Winged Wisdom: How To Be A Better Mentor

by Kate Ahnstrom

By Kate Ahnstrom

Her Apple watch was going nuts. Alison’s heart rate was 122, AFTER she stepped out of the box! I can only imagine what it was at the moment I placed the shotgun against her shoulder and asked her to put her head forward and down on the comb.

   As I softly rested my palm against the back of her shoulder to reassure her, I was right there, the muscles underneath were electric and quivering rapidly. 

  “Alison, I want you to just pull the trigger, whenever you’re ready. Point the gun up over those trees in the background and when you are ready, just firmly but smoothly pull back on the trigger. There’s no clay so take your time.” 

  Her voice crackled slightly as she let out an almost whimpering, “ok”. She audibly took a deep breath in and squeezed back on the trigger of the Syren Elos D2 20ga. After the discharge, her eyes were as wide as saucers and she nervously laughed, looking towards me for approval. She did it. She pulled the trigger, and it was NO BIG DEAL.

   Alison repeated this process once more as if to prove that yes, she can shoot a shotgun and it WON’T hurt or scare the hell out of her. As I worked through the group of ladies, it was empowering for them to conquer past fears and shooting scars. They cheered each other on and the bigger the breaks, the bigger the roar from the cheering section.

Be a Mentor That Makes 

A Positive Impact

   The warmer weather has everyone getting outside and engaging in all manner of outdoor activities. Shooting is always a popular selection since you can go as a group, don’t have to be quiet, instant gratification of watching clays break and it’s considered a “highlight” event. It’s not the everyday thing like going to the movies or shopping, etc. At least not for the majority of people. 

  It’s incredible to see how many people are willing to volunteer their time and mentor others in the shooting sports. This is an outstanding opportunity to make a positive impact on a person and showcase why the shooting sports and hunting are such great ways to get outdoors and how you can even add meat to the table. It’s not a time to thump your own chest and make it a “Me” show. Honestly, your mentee will certainly love listening to your adventures, good and bad, but this is not about you and what you can do. This is about THEM and how they can excel and succeed and how this event will impact them emotionally and physically.

  Alison confessed afterwards that she had a horrible incident and was hurt shooting. Some guy gave her a gun that was too big, too heavy, with a shell that was way too hot and with no instruction on how to properly mount the gun or even work the safety, told her to shoot it. It knocked the snot out of her shoulder and her cheek. One shell. One time. That was enough to scar her for years. She was very reluctant to get in the box with me to shoot but she was there with some friends, and they had already shot with me and swore it didn’t hurt and was a ton of fun. 

   She trusted me to keep my word, keep her safe and keep her from deepening that terrible scar. By the end of the lesson, the ladies were crushing all manner of birds. Alison included. She even grabbed up my Syren Tempio 12ga and cracked off several rounds crushing crossing birds.

Step By Step Instruction

   It’s easy to zip through the basics. Most of us that have lots of experience, don’t even think about loading, unloading, working the safety, etc. It’s just second nature. For the brand-new shooter, it’s overwhelming and intimidating. Working with an unloaded shotgun on safe, have them hold it and manipulate the safety, the slide, crack the barrels open, play with the chokes. The more they touch and explore that shotgun, the more comfortable they become with it. Allow them to follow birds with it, empty and even dry fire. Once you add a shell, have them just shoot it up in a safe attitude with no clay involved. Get them comfortable with the gun and they will zip right along once you add in a clay.

   Be certain that the gun is a good one, one that fits and you’re using a good brand of shells. There are guns and shells that I will not allow students to use. They hurt, they shoot low, and they are ill-fitting. You don’t have to keep an assortment of high-end guns available. I have a 20ga Beretta autoloader that I bought used $325. Great little gun, easy on the shoulder and fits most people nicely.

  Take your time and keep it safe but light and enjoyable. The person in front of you just might be a life-long shooter and hunter if you worry more about them and their enjoyment than your own. As always, be sure to get out to the course and share that time with a friend, family member or your new mentee!

Kate Ahnstrom, owner of Virginia Shooting Sports is a certified, professional instructor of the Paragon School of Sporting, pro staff Syren/Caesar Guerini, resident pro Orapax Hunting Preserve, Artemis ambassador for Virginia and field staff member of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. Her tireless dedication to her students’ success is obvious in each and every lesson.

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