REDMESA – Bonnie Zoella was 65-years-old when she learned how to shoot a handgun. While the rest of her family are avid skiers, Zoella prefers to spend her time at the shooting range.
She traveled from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend Babes with Bullets, a ladies-only firearms training camp taught by other women.
“Other than giving birth to my two children, this has been the most life-changing thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
This is Zoella’s second time participating in a Babes with Bullets camp.
“It is empowering, and too many people have the wrong impression that we are out here shooting willy-nilly,” Zoella said. “This is women building each other up. It’s a male-dominated sport, and it can be intimidating for a woman to just walk into a gun range.”
Zoella said she believes every woman can benefit from learning to shoot in a safe and supportive environment.
The three-day program was held Sept. 22-24 at the private Barnes Ranch near Redmesa.
The camp was led by instructors Tracy and Lanny Barnes, twin sister Olympic biathletes who competed in Sochi, Turin and Vancouver, and Lisa Munson, a national and world champion in shooting sports.
Babes with Bullets, founded in 2004, has taught over 5,300 women how to shoot.
Camp Director Deb Ferns said the program focuses heavily on safety, and it shows women how to shoot a variety of handguns, as well as how to work from a holster and shoot on the move.
“I love that we get so many women who are completely out of their comfort zone,” Ferns said. “We teach them how to run the gun safely instead of letting the gun run them.”
Ferns estimates over 80 percent of the women at Babes with Bullets camps are novices.
They start by shooting a .22-caliber handgun before switching to a more powerful 9mm pistol.
Ferns was 45-years-old when she first learned how to shoot and was competing by 50.
“I was a new shooter, and I met these women who were all world and national champions,” she said. “It was like an epiphany. I took the idea to create this camp and ran with it.”
While there are plenty of women’s shooting groups across the country that meet to practice, Babes with Bullets is the only all-female traveling firearms academy in the country.
“There is a way that women support and nurture one another,” Ferns said. “It is not driven by ego. Every instructor here does this because they enjoy it. They want to give back to other women. It is a sense of community that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Zoella said she never intended for Babes with Bullets to grow so large. Ten camps are offered every year across the country, including three-gun camps that train students in rifle, shotgun and handgun.
Texas native Katherine Hinton has been shooting handguns for three years, and has attended six Babes with Bullets camps.
“I learn something new every time,” she said. “My grip changes, or my speed changes. I am always improving.”
Hinton said her biggest competition is her daughter, Shaleene Schuster, who also attends the Babes with Bullets camps.
“I took my 75-year-old mother to the first camp I attended,” Hinton said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are, they can teach you.”