By ASHLEY ONOZ-WRIGHT | Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Karissa Neff and Sara Shertz drive away from the hustle and bustle, down a lonely stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South until they reach their turn-off, a road where asphalt meets gravel. It's late afternoon and their truck is loaded with about a dozen semi-automatic handguns, revolvers, and bolt action and high-powered rifles.

A utopia for gun enthusiasts seeking outdoor target practice, the location near Sloan is barren isolation with a touch of lawlessness. Pockmarked by divots and peppered debris, the off-road stretch is lined with pickup trucks and empty ammunition shells.

For the women of Gun Play Vegas, it's just another day at the office.

“He actually told me I was too dainty to shoot,” said Neff, stretching above her head to staple paper targets to wooden frames. She was referring to the licensed firearms instructor who conducted her qualification for a concealed carry permit. Shertz, who is similarly petite, said she's been stereotyped this way as well.

Shertz, who stands 5-foot-3 and weighs less than 100 pounds, slaps a slug into the chamber of a shotgun that runs the length of her leg to her navel. It's time to shoot.

“In a lot of cases, especially for women my size, a firearm is the factor that will level the playing field against an assailant they may not be able to fight off otherwise,” Shertz said.

Neff, an attorney, and Shertz, an instructor and GlockStore-sponsored competition shooter, own Gun Play Vegas, the first and only female-owned firearms training company in Nevada. Since launching the business in 2012, the UNLV grads have trained a few thousand students.

Neff and Shertz were motivated to start Gun Play Vegas after experiencing what they say was sexism and heckling in a male-dominated industry. The duo set out to teach others how to defend themselves without the drill-sergeant atmosphere.

“Firearms training is intimidating enough without being berated by impersonal and militarized teaching tactics,” Neff said.

While pursuing their instructor certifications, for example, Neff and Shertz said they faced trainers who repeatedly shook hands with male students, yet failed to show them the same respect. One instructor tried to deny their re-entry into the classroom because he thought they took too long to use the ladies room. They were the only two women in the class.

Gun Play Vegas aims to create a safe and relaxed environment for people of all backgrounds to learn how to shoot and care for their weaponry. Specializing in private training of white-collar professionals, Gun Play Vegas is focused on teaching clients how to be in control of their safety.

Training sessions start at $150 and are packaged to include both classroom and range time. The first portion, which can be conducted in a client's home or office, takes about four hours to complete. Instructors use orange training pistols and dummy ammunition to teach fundamentals such as the anatomy of a gun, proper grip positioning, loading bullets, and how to align and aim at targets posted on a wall.

The second half of training lasts a couple of hours and is at an indoor or outdoor gun range, depending on client preference. Neff and Shertz revisit the classroom exercises using real firearms. Range instruction goes beyond the fundamentals of shooting. It includes how to draw from concealed holsters, and how to find and use barricades as shields during real-world scenarios such as violent crimes in shopping centers, or what to do when there are uninvolved bystanders.

Gun Play Vegas also hosts its own version of the traditional merchandise party, with in-home ladies nights for friends interested in learning more about gun safety and proficiency.

Women's only classes include statistics on when and why women are targeted, tips for increasing awareness of your surroundings and methods of concealed carry. Instructors explain pros and cons of holsters specifically designed for women and how to draw a pistol from particularly challenging wardrobe selections, cocktail dresses, for instance.

Juanita McClinton, a legal professional who recently attended a women's course, said she appreciates the training options available at Gun Play Vegas.

“Most instructors and ranges are male dominant so I appreciated being in an environment where there are knowledgeable and approachable female instructors,” McClinton said.

Gun Play Vegas doesn't train just women. Corporations are signing on to have employees trained because GPV offers something key to their operations, discretion.

“Discretion is a big part of the job, so we frequently go to a client's office to train privately,” Shertz said. When it's time to shoot, the company makes private range reservations for clients with privacy needs.

Back out in the desert, the women fire off final rounds in the fading daylight. They unload their weapons and repack the truck. Their next meeting is with state officials, and they'll need to trade their tactical belts for business attire.

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com