A father’s perspective on what he—and his teenage daughters—learned at Gunsite Academy.
by Dick Williams
August 20, 2014
Two years ago at Gunsite Academy, I met the Pogges. Like me, David had two daughters and, like me, wanted them to be familiar and safe with firearms. He and both girls were enrolled in Gunsite’s 250 Defensive Pistol class. What made the event unique was that David’s girls, ages 13 and 17, were the youngest students in the class. Initial concerns that perhaps the girls, particularly the 13-year-old, were a bit young for such a serious class faded as both girls conquered the first two days (albeit wondering why they had come to Arizona). They went on to complete the last three days with flying colors, accomplishing all goals and objectives.
We stayed in touch, and David contacted me when the family decided to return for the Gunsite 270 Rifle class. Surprised at the family’s choice of class curriculum, I asked David why he had chosen a rifle class rather than an advanced pistol class. His answer went way beyond the intent of my question and addressed a number of life’s bigger issues that might be of interest to all shooters. It sums up the Gunsite experience better than I can. It follows:
“I think the main reason for returning to Gunsite for another class was that my first experience there with my daughters was so positive—both for them and for me—I wanted to repeat it. It seems I have so little time to spend with my girls that the chance to share any experience with them is precious. But to actually spend time with them doing something that is more than mere avocation is even more special. The 250 class was a challenge to all of us on many levels and clearly shaped my daughters’ view of the world and of themselves in a way that few other experiences could. The chance to build on that and to share it with them was something I hope to achieve through this trip.
“But why a rifle course rather than another pistol course? First there was the issue of timing. Given their school schedules and other responsibilities, this course worked best. However, for me there was a more important reason. I am sure you have read Colonel Cooper’s ‘The Art of the Rifle.’ What he presents is a view of this instrument and its place in human society, its ethical and moral implications, and the responsibilities and liberties that it implies. The rifle, even more than the pistol, has a special meaning. I really believe that philosophy is sound, and I wanted my children to share and embrace it. Having them read a book is one thing, but having them feel the power of the rifle in their hands, to experience the challenge of real marksmanship, and to work to the point of having some command of both, cannot be obtained through reading a book or an hour or two shooting from the bench at the range. A Gunsite course, which puts continuous pressure on you through a long five days, and at the end leaves you feeling like the rifle is an extension of your body rather than a foreign tool. It seemed to be the best way to give them that knowledge and understanding.
“Yes, it is hard, because the rifle—even a Scout—is heavy, hard and violent to the shooter’s body. Shooting the rifle is a physical and mental challenge qualitatively different from shooting a pistol, but that is an implicit and inherent part of the reality of that firearm. The girls will feel the pain, but by week’s end I expect they will have a new and special sense of themselves and their rifles, and a new understanding of what owning and using these weapons means. This was my goal in choosing this particular course.
“Finally I had hoped, through any class at Gunsite, to revisit with them the core lessons of this place. The lessons conveyed through the Combat Mindset lecture, and the lessons embodied in the way they are treated and regarded in this setting. Both are lessons learned in their first trip, but they are lessons that bear repeating and can never be over-learned. They are lessons about responsibility for oneself and others; awareness of the harsh realities of the world and a willingness to deal with them; and respect for others, for oneself, for one’s rights, for one’s responsibilities, and for one’s actions.
“When we were here last, the girls were 13 and 17 and in middle and high school. Now they are 15 and 19 and in high school and college. Hearing and experiencing these lessons again with two years more age and maturity means a chance to relearn them through new eyes, and thus to learn them better, more fully, and with deeper understanding. This was probably the main thing I wanted them to get from this experience—and it was something that I wanted for myself as well. They both are getting excellent educations at excellent schools, and I have the bills to prove it. But the lessons they learn at Gunsite are not lessons they will get in their schools, and they are lessons I want them to have as they move on in life.”
Well said, David. And from my perspective, the girls gritted their teeth through the first two to three days, finishing the course at week’s end with all goals accomplished and lessons learned.