Take Aim and Fire: One Woman's Journey to Becoming a Better Shooter - ITS Tactical

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Take Aim and Fire: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a Better Shooter

By Kelly Black

Rifle Dynamics Production Tour

Handling a firearm may seem pretty common these days, depending on what circle you travel in. But for many people, even a gal who’s married to a tactically-minded guy, training with a firearm isn’t common at all. I guess the old saying of “opposites attract” is definitely true in my case.

There was a time not too long ago when I wasn’t familiar with a handgun, shotgun or any type of rifle. I was in a different mindset. I believed that I could keep myself out of harm’s way just by making certain choices. I parked in well lit areas, I was very cautious about being followed, I tried not to go out by myself late at night, my keys were ready and in hand when I walk to my car and I’ve always been the person who locks the door as soon as its closed.

As time went by and I pulled my head out of the sand, I began to acknowledge that a traumatic or life-threatening event may happen right inside my own home when I least expect it. Or that something may happen while I’m stopped at a light or walking my dog.

What began in my mind as an intermittent reminder that I shouldn’t always rely on my husband to protect me, has become a mission to being prepared if I need to take matters into my own hands.


Let me take you back to when Bryan first tried to teach me to shoot sometime about four years ago. Granted, when I was a kid I shot BB guns, but beyond that I really had no familiarity to shooting and wasn’t too keen about going to a gun range. One time when Bryan was home on leave, I went with him and another good friend of ours to an outdoor range. I fired a few shots from Bryan’s SIG P226 9mm pistol. He took my picture, he seemed proud of me and I thought my job was done.

When he got out of the Navy he wanted to take me to another range, just the two of us and really teach me how to shoot. I became extremely nervous and couldn’t think of anything but ways to suggest getting out of it.

We went to an indoor range, it was loud as hell and I had myself convinced that I would drop the gun and make it go off or that something else would cause me to shoot myself, him or another person. Needless to say my hands were shaking and sweating and I was hoping to not become an embarrassment to either of us.

You can probably guess what happened next; the waterworks began. I really don’t know what Bryan was thinking, but he was very calm and a great coach. He didn’t make me feel anything but supported as he tried to get me to relax and just try.

I’m not sure how much time passed. I told him and convinced myself, that if I could just practice loading and unloading the magazine I would feel better. He showed me how to load a magazine, unload the magazine, reload it, over and over so that I would hopefully feel more confident with the pistol. I’m sure he knew I was just stalling. Eventually I did shoot, but my apprehension, the anticipation of the recoil and the noise level in the facility hindered how much Bryan was able to accomplish that day.

To be honest with you, I can’t remember how many rounds I fired while we were there. I can’t remember if I shot well enough, if I missed the target or how long we were even standing in the bay. I stressed myself out enough to not go back to an indoor range for quite awhile.

Changing my Mindset

In the last two years my outlook on learning to shoot has changed dramatically. I think it helped having a husband and a son who both love to shoot. My exposure to firearms became more frequent and I started asking to go with them to shoot. We found a couple of different ranges that were outdoors and private, which really helped me relax more. Knowing that I could have enough privacy to be myself and ask questions without worrying another shooter would overhear and think I was an idiot really was a huge help.

Another thing that helped change my mind about learning to shoot was simply becoming more tuned in to my personal liberties. I realized that in my youth I had a much more independent and adventurous spirit, but somehow I had allowed life to change me into a sheep-ish person who blindly trusted that nothing bad was going to happen to me. Now I know if some deviant knocks down my front door, I want to be able to shoot them in the face without missing.

Feelings of Achievement

Once I realized that I wanted to learn more about guns and become a better shooter a lot of the anxiety melted away. Don’t get me wrong, until about six months ago my hands would still shake when I loaded a magazine and I over-anticipated the recoil of each shot, but I’m no longer overcome by a fear of operating a firearm.

It’s too bad I didn’t have the book SHOOT by Julie Golob back then because I’m confident it would’ve helped me try some things differently when I was starting out. For one thing, I would’ve doubled up on ear protection to help me not focus on the noise. For another, I would’ve seen the anatomy of a firearm and ammunition which is so interesting to me. Knowing the inner workings of a tool can only help me to utilize it better.

In 2011 I applied for and received my Texas Concealed Handgun Permit. I remember saying to friends just last year when I was asked about it that I didn’t plan to actually carry concealed, but this is something else that has changed for me.

In January of this year I joined a ladies only pistol league called A Girl and a Gun. My first meeting didn’t disappoint and I’m very proud to be a member. My group meets every other week after work and I’ve been able to improve my aim and confidence with every meeting I’ve been part of. Talking with other shooters and getting instruction from the facilitators has not only provided me with new insight, but I’ve also found reassurance by interacting with like-minded women who all want to be better defenders of themselves and their families.

By March I tested myself to see if I was ready to go to an indoor range alone. I went on my lunch break to get in a few practice rounds at a range that is close by our office. There were a few goofy gangster wannabes in the bay next to me, but I realized I was even more determined to stay, follow through and shoot as well as I could. Even though my target was evidence that I still needed improvement I felt so empowered when I walked out of that building to head back to work. I felt like I had come a long way.

Becoming a Better Shooter

Over the last few months I’ve been paying closer attention when it comes to receiving advice on honing my skills. My carry pistol is a SIG P238 which is a .380 caliber firearm. I continue to hear that I should upgrade to a 9mm, but I like my little Copperhead. My goal is to become so proficient with shooting it that I can take out an intruder’s eye in one shot. And, I’d like to think that I’m getting there.

I wanted to share with you the progress I’ve made over the past seven months by showing you my targets. These targets show shots from the same SIG P238 pistol. When I look back at the targets from January and February of this year (target on the left, below) I remember that I was simply focusing on trying to hit the X in the center of each target. My grip and arm tension was looser, and I couldn’t focus my eyes around my front site without either closing one eye or going cross-eyed often.

Becoming a Better Shooter

By June (target on the right, above)I had increased my grip strength while holding the pistol and more comfortably locked my arms in a more defined position to help me absorb the recoil. I also began to notice that my eyes were focusing more naturally around my front site and onto the target so that I’m more accurately lining up my gun with where I want to make contact.

During this time I’ve also had opportunities to shoot a shotgun, a couple of M4s and AKs as well as some other 9mm pistols that I was already familiar with. I feel having exposure to shooting other types of guns has really helped my confidence level increase since it’s allowed me to experience various levels of recoil, types of sights and body positioning.

What’s Next

While I’ll continue to participate in my regular pistol league meet ups, I also want to keep pushing myself with new challenges and training experiences. I’m looking forward to working with different instructors, female and male and actually attending an intensive pistol training course at some point in the near future. And even though I’m not interested in competitive shooting, I understand that I need to gain experience in active shooter situations in order to best react to possible real world scenarios.

I’ve tried to shoot at least once each month and sometimes I’ve been able to shoot up to three times in a month. I’ll continue to work at focusing my eyes and at not flinching or anticipating recoil. Right now I still have to remind myself to breathe and relax when I pull the trigger back, but I’m excited about the progress I’ve made so far. I’m even more excited about the skill and empowerment that’s to come.


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  • Alice

    Thanks for posting this. I have had similar experience (being nervous, etc) and this was an inspiring read.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Alice! Its good to know I’m not alone. ~ Kelly

  • Brav0Charlie

    Ma’am, you could not have timed this article any better. The Mrs. just started shooting again and took her first formal private lesson August 1st. Her last training was in 1970 and she has not shot since 1992. I am the worse instructor, because I expect more from family and friends. Passing her off to a professional for instruction, with out me being there, really built her confidence.

    We just went shooting last Wednesday for fun and wants go at least once a week together and once a week to shoot for herself.

    Thanks for such a great article.

    • I appreciate the positive feedback. It’s great to hear you and your wife are shooting together. I know I enjoy being able to shoot with Bryan now. It’s such a great feeling to share this hobby and to be fully relaxed now when we go to the range together. Thanks for sharing your experience! ~ Kelly

  • John

    This is an excellent article that I have forwarded to my girlfriend who’s also new to shooting. One question though, do you have a SIG 238 or do you have a an aftermarket barrel for the SIG 228 or some other way of making it shoot .380? And if anyone gives you a hard time about the caliber you’re shooting, just tell them you are shooting 9mm, just 9mm kurtz 😉

    • Kelly Black

      Hi John, thanks for your question and your feedback! I referred to my gun incorrectly. I have the SIG 238 Copperhead. I guess I had Bryan’s SIG in my brain while I was typing. ~ Kelly

  • James Chao

    Thanks for sharing in your experience. I’m very glad that you’ve attained the success that you have. Shooting is definitely an activity where perseverance absolutely pays off.

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks for your feedback, James! I couldn’t agree more! ~ Kelly

  • Mike

    Solid stuff Kelly, stay armed, stay proud!

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks, Mike! ~ Kelly

  • Your article has an incredible similarity to my wife’s first experience shooting. The indoor range was just too loud for her, this one in particular didn’t have any sound dampening so you could feel and hear every shot in the small 8 station room. I think an outdoor range would have made all the difference in the world for her.
    Your first exposure was so similar to hers right down to the trembling hands and the crying.
    I’ve forwarded this article to her hoping that she reads about your experiences and understands that her reactions are very typical and not to let that scare her from trying again.
    Great article, thank you.

    • Kelly Black

      Dennis, thanks so much for your feedback. It’s taken me awhile to want to talk about my beginning experiences, but if it can help anyone to feel a little better about progressing in this skill set then it makes it all worthwhile. I hope your wife tries again soon. I really enjoy shooting now that I know more about what works for me. I’m happy to talk with her directly if she’s up for it. ~ Kelly

  • Kelly,

    Thanks for the great article as always. I actually forwarded/ shared this with my wife, and hopefully when I return from Afghanistan, I can take her to the range, and purchase her/ our firearms. I like your methods… start with loading and unloading, lessons, and then solo. Tell you what, You teach my wife to shoot, and I’m sure she will teach you to throw and STICK an axe, lol

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks for your feedback and for passing on the article to your wife! I’m definitely not an experienced instructor, but I can put you in touch with the right ladies. And, axe throwing definitely sounds like a skill I should work on. LOL! ~ Kelly

  • Also, can you please list some of the equipment that you may, or may not use? Firearms, eye/ hearing protection, etc?

    • Kelly Black

      The safety glasses that I use are just the inexpensive plastic ones that I think I paid $10 for at Cabela’s and I’ve never had an issue with them. I prefer the yellow colored lenses as it brightens up my shooting area for me. As for hearing protection, the current ones I have I wouldn’t recommend to you. I also picked them up at Cabela’s paid about $59 for them, but I don’t have them on hand to tell you the brand. They stopped working after about five uses. I like the electronic hearing protection a lot, however this style requires you to take out the ear padding to replace the batteries, which is not an easy task and is very jarring to the ear piece. I think this is what caused them to stop working so quickly. My next purchase will be for hearing protection where you can replace the batteries from the outside of the ear piece.

      I’m a fan of SIGs as that’s what I’ve learned to shoot with, and I find them to be very reliable. I haven’t shot one that I didn’t like yet. I have some friends who have different SIG models that I’ve been able to shoot and loved what they have, too.

      I’m a fan of high collared shirts or snug crew neck tshirts when I shoot as I’ve had the occasional casing burn my chest before, and I also like wearing shoes that cover all of the tops of my feet. I see some ladies dressing up for the range and wearing glitzy flip-flops, but I’d rather stay covered. I hope this information helps, and thanks so much for asking! ~ Kelly

  • spenceman

    Great article Kelly! My wife also has a P238, and loves it, as a matter of fact I loved it so much that I bought one too. Keep up the good work.

    • Kelly Black

      That’s awesome that you and your wife both have a P238, too. I’ve heard of several people I know buying one recently, too. Sounds like a very popular pistol! Thanks so much for your feedback. ~ Kelly

  • Chance Eary

    You’re writing primarily from a woman’s perspective, but plenty of men have similar experiences (they’d never own up to it, of course). I have had several (male) friends I’ve taken to the range for the first time: they’re intimidating places if you’ve never been in that environment and especially if you’ve had limited exposure to firearms in general. Some patient, gentle coaxing and coaching on my part probably kept them from “remembering” they had somewhere else to be.

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks for your feedback, Chance! I’m glad you’re one of the patient coaches out there when it comes to introducing friends to shooting. It made all the difference in the world to me knowing that my coach (Bryan) was genuinely patient and interested in me getting comfy in that realm. Keep it up! ~ Kelly

  • Great article Kelly, I need to get the Mrs out there.

    By the way this line is great! “Now I know if some deviant knocks down my front door, I want to be able to shoot them in the face without missing.”

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks, Eric! I must admit it makes me smile to re-read that line. LOL! ~ Kelly

  • randyp.b

    One of your best posts yet Kelly! Required reading for anyone wanting to become a proficient and responsible gun owner. Thanks.

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks, Randy! I appreciate your feedback. ~ Kelly

  • Lee

    Kelly, thanks for writing this. My wife has recently decided that she wants her concealed carry permit. She was facing some of the same obstacles and after reading this article she is more determined than ever to overcome them. Thanks again.

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks so much for your feedback, Lee! My best wishes to your wife as she continues on her journey. I certainly have no regrets. ~ Kelly

  • Matt H

    Kelly that is awesome and congrats on the progress!! I wish more women were like you and open minded to it!

    • Kelly Black

      Thanks for the feedback, Matt! ~Kelly

  • Katie

    Dear Kelly,
    My husband forwarded me your article so I could read what you had to say. Growing up I shot A LOT with my dad and grew to love the Geco 1.77 air rifle that belonged to my grandpa and the array of revolvers that my dad had collected over the years. He even had some of them worked on by Bob Munden and I remember getting a phone call one day, saying hello and a voice said “Is Bill there?” I said “no he’s not” the voice said “this is Bob Muden I’m done working on sighting in his piece could you have him call me?” Partly distracted by something else I figured that “Bob” was just one of the guys down at one of dad’s lodges and I said “sure I’ll have him call you, have a good day.” and hung up. When my Dad got home I told him who called and he said you do realize who that was right???!! When I finally got it through my thick skull I could have died! But I’m digressing.
    In June of 2010 my dad died two weeks after suffering from a massive heart attack and I was just broken. (not making this post into a sob story) This meant that my dad who was an avid Paladin fan, Bob Muden suppoter was gone and I did not have anyone that was actively into revolvers or air rifles like I had been and I felt an era was gone. I even sobbed the first time my husband took me to the shoot ranging after dad had died. I went to pick up my Tarus tinted blue barrel with mother of pearl handle .38 special and cried like a baby since it had been a gift to my from my dad. My husband was also understanding and waited for me to get over the crying jag after that I’ve rarely picked up a firearm in two years.
    Now, I have my husband who is into a different style of guns and has been after me for years to try out his high powered rifles such as AR 15’s and 308’s. I suppose I became a gun snob about loving my revolvers and 1.77 and .22’s and my dad and I would mock my husband about his rifles and gear. It was all in good fun.
    So after reading your Changing Attitudes and Feelings of Achievement sections I feel as though I need to get my “arse” in gear and “get on” with my relationship with guns and target shooting. I hate to cave into my husband’s style of shooting (not that I’m bullheaded or anything) but like you, I think it will give me a different outlook, closure and something that I can share with my husband. I know I can still enjoy the gruff old men of the cowboy era but building a shooting relationship with Andy is also very important.
    Thanks for sharing your story and I enjoyed reading it.

    • Kelly Black

      Katie, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and your shooting history with me. I got a bit choked up reading the sections about your dad. I’m excited to hear that you’ll be venturing in to new areas, especially sharing new experiences with your husband. I’ve found that getting out of my comfort zone so that I can relate more to my husband has had some really positive outcomes for both of us. Including helping me to realize that I truly like some of the things I intended to test out just to appease him (like shooting an AR-15). Keep us posted on your adventures and best wishes to you as you move forward on your journey! ~ Kelly

  • Eva Bigongiari

    That was a great article to see on a tactical website. I also did not grow up around guns and my introduction to them was through my husband. I managed to keep him from seeing the tears in my eyes the first time he took me shooting, which was at an indoor range, but it was not an enjoyable experience. I have to admit that watching shows like Top Shot got me more interested in learning about shooting. I saw that there was more out there than just static target shooting, and that women could excel in the sport. I joined A Girl and A Gun’s Leander Chapter this past May. The experience of shooting with other women, many of whom started off just like me, has been very rewarding. They’ve been able show me tips and tricks that help women shooters that would have never occurred to my husband. I also read Julie Golob’s SHOOT, and now I regularly practice dry fire when I can’t get to the range. My trigger control has improved dramatically and I’m much more confident when handling my pistol.
    I hope to read more articles from you about your shooting experience. Hopefully, I will get to meet you and some of the other women in AGAG at the conference that’s being planned for this year. Good luck and keep shooting!

  • Tayler Critchlow

    Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for posting this. My boyfriend is very into shooting and is trying to get me into it. We went to an indoor gun range a few weeks ago and the anxiety that you described during your first experience in one was very similar to mine. I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only nervous wreck. It’s also interesting how you mentioned that when you were younger you were very adventurous but that has grown out of you. I am noticing the same thing happening with me. You are right that we need to know how to defend ourselves if the situation occurs when we are alone or in our homes. After reading this I feel more confident in going back out with my boyfriend sometime to try shooting again. I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling like that.

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