Safety and Training

Training: Interacting With Female Shooters

Woman shooting a semi automatic handgun wearing a pink and brown ballcap

Like many of you, I have wide interests including history, my church, my family, and old cars, trucks, and jeeps. Shooting is just one part of my life, but a very important part. After all, the books and training are bread and butter. As a conservative in the true sense of appreciating and living American values, I believe in a free marketplace of thought, but I can be very persuasive in stating my views. When the opportunity comes to indoctrinate a young shooter into the proper use of a firearm, I am always ready.

Woman holding a silhouette target
This student is proud of her first round with the .22 revolver.

As might be expected, a goodly percentage of the shooters that attend my training classes are female shooters. Some have developed an interest in the shooting sports, others are curious. My good friend Audery came to support my efforts early on in the birthing pains of the training company. As always, she had a fine time interacting with others, asked good questions, and learned something about firearms.

Others attend the class because they have developed a survival instinct. For some, shooting brings a certain amount of a challenge. Done correctly, there is a challenge but the challenge isn’t insurmountable, and the subject matter and graduation exercises are geared to the shooter.

Most of the folks who attend my classes learn to use a handgun safely and attain a concealed carry permit. Few will become gun cranks, but there are some who get the bug. After all, handguns are interesting, but we cannot overpower the students with too much information. This applies in our personal lives as well.

Handgun instruction at the shooting range
Each student has individual problems and deserves individual instruction.

Many of us wear our interests on our sleeves. It doesn’t take a keen observer to spot a Harley Davidson fan. Some like knives and speak the language of steel. When curious, friends or acquaintances seek us out, and we should understand the place they are at the moment.

Going to the gun shop is sometimes a disastrous encounter. The good ol’ boys behind the counter could sometimes use a Dale Carnegie course. I am glad to see manufacturers offer products geared to female shooters. One of my daughters loves the pink handled firearm. The other girl, a serious shooter, could care less. One of my friends related an experience at a well-stocked shop. The clerk showed her a woman’s gun with pink handles. She is a shooter and knew what she wanted.

All of her life she has been told what car is best for a woman so she drives a truck. She is quite capable with a five speed or a .45. Remember, salespeople have to deal with every type of shooter and so do trainers, so let’s give them a break. As an example, I recently counseled a middle aged woman who would have liked to get a concealed carry permit until she found out she would have to fire the pistol! She didn’t mind the legal study and the NRA safety course, but just didn’t wish to fire the pistol. There is one in every crowd and salespeople have to deal with them.

Woman shooting a .22 caliber pistol
Beginning with the .22 caliber pistol leads to a lot of fun shooting!

However, the problems are not related to gender. Men and women make the same mistakes. Most purchase a first gun that is too big to carry. Others purchase a handgun that is too small for personal defense. A common mistake is purchasing a poor quality handgun.

Very few seem to stick with the first handgun they purchase. Only with good education and a bit of study behind them will they be able to make a choice that is beneficial. As an example, I am contacted by a good number of folks who do not yet own a handgun. They wish to take the course after they purchase their handgun. I strongly suggest that those who have not yet purchased a handgun take the course first. They will have a much better idea of the level of complication and comfort they are willing to adapt to. Fortunately, I have a wide mix of loaners.

There are lookouts for female shooters. Often, I find the females in my class have no one in the family who is a ‘gun person.’ This is increasingly common even in my southern state, and many of the students have moved from other states. It’s all new to them, and perhaps that is for the best. They are beginning with a clean slate.

Woman shooting a revolver for the first time
With the proper technique, moving from rimfire to centerfire handguns isn’t daunting.

I am going to state the facts from my experience. I may step on a few toes, but like a good preacher, if I do not stick to the Gospel, your blood is on my hands. Many of my female students become good shots. Some use the .45 automatic well. From a fledgling attorney to a 17-year-old reservist, the ‘girls’ have impressed at every turn.

Realistically, female shooters become good shots but seldom engage in as much maintenance as men. They do not enjoy cleaning a pistol as much as men do. I have to admit a certain embassy with them and do not enjoy cleaning as much as changing grips and springs. Men, of course, are much more likely to tinker with what isn’t broken and this comes up often as well. The female student isn’t inclined to field strip the pistol. The military girls in my classes are a different story, but then Uncle Sam has done a good job with them.

In common with male shooters, the first handgun a female shooter shoots or purchases should be a good quality .22 caliber. The Ruger Standard Model is close to perfect. For those who wish to skip the .22 and need a defensive handgun right now, the snub nose .38 is very difficult to argue against for many reasons. But the ideal course is to begin with the .22. For this reason, I keep a Ruger .22, Browning Buckmark, Colt .22, and a number of conversion units on hand.

Emily Campbell shooting 9mm Beretta handgun
Emily Campbell handles the Beretta 9mm well, but then, with a number of tours in Afghanistan and Iraq she should!

Let’s face it, if my friend, and ex MP, Joe Kelly isn’t too tough to qualify with the Colt .22, no one is! The most motivated students, unfortunately, are those who have previously been assaulted. Confidence in the handgun and a concealed carry permit, as well as a good working understanding of the firearm, go a long way toward aiding these women to defend themselves, if need be.

If you are the right kind of trainer, you can never let the ability to pay determine whether you take on a student. Many of these good girls are financially distressed as a result of their assault or the nerve-racking effects of an assailant or stalker. I cannot recall the number of young girls and elderly women robbed, beaten, or assaulted in my city. I wish they had been better able to defend themselves, but on more than one occasion, the assailant has made a bad choice in victim selection. The result is gratifying to the right-minded.

The choice in handguns for a female comes up often, and often the choice is made before they take the class. The .38 snubnose revolver remains an excellent, all-around choice for most female shooters. Perhaps the worst performance I have seen is from female shooters armed with some type or .40 sub compact, purchased by a well meaning parent or spouse. It is like buying your Dad the gun you really wanted for Christmas.

woman loading a revolver at the shooting range
This young lady wrote for Belle Magazine and wanted to see what it was all about. She had a lot of fun!

I have had male students who also had difficulty with these light, high-pressure numbers. If I could not control a 9mm automatic or a snub .38, I would skip the rest and go straight to the .22 Magnum. I think veteran cops, hunters, and the author are all in embassy on that one. If you cannot control a .38, then the .22 Magnum is the piece for you.

A revolver may create a bulge on a woman’s hip like a boa that has swallowed a possum, and she may prefer a light 9mm. But the revolver may be placed against a felon’s chest and the trigger pulled repeatably. It will not jam in the worse case scenario, an intimate-range attack.

Many of us have been shooting for 30 years or more and know our business. This wisdom may seem murky to students and is best delivered incrementally. The female student—and the male—may not realize that just any handgun won’t stop an assailant. She may not quite understand the difference in quality between handguns. Then again, males are sometimes no better at choosing quality gear. A man whose mind has been clouded by the popular press and various unscientific studies and secret sources is no less difficult to sway. But women learn quickly and once they are determined to learn to shoot, watch out! There is, however, another piece to the puzzle.

woman sitting at the table of a gun class
Pay attention in class and your development is guaranteed.

An important fact was slow to dawn on me, but it remains true. Many women regard those of us who are armed as a lifestyle with about as much fear as they fear thugs. Don’t doubt it! Recently, an elderly friend at church, the archetypical, fine southern woman remarked that it was a shame that even in her rural neighborhood she had to go to the expense of having a burglar alarm installed. She remarked that her 74-year-old husband was too old to fight.

I replied that the alarm was a good version, but any alarm could be bypassed. I counseled that she should consider a pistol under her pillow. (Despite the many modern devices for keeping a handgun close by in safety, my Grandmother kept a pistol under the pillow. It worked for her.) The fine woman bristled and replied, ‘We have never had a pistol and never will!’ I can only pray for her.

Another almost criminal mindset is propagated by a commercial I am certain you have all seen. A woman returns from what seems a happy date or perhaps a woman is home with the children. As she settles in, a perpetrator kicks the door open. In one rendition of the commercial the woman calls the man’s name. There is the inferred situation of an abusive or violent ex. The alarm sounds and the intruder panics and leaves.

Woman with pink muffs shooting a revolver
The author’s friend Audrey isn’t ‘gunny’ but a great supporter.

Those of us who have served as peace officers find this advertisement sheer marketing nonsense. An alarm, particularly a fire alarm, is a fine thing but this commercial is a fantasy. An intruder motivated by profit may indeed run if he finds someone at home. But an abusive, violent offender doesn’t care. They are bent on causing human misery and suffering.

They have been recognized, what do they care? They are in practically as much trouble if they leave or stay. I don’t know what the police response time is in your area, but I bet it isn’t five minutes. And I enjoy living in the jurisdiction of a very good Sheriff’s Department. A lot of mayhem may be perpetrated in five minutes. This is the kind of unadulterated BS we have to address and offer a counter education to in our training classes.

I am not going to gloss over the psychological differences between men and women, as they are vast. I think that what is interesting is the choices women make. They are often very independent. When it comes to firearms instruction the father or spouse concerned with the female’s progress needs to turn them over to a qualified trainer. The give and take inherent in a loving relationship is diminished when one becomes the trainer.

Woman shooting a semi automatic handgun wearing a pink and brown ballcap
This young woman is a fine shot, and for some time was the author’s right hand in training.

The female student will become discouraged with initial poor results until she realizes that it can be done. A few demonstrations of the possibilities and then hands on skill building is required. Women do not have the ego problems men often do and progress quickly. If the student has the will to learn, they will. And when you are dealing with the distaff side, always remember that female shooters are very important for us if the shooting sports are to survive thrive and grow.

Sometimes shooters are on the edge and need a liberal dose of reality. While men are equally blind to danger, they seem to feel that they can handle situations they cannot. Females simply believe that they are somehow immune to danger. It may seem self-serving for a trainer to attempt them to convince them to take the class, but nationwide we all need to take the same track. Everyone needs training!

However, with all due respect to the equality of the sexes women need training more than men. Women are more often targeted as victims of violent attack. Serial killers and active shooters alike are far more likely to target women in their rampages. Often, women are the primary targets and men have simply gotten in the way. Women are not a minority; there are as many women as men more or less. Many female shooters are interested in the sport and also interested in personal defense. If you were in a gun-related sales field, you would do well to treat them well. If you are a professional trainer, you must be alert to the nuances and differences of female thought. To ignore this significant portion of the shooting fraternity is a disservice to all concerned.

What training differences do you see between women and men? As a woman which handgun do you prefer or does the female shooter in your life prefer? What lessons have you learned in a shooting class? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. Probably true, but for my aunt, her hands small and not much strength…she really needed something smaller and controllable. Thank so much for your input.

  2. I’m a certified NRA pistol instructor, military veteran, and have trained at Gunsite and Whittington Center. I teach a women’s defensive pistol class which is most often attended by ladies who have gotten their carry license but don’t really know how to shoot or much about gun safety. (I only teach women because all men already know more than I do!)
    I’ve had wonderful results and it is very satisfying to see women show up in the morning unsure about their pistol and abilities, then leave 8 hours later confident and competent, and most importantly safe. I even had our county sheriff ask me to teach his wife as he realized that spouses are not the best teachers.
    Obviously eight hours is only a good start, but I emphasize the importance of practice. I’ve had two ladies go on to train at Gunsite and elsewhere and start an NRA Well Armed woman chapter in our little town.

  3. I’m a 5′ female who has shot many guns and train as often as possible. I have my concealed carry as well. Nobody would ever know that I carry either my .40 or my 45 on my hip at all times. But that’s just me. The one bothersome thing is when a female goes to a gun store with little training who wants a weapon for protection, and the salesman sells her a 357! True story…this happened to my aunt some time after she had been raped. She is now living closer to family and is carrying her 380 which obviously suits her much better. Great article by the way. God Bless America!

    1. TS, I’ve been both a trainer and gun store sales rep and I can tell you the .357 makes plenty of sense BECAUSE it will take all levels of .38Spl ammo as well. Many users never progress beyond wadcutters in their Magnum and that’s ok. But reality is many of the .38 models are dying off in favor of the .357 because manufacturers need to streamline the product offerings.

  4. Excellent article — reminds me of my personal experience with my wife. I took her shooting ONCE. She fired my Glock 17 ONCE. Not sure where the round ended up but not anywhere near the target. She handed it back to me and said NOPE — NOT INTERESTED. A friend who was with us asked her to try his Ruger .MK II 22. She hit the target 3 out of 5 shots at 10 yards, and said, “enough.” When we got home I ordered a Crimson Trace laser (from CTD) for the Glock (which we keep in the dresser next to our bed). I told her if someone were to ever break in while I’m not there, to put the red dot on his chest and pull the trigger. End of story.

  5. Great article. My first firearms purchase was a 1911 9mm, and I have just purchased for my wife a snubnosed .38. A lot of discussion with some great people at our firearms retailer went into these decisions.

    There is one thing stated in the article however that needs some double checking. According to many statistics I have heard quoted from gun enthusiasts and law professionals, it is men who far outnumber women as the victims of violent crimes.

  6. The article cover picture nor paid attention to:
    Described as “… A fine shot and right hand to author…..”
    Her right hand’s thumb is about to get some slide action……..

    IT’S 2019 PROOF READ your gun articles!
    Safety safety safety

  7. My wife grew up in so Cal and NJ. I did not. She is fearful of dirt roads. Seriously. I have been slowly working with her around firearms, which she is also fearful of. Our 6 yo daughter shoots and helps me reload. My wife, not so much. I know to get her to the point where she is comfortable shooting and carrying will take professional courses. An exercise in patience indeed.

  8. Excellent article. Since 2009, I’ve seen a marked increase in females who want to learn more about firearms, safety and related topics.There’s been several that stated that a few years ago, thry were rabidly anti-2nd Amendment, but events locally and nationally helped change their previous position. It puts a genuine smile on my face when they change their views. It’s still an uphead battle, but the grade is improving.

  9. “‘We have never had a pistol and never will!.”

    These people I ignore or avoid.

    We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. Benjamin Franklin

    1. Thats great. However, I hope that you’re never in a situation where a good guy with a gun, that could save you and your family, decides to ignore you instead.

      As always
      Carry on

  10. Great article! I am dating a girl and she wanted to learn to fish and shoot which are hobbies of mine. You mentioned that they have no ego and that is a great advantage when teaching someone. Just make sure you tell them EXACTLY what you want them to do. I have learned many of the things you relay in your article the hard way but I am patient and did not give up. I changed my teaching to suit her. I am no instructor but love the outdoors.
    lastly, You mentioned good pistols to learn with and the one that sticks out for me was the Beretta neos. I went through a half dozen pistol rentals at the range with her until she shot that one. It is easy to shoot and we ended up buying one for her to keep. She also has a Keltec PMR 30 she calls the dragon gun (because of the flame) but that’s another story. haha

  11. This s the best article on training females I have seen on a blog.
    The BEST plan is to take Bobs class before you buy or start learning to shoot the gun.. I have 5 22s, 2 of the Walther p22, a Walther PPS 22 (James Bond gun), a 1911-22 (John Wayne gun,and a Sig Mosquitoo Firefly copy Each of these pistols has a suppressor adapter as well. A couple have tiny cheap lazers on them. We stat off firing near silent ammo at blank sheets of paper, Then we shoot a spot with the laser, on the Hollywood quiet guns. Then we put targets up like pit bull dogs and wolves and then put up zombie targets. At that point we turn off the lasers and take off the suppressors and move to standard pressure ammo. After the zombies are shot up we put up the human sillouette and explain to them that now they get to shoot 50 rounds at what might be an attacking human. Once everyone has shot for qualification I let them play with bigger guns. In fact, I often start a class by telling them they each must fire a 45 auto or 44 mag before they can leave. This is a great technique if done right. You load a 44 mag and have the lady stand behind you and place her hand on your shoulder and fire the gun. Then you have her move forward still behind you but have her hold your elbow with both her hands and you fire level. Then she holds your wrists as you fire the 3rd round.Then you have her put on heavy leather gloves and hold both her wrists as she fires. You still have 2 rounds in the gun, so if they want to quit fine, but I then ty to get them to fire the fifth shot, gloves on 2 hand hold. Then if they want they can fire round 6 two or one handed, with me closely by. What happens then is she is not intimidated by the 22s at all and she has a story to tell about shooing the big Dirty Harry Gun 6 times. Again, I agree completely with the article and would encourage anybody in Bobs area t0 take his class first. You may have to explain to the wife why you held hands with the ladies all afternoon, but that is just part of professional training.

  12. As some of you have heard from me before, I started my wife (ex now) daughter, and both granddaughters on the same Phoenix Raven .25. Being an old special forces guy, I pulled no punches and trained them all similarly as I was, minus the constant PT. They are 12, 14, 42, and 56 now. They all can shoot on the move, all can shoot with off hand, and of course, they all have and shoot Canik TP9SA’s. Of course the grandbabies have to let papa keep theirs after we’re done shooting. But they are proud of their abilities, have no fear of weapons, and are very well versed in maintenance, safety, and range procedures. The grandbabies have to modify their grip a bit to accommodate the width of the double stack, but they’re little machines. I wont lie and say they’re all shooting 10’s on paper, but they keep them all on the paper. They keep all their targets in folders in the garage, and compare them to see their improvements. We have a blast, and I have plenty of backup.

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