On target: Program helps women take aim

Posted: Sunday, May 01, 2011

Guys, say goodbye to the days of solitary hunting trips and male-bonding time at the shooting range. Women on Target, a hands-on training clinic geared toward making females more comfortable around firearms, has your daughters, sisters, wives, and girlfriends prepared to follow you out there and hold their own.

Photo By Karen Garcia
Photo By Karen Garcia
Instructor Bobby Cox helps Jessica Paxton, 15, hit a target while skeet shooting at the Snowshoe Gun Club on Saturday.

The clinic, held Saturday morning and afternoon, began with an educational installment at Wilderness Way, where 23 women ranging in age from teenagers to the elderly learned firearm basics. Volunteers from the Snowshoe Gun Club, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Safari Club International showed their eager pupils how to safely hold shotguns and pistols, how to stand properly when firing, and how to disassemble the guns.

During the classroom portion, the women were asked why they decided to sign up for the Women on Target clinic.

"All the ladies were being asked why they were there," said Mike Crawford, president of the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of SCI and head of the Kenai Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee. "Many of them have husbands or dads that bought a gun for them. Sometimes that was last week or last month, but some were 20 years ago and they've never even touched it. And they want to learn how to use it."

Crawford said that even though many of these women have men in their lives who are proficient with firearms, those people aren't always the best instructors.

"Sometimes husbands, boyfriends, or dads aren't the greatest teachers," he said, "because they don't have the patience or they assume you should just know all of this stuff through osmosis."

After the educational stint, the second session had the women move from Wilderness Way to the Snowshoe Gun Club, where they were able to put their recently acquired knowledge to practical use. Split into groups of about four, they rotated between five stations, shooting shotguns and single-action, double-action, and semi-automatic pistols.

Erin Micciche, who attended the clinic with her daughter Madi, tried her hand at skeet shooting, using a shotgun to blast the bright orange clay projectiles whizzing through the air. Bobby Cox, an avid hunter and one of the instructors, gave her pointers along the way, modifying her stance and adjusting her grip on the gun.

"You never know when a bear is going to come in the yard; you never know when a bad guy is going to come in the house," Erin said of learning how to shoot. "It's a good thing to know. It's like knowing how to swim; it's something every Alaskan should know how to handle."

Madi had participated in the Teens on Target program last fall. That clinic lasted for eight weeks and was just for teenage girls, but it taught them similar skills. The girls didn't, however, get the full range of hands-on practice with real guns -- they used C02 guns -- which is why many also participated in the Women on Target clinic.

Jessica Paxton was one such girl, and also brought her mother LaRae Paxton along on Saturday.

"My dad likes to shoot, and I want to go hunting with him," said Jessica, who is 15 years old and had never touched a gun before signing up for Teens on Target.

Angela McGahan also showed up with her mother, although she is already a grown woman with a husband and children of her own. McGahan said she spent a good chunk of last summer across the inlet with her family, and that sometimes when she is out in the woods by herself or left alone with the kids, she would prefer to have protection and know how to use it.

"If there's an instance where I'm out getting firewood and I'm by myself and I don't have my husband with his gun like I normally would, I need to feel comfortable with my own," she said.

There's such a need for this kind of training in our community, said organizer Elaina Spraker, whose husband was one of the clinic instructors. Spraker sent out four e-mails about the event, and within four days the class had filled up and had 10 women on the waiting list.

"Some of them will probably never become hunters," Spraker said of the participating women, "but the sport of shooting is just fun. But to do that, you have to be safe."

And that is what all of this boils down to: making women feel comfortable and safe around guns, whether they decide to use them or not. Because in Alaska, encountering a firearm in some capacity is basically unavoidable.

"If you've got kids and even though you don't have firearms in your house, shouldn't you be able to know something about firearms so you can teach your children gun safety?" asked Crawford. "Because they're going to be exposed to firearms in Alaska. There's no way around that."

Spraker said that due to the high demand, another Women on Target clinic will be held either in June or August.

Karen Garcia can be reached at karen.garcia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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