by Sarah Hernandez
I first found out about the Austin Sure Shots after an Internet search for women’s pistol leagues. I had been shooting most of my life with my family and then had to take a break during my pregnancy and the first few months of my son’s life, but I was ready to get back out there and learn the basics from some experts. Having been taught by my dad, (who was taught by his dad) I figured I had plenty to learn! Since the website said they welcome first-timers and beginners, I made plans to attend the next North practice.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but in general when I’ve gone to ranges there are tons of men and a few women. Would it be a small group of a few women that I’d have to look for? Would they be helpful and kind? Would they even talk to me? I didn’t know, but off I went to see if this group could be for me.
Walking through the front door of Red’s, I was a little shocked (and perhaps a tad intimidated) to see TONS of women near the counter, laughing, talking, and getting tips. Even more women were heading to the back to get on the firing lanes. I smiled at the first person wearing a bright pink shirt, who happened to be our fearless leader Niki Jones. She welcomed me, pointed me in the right direction for rentals and then the safety demonstration, and off I went!
Once on the line, several ladies started chatting with me despite the ear protection we were all wearing, and I was saw lots of ladies helping each other. It made my whole experience easier once I saw how open, accepting, and helpful the girls of the Sure Shots all were. Instead of being an exclusive club, the Sure Shots are fully inclusive—women of all ages, shapes, sizes, professions, and walks of life come together to share something they love.
After a few weeks of practices, I knew many of the girls by name and had already pinpointed a few changes to the basics of shooting that I had been doing wrong for years. I would love to say that my accuracy is way better than it was 4 months ago when I began going to Sure Shots, but I would be lying! It has definitely improved a little, though. I have begun to build GOOD habits in my shooting stance, grip, trigger press, and eye dominance thanks to Niki and Sure Shots’ head firearms trainer Kent, without whom I would have never been able to progress. Relearning is not my favorite, but I have a supportive team with the Sure Shots who encourage me and give me tips. I know I’ll get where I want to be… one day!
It can be a little daunting to walk into a room full of women you don’t know, to do something in which you are not an expert, but it is SO worth it to come spend time learning and bettering your skills! It’s so easy to find women you can relate to, learn from, and teach in the Sure Shots family. I hope that through our community, more women are empowered to join the Sure Shots family and find support, education, and defense training. Now, I am always on the lookout to see new faces looking lost so that I can greet them and point them in the right direction. I was new once too!
Sure Shots on American Guns by Niki Jones
When I found out I was going to be on the Discovery Channel's "American Guns", I was pretty psyched. I wanted to bring back something for the girls of the Sure Shots that we didn’t already have. We had plenty of AR-15s, since about a dozen of us participated in our Sure Shots AR-15 Build Project where we assembled our own rifles, each one as unique as its owner. But we didn’t have any AR-10s among us, and a bunch of the girls had been saying they’d like to get into some long-range precision shooting. The producers wanted me to trade my (in)famous "Snow Queen"—the white rifle I had lovingly assembled myself.
Though I knew that sacrificing the Snow Queen for the good of the league was the right decision, I still had a pit in my stomach at the idea of being without her. I mean, every part of her was chosen by me to make my dream gun (Lightweight 16″ Moly barrel, free-floated and coated; POF railed hand guard, coated; Battle Comp compensator; Spikes Tatical lower, coated; Bravo Company Gunfighter charging handle; NIB Bolt Carrier Group; Ergo Stock; MagPul Grip; MagPul BAD Lever; MagPul Rail Sling Attachment; MagPul Gen III Sling; Troy BUIS; Aimpoint Pro red dot optic). The Snow Queen was truly a labor of love, and it didn’t hurt that she shoots like a dream either.
So, I packed my bags and headed off to Denver to visit GunSmoke, Snow Queen in tow. I had seen American Guns before and liked the show, and I was curious to see what the Wyatts were like in real life. Well, they could not have been nicer. The first person I met was Renee, when I walked into GunSmoke and she was at the counter. She was super friendly and got really excited when she learned I had started a women’s pistol league that in only a year and a half had over 150 members. Rich was the same. I didn’t know he was such a huge supporter of women and guns, but it was clear almost immediately that my “cause” was close to his heart, and that this deal would happen.
The producers, who were as equally as nice and welcoming as the Wyatts, had told me to just be myself and walk in and negotiate like it was any other regular deal. Easier said than done—having giant lights and cameras pointing at you is nerve-wracking, to say the least. But when I described to Rich what I wanted in a precision rifle, he was very receptive. And when I threw in that I also wanted a 'grenade launcher', both Rich and Renee were DELIGHTED! I could tell I had ‘em…
I had to place a trade-in value on my gun, so I went with $3,000 due to all of the Snow Queen’s top-of-the-line parts, perfect custom paint job, and all-around uniqueness. When he said he’d give me $2K for the Snow Queen and that the AR-10 would be $10K, I didn’t balk TOO much—I expected that he would want the gun he builds the Sure Shots to be top-of-the-line as well, and I knew that AR-10 parts are not as varied and available as an AR-15. But, we couldn’t stop there. I’m originally from New York, and New Yorkers are born negotiating! So instead of accepting the $8K difference, I came back with $7K. When he said he just couldn’t do that, I bluffed that I was going to walk—but in all honesty, I wasn’t leaving there without sealing the deal! I’d come too far and already committed to my mission. Luckily, he didn’t let me walk out, and he agreed to $7K. It was ON.
They took a couple weeks building my gun, and then I flew back for the “reveal” of the Sure Shots’ AR-10. I had assumed it would happen in the store, so once I realized the American Guns producers had me heading toward the mountains, there was a great feeling of adventure and excitement! I pulled up to an old quarry in the middle of nowhere. The American Guns crew was waiting at the top of a cliff, and they wouldn’t let me near the edge to see what was down below. The suspense was killing me!
FINALLY, the moment had come. I was about to finally see the AR-10 I’d been dreaming about! Standing on top of that cliff, Rich, Renee, and Paige presented me with the most INSANE rifle I’d ever seen… and it was WHITE! It looked like the Snow Queen on steroids! And like the Snow Queen, it had some black accents, including a badass scope accurate to 700 yards, and even some little black cross-bones on the scope brackets! But the pièce de résistance was the grenade launcher I’d asked for! Big and black and badass, it sat underneath the rail and just took the rifle to the next level! I knew the Sure Shots would die when they saw it!
Once I was finished freaking out over the rifle, it was time for them to reveal what was over the cliff. They had set up a full tactical course for me, complete with exploding targets, each of which said “SURE SHOTS, Austin, Texas” and had a life-sized pinup girl beside it! But first, I had to take a long-range shot. So into the prone position I went, right there on the edge of the cliff. From experience with these rifles, I was expecting a much bigger impact when I pulled the trigger, but this gun was smooth… no recoil at all! I was in love. Then it was onto the tac course, and it was a blast! Rich took me through it—we literally ran down the side of the cliff, and I had to shoot targets whenever he spotted one and called it out. And the targets exploded! At this point I could tell by the way the cameramen were shooting us that they were going to be able to totally capture the action and the excitement, so that was one less thing for me to worry about!
Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any more fun, Renee called out on the two-way radio from where she stood on the cliff that there was a cluster of targets around the corner we were coming up on, and to “Use the grenade launcher!" (spoiler alert: it was ACTUALLY just a Spike's Tactical Havoc 37mm flare launcher)… so that’s what I did. Switched over to the launcher, and let one fly. HUGE explosion! So much fun. I mean, how can it NOT be fun to blow things up in the middle of Nowhere, Colorado on a random Tuesday afternoon? We were out there running the course and doing multiple takes for about 7 hours, and I couldn't have had more fun. As the sun went down and we did a few pickup shots, I was exhausted and thrilled with how the day had gone.
And, then it was over. And I flew back to Texas. I kept the news of my adventure under wraps until close to the time my episode aired because I really wanted to surprise the Sure Shots, and to say they were surprised is an understatement! We had a HUGE viewing party with about 200 Sure Shots, friends and family, and the episode was super entertaining! The Wyatts have kept in touch—Renee and I have been emailing, and Rich called in during our episode’s viewing party to say hello to all the girls! I’m hoping Renee and Paige will come out to Austin and shoot with us soon. All in all, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
*Another spoiler alert: I got to come home with the Snow Queen, so I was never without her!
When they aren't shooting, training hard, building their own rifles, competing in IDPA or just plain hanging out — some of the Sure Shot girls like to jump out of airplanes!!
The Sure Shots Media Blitz of 2013
[continued from cover story]
The following week I was contacted by an ABC News’ Nightline producer, Ely Brown. She had seen the the New York Magazine article and was interested in how the focus of most of our training was Defensive Shooting. We set up a phone meeting and had a very long conversation about the Sure Shots, women and guns, defensive mindset, etc. She asked if we had any training events scheduled for the near future, and if so, could she send a crew and a correspondent down to film it. Luckily, we had a Defensive Pistol II on the schedule, and the deal was done!
After that phone call, my husband joked, "Next CNN will be calling you!" The next day, they did. It was a producer from Erin Burnett OutFront, one of my favorite news shows, who told me he'd like to come to our next practice and do a segment on what we're all about. After feeling him out, I felt it was a good idea… and it turned out to be a great one! The filming and overall vibe of the shoot felt positive, stressed training and safety (which is the most important aspect of the Sure Shots), and really seemed to focus on the women of the Sure Shots supporting each other. We couldn't wait to see it! We were told we wouldn't have to wait very long—it was scheduled to run at 7pm the very next night! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Due to different circumstances and other breaking news stories, we got bumped a number of times. Finally, we started seeing previews of the piece, and when it aired it was great! Very upbeat, positive, and showed us having fun and being supportive of each other, and also added an emphasis on safety and training. I was on cloud nine.
Finally it was time for our Nightline shoot. Carrin, my Sure Shots co-organizer, has been working in Nashville but she flew back for the class assist with training. When we arrived at Best of the West Shooting Range for the class, Kent from BSG (Blackstone Security Group) was already there setting up with our other coach for the day, Tom. The four of us went over the course outline, then set up our gear, targets, barricades, and got ready for the ladies to arrive. BSG always pulls out all the stops for the Sure Shots classes, they really know how to put on a great training event. The ladies of the Sure Shots started arriving; they were all excited and ready to start training. Nightline correspondent Juju Chang came with producer & cameraman, Nick Capote. Right off the bat we had a good rapport and everyone was anxious to get started. Nick started filming right away while we went through our safety brief, inspected everyone’s firearms, and explained the day’s class. Then it was time to move up to the line and start shooting! Juju and Nick didn’t hesitate to get up close while we went through drills such as drawing from a holster, the 5-point draw, clearing malfunctions, and much more. One of the drills we practice in this course is carrying in, drawing from, and even shooting through a purse. For this, Juju was ready to try! Kent geared her up with a Sig P239 and holster, Carrin coached her on the basics and fundamentals, Nick mic’d her up, and she was ready to go! She put her gun in her purse and whispered to the camera "I have a loaded gun in my purse!", which was really cute. On the command of "Fire!", she drew her gun and shot the target, hitting the X! She was psyched. She was having a blast!!
During our lunch break Juju took the time to interview a few of us individually. Her questions spanned a very wide scope and she literally asked every conceivable gun question one could think of, including some political ones. Since the Sure Shots have no official political stance as a group, Juju and Nick found that the best answers they were getting from us were about the topics we were most passionate about—training, safety, and defending our-selves! Down to earth and friendly, Juju really fit in with us.
After lunch it was back to the line for more drills like off-hand shooting, one-handed manipulation, and shooting from barricades. We did a really fun timed drill where we partnered up and competed against our fellow Sure Shots, and Nick got right in there, running around us with the camera, shooting from the ground, and capturing all our "Woohoo!"s and high-fives.
When we took another break, Juju continued with some more one-on-ones, and then asked about our rifles. Carrin and I took her right up to the line to shoot her choice: The Snow Queen or a .300 Blackout SBR (Short Barrel Rifle). She chose the .300. Carrin explained how it worked while Nick filmed. Juju shot it… and hated it! She was a great sport about it, though. Nick wanted a turn, so he took a few shots with the same rifle... and LOVED it!
After a bunch more drills and some more interviews, it was time for Juju and Nick to go back to Austin to their hotel, as they were leaving the next morning. We got some epic group pics where Juju taught us the "Cheerleader Pose", where "No one ever looks bad" (knees bent, hands on knees)! It was fun right till the end, and we were overjoyed about how the day went.
When the piece ran a couple weeks later, we had no idea how much of us Nightline would actually show, or what the focus would end up being, so we were cautiously optimistic. When the show started that night, it was a great surprise to see that "Women and Guns" was the main story, and it only got even better from there. The segment showed the Sure Shots doing what we do best—taking training very seriously, being extremely safe at all times, but most of all HAVING A BLAST while doing it! Nick and Juju REALLY captured our vibe! Every single shot they showed (and there were a LOT!), as well as every interview (with Holly, Marcia, Lia, and myself) came off so incredibly well. They captured our trainer Kent's perfect balance of hardcore training and extreme fun, and it was clear in the piece how much he respects and believes in the ladies of the Sure Shots. In a nutshell, Nightline NAILED it! It was a home run.
In the midst of all these major media pieces, an article came out about the Sure Shots in our local paper, the Austin-American Statesman. The title was Friendships Forged Around the Gun at Women's Pistol Club. The writer, Esther Robards-Forbes, captured Sure Shots’ great dynamic, and it came across in her super-positive piece. Score!
So, it finally seems like this media blitz has died down, and we can get some sleep and go back to doing what we do, only this time doing it with so many more new and awesome ladies that want to get into shooting, which is the best thing that could ever come from such a crazy few weeks of a very fun media ride!
Niki is the Founder of Sure Shots Women's Pistol League, the Editor of Sure Shots Magazine, a certified instructor and regular competitor in IDPA matches. Niki also holds her state commission as a Personal Protection Officer.