My Thunderbird Firearms Academy Experience
I recently attended a ladies only handgun fundamentals course at Thunderbird Firearms Academy. Upon arrival, the women were asked to introduce themselves and share what kind of firearms experience and training they had. In a group of 15-20 women, the variety of experience was surprising. There were women who were former military members who had plenty of experience with shotguns and rifles, women who went shooting recreationally and women who had never so much as held a gun. I, personally, was of the latter, and I’ll be candid, I was terrified to attend this course, though that feeling faded quickly.
As I learned that there were other women in the course with little or no experience, my mind was set at ease. We were there to learn the very basics, not to obliterate targets (though some of these women really did!). Thunderbird’s instructor, Justin Converse, had a warm and welcoming demeanor that made me feel comfortable and though he was very, very knowledgeable, he took things slow, asked for questions and clarified when necessary.
Learning Handgun Fundamentals
The course was scheduled from 3-7 p.m. on a Saturday, and most of that time was dedicated to learning the very basics. Converse discussed gun safety first, heavily emphasizing its importance. From there, he discussed the different types of modern handguns and the cycle of operations for each, things to consider when selecting a handgun, different kinds of ammunition, firearms care and maintenance, different types of accessories and the fundamentals of marksmanship. It seems like a lot of information to take in all at once, but Converse’s engaging and occasionally humorous method of teaching made it very digestible, even to someone with absolutely no prior knowledge or experience.
Several guns were laid out on a front table, cleared of course, waiting to be used. When it came time to practice grips, alignment and trigger pulls, we were each asked to go to the front and select a gun (with the exception of a few women who brought their own guns to shoot). Naturally, I chose the smallest and least imposing gun on the table.
We went into another room and were instructed, by both Converse and Jim Lambert, who also helped with our class, to line up, choose a spot on the reinforced wall in front of us, align the sites on our still-cleared guns, and slowly pull the trigger until it engaged. We did this over and over, getting a feel for our guns. Converse and Lambert watched and encouraged us, correcting grips and stances as necessary. This too, helped me feel more comfortable.
When it came time to go out on the range, I got a little more nervous-- this was the real deal. In each of the shooting bays there was a cleared gun, magazine and ammunition. We hung our targets and loaded our guns ourselves, as we had learned to do earlier in the course. Again, Converse and Lambert watched and offered help as needed. Converse stood behind me as I shot for the first time. My hands shook as I lined up my sights, which took me forever. Once I calmed down again, I pulled the trigger very, very slowly. I hit my target dead-on, exactly where I had intended to, and I was astounded.
This process was repeated for each gun that we shot. Though I got more comfortable with practice, by no means were all of my shots so accurate. We were instructed to aim at different points on our targets and label our shots with which gun we had used to make them, and many of my targeted areas overlapped. We were also asked to make note of which guns we liked best. For me, this was all a matter of the level of accuracy I could achieve with each. In addition to the guns we were to shoot for the class, both Converse and Lambert allowed us to shoot their personal firearms.
A Great Experience
Though the experience was fun, the staff at Thunderbird is what really made this experience great. Converse was so knowledgeable and made sure that we understood the course material. His professionalism and strong focus on safety really resonated with me, making me feel comfortable right off the bat. His approach to teaching in a lighthearted and friendly way made the course casual and conversational. Another really impressive factor was the respect that Converse and Lambert showed the women in the class, treating them as equals and never once singling anyone out of making them feel inferior. Pointers from both Converse and Lambert helped me to learn new techniques and shoot more accurately.
After range practice, we returned to our classroom, where we were each asked to give feedback on the course. I noted that I was impressed by how, in just one afternoon, I felt so familiar with handguns and their fundamentals and how my perspective had completely changed from fear and concern to understanding and confidence.
Every woman in the room gave positive feedback, thanking Converse and lambert and highlighting their favorite parts of the course. Many also added that the fact that the course was for women only made them feel more comfortable. During the feedback session, one word in particular stuck out to me. “Empowered.” Every woman that attended the course, regardless of their skill level walking in, noted that they left that evening feeling empowered, and that’s what it’s all about.