By Karen MacNutt

Warning: This article is for mature women only!

A person’s self image is very important. It is, in some respects, more important than what other people think of us. Shakespeare admonished, “To thine own self be true and it must follow as night the day thou canst not be false to any man.” Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Nan MacNutt opined, “I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 18. I could still get over that fence … it would just take me a little longer.” (At age 98).

I have always thought of myself as a sort of Katherine Hepburn type lady, sleek, take charge, competent. Over the years I have become more cultured, an international traveler by any standard. I have seen the great museums of Europe, shopped in Paris, sailed the Rhine, and been a guest at Buckingham Palace. I still have my hourglass figure; but all the dimensions have expanded. I now feel more like … well…Mae West, voluptuous, worldly, sophisticated.

Mae West is not bad. Unfortunately, I also find myself drawn to one of the characters in the “B.C.” comic strip. She is referred to as “Fat Old Broad” (F.O.B.). F.O.B carries a big club and regularly pounds the character identified as “Snake.” As I get older, I find I am less tolerant of the “snakes” in this world.

This article is dedicated to all those women who are torn between seeing themselves as Mae West one day and F.O.B. the next. This is part, I believe, of what I will be referring to as “F.O.B. Syndrome.”

Over the years, I have written many article on law, but I seldom have the fun of writing an article on shooting. W&G, after all, was established to meet the unique problems of the woman shooter.

In addition to being a lawyer, I am a shooting enthusiast. I have never met a gun I didn’t want to fire. I have shot competitively in black powder, .22 rifle, high power rifle, gallery pistol, and military pistol. I feel exceptionally qualified to write a technical article for the more mature, Mae West, lady shootist.

It is important to recognize when you are moving into the F.O.B. shooting category. It begins when you start having trouble with the buttons or zipper on your shooting jacket. I am a firm believer in air shrinkage. The theory of air shrinkage holds that if you put an article of clothing in the closet and do not wear it for a while, the air will cause the article to shrink. I have a lot of experience with air shrinkage. For a while, you can stave off the inevitable by ignoring the zipper on your shooting jacket and just using the straps, that is, if your jacket has straps. You can further extend the life of the jacket by not using the lower straps. You may also buy extensions for the straps. If your jacket has buttons, stop using the lower buttons. As long as you can sri button the top button, you will g’ some support from the jacket. When you only use the top button or strap you lose the lumbar support of properly fitting jacket. To some eJ tent the lumbar support of the jacket can be replaced by wearing a wide belt, such as a cartridge belt. I guess, one of those black corsets the guys at hardware stores wear would also work. Make sure the rules of your shooting event allow such support.

The cartridge belt has the advantage of eliminating the need to try to stuff cartridges in the pocket on the woman’s shooting jacket. I have never understood why some women’s sporting clothes are made to look like the men’s style, but are non-functional. Even when I looked like “Twiggy,” I could never, squeeze a box of 7.62 NATO ammunition into the pocket of m custom shooting jacket as the me could do with their jackets. A canvas shotgun shell carrier that hold about 8 shotshells is usually the right size to hold a box of 7.6 NATO ammo. Some of the little leather nail carrying pouches sol in hardware stores will also hold box of ammo. Carrying the cartridges on a belt is a big advantage because it relieves the off hand shooter from having to bend over, to pick up a new round after each shot. Not having to bend become, more important as your jacket shrinks. The ultimate solution however, is to donate your jack to a junior program and admit defeat to air shrinkage.

The next problem comes when you are trying to shoot a rifle in the crossed-legged sitting position without suffocating. The diaphragm is a combination of muscles and tendons that are located between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. They are the muscles and tendons that allow the lungs to expand and contract. External pressure on the diaphragm prevents you from breathing properly.

Without proper breathing your heart has to pump harder, you become flushed, and, in extreme cases, you pass out. Needless to say, this interferes with your having a good point of aim, being steady with your gun and having a good sight picture. In the crossed legged (or crossed ankle) position your upper body extends over the area directly in front of you so that your elbows rest on your knees or in front of your knees. Your abdomen presses against your upper thighs. This has the tendency to place too much pressure on the diaphragm. As FO.B. Syndrome progresses, the problem becomes more acute. The change in body mass location which occurs with FO.B Syndrome also tends to cause your natural point of aim, when you use the conventional sitting position with a rifle, to point downward to a location about four feet in front of the firing line. This is a distinct problem if your target is 200 yards away.

If you find that you are having difficulty breathing, or you can feel your pulse to the point of distracting while in the sitting position with a rifle, you have F.O.B. Syndrome. You need to adjust your shooting position. An obsolete, bur still excellent position, is the open legged position. In this position you sit with your knees bent but your legs extended to make kind of an open triangle. You then lean forward and rest your elbows forward of, but inside, your knees. You can get extra stability by digging your heels into the ground. The position gives a much better natural point of aim and is more forgiving on uneven ground. Most importantly, it creates an open space that prevents putting pressure on your diaphragm. Lance shot a 99-9X in the rapid fire, sitting position, at the National Guard’s Wilson Match in Little Rock using this position. It can be a very stable position.

Rifle shooters who shoot prone bend the knee of one leg. This raises the chest slightly and takes pressure off of the diaphragm. The rifle shooter’s prone position tends to be higher than that of the pistol shooter’s prone position. This is because of the way the rifle is held, with the elbows used as a bipod, bur close to the body. Rifle shooters with FO.B. Syndrome may have additional support in this position with the body naturally creating more of a tripod or even quadrapod effect.

Pistol shooters with F.O.B. Syndrome, on the other hand, have a big problem with the prone position. Most prone pistol shooters will lie flat on their stomach with the hands extended. This tends to do two negative things. First, the head will not be in a good position for a natural point of aim. The resulting strained neck caused by this position creates tension for the shooter. As the neck stretches to position the aiming eye, more pressure is placed on the diaphragm. This causes the second problem which is improper or labored breathing. The larger the F.O.B. Syndrome, the more difficult it is to get into a comfortable prone position.

The key to all good shooting is position. A good position is one that is comfortable. Your breathing should be easy. Nothing should feel strained. Your bone structure, rather than soft tissue, should be supporting the gun. It is hard to do this lying on your stomach.

Of late I have been experimenting with a modified Creedmoor position. That is, instead of laying on my stomach, I lay on my back or side. Unlike a true Creedmoor position, the pistol shooter should never assume a position in which the gun is shooting over any body part. That could be a safety hazard, especially for those with F.O.B. Syndrome. What seems to work well for me is a position where I am on my side, shooting one-handed, almost as if I were in a one-handed offhand position but laying on the ground. The arm and leg not next to the ground may be bent to brace the rest of the body. Care must be taken with the gun arm not to take a position that creates strain on the elbow. Although good scores can be obtained for a short while with elbow strain, you will eventually develop tennis elbow and not be able to shoot at all. Experiment with this position until you find something that is comfortable but places no undue strain on the elbow.

Probably the most dangerous problem with F.O.B. Syndrome is vision. Vision changes impact all of us as we get older. The other day some friends invited me to go to the range from work. They said they would give me all the equipment I needed. What I did not have was my bifocal aviator glasses.

When I am not shooting, I like those little reading glasses that come in a metal case about the size of a fat cigar. I.carry them with ease in my pocket and I am not forever breaking the glasses. The glasses are only one inch wide. They were nor much help shooting. Because they were small, I had to wear a second pair of safety glasses over them and then juggle to get ear protection over both pairs. When I held my head in the proper position, I could not see our of the glasses. I had to hold my head in an extreme, rear extended position to see. That threw off my balance. It looked strange and I did not shoot very well. Those who must wear bifocals at all times, as opposed to those who just use reading glasses, have less of a problem. I wear contact lenses for distance and use reading glasses to see up close. When I shoot, I use bifocal shooting glasses. Without them I have trouble seeing the sights. Surgical correction of my near sighted ness would not help because I would still need glasses to see up dose. At one point I tried bifocal contact lenses. These may work for some people, but I had double vision with them. They did not improve my shooting scores.

Obviously the solution is to wear the bifocal shooting glasses. But is this really a good solution? If the only thing you do is target shoot, then special glasses work fine. But what if you are also carrying for protection? You will not be able to ask an assailant to wait while you find your shooting glasses. All people who train for emergencies, or high stress situations, say that you must train as you will be expected to perform. That is, if you do not wear your corrected vision shooting glasses at all times, you should not practice defensive shooting wearing them. If you do, when you have to use your gun in a defensive situation, you will suddenly realize you cannot see your sights. This will cause a moment of hesitation and that can mean the difference between success and failure.

If you have F.O.B. eye problems, you have a number of alternatives. 1. You may be able to be fitted with bifocal contact lenses. 2. If you use contact lenses, try wearing only one. That one should be in your weak eye. Let your dominant eye become your close vision eye. This is not a good solution if you aim with one eye because, although you will be able to see the sights, you will not be able to find the target. 3.You may decide that your best choice for home’ defense is a shotgun. 4. Try to find a handgun with really big sights that you can see without your reading glasses. 5. If none of the above solutions are acceptable, then you must learn to instinct shoot. Instinct shooting is shooting without using the gun’s sights. Many of the world’s best shooters have been instinct shooters. There are a number of books on instinct shooting. Because most defensive shooting takes place at close range, your goal is to be able to place all your shots on a man sized target at no more than 25 feet. The average defensive shooting, I believe, is 10 feet or less. Beyond that distance you probably do not have legal justification to use deadly force.

Instinct shooting requires you to re-think your equipment. You need a gun with a good natural point of aim. That means when you hold the gun comfortably, without looking, the barrel naturally points straight ahead and parallel to the ground. For example, if you hold a Colt Government .45 pistol in a relaxed hand, you will disco vet that the gun wants to point downward at a 450/0 angle. Cowboy guns, on the other hand, tend to point straight ahead. Elmer Keith’s book, Six guns has an excellent description of the natural point of aim. When you try your gun out, pick it up and point it without looking. Do not think about where the gun is. Just do everything comfortably. The last thing you do is look at the gun. You will see where its natural point of aim is. You want a gun that will point on target without your thinking about it.

Instinct shooting is based upon the premise that we can all point at objects. If you hold the gun so that the sights naturally line up, you can hit what you are pointing at without using the sights. It takes practice, but it can be done. If you opt to practice instinct shooting, make sure you have a good backstop and a clear field of fire as your first attempts are apt to be a little wild. Do not let F.O.B. Syndrome keep you from the shooting Sports. Remember Mae West was the leading lady in some classic cowboy movies and she owned a gun.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Jan-Feb 2004, Copyright © 2004, Karen MacNutt