by TARYN HECKER & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he frost has just barely melted off the grass and the gray-haired men sitting at the counter drinking coffee and eating donuts look a little surprised to see a crowd of women gathering at the Coeur d'Alene Skeet and Trap Club.
It's Ladies' Weekend, and the four of us women were recipients of a mass e-mail invite that promised free shotgun lessons.
I'm here not because I care much about knowing how to shoot. I just want to learn how to hold a shotgun. That way if I ever need to step out on my front porch with a shotgun -- picture Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain -- I'll at least look like I know how to use it.
This won't be my first time shooting, but I haven't fired a gun since third grade. My stepdad and the boys were out back practicing for hunting season, and I wanted to give it a go. He warned me it would kick a little, and just like that, all 60 pounds of me was flat on my back in the dirt and pine needles. It was days before I could move my shoulder again. That was the first -- and last -- time I fired a shotgun.
Ann Isenberg can't say for sure how many women are members of the Coeur d'Alene Skeet and Trap Club.
"We only sell family memberships and those are in the husbands' names," says Isenberg. She's tall and lean and wears boots and jeans, and her silver ponytail is pulled through the back of a ballcap. She's wearing makeup, but everything else about her tells me there's good reason she's the manager of this male-dominated club.
While she doesn't have numbers, Isenberg says there are more and more women -- "Setters" as they're described on the sign outside the women's bathroom -- who are joining the sport of shooting.
Not only are ladies easier on the eyes than some of the old codgers who are longtime club members, but from a business perspective, women are "untapped revenue." It's just a matter of getting them through the door that first time and making them feel welcome.
"It's not just a bunch of liquored-up, hairy-legged guys out here shooting," J.D. Owen says.
He's the guy -- a "Pointer" as his species is identified on the bathroom door -- who is teaching the ladies to shoot. He looks like one of the Good Ol' Boys, but for some reason when he says, "Now ladies," it doesn't seem one bit patronizing. He sizes up the group and hands out shotguns.
He assures me the youth shotgun he's given me -- a .20-gauge Beretta purchased with an NRA grant -- won't knock me over.
Safety first. Owen runs through the dos and don'ts. Like don't walk around with a loaded gun and, most especially, don't point it at people even if it isn't loaded. Owen also teaches the difference between a rifle and a shotgun.
One has a sight, one has a bead. You aim rifles. You point shotguns.
"You ladies have been pointing your whole lives," Owen says, "at your husbands, at your kids."
So now we're pointers? I'm confused.
Owen is patient, though. Just like Serena Carlson promised. She spearheaded Ladies' Weekend. She started shooting in 2001 with her boyfriend.
"I was hellbent to get better than him," she says. Seven years later he's still shooting trap and she's moved on to the more challenging skeet and sporting clays.
In trap shooting, bright orange-colored discs called clay pigeons shoot out of a machine at a gentle arc, albeit at speeds of more than 40 mph. In skeet shooting, those discs are coming at you from all directions. Kind of like birds on crack. The group starts with trap shooting.
First, Owen wants to "eliminate the surprise," so he lines up some targets in the grass and we ready to take our first shot. I'm bracing myself to be re-traumatized and Owen can tell I'm tense.
"Relax," he says. "Tuck that gun into your chicken wing."
I hold my breath, point-not-aim and pull the trigger. The little orange disc explodes into pieces. I'm still standing.
The ladies and I each shoot a round of 25 shotgun shells with Owen offering intermittent advice like, "No, no, no, don't shoot with your eyes closed."
When I hit my first clay pigeon, I feel all the stress leave my body. With each one I hit, I feel more empowered. We cheer aloud for ourselves and for each other, as the men practicing nearby eye us suspiciously.
Owen says the shotgun is a "social equalizer." He considers it good stress relief, too, an alternative to road rage or other outlets for anger and frustration.
"It's one of the few things where you can get instant gratification," he says. "You get instant gratification when you break one of your targets. And you don't go to jail."
Carlson promised it would be a lot of fun making noise and breaking things. She was right. So much so that I want a shotgun now, too.