Home On The Range

Editors note: This column appeared in the March 2015 edition of The Sportsman, the Journal for the Texas State Rifle Association

By Jenna D'Illard

Growing up I learned invaluable lessons from my late father about the role of self-awareness in my own self-protection.

Aside from modeling a very confident, responsible and mature handling of firearms in our home, my father, a U.S. Army officer, insisted that his children understand the concept of “situational awareness” from an early age.

While other girls skipped off to school or the local roller rink blindly unaware of their surroundings, I was constantly on the look-out for suspicious characters and still am. Granted, I was a little uptight. But it’s possible this heightened sense of awareness saved me and my friends from potential harm over the years and continues to do so today.

My father also taught me that one key to a successful defense lay in skillfully avoiding a conflict in the first place, whether guns factor into the equation or not. Further, he guided that if I did eventually choose to own a gun one day for protection or sport, I was duty-bound to handle and secure that gun properly.

Over time, I developed an intellectual interest in geopolitics, counter-terrorism and law enforcement which led to further interests in martial-arts and self-protection, specifically firearms. With each step of my journey, I’ve endeavored to understand the methodology behind each interest so I can pursue it responsibly and fully.

This path led me to Driftwood, located about 30 miles south west of Austin, on a recent weekday with four other women to take a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) course with instructor Mike Cox.

A former Merchant Marine turned systems analyst for petroleum companies, Mike and his wife settled in Driftwood in 2000 after decades living and working in the Middle East.

In addition to cattle ranching, serving as a volunteer emergency technician and what seems like a dozen other ventures and volunteer positions, Mike teaches CHL and other gun handling courses from his property in Driftwood.

Mike’s students include college professors, journalists, politicians, soccer moms and any number of other types from a variety of political backgrounds.

Our group met outside Mike’s workshop around 9 a.m. and eventually headed upstairs to a classroom area. Flanked with standard cafeteria-style tables and chairs, the room also included a couch and recliner for more casual seating options.

One woman even brought her dog, who joined us for the class and we all brought our lunches to create a relaxed environment from which to tackle some potentially complicated and controversial topics.

Our course, like others across the state, split into two sections: The first included classroom-style instruction followed by a multiple choice exam while the second encompassed a live shooting test done on a range. Students must pass both before applying for a license which takes place later and largely included paperwork and fees.

Class styles varies from instructor to instructor. While some instructors use videos, others prefer personal stories or both. Classes can occur in small or large groups and costs vary slightly among trainers.

Regardless of the packaging, the curriculum for all instructors must adhere to the same state guidelines. Fundamentally students learn the rules and regulations for how to properly carry firearms and why those guidelines exist.

Using personal experience and referencing current events and legislative insight, Mike skillfully illustrated how these rules and regulations manifest in reality. Questions, conversation and healthy dialog among us all created an engaging and entertaining atmosphere.

On a personal level, I never felt shamed for not knowing about certain topics. Especially not because I’m a woman. In fact, Mike encouraged us to ask questions pertinent to women like how we might conceal our firearm in a handbag or how to thwart unwanted male attention.

After the classroom portion of the course we took a multiple-choice test. I’ve never been a stunning test-taker but I easily passed as did my classmates.

After shaking off the classroom and collecting our firearms, we loaded into Mike’s truck for a very short drive to the shooting range located on his property.

I’ve only shot a handful of times, using my husband’s 22 mm, and my confidence wavered as we got closer to the range. I also do not own a firearm with a large enough caliber to meet test proficiency requirements but Mike provided me with one for an additional fee. This is a common practice at other schools.

Prior to attending the class, Mike emailed us a fact-sheet outlining this part of the process. Although I knew what to expect, I still got a little nervous. For weeks I had intended to practice with a larger caliber gun prior to the test but ran out of time.

I was by far the worst in the class. In fact, the woman to my left was a former competitive shooter with a gun that looked like something out of a alien movie while the woman to my right looked like a character from a James Bond film. Naturally, I could have easily gotten discouraged which would have made my shooting even worse and served no constructive purpose. So I forced myself to get over it and focus on the goal which was passing the test and having some fun in the process.

Thankfully Mike gently guided us through the process as we shot three sets of tests at various distances and intervals. Sensing my insecurity, he also checked on me frequently to reassure that I remained calm, comfortable and confident.

After we completed the test, Mike bounced from target to target tallying our scores. I waited anxiously. And when he told me I’d passed I felt a great sense of accomplishment, not because I’d achieved anything in my own strength but because a new door had opened in my journey with the help and encouragement of a great instructor and wonderful classmates.

Several weeks have passed since my experience in Driftwood and I’ve come to several personal realizations in that time.

What I appreciated most about Mike and several other men I’ve encountered on this road to exploring gun ownership is simple.

While all of them treated me like a lady, none of them treated me like a princess. There is a crucial difference and I value that immensely. I do not want special treatment because I’m a woman and from my experience neither do the other women I’ve encountered on this path. We want respect and courtesy and the right to learn something new. Just like anyone else.

Because at the end of the day, I don’t identify as just a woman but as a citizen of Texas and the United States of America and my dollars are just as green and my blood just has red, white, and blue as the next person.