There were a lot of sounds Saturday afternoon at the Dakota County Gun Club. There was the pop of pistols, the comparatively quiet report of small-caliber rifles and, from time to time, a deep roar from a bulky buffalo rifle.
Scattered among it all, there was laughter. A lot of laughter.
The gun club held its annual Ladies Day at the Range Saturday, and the event drew both experienced shooters and complete novices. Participants got instruction in gun safety, in the proper way to hold and fire weapons, even in the basics of preparing a muzzle-loading rifle. Then, they stepped up to the range and opened fire.
The idea behind the event, which has become a popular annual tradition at the gun club, is to give women a place to either learn firearm skills or practice the skills they already have. Instructors are on hand to make sure participants do things the right way. That means fine tuning grips and stances as well as teaching women to shoot with both eyes open.
"It's a safe place for new people who want to handle guns who hadn't had a chance," said Debby Rye, one of the volunteers who helped run the event. "They get a chance without feeling like they're stupid or threatened or anything like that. It's a good chance to learn about guns and how to be safe around them."
It turns out, there are a lot of women looking for an event like that, whether they're preparing to get a permit to carry a weapon or just looking for a day out with friends.
"The first year I came there were four of us. Now we have over 400 today," Rye said.
Her number actually might have been low. Another gun club member said the count was over 500 by 7 p.m. In some cases the wait to try a weapon was more than an hour, but nobody seemed to mind too much. Women, most of whom came with friends, talked while they waited.
"We've had people from all over the state," said Lucinda Ochoada, another of the volunteers working the sign-in table. "We have people who have traveled from outstate to come here because there's not a lot of places they can shoot."
Margaret Sloan, who came from Lindstrom to attend the event, had never fired a gun before Saturday. She came with friends just to have the experience. She didn't bring her glasses and missed most of her targets high and to the right. She doesn't know if she's likely to shoot any more after this, but she still had fun.
"I like to do something different, and this is different," she said.
Heather Carson, a veteran by comparison, was at Saturday's event at the recommendation of a friend. She grew up shooting 22s with her father in northern Minnesota gravel pits, but since moving to the Twin Cities she hadn't had much chance to shoot. At one rifle station, she hit the target four straight times before going for a tougher shot on her fifth try and missing.
"It was a good event to come out and get people interested," she said.
Even experienced shooters probably got to try something new Saturday. Women moved among stations that featured shotguns, rifles and pistols, but they also got to try muzzleloaders and a large buffalo rifle. At a cowboy action shooting station they fired weapons that were more than 100 years old.
"It's a great introduction," Ochoada said. "We have a lot of young women here."