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The Lost Art of Mentoring

Sometimes new shooters don't need an instructor, they need a friend.

The Lost Art of Mentoring

Getting into the shooting game has never been easy for many adults, especially in the pre-internet age. If you came up in it and it was part of your culture as a child, that made learning how to shoot new things easier. Learning as an adult requires putting ego aside and humbling yourself from the beginning. That’s not necessarily an easy thing, especially for full-grown American men, because many of us think society expects us to already know how to shoot, fight, and drive. That’s nonsense, of course. Anyone needs to be taught how to do all three.

Looking back, new shooters often had to head out to a range and interact with people in order to join the culture. People helping a new shooter learn to shoot typically have to shoot, too, which meant that if they can’t hit what they’re aiming at, you knew they might not be the ones to emulate. In contrast today, it’s more common to see people that don’t even shoot give advice to people that do, all from the safety and anonymity of the web.  

If you are a shooter, the best thing that you can do for the continued existence of our lifestyle is to get new people involved in shooting. If you spend any time at a range, you’re going to eventually see a new shooter. If you see someone struggling, don’t be afraid to offer help. You’ll notice I said “offer”; I didn’t say give it. There’s a difference in walking up to a person and saying, “Excuse me, I noticed that you look like you’re struggling a little bit. Would you like some help?” and saying, “Your grip sucks and your trigger press is terrible. Let me fix you.” As much as many wish they were an instructor, it’s a better tactic to jump in and be a mentor.

If we want a new shooter to stick with the lifestyle, we need to ensure that they are left with positive feelings following each range session. Those feelings need to come from their interactions with people at the range, not just their results. For many of us in the shooting life, we see certain advertisements and imagery that ignites nostalgia. Perhaps it sparks a memory from a range trip with a friend or family member from a long-time ago. Such new shooters don’t have that same feeling, and it’s up to us to make sure that it develops. People may forget what you tell them, but people rarely forget the way that you made them feel.

Avoid being quick to trash someone’s equipment. Maybe it’s a firearm they inherited, or maybe it’s all what they can afford. If it’s a trash gun, it will prove itself in short order at the range. At that point, you can offer advice about selecting a quality gun. If the new shooter sees the issues for themselves, it will resonate more than any criticism you levy. It’s important to remember that “just as good” usually isn’t, but “good enough” can be. Do I want everyone to have a duty-grade pistol with a quality light, holster and defensive ammunition? Yes, I do. Is the reality that a budget gun with decent ammo and 100 rounds of practice a month will usually get the job done? Yes, it is. I have more respect for a person shooting at the range with a Hi-Point Yeet Cannon than I do for a person with a $3,000.00 blaster that’s been sitting in a gun safe since President Trump got elected.

You don’t need to be an expert to give a new shooter advice either. You just have to know a little more than they do, and you need to be willing to share that bit of knowledge. That’s it! You don’t need certifications or a ninja background to help a new shooter. Just have a good heart and a love for shooting.

I didn’t grow up in a shooting family. Even though Dad is a Vietnam veteran, he didn’t have an interest in guns when I was growing up. My introduction to shooting came from my best friend Jason and his father, Paul. Paul was an avid outdoorsman who took me under his wing when it came time to learn to shoot. My father had taught me the fundamentals with BB Guns, but Paul really got me into guns. He spent a lot of time answering questions and taking me to the range, giving me a lot of that positive feedback that I referenced earlier. He wasn’t an expert, and he never claimed to be. He was just a person who loved the shooting sports, being outdoors, and passing those traditions down. And that’s all that mattered. I wish he was alive today so he could read this magazine; I could thank him for everything he taught me.

Here’s a few of considerations to keep in mind when helping a new shooter:

  • Safe gun handling is the best skill that you can teach immediately. When you’re working with a new shooter, emphasize the main thought behind each rule, this will make it easier for them. The gun is always dangerous, and don’t point it at anything you don’t want shot. Keep your finger off the trigger until you want something shot and be sure of what you’re going to shoot and what’s behind it. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
  • Don’t try to fix all of their shooting issues at once. Prioritize them and work on the biggest problems first. If you throw five different corrections at them, they won’t remember any correctly. You want to offer them small, manageable bites. When making corrections be sure you include some praise. I always praise first, correct second, and I end the session with more praise. It sounds New Age, maybe, but it works.
  • There’s always an urge to turn new shooters into gunfighters. Resist that urge. Focus on three things that will make everything else easier: Grip on the pistol, sight picture, and trigger control. The rest will fall into place or can be sorted out later. I’ve seen many good shooters with poor stances. I’ve never seen a good shooter with a bad trigger press. Focus on what’s important.

Be sure to demonstrate how to be a good member of your shooting community. Many people are drawn into arguments on the internet with others about what is ultimately, unimportant. I’ve seen cowboy shooters argue with long-range shooters, competition shooters argue with tactical shooters, and worst of all, old shooters arguing with young shooters. We need to focus on what really matters: we’re all shooters. If we don’t stand together, we’ll lose our freedoms. Everyone needs to understand this so that these new shooters aren’t the last of us.

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