Four women sat in a circle and listened to Ted Spraker retell an email he once received about how small of a gun could be used to stop a charging brown bear in its tracks on Saturday afternoon.
Spraker told the curious women it could be any caliber, really.
“The email said, ‘One shot to my husband’s knee cap and I ran away to safety,’” he said drawing laughter from the women.
The moment was welcome comic relief in a rather serious conversation about how to defend against bears as part of the Women on Target program hosted at the Snowshoe Gun Club. That clinic also featured other presentations on all things firearms — from revolver, semi-automatic handgun and shotgun loading, use and safety to shooting instruction, all of which was custom tailored for the group of women.
The clinic was the third of four planned for the summer aimed at teaching women who know little to nothing about guns the basics, said clinic director Elaina Spraker. The program is in its second year and each class has been full with between 15 and 27 participants, she said.
“When they are around other women, I think it is comfort in numbers,” Elaina said.
The women gave a number of reasons they wanted to participate, from simply learning more about guns to becoming more comfortable handling and shooting them to a quick refresher on safety or to learn how to protect themselves in the Alaska wild.
“A lot of them are afraid of them and so there are no stupid questions,” Elaina said.
Kenai resident Lenore Wells said her husband hunts and she has been around firearms before but came for a bit of a “re-training.” Wells said her husband was “all for it” when she signed up for the class.
“So I need to become more familiar and comfortable,” Wells said. “If something were to happen to my husband, if he were to fall or break a leg, I depend on him and rely upon him but I need to be self-sufficient as well. There might be times when I’m on my own or something and I’m trying to be back-up, not bait.”
Wells added that husbands and fathers are not always the best teachers because women might only get the male perspective.
“I’m smaller, I’m not as strong and I understand what he is saying but being able to do it in a formal setting and learn with other women is easier,” she said. “... I would ask a question and he would say, ‘I already told you that,’ and then I’d go, ‘Don’t you raise your voice at me,’ and he’d go, ‘I’m not raising my voice.’ Those kinds of things.”
Clam Gulch resident Marge Wiley said she had never shot a gun before the clinic and learned a lot even just by lunchtime.
She said she was growing more comfortable with the idea of shooting and wanted to get out to the range even though she said she wouldn’t volunteer to go first.
“I’d say I’m still intimidated by a shotgun,” she said. “They are heavy and I can see how you could accidentally pull a trigger when you are not supposed to because that’s a comfortable place to hold it.”
Regina McClure said she became interested in learning to shoot after sitting in on a shooting safety class her two sons previously took.
“It was so fascinating and they had such a good time and I thought, ‘I can’t allow them to know things I don’t,’” she said.
McClure said she had never shot a gun but “the boys” gave her a .22 caliber rifle for Valentines Day. Moreover, she said she was excited to go hunting with her sons — something not every mother gets to do, she added.
“So I’m all excited about learning to use it,” she said. “My 14-year-old got his .22 for his birthday in December and he shot a rabbit. He learned how to preserve the rabbit foot and gave it to me and now I’ve got to give one to him when I get my first rabbit.”
However, Elaina said the majority the women who take the classes aren’t looking to become hunters. Some have other reasons, such as wanting to build stronger relationships with their husbands.
“One of the women, she goes, ‘I want to learn about firearms and firearm safety, but right now my husband thinks I’m so hot,’” Elaina said with a laugh. “It just kind of lets you into the world of these men that are into their firearms.”
McClure said she was particularly interested in the portions of the class about bear safety and defense because her family is often outdoors.
“Generally I got the idea you need a rifle, but those are really heavy, especially for girls and so he was giving suggestions on handguns to carry as an alternative to a rifle,” she said. “And that you don’t have to have a super high power but it is important that you know what you are doing and you feel comfortable using it and that’s been helpful to me.”
Ted gave a presentation on how to mitigate a bear encounter and advised the women that firing should be the last option. He said it was critical to not panic in any situation.
“The most important tool you have is common sense,” he said.
Elaina said the Friends of the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International help sponsor the clinics and she said she appreciates the time the coaches volunteer to teach the women.
“I think it is an amazing possibility the fact that NRA funds have made this possible for us to do that and just the opportunity to do it is fantastic,” Wells said. “The volunteers that have taken their time and care enough to pass their knowledge and information on to other people is something to be thankful for.”
Interest in the program continues to grow and the August 18 clinic is currently full. However, last winter Elaina said she started compiling a list of women interested in this year’s round of clinics and plans to do the same this winter.
“It is a great, great thing that’s happening — we can’t keep up,” she said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.