New shooters and hunters, especially women, quickly learn that strength comes not from the firearm but from the liberated mind

by Samantha Mann

My great-great grandmother Martha Adeline Sizemore Walker was home alone with her children, her husband having traveled out of town to take care of some business. She heard a commotion one night at the hog pen. Grabbing a butcher knife, she went out to investigate and found a bear wreaking havoc on the pigs. With knife in hand, she engaged the bear to save the hogs. That morning, with the help of her children, she dressed out the bear and had stew ready by the time her husband returned that evening.

There is another story about her husband killing a panther with a rifle. As I was growing up, I always wondered why he used a gun and she used a knife. I suppose it was because the rifle, for him, and the knife, for her, were the handiest tools available. I also wondered why she didn’t let that bear eat those hogs instead of risking her own life to kill it with a knife. Of course, in those days, a few hogs meant the difference between your children eating or starving. Maybe she was just that fierce and practical that she was not going to let a bear take her hogs.

Today, folks can make a quick drive to the grocery store to secure a bag full of food. We tend to rely on others for our safety, security, and food preparation. While this is convenient and many times necessary, I don’t think it is good for us.

As we recently experienced (and some areas of the country continue to experience) with the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, there was a shortage of beef at our local stores. It makes you wonder about which tool is the best for this situation; credit card or hunting rifle? I’d like to have the choice and not rely solely on my magic plastic card to secure the only source of food.

Then there were the rioting and the many innocent people who were hurt (and some killed). The protests were everywhere, and tempers are still flaring. As a result, gun sales boomed (forgive the pun). My small rural town gun club has been training new gun owners left and right. The police appear to have their hands full while we wonder about our safety.

Self-reliance continues to be a tradition in many parts of the country, not just the Appalachian Mountains where my ancestors have lived since the 1700s. I like to think that I inherited a bit self-reliance from them, but I’m pretty sure it came mostly from my father, who made sure I knew how to use many tools. As a psychologist, I can tell you that self-reliance is very healthy as it fosters confidence, self-esteem, and self-determination.

Many of my female friends, neighbors, and co-workers are afraid of guns or despise them. Most cannot even tell me where the fear started other than maybe being told not to mess with them when they were children. Some despise them because they are saddened and appalled at the many times that guns have been used in violence. Because of my work as a psychologist, I know many women and children who have been abused and threatened with guns or who have lost someone they love to gun violence or war. I understand why they are distressed, fearful, and angry. I feel it, too, and my heart goes out to them and all of us who must witness such cruelty in the world.

I am a hunter and a shooter who comes from a long line of gun owners. Of course, my opinions are biased by my culture and experiences, but I strive to share my experiences when teaching new women gun owners. To see the changes that occur in them after overcoming their fears and learning to use a new tool is remarkable.

Yet teaching women to use guns for hunting, self-defense, and sport is much more than learning to use a new tool. It is a liberation from dependency. It is a lesson in self-reliance. It is a reminder of our personal worth as we commit to defending our lives and those of our loved ones. It provides us with a valuable tool for survival. Nearly every woman who begins a class afraid of guns leaves with confidence and the pride of overcoming that fear.

One of my patients recently told me that she was afraid with all the rioting and “craziness” in the world. Her husband was insisting that she learn to shoot, and he brought her home a gun. She resisted because, “I hate guns and never would allow them in my house.” She asked me for some advice. I told her to give it a go with some training and then decide whether she wanted the gun.

I think we should all learn what something is about before we reject it.

The next week, this patient returned and told me she had been shooting handguns and rifles with her family. She was satisfied that everyone was learning how to shoot safely, and she was ecstatic to tell me that she was able to hit targets that her husband couldn’t. She changed her mind about guns and is now feeling more capable of defending herself and her family. Her growing confidence proved liberating from her earlier fears.

I don’t know that I would have the courage of my great-great grandmother to kill a bear with nothing more than a butcher knife. I am sure that I would have the courage to kill it with a gun.

If you are looking to overcome a fear of guns, learn a new tool, or just enjoy a new sport, it is easy to get started. Go to a local gun store, call the local range or club, ask a friend or acquaintance who you know has guns, or look up local gun clubs online. If you would be more comfortable learning from a woman, ask for one. There are many more of us around these days who are certified to instruct.

The women I know who use guns are strong and capable. Maybe they had those characteristics to begin with. Most will tell you that shooting, hunting, training, and sporting with guns has increased their capability and self-reliance.

I know it has mine.

About the Author

Samantha Mann, M.A., is a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and an NRA Instructor. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, the youngest of six grandchildren (and the only female) who were raised to love the outdoors and hunting. She started shooting when she was big enough to hold a Winchester Model 6 .22 pump-action by herself. She has hunted from Texas to Africa. She lives in Southern West Virginia with her understanding and supportive husband who doesn’t mind showing off her trophies to his buddies.

Samantha decided to pursue her love of psychology and counseling at age 12 (following in her father’s footsteps) and has never looked back. She strives to balance her time in the office helping others with time in the outdoors. She has focused much of her career on helping children and adults who have been abused, neglected, and mistreated. Her biggest rewards come from helping others liberate themselves from their fears and pain to become healthy and happy.

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