from Warrior News June 2006

Teaching Beginners? Make It Easy
Karl Rehn
KR Training

I'm married to a woman who is a serious shooter, competitor and instructor.  We run a small shooting school and among our assistant instructors we have male and female instructors. We get a lot of couples and women in classes ranging from NRA basic pistol to CHL and our post-CHL courses that teach defensive shooting skills.  Unfortunately my observation is that most men that give advice to women shooters are well meaning but still give bad advice.  I hate to say it but the process described in the recent e-news article about teaching spouses to shoot pretty much defines exactly what NOT to do when trying to help a beginner get started, in my opinion. Here's why:

The first hurdle is to make it as easy as possible for the beginner to be successful and learn the fundamentals.  Proper equipment selection is essential, because if it's hard, a beginner in anything is going to lose interest quickly.  So step one is for the potential coach to understand what features of a firearm make it easy to shoot.   Low recoil, decent barrel length, easy trigger.  After learning on a .22, what centerfire caliber has the widest variety of gun models and is generally accepted as OK for personal defense?  9mm.

So leave the .45's and 10mm's at home for awhile.  Like the 1911?  Thanks to the popularity of IDPA and growing demand, 9mm 1911's are available from Springfield, STI and others. Any 1911 fan that is coaching beginners should own a full size 9mm 1911. 9mm semiautos also often have the lightest recoil springs which makes racking the slide easier.

What about barrel length? Longer sight radius makes shooting easier.
Shorter barrelled guns often have heavier recoil springs than their medium and full sized cousins.
So leave the 3' pocket guns at home too.

Why not .25, .32, or .380? If friends don't let friends carry mouse guns, why arm your spouse with one?  Secondly, most guns in the .25-.380 range are pocket guns with heavy double action triggers, short barrels and tiny sights that are hard for experienced shooters to shoot with anything close to the same speed and accuracy they can shoot their own carry guns. So why handicap a beginner with an expert's gun in a marginal caliber?

The trigger is the most important part of the gun.  In the competitive shooting arena, in every discipline matches are won with guns that have the same trigger pull for every shot, and usually those triggers have a short distance of travel and are less than 6 lbs.
So why hand a beginner a gun that has a long, heavy trigger pull with a pull weight of over 6 lbs? And why hand a beginner a gun that has a trigger pull that changes between shot #1 and shot #2? With the wide variety of one-trigger-pull guns on the market in 9mm and larger calibers, there is absolutely NO reason to hand a beginner a DA/SA style pistol.  DA/SA designs allow hammer down carry for exposed hammer designs at the cost of added complexity and (for most shooters) a slower and less accurate first shot.

So leave any gun with a trigger pull more than 6 lbs at home, including your .38 revolver unless it has a 6 lb DA pull.  Pick any timed fire shooting drill you like.  Run it with your favorite gun, then run it with the gun you plan to hand the beginner. If you can't shoot the drill as good or better with the gun you plan to hand the beginner, let the beginner shoot _your_ gun.  Equipment makes a difference.

Now look at the beginner's hands.  People with short fingers have a hard time reaching the trigger on high capacity guns.  One of the single biggest problems I see on a regular basis are shooters that buy guns that don't fit their hands because their 'search criteria' are size, weight, capacity, brand name and every other requirement but the ones that affect whether they can shoot it well.  Ignore the trigger and just grip the gun properly, finger off the trigger.  Then place the first pad of the trigger finger on the trigger.  If the inside of the trigger finger is pushing against the frame - so that the frame is being 'pushed' by the trigger finger when the trigger is moved -- the gun is too fat.  Most people are happy just to reach the trigger any way they can - or worse, they rotate the gun in their hand and change their grip so they can reach the trigger.

That's wrong thinking.  Trigger control is the most important skill required to hit the target.  If you can't press the trigger without moving the gun into a bad grip, it's dumb to struggle with equipment that doesn't fit.  Grip reductions, replacement grips, short triggers, a Dremel tool, a new gun. There are solutions available.  If you want a pretty gun, buy one to shoot and another for the safe, or take some good pictures of the gun you have now.  Then make your gun fit you so you can shoot it well, because that's what matters.  The Glock is a good choice for many but I have had a fair number of students whose hands are too small for the G19 frame. The Springfield XD, S&W M&P and other new models have smaller frame dimensions or interchangeable grip panels that allow a shooter to actually make the gun fit.  And there's a fair amount of a reduction that can be achieved by a grip reduction job on a Glock.  The 1911 is one of the most small-hand friendly designs and it has a wide variety of grip and trigger aftermarket options.

The shooter needs to be able to get all her (or his) fingers on the gun's frame.  Generally that means a medium or full sized gun.  Most people that try to carry guns with short frames end up sticking mag extenders on their mags so they can grip the gun properly.  So leave any 'three fingered' guns in the safe when it's time to teach the beginner.

What's missing in this decision making process?  Input from the beginner.  The problem, quite frankly, is that beginners are unconsciously incompetent. They don't know what they don't know.  So guys typically want to shoot the biggest gun in the biggest caliber, and women want the little lightweight gun -- because neither understands what characteristics make a gun easy or hard to shoot.  All they can do is base their decision on what they've seen on TV, what looks good to them and your advice.  So advise them to trust you and do your best to pick something that makes it easy based on the basic principles I've defined.  Don't worry about what they are going to carry, because the first step is to get them capable of being safe, then able to shoot well enough to use the 'easy gun' to some basic standards of competency.  If it's easy and fun for them to get that far, then they can start deciding whether they want to start compromising on those characteristics because they are unwilling to figure out how to carry the 'easy' gun.

All too often spouses that aren't 'gun people' are turned off from shooting by coaches that assume that the spouse will have no interest in shooting, thus the mad rush to get from .22 to 3' lightweight major caliber pocket blaster without the time spent with the 'easy' gun getting competent.  Start with the assumption that your spouse might enjoy shooting and eventually get from 'capable of using the full size 9mm pistol for home defense' to 'carrying a primary gun, backup gun and two knives' someday.  Give the spouse the advice you would give a friend that you were trying to cultivate as a long term shooting buddy, not the advice you give the 'I shoot once a year' gun owner that works down the hall from you.

A final comment about teaching women shooters:  holsters designed for men rarely fit a woman's body shape or ergonomics properly.  To simulate what it feels like for a woman to draw from man's holster, put your belt around your stomach at least 3' above your pants. Then wedge something between the muzzle of the gun and your body so that the gun is canted into your ribcage.  If you get it right it will feel like you are drawing your gun at a very awkward angle, up into your armpit.  The cheap mass produced holster lines, in particular, are very poorly suited for female use.  If you are coaching a spouse and you send her to a pistol class where a holster is required, please spend the money to get her a decent 'dropped and offset' holster designed for women's use.  While these holsters are not ideal for concealed carry,  they put women students on a 'level playing field' with male students for learning a basic drawstroke. As with the other aspects of training, once they learn a basic skill set, they can adapt those skills to real world compromises later.  'Train hard, fight easy' is a great slogan, but a beginner can achieve a higher level of skill faster by training hard with gear you've picked to make it easy.

Karl Rehn
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