Down Zero!

I had my pistol class under my belt and was set loose — now what? I needed to practice… and practice… and practice in order to appease the inner control freak and get comfortable. But I wasn’t a member of a gun club, nor did I know anybody who was a member of a gun club. Thus, I took to the internet again and found a nearby public range set up by the state DNR. That worked for a little while.

But the problem was that I was a 46 year old female alone at a public range out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes I was the only one there, which I preferred. But sometimes I wasn’t.  Most people were nice, but they were nearly always men, and nearly all of them couldn’t resist the “Hey little lady, whatcha shootin’ over there” kind of approach. Some of them gave me the heebie jeebies. I also didn’t like leaving my pistol on the bench unattended around some of those guys when I went downrange.

The solution appeared in form of my pistol class instructor. He sent an email around to his class grads saying that he was holding a little pistol demo at his club, and encouraged us “new grads” to come.  The demo match consisted of two simple “stages” – one with about 5 steel poppers (heavy metal plates that fall down when hit with a projectile), and one with three cardboard silhouettes. I was the only female (again), and four or five of the guys from our class showed up. Let me tell you that the first time I made one of those poppers go “ting” and fall down – I was hooked! It was immediate gratification and confirmation that I hit my target, and it was awesome! It was the start of a whole new world for me. My instructor mentioned that it was obvious that I had been practicing, and I told him about my woes on the public range. He offered to sponsor me into his club so that I could have a locked gate between me and the yahoos. Problem solved!

There was me – all the practice time behind a locked gate that a girl could want – and I took regular advantage of it for several months. But…. dare I say it?… I was getting bored. I was getting regular and consistent target hits, and that made me VERY happy, but there was no one to share it with. Sure, I posted a few pics of my targets on Facebook, but there’s only so much of that you can do before you wear out your welcome. I was banging away at paper that just stood there, and I was doing it alone. By this point I knew from talking to guy friends and my brother that there were organizations called IDPA and USPSA out there that had you shooting with groups of people at different kinds of targets AND at the kinds of steel targets that gave me such a thrill that day my instructor set them up. But I was intimidated – didn’t you need a holster for that kind of game? Didn’t you need to be “good” in order to do that? But still, I took some baby steps in that direction.

I asked guypal and my brother for holster and belt advice. Turns out that a good stiff belt to hold it all up is almost as important as a good holster – who knew? Women’s fashion belts were definitely not sturdy enough, so I ordered myself a good “instructor”-style belt. Then I ordered a good holster and even something called a “magazine pouch”, which turned out to be not a pouch at all, but a molded cupped holder for pistol magazines that one wears opposite the holster side. Turns out that in order to play these shooting games that you need not just one, but several magazines to hold all your ammo, and thus several magazine pouches to hold your magazines. So, I kitted myself out in the meantime, but was essentially “all dressed up with no place to go”.

While I was still hemming and hawing about trying out a club match, my brother took me to his range when I was up for a visit, and showed me the basic commands and things that I needed to know “if” I decided to try out a match. He showed me what a “safety area” was and how to use it. He had me draw and fire under commands several times to make sure I knew what I was doing, and doing it safely. ( Control Freak – remember? I needed to know exactly what to expect if/when I decided to take the plunge.)

To that end, once again the internet came to my rescue. I “Googled”… and “Googled” again – videos of USPSA and IDPA “stages” to watch, videos on working from a holster, and ultimately the names and locations of clubs who had matches that I might be able to attend. In the end I decided on IDPA – simply for convenience sake. The club where the monthly matches were held was 2 miles from my house, and everything else was over an hour away. I emailed the club president and match director, explained who I was, and what my skill level was, and asked for advice and information about attending a match. He replied with a “New Shooter’s Packet”, advice about what I needed to bring, and said that I should ask for him when I arrived at the match. He could not have been nicer, and it did ease my anxiety quite a bit.

The day of the match arrived, I found the IDPA club off a local rural road, and once again pulled into a grassy lot full of pick-up trucks — alone. This was becoming a recurring theme. I asked for and found the Match Director and he guided me through the process of signing up for the match, even though I “thought” I just wanted to watch. He assigned me to a very kind young father and son who would walk with me and explain the match as we went. I had only watched two stages when the Match Director asked if I was ready to shoot. I hesitated, but I had brought my gear – it was in the car – and he knew it. He prodded me – “Oh c’mon, it’ll be fun, just go gear up!”…. So I did.

I nervously stepped up to the line, and the Safety Officer reminded me to have fun and be safe. He said to ignore the timer as much as possible and just make my hits. The timer went off, and when the dust cleared, I had finished my first stage! As I bent over to pick up my empty magazine, I remember hearing “Down zero… down zero…. down zero….I thought you said you were a new shooter?”

I just beamed!!! That was the best compliment anyone could have ever given me! And, it turns out – the best encouragement to continue in my new hobby. It was October 2009 – six months after I made my first gun purchase.