My primary interest in the world of hunting is wingshooting — ducks, geese and sporting clays. I'm pretty comfortable with a shotgun, so when I signed on for the Ladies Shotgun Course at Gunsite Academy, I figured it would mostly reinforce things I already knew. Of course, I was wrong.

I knew I was in trouble from the very beginning, when instructor Il Ling New told us we'd do all our loading with our support hand (in my case, my left, as I'm right-handed). When she told me "stop bringing your face down; bring the gun to your face first" for the third time, I decided I'd better roll with the punches and forget everything I've been doing for a decade. Best to start fresh. Getting the shotgun properly fitted for me was a big help with that.

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Our class included eight women with varying levels of experience. Some had been shooting shotguns for many years; others had only ever held a shotgun once or twice before. The first day of the three-day course focused on wingshooting at a local trap and skeet club, where we worked on proper mounting, swinging and pointing. We spent the next two days at Gunsite, learning shotgun techniques focused on personal defense — in both gunfight situations (home defense, two-legged bad guys) and hunting situations (four-legged predators in the wild). Il Ling and fellow instructor Mario Marchman ran us through a variety of drills, including changing positions (from standing to kneeling), swapping loads mid-magazine (from buckshot to slugs, for example), speed reloading, changing carry positions, room clearing and "pie-ing corners," proper foot placement when advancing on a target, and more.

After three days, I left feeling so much more capable than I had been when I started, but was acutely aware of how I'd just barely scratched the surface when it comes to personal defense training.