be their guide on their side.”