This blog post is part of a 3-part series that, together, make up an AAR of the 7th Annual A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League National Conference. Held in Burnet, Texas, April 8—14, 2019, the conference brought together more than 450 AG&AG members and leadership and 40 top-tier instructors for a total of 8 days of networking, education, and training.
Vicki Farnam, Defense Training International for Women: Accuracy & Speed
Vicki Farnam brings to the industry more than 30 years of experience specifically focused on women’s training within the law enforcement, military and civilian defensive firearms settings. She tailors her instruction to those groups with safety and real-world applicability in mind, and I was honored to observe her class first as a Range Safety Officer, and then as a student.
Class setup, focus, techniques
Vicki brought a staff of 3 assistant instructors to conference for some one-on-one coaching during the entire 3.5-hour class block. Her lead AI was Diane Nicholl, a respected trainer and co-author of Teaching Women to Shoot: A Law Enforcement Instructor’s Guide, and Women Learning to Shoot: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers. The firing line was static at 7 yards, and targets were steel spinners to give immediate feedback and provide the speed challenge. The goal of the class was to provide students with a detailed understanding of the “why” behind the fundamentals of accurate shooting, building up to making the spinners flatten or spin based on well-placed shots, timed correctly and fired with patience and a smooth trigger press. Specific attention included learning trigger reset and managing recoil using a modified Weaver stance and a thumbs-up grip.
Texas weather calls a cease-fire
This time of year, Texas likes to throw out all the seasons each day just to test our adaptability. We started the week with highs in the mid-90s, transitioned to beautiful spring weather in the 80s, and then came Saturday. The morning was overcast with a good chance for storms. We had completed an introduction and supplemental safety brief, checked gear and guns, and gotten unloaded guns into holsters when the squall line came through with a vengeance. The class huddled under a small canopy and Vicki continued to address proper grip and trigger press until the morning’s classes were canceled due to lightning. Slowly and with lots of slipping and sliding and a few stuck vehicles, more than 500 participants, instructors and staff met up at the newly-constructed open-air pavilion for some impromptu safety and awareness lectures. The day truly embodied the AG&AG theme and unofficial tagline, “Roll with it.” Fortunately, conference organizers and a dedicated staff of volunteer “Range Donkeys” and medics addressed questions and minor medical issues due to falls and cold rain and wind. Afternoon classes were reorganized, and some bays were closed due to slippery mud. After lunch, the sun came out and we were back in business.
AG&AG core value: Adaptability
My own afternoon class block was an unarmed knife defense class that was moved to a hotel in Burnet. It was a great call to minimize the potential for injury and the ick of wrestling around in mud. Although I was scheduled to take Vicki’s class as a student the next morning, I still wanted to observe the class from the instructor perspective and thought I might be useful as an additional RSO in her afternoon session. Vicki and her crew welcomed me, and I went to work keeping the class participants safe behind the line and backing up Vicki and her AIs as needed.
Home on the range
While Vicki’s techniques weren’t those I had learned to use in my own shooting, I appreciated her ability to articulate why she teaches what she does. Her frame of reference includes decades of helping women learn to shoot, and to shoot well. What made me feel at home in her bay was her absolute control of her class, a strict adherence to safety, and a palpable respect for the organization’s rules and the students on the line. It makes sense that I would feel a sense of kinship with these instructors and their approach to training: my first mentor was Kathy Jackson, the Cornered Cat. She developed her deep respect for safety and her focus on women’s defensive shooting skills instruction from Gila Hayes at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, and Vicki was Gila’s mentor. It’s like Vicki is my great-grandmentor in the training world. It’s now a word, spell check. I invented it.
Focusing on the why
Women want to know why we’re told to do things, and “because reasons” or “because I said so” just aren’t good enough answers. Vicki provides intricate details about why she teaches what she does. From handgun action types to trigger physics and human anatomy, she breaks down WHY and HOW we press the trigger “straight, flat back,” and is willing to answer questions about her teaching points on ready positions, action types, trigger reset and prep, grip and stance. She can articulate which techniques apply to law enforcement, to the military, and to civilians, and she can do it because she works in all three spaces and understands the differences. Her “bubble,” as it were, is varied, goal-oriented and discipline-specific. She doesn’t pretend to delve into the competition shooting space and leaves that to others.
Vicki is not jazzed about the crush or thumbs-forward grips, Isosceles stance, locked elbows, or trigger reset during recoil, and she readily shares her reasons built on her experience training women defensive shooting techniques. I asked Vicki about her thoughts on “flip and press” and the industry’s movement away from “pinning” the trigger during recoil. Her primary concern is safety, and I could appreciate her desire to minimize the possibility of negligent discharge while resetting the trigger during recoil. Again, within the framework of civilian defensive carry, accountability is key. She said some instructors will teach mid-recoil trigger reset, but that anyone learning that technique must be dedicated to thousands of repetitions and strict trigger control to gain speed without sacrificing safety.
Will I teach pinning the trigger? Doubtful. I will continue to use Kathy’s exemplar drill (which Vicki used on me) to demonstrate proper trigger control, but I’ll also explain staying in contact with the trigger face and prepping the trigger as appropriate depending on student skill levels and their demonstrated muzzle and trigger finger awareness and control.
Will I teach the modified Weaver? I can think of some instances where students with certain physical challenges, or those who aren’t doing well with an Isosceles stance, might benefit from learning another stance option. Some of them do it naturally anyway. I’m tucking that one away as a maybe.
The same goes for the thumbs-up grip. I’ve never liked the crush grip myself, especially on the baby guns that women so often bring to the line. To Vicki’s point, tucking the thumbs under effectively removes the support hand from the grip, and that’s valuable real estate we need to cover. Also, crush grip is difficult for those with arthritis or joint mobility issues. I’m going to have some of my more experienced ladies try the thumbs-up grip with flexed elbows in a modified-modified Weaver and get their feedback after we shoot some simple drills.
Once again, my desire to move faster than my current skill level led to frustration and introspection on the line. It’s no excuse that I was incorporating the modified Weaver and thumbs-up grip and pinning the trigger, a habit I’ve been trying to squash since my early training days. It was only right to incorporate those techniques Vicki asked us to use. I found that with a high wedge grip with my support hand, the stance and grip changes did give me better recoil control over my Sig P320F and its high bore axis in my little hands. I beat myself out of speed and accuracy because I wanted to go faster, and I’m not ready to go that fast. Frustration fuels the desire to force the speed, and everything falls apart. It’s official: I’m my own worst enemy.
A woman’s path to badassery
The most valuable lesson I took away from my 7-ish hours on the range with Vicki and her staff is that mindset work doesn’t end at awareness color codes and defensive scenario planning. For women especially, mindset requires letting go of the “shoulds” and, as Vicki repeatedly said, being “in the moment.” I look at my target. I snatch my trigger. I anticipate recoil in an effort to get back on target quickly. I rush my follow-through. All of that comes from trying to go faster than my current skill set allows. The path of work ahead of me starts with getting out of my own way.
Oh, one other thing: women cry on the line. Learning to shoot isn’t just another skill in the women’s gun culture. It’s respect and validity, it’s recognition and it’s our own special version of ego. We compete with an internal version of ourselves we want to become, and when we don’t meet our own expectations, inside we’re seething with guilt and disappointment and self-deprecation. It’s why women apologize on the line. It’s why they say, “I know, I suck,” or “I can’t do that.”
If growth mindset were easy to develop just because we want to, we’d all have one. Turns out we’re human, we’re women, and we learn and process differently than men. That’s OK. It just means we need to own that, be aware of it, and be prepared to slow down, take a breath, and do the hard work in our heads and with our hands to become better shooters than we were an hour ago, yesterday, and the days before. For women, that’s the path to becoming a whatever it is we want to become, and it contains curse words and tears and tenacity.
Just. Don’t. Quit.
Impact 2019 wraps up
The conference wrapped up with a fantastic BBQ lunch, the last of more than 40 gun giveaways, and a few speakers. Vicki served as the keynote speaker and talked about the history of women in the firearms industry, and how AG&AG is blazing a path for the well-educated armed woman. Women are instrumental to fighting for our rights and dispelling the fears most often spurred by ignorance, and Vicki encouraged us to keep training and sharing this sisterhood and continuing to spread the ripples she started so many years ago.
Conference 2019 is in the books, fraught with challenges and yet full of momentum and hope for the future of women’s firearms training, education and activism. As we look forward to the 8th Annual A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League National Conference in DeBeque, CO, it’s only fitting that the message Vicki shared of lifting each other up is the one core value around which next year’s conference is themed: Elevate 2020.
See you ladies again next year, this time in the mountains.