Ladies lock, load and learn in Rochester

Sep 26, 2023

ROCHESTER — For 74-year-old Cheryl Jensen, it was “now or never” if she was ever going to learn to shoot a gun.

“My husband, who is deceased, was a hunter,” she said. “We’ve always had guns around.”

On Saturday, Sept. 23, Jensen and 25 other women of all ages and backgrounds attended the National Rifle Association’s “Women on Target'' firearms safety course at the Sippican Rod and Gun Club in Rochester. 

According to Bill Fredericks, a member of the Sippican Rod and Gun Club and organizer of the “Women on Target” program, women are the fastest growing demographic of gun owners in the United States and the club. 

“[Women learn to shoot] for home protection … and [some] want to do it for sport,” Fredericks said. “Sport is primarily what we concentrate on.”

Out at the shooting range, Jensen tried her hand at shooting a pistol under the guidance of instructor Ed Casey.

Jensen wasn’t alone: nearby, her neighbor Sheila Pierce was learning from another instructor who made her feel “so relaxed” during her first time shooting.

Sheila attended the program with her daughter Kristen Pierce. 

Sheila’s husband, who was a hunter, always encouraged her to get her firearms license. 

“I’ve always been scared but now I have my daughter with me and my neighbor,” she said. “[I have] nothing to be scared of.”

Kristen said she “learned a lot” at the program.

“[I was interested to learn] for safety and protection,” she said. “I’m not crazy about [shooting], but it’s good to know.”

Since 2014, the annual “Women on Target'' program at the Sippican Rod and Gun Club has trained participants “in all the basics,” Fredericks said. 

“They learn to load and unload, proper stance, sight picture and alignment,” he said. “Safety is huge. It’s a very safe sport as long as you follow the rules.”

The program was split into two sections, a classroom portion taught by Jon Green, the director of training for the Gun Owners Action League, and a live-fire portion where women were given the opportunity to shoot pistols, shotguns and rifles. 

“To not only learn the basics in the classroom but to get out here and fire is even more important,” said Fredericks. “Now you can implement what you learned in the classroom — safety and things like that.”

At the 100-meter rifle range, Julie-Anne Shannon fired a scoped rifle, pinging shots on a metal target far down range. 

“I really really liked [shooting] the targets here  — and I’ve been known to have bad aim with other sports — I could see getting into the sporting aspect of it,” she said.

Shannon signed up for the “Women on Target” program because she has a lot of hunters in her family.

“Although I don’t hunt myself, I wanted to be more familiar with things they were talking about,” she said. 

She said the program made her feel “empowered.”

“This has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “I would definitely recommend it to any woman. It gave me so much knowledge … and to have the pairing of the knowledge with the hands-on [practice] … it makes it all come together.”