Ladies letting bullets fly |

Ladies letting bullets fly

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
A participant in Mathew Bayley's self-defense course for women fires at a target at the Minturn shooting range. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily)

MINTURN ” Linda Christiansen stood dead still, gun raised, her eye fixed on the target.

“Fire!” the instructor barked, and Christiansen fired a succession of six rapid shots.

Removing her sound mufflers, she walked back to the score keeper to report her score.

“When you get close to the bulls eye, you feel pretty good,” she said, grinning.

Two months ago Christiansen was scared to hold a gun but now she and about 20 other women participating in the “Girls and Their Guns” shooting program know how to safely load and fire a gun.

The summer clinic at the Minturn and Gypsum shooting ranges teach women of all ages basic hand-gun safety and self-protection and target skills. The focus is on safety, but by the end of the five-class course, the women will have practiced target shooting, rapid shooting, and shooting while moving.

“It’s really more than just a league,” said instructor Mathew Bayley. “And we go beyond just the basics.”

No experience is required, and in fact, most of the women who come through the classes have never handled a gun, Bayley said.

Most of his students want to learn how to protect themselves and their families, he said.

“Women say to me that no violent criminal has the right to their life, health, and ability to provide love and care for their family. They don’t want to be victims,” he said.

Lynne Nelson-Kern of Gypsum signed up for the classes with her friend because she thought it would be a fun hobby, and she wanted to learn how to use a gun for self-protection.

“I believe in peace, but I know there are people who don’t. So if I need to protect myself, I want to know how,” she said.

Christensen said she and her husband bought a revolver for protection. She said she was also concerned after hearing about mountain lion attacks in mountain areas, so she and her husband began taking classes together. Some people may think they have no need for a gun, she said, but anything could happen.

“People are naive to think that they shouldn’t do something to protect themselves,” she said.

Not only do the students gain gun knowledge and know-how, but also friends and shooting partners.

“This whole gun culture is new to me,” said Annie Grosholz of Glenwood Springs, who started the classes this summer. “But it’s become like an extended family.”

She chats with other women and their families as they celebrate the end of the summer courses with a potluck and shooting competition. Trophies go to the winners, but the atmosphere is more about the camaraderie than the competition.

The fact that the classes were with other women also learning to shoot made it a lot less intimidating to try, Grosholz said.

Many of the women who meet at classes also practice together during the week, Bayley said

Besides self-protection skills, some of the students said they enjoyed learning the technical aspects of the sport.

Edwards resident Mauri Cummins, 15, said she got interested in shooting after doing archery through 4-H. She and her mother decided to take shooting classes together this summer and got hooked.

“It’s a fun, but difficult thing to do,” she said. “The slightest movement in your hands will alter the shot. You have to be very meticulous.”

Maud Hanson, a sales representative from Eagle-Vail, said when she first held a gun two summers ago, she could feel her heart thumping. She was so nervous then, but now that she knows the basics, she enjoys trying different kinds of shooting.

“The fun is learning the different techniques, different angles and shooting with different guns. It really is like any sport,” she said.

Upon completing the course, the women will receive a certificate from the National Rifle Association for basic handgun safety. They can also continue to more advanced courses and take a written course about responsibility and safety that is required to carry a concealed weapon.

Bayley said he is proud of the accomplishments of his students as they show off what they can do in the shooting competitions. At the first lessons, many students like Hanson were timid and needed to start with the smallest guns, he said.

“But by the end, they’re just ready to rock. They want a real gun,” he said. “Being competent with a pistol is one of the most empowering things.”