Everybody ought to have a fun uncle who teaches them to shoot. Mine was Uncle Gene; he’s the one person I take after the most. I don’t have my own children, but I do have two nieces and one nephew. It’s one of my greatest joys to be their Uncle Nick, but there was always something missing. This last weekend, it finally happened. I got the call. “Would you come introduce the kids to shooting?”
I won’t lie to you. I was so freaking happy that “the time” had come, I had to keep cool on the phone. You’d be proud of me, Dear Reader: I didn’t bellow, “ARE YOU JOKING? I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MY WHOLE LIFE!” Instead, I made do with a staid, “Sure, I could make time” just to hide my excitement.
You see, in the past, although the kids knew that Uncle Nick carries a gun everywhere he goes, none of them seemed particularly interested in knowing more. My brother and sister-in-law have always been great about letting their kids decide on their interests, so that was okay. Well, it turns out that there’s an area-wide school trap team where they live. The youngest niece is old enough to join during the next season, so she asked her mom and dad. My time to shine!
As is tradition, the first day of shooting featured weather so nasty it violated the Geneva Accords. It was between 97-100 degrees and something like 53% humidity … Imagine if Satan ate a dozen hard-boiled eggs and a bucket of oatmeal. That’s why, even before I packed up the first firearm or round of ammo, I made sure I had a large cooler full of ice, water, and Gatorades. I must have chugged a case by myself, and without the cooler the kids would not have lasted an hour.
First thing up at the range was the adults’ safety brief, making sure every adult had the physical address and gate code for the range. Second was making sure that everyone knew where the First Aid kit was located. Even though I have an IFAK on my person, there is one centrally located behind the firing line on a bench. The kiddos tend to think of me as the fun goofball uncle that’s always joking around, so I wanted to let them know that even though the plan was to have fun, handling firearms and shooting is serious business.
Of course, I began the kids’ instruction with the basics of firearms safety, even quizzing them as we went along. I promised them that they didn’t have to shoot anything if they did not want to. I also promised them that I would not let them shoot anything that was beyond their ability.
On the bench I had several firearms for the kids and the adults to shoot. Let me just say suppressors for the win! Out of the 10 firearms only the two shotguns were not suppressed. Suppressors are great for cutting recoil as well as report. Combined with the over the ear hearing protection, not one child complained about the noise.
Starting off with a S&W M&P .22 LR suppressed pistol, each child was given one on one instruction, using the craw, walk, run method. Where you start with a dry run, then 1 live round, then 3 live rounds onto a full magazine. Starting off with the 22 was great because it allowed them to gain the confidence that the pistol would not beat them up. I allowed them to shoot a steel full torso target, that way I could be right next to the child with100% concentration on the child.
A hit on the steel provided feedback and I could congratulate the hits. Remember the goal of this outing was an introduction to shooting. I had no expectations of bulls-eye hits, so there was no need for me to look at the target. My focus was on things like making sure between each shot the finger was removed from the trigger area, the grip was good, stance was ok, etc.
If you’re trying to instruct gun safety, don’t be afraid of visual aids. Instead of trying to describe what it means to line up the sights on the pistol, have a large cardboard cut out of the rear and front sight to help new shooters visualize what you are talking about.
Another tip? Taking steps and building on accomplishments is what makes a better shooter; trying to fix every mistake at one time will just set the instructor and shooter up for failure. What’s interesting is that each child seemed to focus on one style of firearm and shooting. One was drawn to the pistol, the other to the 12-ga. shotgun (the one who wants to shoot trap), and the other to the BRN-180, a .55- caliber rifle with a reflex sight. Allowing them to shoot at steel gave them great confidence with each ring of the steel. For the shotgun, I used some tethered helium filled balloons at different heights and the kids had a great time busting balloons.
Now to the After Action Review: What could we do better? Snacks. As a childless adult, it’s easy to forget that tweens need to eat a lot, but might be too shy to ask for food. Next lesson is to make sure you have your gear. I forgot my range cleaning kit and oil. The 28ga shotgun went down early as part of a shell casing got stuck and I did not have a rod to clear the malfunction.
So how’d we do? Well, there are three new safe shooters in the world, so that’s a win. As far as the kids, they’ve already started bragging to their friends (with the proviso that they include the information about how the session happened on a range with a professional instructor). This will be a treasured memory for me forever, and I hope it’s the same for them.
—James The “XDMAN” Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!
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