Peering through the scope, Jennifer Tabor aligns the cross hairs on the red dot that centered the target 300 yards away. She gently rolled the safety off with her thumb, then let out a slow exhale while steadily squeezing the rifle's trigger.
Despite the violent recoil of the firing weapon Tabor doesn't flinch -- not even an inch.
"Bullseye!" her husband announces, thus completing her turn firing. She proudly walks away leaving behind a shot grouping that would make Annie Oakley envious.
Shooting isn't just a man's sport and Tabor is just one of many gals with guns that has learned her skills from courses taught at the Cooper Landing Gun Club. Many women are starting to take aim at hunting and sport shooting, and people around the state are starting to take notice.
The gun club offers the National Rifle Association's "Women On Target" program which was developed in 1999, following requests from women who wanted to learn how to hunt and shoot.
Christine Ermold is confident and competent with her 30.06 rifle.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
According to Jennifer Bailey, the NRA's Women On Target program coordinator, the program is designed to teach women -- many of whom are beginners and are intimidated -- who want to learn a new sport in a fun, non-competitive atmosphere, while making friends.
Cooper Landing is one of only two gun clubs in Alaska to offer the NRA Women On Target program, and the only club in the state to offer the rifle course .
"I had never touched a gun before that course," said Sharon Morgan, a Cooper Landing resident and a graduate of the program. Morgan decided to take the course to overcome her fear of firearms after encouragement from her husband.
"I found a side to me I didn't know I had," said Morgan. "I felt less intimidated by learning with other women. I think all women is nice because it encourages some women to give it a try, who might not if it was coed."
Morgan now demonstrates the skills she's learned. She competed last August in the John C. Garand Rifle Competition at Ft. Richardson and held her own against many expert marksmen.
Her husband even gave her a pistol for her birthday, and the two have become hunting partners. They're planning to go boar hunting in Texas next season.
"It opened the door to hunting," she said.
Morgan isn't the only woman with no previous firearm experience to take the course -- not by a long shot -- according to Pat Die, the gun club president and the NRA-certified lead instructor for the Cooper Landing club's course.
"A lot of the women have never shot before," Die said. "We try to teach them to shoot safely, competently and confidently, and have fun doing it."
Some of the women who take the course do have prior experience and are just looking to expand upon their current body of knowledge. Sterling resident Christine Ermold is one such participant.
"I had some prior experience shooting," said Ermold. She's been through the necessary firearm instruction to obtain the permit to carry a concealed weapon -- her 9mm semi-automatic. However, that's for self-defense purposes and she was interested in learning about the recreational aspect of firearms.
"I wanted more instruction on using high-powered rifles for hunting purposes primarily," she said.
She enjoyed the one-on-one instruction in her class and found the overall experience fun. She particularly liked the excitement of the final exam -- a walk through the woods on a "mock hunt" in search of targets depicting popular game animals like grouse and rabbit.
She found the same-sex learning environment appealing.
"I felt much more comfortable asking questions in the women-only atmosphere, despite the different levels of experience among the women in the class," said Ermold.
Since graduating the course, Ermold now enjoys shooting regularly with her husband, as well as with friends she made in the class. This past Martin Luther King holiday Ermold and Tabor, along with their husbands, enjoyed some target practice together at a rifle range in Sterling.
They showed up with a small arsenal between the four of them, and the women quickly gravitated toward the big guns -- the 30.06 and up. Both women have been expanding their firearm knowledge by shooting bigger and more high-powered weapons.
A large, metal gong placed at 300 yards on the range is what separates the men from the boys -- or in this case the women from the girls -- and both women rang the gong loudly with dead-on shots from their large-caliber rifles.
"Yahoo! I did it," yelled Ermold after hearing the gong's deep bellow announce her success.
Women like Ermold, Tabor and Morgan are becoming a common sight at gun clubs, rifle ranges and in tree stands all across America. Recent NRA statistics have shown that more women are shooting today than ever before. There are currently more than 2 million American women who hunt and an additional 4 million who enjoy target shooting, and these numbers are still on the rise.
And no it's not just for the Annie Oakley types. Many famous women enjoy the sport, like Barbara Mandrell and Crystal Gale. Shotgun enthusiast Reba McEntire has placed as high as third in trapshooting competitions.
The courses are pretty popular, according to Die. Every class offered by the Cooper Landing Gun Club last year filled up quickly. They've had students come from as far as Homer and Palmer to attend.
This hasn't made Die change his format of small class sizes though. He likes to limit classes to six students, so there can be one instructor for every two pupils.
To preserve the small class sizes, the gun club will try to offer more courses to meet the increasing demand. This year, five courses in all will be available -- three instructional clinics with rifles and two with pistols.
A course is typically taught over a two-day period. Four hours of class work is covered on a Friday evening, then the entire next day is spent doing practical training on the range.
"They start out on a .22 caliber rifle or pistol, then transition through the day up to more high-powered firearms, including a .30 M-1 carbine," said Die. "They'll expend up to 500 rounds."
Students will shoot from a variety of distances including 25, 50 and up to 100 yards. In addition, they will shoot in many different positions including sitting at a bench, standing and lying in the prone position.
Cost for the program is $35 per person, and includes all the course materials and ammunition. Courses are comprehensive and include instruction on gun safety, handling, cleaning and marksmanship.
Course dates and more information on women's programs can be obtained on the Web at www.nrahq.org., or those wanting to sign up for a course can call either Pat Die at 907-595-1512 or instructor Steve Skolnick at 907-595-1234.
The Cooper Landing Gun Club also meets the third Monday of every month at the Community Hall (adjacent to the library) on Bean Creek Rd. Anyone is welcome to attend their meetings.
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