"I purchased a handgun over the weekend for my personal use. I am interested in enrolling in your course for gun safety and concealed carry. Please let me know when the next class is scheduled. My gun is a .38 revolver, Smith & Western (sic), with a laser. I don't know how to pick out ammunition for target shooting for my gun, and the gun store didn't have any in stock "
The lady showed up for the Friday night class on familiarization and safety so afraid of guns, she didn't want to handle the unloaded ones we pass around in the classroom. I generally assist most of the women in the class in learning how to work the slide and make a semi-auto safe. This lady almost dropped my "Smith & Western" 9mm Model 459 from nervousness.
She was late for the shooting portion the next morning, and I thought she had skipped on me. But she arrived with a determined look - so scared of what she was about to do, she stuttered when she spoke.
I have had some uncomfortable students before, but this lady was working out to be one for the record. When I saw her really nice Model 642 Airweight Smith & Wesson, I told her it was the exact revolver we recommended to beginning shooters looking for a dependable, concealable handgun. And she had improved it with Crimson Trace Lasergrips!
The hardest training in teaching a new shooter the basics of accuracy is trying to keep them focused. They are alternately fascinated and terrified of this death-wielding instrument of destruction they are holding in their hands. They equate the power of the gun on the same level as skilled shooters exhibit awe for a military-issue flamethrower.
And, it's a lot to remember and understand. First, you have to teach them the basics of sight picture and alignment. Then they must understand grip and trigger control. And all this has to be remembered while anticipating the shot and the recoil, using their dominant eye, and holding their breath.
I was pleased to see this lady had bought her revolver with factory-installed Crimson Trace Lasergrips. Unfortunately, a snub-nosed .38 Special revolver is a bad gun to learn to shoot. It is loud, produces a lot of recoil and the short sighting radius down the barrel makes it difficult to shoot accurately.
In short, a target pistol it ain't!
Several people were impressed with her gun, and tried it out before she could be coaxed to the firing line. When I finally got her in the shooting station, knowing I had a very sensitive beginner, I wouldn't even let her shoot her own gun.
I started her off with my own Model 317 Smith & Wesson - an aluminum framed .22 known as an Airlite - with its own set of Lasergrips. This eight-shot revolver is a pure pleasure to shoot, and pure poison if it is loaded with CCI Quik-Shoks, the stressed rounds that separate into three different projectiles when they hit water or flesh.
One shooting problem that is difficult to identify is a weak grip on the gun. You tell them repeatedly to hold the gun firmly and properly, and for all you know, a strong gust of wind could blow it out of their hand.
Not with the Lasergrips. If the laser isn't painting its pulsating red light on the target, they are not holding the grips properly. The grips have to be squeezed to make the laser activate. A strong, red laser light is then fired down the side of the handgun at the target from an aperture at the top of the grips.
The dancing laser on the target will show them how much their hand is moving, and how to hold the gun steady while they shoot. It will also instantly show how badly they are jerking the trigger. If the trigger is squeezed steadily and slowly, the laser will barely move. If they are jerking the trigger, it will be instantly apparent.
After letting her use the laser to aim, and shooting the gun numerous times single-action - cocking the hammer manually - I let her go to double-action mode. The laser was a great assist in showing her how important it is to have a smooth and steady trigger pull.
Several times she indicated her stomach was upset from nervousness. I let her take a couple of short breaks, but called her back each time. Once she got into shooting the .22 in double action, and started hitting groups on the target, I noticed her smile involuntarily several times. She was learning that shooting is actually fun!
I then stepped her up to my favorite handgun - my stainless, 4-inch barreled S&W Model 66 .357 Magnum. Of course, we loaded light .38 Special wadcutter ammo into it. The report and recoil were relatively mild.
The gun was larger and it intimidated her, but before long she was enjoying double-action shooting with it. The action has been slicked; it has been shot thousands of times and dry-fired hundreds of thousands of times. In short, while shop worn, it is incredibly smooth to shoot, and she was starting to really get into the game.
I switched her over to her own gun. She was ready to shoot it for the very first time.
I watched for her reaction to the heavier recoil from the Model 642. She noticed it, and commented on it. But she had now shot nearly 100 rounds of .22 and .38 Special, and the increased recoil did not shock her so badly.
Before long, she was using her snubby .38 Special with its Lasergrips like a pro, putting the bullets wherever the laser pointed. I was able to watch for flinches with the laser, and observed she had a steady grip, nice follow-through, exceptional trigger control and accuracy.
She was the topic of the day in the classroom session that followed, with everyone congratulating her on her exceptional shooting skills. She was talking about coming back on a regular basis to practice since she had discovered what great fun it is to shoot.
The change in her was marked also. She was a totally different person in the classroom the second time. She was bubbly, funny and a great student who participated and had everyone laughing with her dry comments. Quite a change from the timid, terrified woman who sat in the classroom the night before, and almost dropped a gun out of fear of it.
I like to think that this woman, and many others I have taught, was helped through this experience to view life from a more confident, assured stance. She was no longer afraid of guns, and better yet, with her newly acquired skills, she was no longer so afraid of life.
Suddenly, she realized she was no longer food, no longer a victim. She no longer needed to rely totally on someone else to defend her safety, and the change in her outlook was marked and refreshing.
If there is any criticism to using laser-sighting devices in training beginning shooters, it is that they can easily shoot groups like an expert, and never learn the basics of sight picture and alignment. Frequently, when we turn the laser off to watch, their groups spread all over the target.
But that is minor and easily overcome. And when you consider that most folks will not go out and practice to keep their skill levels up, the fact that they know the bullet will go where the laser points is a great confidence builder.
In addition, the deterrent factor of a laser-equipped firearm is immeasurable. Having a pulsating red dot dancing on his torso is enough to give the most hardened street sleaze second thoughts about mayhem. Suddenly, not only is he absolutely certain his would-be victim has a gun, he also knows precisely where it is pointed.
More and more often, as laser sights become more common, we are hearing of their deterrent factor - where a would-be perpetrator suddenly becomes a wanna-be somewhere else and leaves because the laser-equipped handgun scared him away.
And the sights are filtering more often into my classes.
Travis Noteboom, marketing director for Crimson Trace Corporation, told me his company and Smith & Wesson have entered into a marketing agreement, installing Lasergrips on S&W guns before they leave the factory. The resulting combination is a less-expensive purchase than if the two were bought individually.
Apparently, the idea is working. Noteboom informed me the combination is so popular, up to 25 percent of the guns leaving Smith & Wesson now have CTC Lasergrips installed on them.
Combining Crimson Trace and S&W is a worthy result, the marriage of two great products into an absolutely superb self-defense system.
And it is a system that makes our class training mantra even easier to attain: Confidence, Not Competence.
Find out more about Crimson Trace Lasergrips at crimsontrace.com or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the extensive line of Smith & Wesson handguns, go to smith-wesson.com.
Gordon Hutchinson's best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks and the youth of a farming family that hunts them, can be ordered at thequestandthequarry.com, or by calling 800-538-4355.
The novel was recently chosen as a book of the year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association.