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Great Outdoors: Annie, get your gun

Photo contributed Kelsey Brunell of Lee aims a gun on the Outdoor Pistol Range during Ladies Night.
Photo contributed Kelsey Brunell of Lee aims a gun on the Outdoor Pistol Range during Ladies Night.

I grew up in the suburbs between Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey. If you think the gun laws in Massachusetts are restrictive, then you have never lived in Jersey. My flatlander friends and family are jealous that I possess a Massachusetts License to Carry (LTC). New Jersey’s firearm laws are among the most limited in the country and permits are rarely, if ever, granted to the general public. So, I did not grow up in a shooting family and gun was a three-letter word not allowed to be muttered in my home. I did not learn about firearm safety or the shooting sports until I was over 21, and this began my interest for the growing popular sport of pistol shooting.

When my family moved to Berkshire County, one of the first things my husband and I did was enroll in a Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Course, which is required if you want to obtain a Massachusetts firearms license (LTC or FID). Many local shooting clubs and firearms retailers offer certified firearms safety courses taught by independent instructors, who have been certified by the Massachusetts Department of State Police. Typically, a Basic Hunter Education Course, administered by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, completion certificate suffices as the requirement for obtaining an FID. Basic Hunters Education courses are taught throughout the state by certified volunteer instructors and agency staff.

After getting a Massachusetts LTC, then what?

That is the question many women ask. As a credentialed Range Safety Officer (RSO) and Level 1 Pistol Coach, I have received this question and others like it many times: I have my LTC, now which gun do I buy for personal protection or target shooting? Where can I learn more about firearm safety? I’m just not comfortable or confident enough to shoot, where can I get help? When it comes to learning about shooting and firearms ownership, not knowing how or where to start can be an intimidating hurdle. Well, ladies, my friend Joann Sullivan and I have heard you and we’re here to help.

We decided to hold our first Ladies Night at the Pistol Range at Lee Sportsmen’s Association (LSA) on May 14. We received a generous grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) through their First Shots initiative. This program helps ranges across the country introduce individuals to shooting and firearm safety. With the NSSF’s help, we were able to supply ammunition, safety materials and literature, eye and ear protection, targets, and hands-on instruction free of charge to attendees.    
Unsure just how many women would attend, we hoped for the best. In all, 26 women showed up, and only nine of those were existing club members. The evening began with a basic introduction and safety overview, and then the group split into inexperienced and experienced shooters. Our goals were simple: Be safe, have fun.

Despite the dreary, cold weather, the experienced shooters braved the elements outside on LSA’s Outdoor Pistol Range.

“I would complain about the weather, but since you can’t control it, I can’t. I had such a great time.” Alona Humphries of Pittsfield said. “This event is perfect for going out and shooting with other ladies. I can’t wait until the next one and hope more events like this will pop up in the future.”

The inexperienced shooters fared better, receiving shooting fundamentals classroom instruction and then hands-on shooting practice overseen by RSOs and Instructors on the Indoor Pistol Range, sheltered from the elements.

All ages of women participated, from high schoolers to great-grandmothers, and all abilities were welcomed. Every woman had a different reason for attending, some just wanted to get out and share camaraderie and a passion for shooting, some requested specific mechanics assistance or advice to help improve their skills, and some were researching the best firearms for their personal preference or use. In addition to good conversation, laughter, and snacks (Joann is the best home baker I know), everyone had safe fun on the ranges that night.
The event was such a success and we received great feedback from all who attended asking for more, so we have planned one Ladies Night at the Pistol Range at LSA every month until the end of summer. Upcoming dates include June 11, July 16, and August 13, with safety briefing at 5:45 p.m. in the Main Clubhouse and shooting to begin after. Hopefully, the weather will be nicer in June than it has been in May, and we can have all three outdoor pistol bays filled with fun, challenging shooting activities and stages for all participants. We look forward to growing our shooting community with responsible, competent, and empowered women shooters.

For more information about Massachusetts requirements for firearm ownership, please visit https://www.mass.gov/firearms-services.

Stephanie DuPont is on the board of directors for the Lee Sportsmen’s Association and a columnist for the Berkshire Record. You can contact her at dupontfam5@gmail.com.

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