On a home football Saturday in Oklahoma City, it’s tough to compete with the Oklahoma University Sooners, but Suzi Rouse doesn’t let such outside influences bother her when it comes to planning her annual Women’s Fun Shoot. So this year, even though the day-long event, operating under the auspices of the NRA’s Women on Target program, was running at the same time as the UCLA-OU game, the gun course still pulled in 472 women who wanted to try their hand at shooting.
Rouse heads up efforts for what is consistently one of the most popular Women on Target events in the nation. The runners-up include a couple of events in Michigan, which draw about 200 participants regularly.
“It was a great success as evidenced by the smiling faces and positive feedback on their evaluations,” Rouse said. “The only negative was that we didn’t serve coffee,” she added with a smile.
One reason for the success of the program stems from experience. Her effort is one of the longest-running women’s programs, and the crew of volunteers at the Oklahoma City Gun Club run the event like clockwork.
The Women on Target program acquaints participants with shotguns, too.
A second reason is that it’s Oklahoma, where shooting and gun ownership are treated like the rights they are, as evidenced by Oklahoma’s favorable gun laws that pertain to carrying, purchasing or registering firearms.
With close to two decades of running the event behind her, Rouse has turned her Women’s Fun Shoot (they call it that because they want would-be participants to know that shooting can be fun, Rouse said) into the social shooting event of the year for many of the women. Her high draw is partly attributed to the fact that she has repeat customers—not a bad thing, especially if they bring newcomers with them in successive years, though the NRA touts its Women on Target program as an introduction to shooting, with the goal being that the women will use it as a foundation on which to build as they expand their shooting skills afterward.
It’s easy to tell which participants are truly new to the concept of shooting. All you have to do is watch their facial expressions. The first time a newbie hears the ring of lead hitting steel, a smile spreads across her face as the realization that she is now empowered to defend herself on a new level, if need be, dawns on her. But even the returnees get an occasional surprise. This year, for example, Blaser Firearms loaned a couple of new Mauser M18s, chambered in .308 Win. Shooting that rifle lit up a returning woman’s face like it was Christmas.
Individualized instruction is one of the advantages to participating in a sponsored effort like the Women on Target program.
And when you talk about hosting a shooting event, you can’t overlook the matter of safety. Nineteen years and counting, and, despite the fact that many of the shooters have never fired a gun before they show up, “We have never had so much as a hangnail, and I intend to keep it that way,” Rouse said.
How seriously do they take safety? Well, when lead from a bullet hitting a target on the pistol range ricocheted back, a ceasefire was called and the steel targets were moved further out to minimize the likelihood of that happening again. The course instructors were good about keeping the women abreast of what was happening, too, so there was no panic. Moving the targets back didn’t even cause much grief for the women, who stepped up, aimed and hit the more-distant targets like they were old hands at shooting.
One intangible reason for the success is that Rouse brings her love of guns to the event, and most of the men and women who give their time to make the event happen do likewise.
Rouse grew up in a family where firearms were part and parcel of life. Granted, it was the 1970s, so the attitude about women and guns was a little less favorable than it is today, but Rouse overcame her family’s “shooting is not a girl’s thing” attitude and has evolved into a strong advocate for female shooters.
Among the regular volunteers are people who go out of their way to make the event worthwhile.
After half a day of shooting, the women take a break for lunch, where door prizes are awarded. Scott Deatherage, executive director for Honoring America’s Warriors, was in charge. Now, pulling numbers out of hat and describing prizes can be pretty mundane, but not with him at the helm. When it came time to award a corset holster, he had the women rolling in the aisles when he tried to put it on—only to find it didn’t fit. Giving out a food item, well, he was sure to talk about its “nutritional value,” with insights that went beyond calories and protein.
Once you've learned to load your rifle and treat it safely, it's time for the fun part: shooting.
There has also been a chance to run into one of the better-known armed citizens in recent years. Mark Vaughan, who stopped the madman who was beheading people at a plant in Moore, Okla., is a regular at the event. For those who don’t know the name or recognize him by looks, the man’s modesty precludes him from telling anyone what he did four years ago to save his fellow workers. He simply says he is there to introduce women to safety and provide other tips as needed.
Vaughan, who was president of the Oklahoma City Gun Club when Rouse talked about starting the program, has been involved in the Women’s Fun Shoot basically from the onset, missing one year because of job commitments, but otherwise being on hand to work with new shooters in one capacity or another.
Rouse has long been active with the NRA and its marksmanship and safety efforts. And though the seed for the Women on Target program was planted in Wisconsin in 1998, Rouse was among the first women to get involved. She applied for and won a grant to train 12 women to be rifle, shotgun and handgun instructors so the new shooters would be taught by other women. Rouse started the Oklahoma version as a “beta” event a year after the Wisconsin debut, and the program went national soon thereafter.
Today, the Oklahoma City event serves as a good example that other Women on Target hosts can use as a model if they want to take their events to a higher level.