I recently invited two groups of girlfriends to join me at two different indoor shooting ranges’ Ladies Nights. Most of the women had never shot a firearm, but were interested in learning how to safely and confidently operate one. Because Bristlecone is dedicated to attracting new and seasoned female participants, I was very interested in their perspectives on the experience. Both groups had a good time, but we had two very different experiences.
Group #1 (Facility #1) – There were only two of us in this group and we were impressed with the attendance and high level of customer service we experienced at the Ladies Night event. The staff was welcoming and made my inexperienced friend feel immediately comfortable. This was quite important, since she was clearly intimidated by the idea of shooting a gun for the first time, as well as the “range etiquette” which she didn’t know anything about. We were given some brief but effective pointers before entering the range – always keep the gun pointed down-range and never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire down range. Other groups of first-timers where given much more instruction and had the opportunity to take advantage of some free one-on-one instruction from their Range Safety Officers and the owners themselves. We were left somewhat to our own devises because of my experience, but the staff still checked in with us throughout our time on the range – very comforting for someone trying the sport for the first time. They asked about the firearms we were practicing with, adjusted our grips, and offered other pointers about weight distribution and foot placement. All of which were very helpful – even for me – I’m always learning!
Once inside the range, the noise was the biggest surprise for this first-timer. We doubled up on ear protection, but the sound of all the firearms going off was not something she anticipated. Also, seeing the bullet casings flying around was a surprise for her. However, she stuck with it and came away feeling empowered and proud of herself for trying something new. The Range Safety Officer let her sign her paper plate target, so she could bring it home and brag to her husband about her new found firearms proficiency! I was certainly impressed! Great experience. This first-time shooter will definitely be back for more.
Group #2 (Facility #2) – There were three of us in this group. One of the women in the group had her hunting license, and had some experience with rifles, but not handguns. The other had never held a firearm before, and expressed her fear more than once on the drive down. When we arrived, we notified the range staff that there were some first-time shooters in our group. They were busy and didn’t give us any safety tips, etc. before assigning us to a lane and sending us in to the range. As soon as we entered, the one woman in our group that was already scared had a bullet casing hit her in the neck as we were walking to our lane. It happens, and that’s one of the reasons we always dress appropriately and wear eye and ear protection in the range. It was just unfortunate that it happened to the one person in our group who was already intimidated. She was able to regain composure and we walked down to our assigned lane. We quickly noticed that the couple in the lane next were shooting an AK-47 very rapidly. Both women with me could not believe how loud the rifle was. Even with our doubled-up ear protection, it was loud. You could actually “feel” the sound of each shot, and it was hard for us to discuss what we were doing. Needless to say, we did not stay very long and the one woman in our group chose just to watch.
So, first I want to thank my open-minded lady friends for branching out and trying something new! I truly hope that a few of them will want to join me again once our facility is open. We all learned a lot, and I’m looking forward to putting the things I picked up in to practice once our range is operational.
The first-timers learned that the sport can be loud – much louder than they imagined. Some of them learned that there is recreational value along with practical skills to be learned, and that the intimidation factor is quickly eliminated through knowledge, personal attention, and a comfortable environment. Unfortunately a few others learned that there aren’t always accommodations made for new shooters, and that lack of consideration only served to reinforce the fear they felt as the embarked on their new adventure.
I learned just how important a high level of customer service really is – especially for women and new participants. I also learned how awareness in staff members can make a big difference in someone’s first experience. While I can’t do anything about the noise generated on the range (other than making sure a first time shooter isn’t placed next to someone shooting a rifle like an AK-47), I can ensure that our staff is cognizant of first-timers, and that they take extra steps to reduce anxiety and increase comfort. Simple steps such as reviewing our safety video, offering tips on etiquette, accompanying new guests to the range, and even offering them time on our virtual simulator before experiencing live-fire for the first time, will all go a long way.
Target practice is fun and knowing how to operate a firearm is a valuable skill, but it’s not for everyone. It can be loud, your hands can get dirty, and it can be intimidating at first. At Bristlecone, we strive to provide a comfortable environment with a customer-first approach, geared toward removing the intimidation factor, so folks who are interested in shooting sports feel comfortable trying something new. We strive to provide “An Extraordinary Recreational Experience!”