Published August 06, 2012, 11:10 AM

Women have a 'blast' in new Grand Forks instructional shotgun program

Women represent the fastest-growing segment of shooting sports nationally, but not in Grand Forks. The goal is to bring Grand Forks in line with the national trend.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Dr. Joanne Gaul played sharpshooter Annie Oakley in her high school’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” so it was only natural, perhaps, that she’d embrace a new women’s shooting program offered through the Grand Forks Park Board.

A family practice physician at Altru Health System, Gaul said she learned of the program through her friend Jodi Syrup, and the two women signed up for the women’s Tuesday night shotgun program at Dakota Hunting Club and Kennels southwest of Grand Forks.

“I called Joanne up and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Syrup said.

Both of the women had shot rifles or handguns but had limited shotgun experience. They’re among more than 25 women who signed up for this year’s inaugural shotgun program. And to a person, the women say it’s been — ahem — a blast.

The program started in mid-June and wraps up for the season Aug. 14.

“This has been fantastic,” Gaul said. “We’re learning what we’re supposed to be doing and improving.

“I’m just delighted. It hasn’t been intimidating at all. All the instructors here make it seem so natural and so much fun; it’s just been wonderful.”

According to Don Dietrich, a longtime Grand Forks shotgun enthusiast and Level I shooting instructor certified through the National Sporting Clays Association, the new women’s program follows on the heels of a youth program started a few years ago.

Dietrich said he’d wanted to start a women’s program sooner but finding coaches was a challenge. That changed with the addition of Mike Collings, Greg LaHaise and Ben Jensen, certified coaches and longtime youth instructors, who agreed to help with the program.

Kevin Weber, another shooter, also volunteered to help.

With coaches on board, Dietrich said he approached Bill Palmiscno of the Grand Forks Park Board, which agreed to offer the women’s program. The local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, along with Scheels and the makers of Federal and Fiocchi ammunition have helped with sponsorship, Dietrich said, and Mike Elgin of Dakota Hunting Club and Kennels supplies the targets at cost and offers free use of the target throwers.

Dietrich said women represent the fastest-growing segment of shooting sports nationally, but not in Grand Forks. The goal, he said, is to bring Grand Forks in line with the national trend.

“That’s why we started doing this,” he said. “We’re real pleased. My coaches are just tickled to death — mostly because the ladies are having so much fun with it.”

Shotgun fun

Fun was in abundance Tuesday night, when the women gathered for their third-to-last evening of shooting. Divided into four groups, they took their turns at each of four target-shooting stations set up near the Dakota Hunting Club’s clubhouse.

Gary Grove of Scheels in Grand Forks was on hand with three shotguns — a Winchester, a Benelli and a Franchi — for the women to try.

LaHaise, one of the instructors, said the women are fast learners.

“They’re enthusiastic — they have fun,” he said. “We start from scratch with them, and they’re a lot of fun to work with.”

Each of the four stations presented the targets in a different trajectory and whenever one of the shooters busted a clay pigeon, others in the group would applaud.

“The nice thing about ladies is they’re so supportive of each other,” Dietrich said.

That’s not always the case for shooters of the opposite gender.

“Women make anything they do a social event,” Gaul said. “Getting to be out here with these other women and getting to know other people is so much fun. I don’t think guys understand that.”

Dietrich said most of the women are novices who wanted to learn their way around a shotgun or hunt with spouses or partners without feeling intimidated.

“The first night, we asked who was apprehensive, and all hands went up,” Dietrich said. “Now, if you ask them if they’re having fun, every hand goes up.”

On target

First up in Dietrich’s group Tuesday night was Marissa Clarin of Grand Forks. Clarin, who said she’d only shot a few times before joining the program, busted the first target and narrowly missed the second.

Her first week, Dietrich said, Clarin hit only two targets in 25 tries but connected with eight in a row the following week. She’s right-handed but left-eye dominant, a combination that makes it difficult to focus on the target.

“The challenge there is when they come up to the target, the right eye is over the rim (of the gun barrel), and the left eye has the strongest focus on the target,” Dietrich said. “Very simply what happens, if she keeps that eye open, she will miss the bird by about 4 feet because it just can’t line up.”

As a novice shooter, Clarin said she hadn’t given that much thought until Dietrich picked up on the combination and offered tips for becoming more reliant on her right eye.

“It’s certainly better than when I started,” Clarin said. “He figured out within two or three minutes what I was doing wrong.”

Fun and learning

Elisabeth Knapp of Fargo was part of the same group, along with Gaul and Syrup, on Tuesday night. Knapp, who works in business and economic development, said work frequently brings her to Grand Forks.

Knapp isn’t new to shotgun shooting but said she doesn’t own a shotgun. That’s not a problem with the women’s program because Dietrich purchased two Beretta youth-model 20-gauge shotguns and two similar reduced-length 12-gauge shotguns using funds from the local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter and another recent fundraiser.

“I rarely get a chance to practice shoot on my own,” Knapp said. “Plus, I wanted some instruction.”

She said the program has helped boost her confidence.

“It’s not so much competitive as pleasure and learning,” Knapp said.

That was readily apparent Tuesday night, and Dietrich and the other coaches were quick to compliment shooters when they’d hit a target or offer encouragement when they missed.

Shooting at a target, Dietrich told the women, only requires about 1½ seconds of concentration.

“When you think too much, it’s like paralysis by analysis,” he said. “We’ll get there.”

On the grow

This year’s women’s program concludes Aug. 14 with an informal tournament and a picnic. The goal, organizers say, is to grow the program even more next year.

“We’ll take as many as are willing to come out,” LaHaise said of the women’s program. “Our goal is to sustain a ladies league.”

That would be just fine by Gaul.

“It’s so much a North Dakota thing,” she said of shooting. “This is the quintessential North Dakota experience.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to