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WFF Law Enforcement Section teaches Ladies Who Hike firearms basics

Two of the main barriers facing folks interested in outdoors recreation is a lack of access and not knowing others who already participate in those activities. Birmingham’s Brittney Davis is working to reduce those barriers for members of an organization she founded in 2017, Ladies Who Hike.

The group treats its members to 12 local and regional hikes each year as well as an annual trip and other outdoors-related experiences. Since their first hike with 19 members at the Forever Wild Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham, the group has grown to 125 members and has traveled extensively throughout the Southeast.

Davis created the hiking group to provide a community for women in the Birmingham area in which they could share a variety of adventures.

“Ladies Who Hike was started when I went on a solo hike,” Davis said. “I had the idea to invite other women along and make a day out of it. The group grew organically from there. My motivation is to have a community and sisterhood where like-minded, positive women can come together and enjoy nature.”

As a Girl Scout growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Davis enjoyed camping and all things nature related. In addition to hiking trips, Davis takes inspiration from her time as a Scout to help introduce other women to new outdoors experiences.

This spring, 18 Ladies Who Hike members attended an Introduction to Handguns course offered by the Law Enforcement Section of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF). The class provides basic tips on firearms safety and storage as well as shooting range experience. Most of the members who attended the class had never had the opportunity to fire a gun.

The 4-hour course is taught at various WFF public shooting ranges throughout the state and is perfect for anyone with an interest in learning how to fire a handgun in a safe, family friendly environment. All firearms, ammunition and eye and ear protection are provided, but you will need a Wildlife Heritage License to participate.

“I believe gun safety is very important, and I wanted to provide my ladies an opportunity to learn how to use a firearm properly and get comfortable using a gun,” Davis said. “Many of our women said it gave them the confidence to go and purchase their own gun.”

The Firearms 101 class was Tiffany Morris’ first adventure with Ladies Who Hike. The Grayson Valley resident grew up in Ensley, Alabama, and had never fired a gun prior to attending the class. Hiking and shooting sports were not a part of her childhood.

Morris joined the group for the sense of community it offers women looking to explore the outdoors.

“I enjoy hiking,” she said. “But I don’t always want to go by myself.”

Morris said her experience taking the Firearms 101 class sparked an interest in target shooting. She plans to practice her new skills at one of the WFF public shooting ranges in the future.

“The instructors taught us how to stand and how to hold a firearm while using it,” she said. “We also learned about the correct type of ear protection and safety glasses you need and the best clothes to wear when target shooting. Learning how important it is to focus on the target and your breath was also a surprise.”

Sgt. Scott Kellenberger, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator for District 2 in northeast Alabama, was the lead firearms instructor during the Ladies Who Hike visit to the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Shooting Range near Helena, Alabama, earlier this year.

Kellenberger learned to shoot a .22 rifle under his dad’s supervision when he was about six years old. Later he would learn how to fire a shotgun while hunting with his dad and grandfather. Today, he holds certifications from the FBI in firearms and patrol rifle instruction and is a Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) Master Instructor.

Like Kellenberger, many people once learned how to use a firearm from a family member. That’s not always the case today. One of the first things he tells new students is that even the most experienced gun owner had at one time never fired a shot.

“I never really shot pistols until I got into law enforcement,” he said. “For anyone taking the Firearms 101 class, we can teach everything they need to know about how to be a safe and responsible gun owner.”

Topics covered in the class include the safe handling and storage of firearms, range safety and etiquette, the correct stance, grip, sight alignment and trigger press and reset when firing. The instructors also teach the students about how the purchase of a hunting, fishing or Wildlife Heritage license helps support conservation efforts in the state.

“We spend about two of the four hours shooting and each shooter has their own instructor,” Kellenberger said. “That one-on-one instruction isn’t something you’ll experience in most firearms classes. To prevent fatigue during the shooting portion of the class, we frequently take breaks to answer any questions the participants may have.”

Ladies Who Hike’s Davis said the class was perfectly structured for her first-timers.

“We arrived at the training facility where all the instructors greeted us and everyone was very friendly,” she said. “They started by going over a very informative handout that made everything easy to understand. Then we transitioned into dry firing where we were able to get comfortable shooting an empty gun. Finally we were given the opportunity to shoot a loaded gun as well as load the gun ourselves. Everything was very well organized.”

While the class is aimed at new gun owners, Kellenberger also recommends it for those who might need a refresher course.

“Even if you are a longtime, well-trained gun owner, there is always something new to learn,” he said. “The course teaches lifelong firearms safety habits to new shooters and is a great way for experienced shooters to sharpen their skills. It’s also an excellent way to make new friends who share an interest in shooting and supporting conservation efforts within our state.”

The next Firearms 101 classes will take place at the Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range on Saturday, July 10, 2021. Participants must be 16 years old or older and registration is required. To view the class schedule or to register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/programs/firearms-101-introduction-handguns.

To learn more about Ladies Who Hike, visit ladieswhohike.org.