Outside My Comfort Zone - From “No Guns” to “3 Guns"
How one woman went from no guns to "He Man"
Deb Ferns is a co-founder of the women’s action shooting camps, Babes with Bullets, held across the country since 2004. She is a columnist, Outside My Comfort Zone, and executive producer of the Babes with Bullets webisodes hosted at OutdoorChannel.com. Deb is also a board member of the Women’s Outdoor Media Association and a motivational speaker. She and her husband (Gary) are active in several shooting sports though she admits her favorite is multi-gun events utilizing a rifle, pistol and shotgun. When not at the gun range Deb can usually be found teaching Hatha yoga at a local senior center.
To set the record straight I now own a lot more than three guns, even though I never shot one until my 45th birthday. Fast forward to over ten years later, with a variety of shooting sports under my belt, I have to admit that my favorite form of competition involves action shooting events. These matches are organized under the guidance of United States Practical Shooting Association (www.USPSA.org) and held across the US. Though I participate on a monthly basis in USPSA handgun events I try at least three to six times a year to shoot multi-gun i.e. 3-Gun events. These multi-gun matches are comprised of several individual stages with each stage timed by a range office that stays behind you on the course. After the course of fire is timed then the targets are scored for accuracy. This combination of time and accuracy is what gives each shooter his/her score for each stage. Each shooter competes in a group based on the equipment they are using for instance classifications can vary from Open & Compensated Division, to Tactical Division with Scopes, Tactical Division with Iron Sights, etc.
Getting back to the actual 3-gun match at each individual stage the competitor shoots one gun at a time, though the stage description commonly requires that a specific type of target be engaged with a particular firearm or with a certain type of ammo. So for example on one stage a competitor might start out shooting long range rifle; retires that gun safely somewhere pre-designated on the stage and then takes on new targets with an alternate gun; all the while the clock is ticking. On a regional level a multi-gun event is usually held one day per month and sees an average of 75 to 100 competitors. On a national level these events are two to three day formats with an average of 300 to 350 competitors. If you make it to the world championship level, where the competition with 24 stages lasts five days, then the number of competitors grows to well over 1,000 people. (FYI - Competition to even get into the national and world level matches is FIERCE!)
If you’re the type of person who enjoys a thinking game with lots of adrenaline going then this type of shooting sport is for you! That you need to be able to control and operate a variety of firearms safely and with speed, is the ultimate high! When I started multi-gun events several years ago at age 50 I knew I would never be a national champion; I started in the game a little too late for that. I challenged myself to participate as a way to “walk the talk” for what I preach at our Babes with Bullets camps (www.BabeswithBullets.com). These camps are part of my mission to encourage women to participate in something outside their comfort zone, usually with an introduction to firearms. If you aren’t familiar with the Babes with Bullets program it started in April 2004 when I met a world and national shooting sports champion, Kay Miculek, while attending a “ladies only” camp at the her home range outside of Shreveport. Since 2004 Kay and I have combined forces, along with several other female instructors, traveling to various regions of the US to host the three day camps. Now eight year later we have over 2,000+ camp alum and we couldn’t have done it without Smith &Wesson as our Foundation Sponsor!
The camps are offered at a discount based on financial support by S&W and women can “try before they buy” because of S&W providing loaner firearms as well. We have been blessed with several other awesome sponsors throughout the years, including Atlanta Arms & Ammo, who has stepped up again and again to make sure our camps have ammo available to the campers at a discounted price. (And yes, many men ask if they can attend camp just so they can purchase the discounted ammo; sorry guys that’s not the way this works.) I’ve also been blessed with a very tolerant film crew from ProVideos4U and an excellent photographer with Scott Durkin (www.jscottdigitalphoto.com).
I won’t deny that this hobby, or mission I enjoy, is expensive in terms of purchasing firearms, entry fees, traveling to matches, etc. (On the upside it’s less expensive then when I owed horses and was showing them across the country.) I compete at the action shooting programs as I can between working my “real” job as an association meeting planner, being the camp director for the Babes with Bullets programs, along with an active role as the chair of the board for the Women’s Outdoor Media Association (www.theWOMA.com). Even with my husband helping me (GOD BLESS HIM) with equipment preparation and ammo reloading it’s still a high maintenance hobby.
Another element you have to consider is the need to work on your physical endurance to be able to “run and gun” at these events. The reason its called action shooting is that you are always moving, working out of a holster, sliding in and out of various positions on the course of fire. My 50+ year old body isn’t keen on being bruised and I’m not willing to inflict pain by sliding somewhere I shouldn’t; so I pick my way through a match a bit more carefully which hurts my time but leaves my skin stays intact! My training routine to be able to compete is a combination of a strength building program and yoga practices. The strength building I do through a combination of Kettlebells, TRX and lifting at Evolution Tucson (www.EvolutionTucson.com). I have a very talented trainer, Danny, who helps our group build strength while always checking that we are using correct form. The other half of my training program is maintaining flexibility and fortunately I’ve participated in a variety of yoga disciplines for 18 years. Once again I’m blessed to have a very nurturing instructor, Deb Stenson, who constantly encourages me to hone my skills on the mat. I also teach a very basic Hatha yoga at the Babes with Bullets camps where “Ommm….Be One with the Gun” is our favorite chant!
In the pictures enclosed “Be One with the Gun” is something I took to heart at the recent Superstition Mystery Mt. 3-Gun national event (SMM3G), held annually in Mesa, AZ. It came to my attention that women don’t compete in the “Heavy Metal” division of multi-gun, probably due to having to run with and balance larger heavier guns. Well, that whole challenging myself to do something outside my comfort zone kicked in and I competed in the “Heavy Metal” division at SMM3G. (I’m grateful they now call it Heavy Metal instead of He Man.) While I didn’t come in first, I also didn’t come in last so another lesson learned for me and I look forward to competing in the Heavy Metal division in future multi-gun matches. In case you wonder what Heavy Metal denotes for firearms it’s a .308 rifle with a 150 grain bullet instead of utilizing my AR-15 with a 55 grain bullet. It’s mandatory in Heavy Metal to use a 12 gauge shotgun and a .45 caliber single stack, 10 round handgun, versus a .9mm or .40 caliber handgun with high cap magazines that can hold 17 to 20 bullets.
So many guns to try and for the first time in 2012 our Babes with Bullets program introduced a 3-gun camp and it filled up in less than 48 hours. To me that says a lot about the growing popularity of multi-gun and I sense this is because of hit shows on tv like Top Shot ™, Hot Shot ™ and 3 Gun Nation ™. FYI - We’ll be offering another 3 gun camp in 2013 so standby for more info on when/where to be posted at our Babes website. We are also developing a 3 gun webisode for OutdoorChannel.com where we have a wide variety of our training tapes from other Babes camps archived. Visit www.OutdoorChannel.com/BabeswithBullets and by the way we recently won the “Best Online Series” award during SHOT Show 2012 for those training pieces. Several of the webisodes encourage you on ways to introduce women to the gun range to participate in action shooting programs that are fun and safe. See you at the range!