I was at the range recently. While there, I couldn’t help but notice a young teenage girl, her smile, the brightness in her eyes, and the excitement which beamed from her was infectious. She was in a group of people who were going through a course of instruction on firearms handling. For the past week this group had been going through several hours of classroom instruction and the previous day had been out at the range with shotguns. Today, they were finishing the course with rifles and handguns.
During my time in the Marine Corps I had opportunity to teach many young men and women about the finer points of firearms handling and usage. On this day though, I was not the instructor, so I stood back and watched with curiosity.
I couldn’t help but notice this beautiful young girl was the only one in the group carrying a carbine version of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (a civilian version of what the military designates an M4), and wearing a commander series 1911. Others in her group were carrying bolt action or semi-automatic .22 rifles, and one person had a lever action rifle (also in .22LR). Only two other people had personal handguns, one was a revolver and the other was Ruger MkIII, the instructor provided the other students with Ruger MkIII handguns. I was more than curious to see how she handled these weapons and the inevitable attention they drew from the rest of the group. As expected, others in the group asked the obvious questions about what kind of rifle and/or pistol, and several asked if they could “check them out” or hold them. A few asked if they could shoot the rifle. I smiled as the young girl politely refused to let anyone hold or touch the weapons she carried; often saying, “I really don’t like other people handling my firearms.”
The instructor led his students through their paces. He gave the obligatory “range safety brief”, and covered basic fundamentals of firearms handling. Many, in the class showed an excitement to get down to the business of shooting. The instructor led them through step by step process of loading various types of firearms (using additional nonfunctioning replicas for teaching such a course). Then he had the students assume positions along the firing line so they could all practice sighting in on their respective targets. He walked them through prone positions, sitting and kneeling and standing positions. Again, watching this, I found myself fixed on this young girl. I could not help but notice several of the students ‘flagging’ their muzzles at others (accidentally, of course) and which led to swift warnings from the instructor. Meanwhile, the young girl was fully aware at all times of her weapons condition and where her muzzle was pointing. After, a few minutes the instructor moved the students back to the loading benches and the students were allowed to load their individual weapons with live rounds. Some students were eager and excited, wanting to show off their obvious knowledge and skill, a couple seemed a bit unsure and scared. The young girl, was very focused and very professional. There was excitement, but there was also a reservation about her. She was intent on following the instructors’ words. She didn’t attempt to brag or show anyone her knowledge or experience. Yet a trained eye could see, this girl knew what she was doing.
Now was time for the shooting to start. Nothing fancy, just simple target acquisition, sight alignment and trigger control and putting rounds on target. First, the handguns, each student shooting a couple of drills; draw from a holster to the ready. Then raise the pistol and fire. The targets were all set at the 10 meter line. First, the students fired 10 well aimed shots with no time limit, and then they all had to go through a reload drill, firing 6 shots, reloading (change magazines or reloading the cylinder) and firing 6 more shots. Here, anyone, including all the fellow students couldn’t help but notice how deftly the young girl handled the 1911 .45 ACP she was shooting. Clearly, she fired the best out of all the students. Every round she fired striking inside the 6 inch black circle on the target. I could see the pride beaming from the young girls face as she noticed she was shooting best in the class. Yet, at the same time, she did not boast, did not brag and did not criticize others.
The students transitioned to the rifles. This time shooting out to 50 meters, with an option to try a couple targets at 100 meters. There were a few silhouette’s down range with obstacles behind them. This was set up so the instructor could reinforce the rule of “knowing what is behind/beyond your target”. Once again, the young girl was able to contain her excitement and handle the little AR-15 with calm professionalism and confidence. This time the students fired five shots from each position, prone first, then sitting, then kneeling then standing. Again, this young girl’s marksmanship abilities shined through. She was shooting at a silhouette target of a brown bear. All of her rounds were solidly grouped in the chest area of vitals. She made no attempt at showing off and trying for head shots, she just stuck with what she was instructed to do. Needless to say, she once again did better than every other student. After this string of fire, the instructor graded each target, and proudly announced that every student had passed his course. Now, he offered them all to try shooting 5 rounds from whichever position they chose at the 100 meter target. 5 out of the 9 students wanted to try. The young girl I had been watching was the only girl and she chose to go second. Firing 5 rounds from a prone position, she managed to hit her target again in the vital chest area with all 5 rounds in a 8 inch group just behind the front shoulder on the bear silhouette. I was very impressed since everyone was shooting with iron sights. This time, again, she shot better than the others.
I watched with anticipation as the students gathered at the loading benches and did final unloading and safety checks on the weapons they had brought, and placed them in cases for transport. Again, the young girl refused the others questions and desires to handle the weapons she had brought with her. The instructor complimented her, saying; “she was definitely, the best student he had ever had in his course.” The girl beamed with pride accepting her firearms safety and handling certificate and hunter safety card.
This beautiful young girl is only 14 years old the second youngest in this class; and, she is my daughter. She has been raised around firearms all her life, and been shooting since she was 5. I hugged my little girl that day with immense pride and a small lump in my throat as I realize, she is growing up. On the drive home she talked of the plans for being able to shoot her first Moose during the hunt next season.