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NRA’s Women On Target program helps introduce local women to recreational shooting

Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Local women learn the do's and don'ts of recreational shooting at NRA Women On Target program.

After the horn sounded and red overhead lights flashed, signaling cease fire on the shooting range, Jeanette Lagorio couldn't wait to see how she did.

Lagorio and about a dozen other women and their instructors walked 75 feet to inspect the targets, stapled to a wooden frame reinforced by a mound of dirt and hay. As they each plucked their bullseye for a closer look, shouts of delight echoed across the yard.

The loudest came from the 76-year-old grandmother.

None of Lagorio's eight shots missed the roughly 7-inch diameter circle printed on an 8x11 sheet of office paper. Three hit the inner three rings, and one was about an inch away from the exact center.

"I've got a football-playing grandson at Dulaney, and I can prove his grandmother is a hot tomato," she said, still marveling at her keepsake. "This has been the wildest, craziest day ever. This is worth twice what I paid for."

Lagorio was one of about 40 women who spent a day at the at the Baltimore County Game & Fish Protective Association center in Carney on Oct. 30, for the National Rifle Association's Women On Target program. Started in 1999, the course is designed to encourage and educate women new to recreational shooting and hunting, while addressing safe firearm handling, storage and basic marksmanship.

The program starts in the classroom by teaching the basics, from different types of firearms and ammunition to range safety, aiming and positioning, as well as storage, carrying laws and proper transportation of firearms. It's the fourth time the BCGF has hosted the event this year, and was added to the calendar by popular demand to accommodate participants who weren't able to secure a spot in previous clinics.

Jack Gude, the lead instructor who oversees about 20 trained volunteers, said it's part of a growing trend of women becoming more involved in shooting. According to 2015 data from the NRA, participation in the Women On Target program has risen nearly 70 percent since 2008.

"It was naturally another segment of the population that we could reach, because our goal is to take the fear of firearms away from people," said Gude, a Bel Air resident. "You have women here that have never fired a rifle, a shotgun, anything. And they're going to go up on the range and do well, and they're really going to be happy."

The program is designed to condense as much information into one session as possible, so participants spend 1 1/2 hours in the classroom, one hour of hands-on instruction with the firearms, and after an hour break for lunch, three hours on the range with one-on-one teaching from an instructor. Separated into three groups, participants get a chance to rotate between shooting pistols, rifles and shotguns at their respective areas.

For instructors and participants alike, that's easily the best part of the day.

"I end up having more fun teaching them and watching them shoot," than when I get to do it, said Steve Sunday, a Timonium resident who has been an instructor for four years. "There's so much bad connotation around [guns], but when they get out here in a safe environment with people who know what they're doing and they find out, 'Hey, it's actually quite enjoyable, and it's safe,' it's a lot of fun."

The program also provides an opportunity for discussion about personal safety. During the classroom period, many of the questions and concerns dealt with self-defense, such as the proper course of action should an intruder enter someone's home.

"This makes us feel safer and more well-informed," Lagorio said. "And we hope none of us ever have to use it. But better prepared than being sorry."

Terry Crawford, a member of the NRA for 38 years, remembers the objection from the "old guys who are throwbacks from another era" toward women when they first started joining the organization. Since that time, he's proud of the strides the organization has taken to be more inclusive.

"We never had any women members, and I remember the first person was 20 years ago. Subsequently, we had more and more women become members each year," he said. "That's fantastic."

Pat Ecke, of Chase, is one of those women. Hunting and shooting was always her husband's passion. But she decided to get involved with the BCGF in 2004, at least "until they make me mad." She's been a member ever since.

"I started learning the classes and realized this sport was more important than going to the woods and shooting cans off a stump," she said. "I just wish the rest of the world, seeing what I see in the shooting environment, that it's not anything to be afraid of, that it's something to enjoy if you just treat it with respect."

Ecke took photos of the event for the club and relished the opportunity to watch her daughter and niece participate. Ecke said she's proud of how much she has improved over the years, but was quick to point out how she was able to bag a bird at last year's turkey shoot.

"I outshoot most of the men here," she said with a smile. "But then again, they taught me."

What Ecke is most happy about, though, is the looks on the faces of the women throughout the day — their smiles after hitting a target. She said she knows how powerful that feeling can be.

"We don't have the muscles in our upper body that men have, so we get a little bit more fearful," Ecke said. "This way they know they can level the playing field."

As if on cue, her niece used uses a shotgun to shatter a clay target launched into the air about 50 feet away, bringing cheers from the gallery.

The loudest came from the men.

"Look at that!" Ecke said. "C'mon."

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