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I promised myself that my training column this month would be educational and not a rant, but I need to tell you how this month’s topic came about. I’m involved with several female shooting groups, hang out with other women who shoot and belong to a variety of women’s Facebook groups. I’ve heard and read a few statements I find to just be excuses: “Women are completely different than men in how we carry a pistol. It’s harder for women to carry.” That’s like saying all men can easily carry in the same manner. Just like women, men come in all shapes and sizes. Long waist, short waist, thin with straight hips, those with big bellies, even some with wide hips. Sure, ladies’ clothing styles are different, and that might be where the difficulty lies. However, don’t make the excuse that all ladies have shorter torsos. “Male instructors don’t seem to understand that women are different. We have boobs, you know.” Yep, we do. I’ve had them for quite a long time now, since about 4th grade (I was an early bloomer). And guess what? They really don’t get in my way; I’ve gotten used to them over the years. I’ve also seen quite a few men with “moobs” (male boobs) in classes, and they seem to get by just fine.

“A woman is usually smaller, shorter, lighter and weaker than a man.”

However, being smaller and weaker is not an excuse; rather, it is the reason women should train to protect themselves. I’ve assisted in training many women and men since 2011, both law enforcement and civilians. Without a doubt in my mind, I can conclude that we’re all different—both men and women—when it comes to body shape and size. So, regarding the physical aspect, women should not be trained any differently than men.

However, I’ve found there is a huge difference in how women learn … and that’s where trainers need to change their teaching strategies.

Women Learn Differently

My husband, Chris, and I make a good teaching team; we complement each other. He gives instruction his way. Then, if I see any puzzled looks, I re-explain another way. Yes, he often looks puzzled with my explanations, but after 23 years of marriage, he realizes I understand and often hear instruction differently and that perhaps other people do too.

I read a few studies about the development of men’s and women’s brains. In a nutshell, females tend to learn better with words, and they interpret directions literally. When I compete, I talk almost the entire time I’m shooting. I verbalize when I’m putting my gun on “safe,” engaging a long-range target and a variety of other movements. Through observation and discussion with other female shooters and listening to women in classes, I’ve found many do the same. We tend to verbalize each step in a shooting sequence, especially when first learning.

Ladies, if this works for you, don’t be afraid to talk yourself through your manipulations.

Yes, women come in different shapes … but so do men.

“… I’ve found there is a huge difference in how women learn… and that’s where trainers need to change their teaching strategies.”

Verbal Correction

Regardless of the situation, women and men usually respond differently to verbal correction. While a male might do well with good-natured teasing and sarcasm, a female might take it personally and become flustered. Likewise, a patronizing tone or comment can change a student’s disposition in class. A good instructor finds a way to be assertive and supportive.

Benefits of Ladies-Only Classes

Although the reasons vary widely, I’ve found that many women take up firearms training as a means of personal safety. Sometimes, this is proactive; many times, it’s reactive because of a negative life-changing experience. An all-female class allows these women to feel comfortable asking questions and less intimidated when shooting on the line. In addition, an all-female class avoids any influence of their significant others trying to be “helpful” on the range. Women want to learn for themselves and need to handle their firearms. Just knowing they’re not being watched by this person might help them feel more relaxed. I’ve read that women are often more left-brained, which means we sometimes have a difficult time keeping reason and emotion separate.

A female instructor can influence and inspire other females.

When I attended one of my first training classes (a law enforcement instructor class that Chris was teaching), I fell apart once we began live fire and brass from the tall officer next to me was bouncing off my head. I panicked. Watching the destruction of the targets, I kept thinking about my children and how deadly guns are. Because I was the only female, I couldn’t expect anyone to understand what I was feeling, so I left the line and packed everything up. Now, this experience could have gone two different ways. Luckily, I quickly got over it. But I’ll bet that without female support, this could have been some women’s one and only firearms course.

Coed classes, especially with significant others, can sometimes hinder training.

Tips for the Male Instructor (MI) and Female Student (FS)

MI: Have multiple ways to explain a topic. Watch for students who have puzzled looks on their faces.

FS: If you don’t understand something, ask. If you still don’t understand, ask for it to be explained another way.

MI: Offer suggestions to someone struggling because of hand strength. Remember that what works for some might not work for others.

FS: If you are struggling because of your hand strength, ask if you are manipulating the gun correctly or if there is another method you should try.

MI: If a female has a firearm that is not the best choice for learning, offer her the use of an alternate gun.

FS: Be familiar with the firearm you are bringing to class. Make sure it fits your hands. A full-sized pistol is usually the best choice when first learning to shoot.

MI: Keep in mind that there is a lot of new terminology for the beginning shooter. Be prepared to repeat yourself several times. Have important vocabulary written on a board for students to reference as needed.

FS: Take notes! If you missed something, ask for it to be repeated. Make sure you understand before the instructor moves on.

MI: Don’t tell a female to quit talking while she is shooting (that has happened to me).

FS: If you need to verbalize your shooting sequence out loud, do so. However, you might want to let the instructor know so he doesn’t think you are talking to him.

There is no one-size-fits-all way of training. Men, women, old, young—people learn differently. Whether you are the student or an instructor, you need to do your part to get the most out of your classes.

When women are on the line, shooting together, they support each other.

Ladies: Stop making excuses.

Gentlemen: Treat the women the same as the men, but adjust your teaching methods a bit.


Michelle Cerino is both a firearms trainer and the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC—a firearms training company she built with her husband, Chris, in 2011. She writes, hunts and competes in major 3-gun matches nationwide.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.