Program takes aim at women
Over the last 13 years, nearly 80,000 women have been introduced to firearm safety through a women’s-only program run by the National Rifle Association called Women on Target. Some women go on to participate in shooting sports while others stop with the confidence that comes with knowing how to safely operate a gun. But those involved say that there is value in however far the women choose to go.
For Donna Mathews, the woman’s program coordinator at Pinetucky Gun Club and a Women on Target instructor, firearms have been a way of life for as long as she can remember.
“I was raised around guns, but we didn’t do it as a sport,” she says. “It was used more for killing snakes in the garden or shooting squirrels that were eating the pecans. I grew up around them, but it wasn’t something I did on a regular basis.”
Her interest continued through adulthood, and around 2007 she attended her first Women on Target event.
“I went and took the class and really enjoyed it,” she says. “I went back and took it again, and that time, I volunteered and started helping. The course opened up for instructors and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
She says women generally find the learning process more satisfying when being taught by another woman.
“Women are a lot more timid,” she says. “They have a lot more of a fear, and men don’t have that same fear. I think for women, it’s really a fear of the unknown, and once they realize — hey, I can do this — they’re excellent shooters. They pick it up really quick.”
Though she has taught men to shoot — particularly her son and husband, who were both shotgun experts but knew little about the pistols that she favors — she says that for the most part, she would rather teach other women to shoot.
“It’s a lot easier,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of ladies that say, ‘My husband has tried to teach me, but I can’t do it and we get frustrated with each other.’ Even for me it’s easier when my husband’s not the instructor.”
Women on Target was founded in 2000 and is a basic course designed to introduce female shooters to the fundamentals of safe shooting.
“It’s been growing by an average of nine percent a year,” says Diane Danielson, NRA’s Women on Target Instructional Shooting Clinic coordinator. “Our biggest year was 2012, where the program experienced a 26 percent increase in attendance.”
That mushrooming growth rises out of a variety of relationships.
“Women have boyfriends who shoot, girlfriends who shoot or husbands who shoot, and they want to get involved,” Danielson says. “We’ve heard all sorts of stories — a grandmother who brought her granddaughter so she could learn, a mother who wanted a taste of what her son was experiencing in basic training and a single mom who was looking for a better way to protect herself at home.” The Women on Target program provides all of those ladies with a great first step into the shooting sports.”
Mathews says last year, each of the five Women on Target clinics she coordinated averaged about 30 women.
“The very last one we had in November, we signed up 30 women and tried to cap it, but 40 women showed up.”
Last weekend’s Women on Target event at Pinetucky came with lunch, so organizers attempted to cap it at 20 participants. They ended up accepting 22 and turning 10 women away.
Next weekend, Mathews will be conducting a basic instruction clinic at the Devereaux Hunting Club property in Burke County, and while it’s not an NRA-sanctioned event, it’s one that the better halves of the club members have shown an interest in for quite some time.
“It’s become a very hot topic,” says Hap Harris, who has been president of the club since 1985. “Women are wanting to defend themselves, which I think is a good thing.”
Through his wife, Harris learned that just because women are comfortable around shotguns and rifles doesn’t mean they’re comfortable around handguns.
“My wife has an absolute phobia about pistols,” Harris says. “In all the years, she wouldn’t touch a pistol.”
Harris says that he decided one day not to take her no for an answer.
“I looked my wife in the eye and said — ‘Hey, I’d rather have to come up with the money for a counselor for you than to have to go out and pick out a casket for you,’” he told her. “Heaven forbid it ever happens. I’m betting it’s not going to happen in my home, but I will bet you it’s going to happen in somebody’s house.”
Ironically, his wife will miss the course because of a cruise, but Harris says he’s planning on making sure she gets the instruction, even if he has to arrange for one-on-one session with Mathews.
While putting together Women on Target programs takes a lot of work, Danielson says participants tend to feel it’s worth it.
“What they get from the program is a fun, safe introduction into the world of firearms,” she says. “It’s a safe environment, it’s a controlled environment, and thanks to all the other women in attendance, it’s a more comfortable environment for them to learn. There’s a spontaneous eruption of camaraderie that only women can experience.”
Over the years, Mathews has seen that camaraderie blossom and grow into confidence.”
“I try to tell women — don’t be scared of it, but have a healthy respect for it,” she says. “Respect that it can kill you and it can hurt somebody and damage things. The more you shoot, the more confident you should feel, and the more confident you feel, the more you’re going to be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.”
Along with the guided instruction, the program also provides material and informational souvenirs that help guide participants toward additional shooting activities through the NRA and their local ranges.
Though the NRA has become famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view — for its political lobbying, that role is only a part of what the organization does. In addition to influencing policy, the NRA administers 178 programs and puts on over 11,000 sanctioned competitions every year.
According to Danielson, interest in the Women on Target program has been consistent throughout the country, though California leads the nation in the number of clinics held, followed by North Carolina.
And while several factors bring women to the shooting range for the first time, Mathews says one reason seems to rise to the top.
“Personal safety,” she says. “A lot of people are by themselves and they’re seeing an increase in crime and they need to protect themselves.”
In the wake of so many high-profile shootings, the Second Amendment has become on of those hot button issues that Mathews tries to take in stride.
“For me, it’s a personal decision if somebody owns a firearm or not,” she says. Me, personally — if you’re going to have one, I would love to teach you how to shoot it properly and safely and accurately. That’s where I’m at. If I was running for Miss America, that would be my platform — firearm safety. That is what I’m passionate about.”
To Mathews, helping other women become empowered through safely and effectively using a handgun leaves her with a special feeling.
“They see that they can do it,” she says. “One of the girls I trained this weekend cried after her first shot because she didn’t want to do it. But she kept at it and she shot at least 20 rounds with a .22 and then she shot her mother’s .38. She was just scared, but afterward she thought — I can do this. I can shoot and hit that target and I’m okay.” You Might Also Like: