In 1998, the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) introduced the Women in the Outdoors (WITO) program. Prior to its implementation the NWTF had supported other introductory programs geared toward teaching females outdoor skills in a non-threatening environment. The growing demand for such programs led to the inception of WITO. Since 1998, over 80,000 females have participated in the event in the United States and Canada. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run the basic handgun range with at the WITO event in Pecatonica, Illinois. Upon seeing the brochure, I was slightly disappointed that I was an instructor instead of a participant, because, for the price, there were many courses from which to choose. Although each WITO event may have slightly different courses, the one in Pecatonica, Illinois offered:
- Basic handgun
- Air rifle/shotgun
- Soap making
- Pressed flowers
- Dutch oven cooking
- Feather painting
- Fly casting
- Jewelry making
- Quilting 101
- Outdoor photography
- Wine for dummies
The registration fee for this event was $60, which included ammunition, materials, and a t-shirt. There were also several raffles and silent auctions available to participants. Even though I wasn’t able to attend as a participant, I fully enjoyed running the basic handgun range. Several of my best friends (and most skilled firearms instructors) from work assisted me. I’m sure we learned as much from the students as they did from us.
Most of my co-instructors had only taught firearms to law enforcement officers, not civilians. I carefully selected them in order to ensure that they not only possessed the necessary skills to work with new shooters, but also the proper temperament. I felt that the selection process was very important because I have taken many firearms courses and felt very intimidated by the instructors, regardless of their gender. I discovered that these experiences with instructors are not as uncommon as I thought.
Several of the women in attendance told us that they really enjoyed the pistol stage. Several women shared with us that they had previously taken firearms classes at other venues, and some of those instructors were unfriendly and impatient. They told us that their experiences had such a negative impact on them mentally, that they almost gave up on shooting altogether. I have heard this complaint before from police officers but I have never heard it from civilians who pay for their own training. Having been a Range Master, it was this sort of feedback that led me to carefully consider the personalities that work with new or struggling shooters. It’s critical that instructors who are working with such shooters encourage them and build their confidence. These discussions clearly indicated the impact firearms instructors have on the firearms industry. If an instructor allows a student to leave their course feeling intimidated, inadequate or unskilled, they are causing incalculable harm to the entire firearms industry by discouraging potential advocates.
Sworn Versus Civilian Shooters
The instructors that I selected to assist me at the WITO event discovered that there is a big difference between teaching sworn officers and civilian shooters — their attitudes. There is a segment of law enforcement that would be happy to never draw their firearm from the holster. In their minds, annual qualifications and firearms training is nothing more than a necessary task to remain employed. When these officers come to training, it’s painful for the other students and the instructors. An otherwise enjoyable training event quickly becomes painful when unwilling participants are forced to attend. My coworkers assisting me at the WITO event immediately noted how happy and enthusiastic the women were that came to our classes, and that made the day enjoyable for us, too. We taught four classes and every woman that came through our course had a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.
I appreciate the willingness of my coworkers to sacrifice their time off to provide their experience and expertise to these women. We had a safe day and it appeared that everyone had a positive learning experience. I am glad my friends had the opportunity to experience the sincere appreciation that every student expressed to them, because in our profession it is in short supply.