Little clouds of breath rose into the air over five teenagers standing stock-still in a row, eyes trained on the targets in front of them. Then a sharp pop broke the silence, quickly followed by another pop and another until a deluge of shots rang out at the Snowshoe Gun Club on Thursday.
The young women were members of Teens on Target, created by Elaina Spraker, and they were just getting into their third meeting of this year’s course at the gun club in Kenai. Spraker said she got the idea for the program back in 2009 when she asked her son, then a student at Soldotna High School, whether the girls he hung out with enjoyed going to the shooting range as much as he and his male friends did. His answer was that they tended to hang back, which got Spraker thinking of a way to get young women more involved in shooting and firearm safety.
“What we discovered in the years from then until now, is an amazing thing that has happened with these women is just the strength and empowerment and what it does to their self esteem,” Spraker said.
The program, which is similar to the Women on Target class Spraker teaches for adults, is supported by Friends of the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International and the Snowshoe Gun Club. The approximately eight-week course takes a handful of teens aged 13-17 through the basics of shooting pistols, rifles and shotguns, though Spraker said the length of the course can be tweaked if the young women want to keep learning. Thursday, Spraker and her husband, Ted, were joined by Jamie Hoogenboom, an NRA certified instructor and mother of one of the participants, 14-year-old Erin.
It costs $35 to join the program, and all the ammunition and other materials are donated by Spraker and her husband. The program also introduces teens to other aspects of using or owning a gun, such as gun cleaning and the importance of testing firearms out before buying them to make sure they will work out.
“Guns are like jeans,” Spraker said. “Certain fits for certain women.”
Thursday’s group consisted of the five teens. The session began with drills to test their skills shooting handguns. The group practices with 9 mm semi-automatic pistols and .357 revolvers, Spraker said.
The class has evolved over the years as Spraker’s students give her feedback on what they need, she said. While Spraker originally thought she would teach a different class each year, she said it has worked better as a group that teens join at a younger age and remain in until they graduate out.
Faith Glassmaker, 14, and Matthea Boatright, 16, are both veterans of the program.
“I joined this class mainly because I’ve grown up around firearms, because my parents both shoot,” Glassmaker said. “I love shooting, so I think it’s cool that we get to come here every week and just shoot as much as we want.”
Boatright said she didn’t have much experience beyond rifles before joining Teens on Target, and that she has enjoyed getting to know her way around pistols and shotguns as well.
While Glassmaker and newcomer Morgan Reynolds, 14, both grew up in families that use firearms, they said expanding their range of knowledge has been exciting. Learning to shoot a pistol was especially intimidating at first, Glassmaker said.
“Last year when you (Spraker) had us shooting the pistols, I (thought) ‘This is, like, intense,’ and my adrenalin was just like overflowing,” she said. “And after a couple shots you’re like, ‘I got this.’”
Boatright and Glassmaker have already been through the self-defense class portion of the program taught by members of the Kenai Police Department. Boatright said it was informative and that she only hopes she’d be able to recall what she learned while under the pressure of an emergency situation.
The teens all said they plan on using the skills they learn through the program to continue shooting and for hunting.
The group of girls have a shared interest in shooting that doesn’t extend very far into their social circles. With the exception of one or two other girls they know that shoot, most of their female friends don’t partake in the pastime, the teens said.
“And they don’t know at all what we’re talking about,” Reynolds said with a laugh.
Not very many of their male friends shoot either, Reynolds and Glassmaker said.
As far as the future of the program is concerned, Spraker said a small group of young women who come back each year seems to be a good fit. The format of the course doesn’t need much tweaking, but the participants are good at letting instructors know what they need, she said.
“Teenagers teach you, they humble you,” she said. “And they’ve taught us a lot.”