The Hillsdale College Ladies for Liberty course saw women of all ages and backgrounds learning and practicing the essentials of using and carrying a handgun for self-defense.

The event began like a typical “girls weekend” of fun—a welcome reception complete with a nice glass of wine, excellent accommodations and a “get to know you” reception before dinner. Interspersed with the ladies of all ages were young college students, a few husbands, our instructors and several campus luminaries. Another Hillsdale College Ladies for Liberty shooting camp was about to begin. Hillsdale College is a four-year liberal arts school located in rural southern Michigan on 400 acres of beautifully maintained land. Founded in 1884, Hillsdale is fiercely independent, accepting no federal or state funding, and was the second college in the United States to admit women on par with men. This seemed like a perfect setting to bring several generations of women together to learn about firearms and the empowerment of exercising our Second Amendment rights.

“Women who had never touched a firearm were proudly wearing one on their hip.”

The first morning of this five-day event began in the classroom with founding instructor Bonita Fraim talking about the range bags we’d been issued and how students could purchase the same Smith & Wesson M&P handgun that we’d be using all week. Smith & Wesson was a major sponsor of the event, providing range bags, hats, T-shirts and other free goodies for the students. Bonita then turned the classroom over to Defense Training International’s (DTI) Vicki Farnam, our lead firearms instructor for the week. Vicki is a veteran police and military firearms instructor and the author of several excellent books, including Teaching Women to Shoot: A Law Enforcement Instructor’s Guide. She brought with her an eclectic and dynamic group of three additional female instructors, including a cop, an engineer and her daughter, Wendi, a rancher from Wyoming. In her familiar no-nonsense tone, Vicki told us that the week would be a tough and challenging one, but that we would “be rewarded in the end.” Some of the ladies looked doubtful, others nervous, and still others were eager to get to it.

Most of the students had little or no experience with firearms. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, some stated they just wanted to learn more about guns, get over their fear of shooting and have fun on the range with their spouses. Others said they wanted to learn to protect themselves, obtain a concealed-carry permit or improve their pistol skills. These women were as diverse as their hometowns; they were doctors, ranchers, horsewomen, teachers, tennis players, homemakers and more. They told amusing stories and shared unusual life experiences. They were unabashedly patriotic and incredibly eager to learn, and Vicki Farnam was ready for the challenge of training this unusual group.

Classroom Instruction

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Vicki began by outlining some differences between the way men and women learn, and then enthusiastically equated learning to shoot with the excitement and feeling of independence of learning to drive a car as a teenager. She also spoke of firearms as tools that, like a vehicle, “function only when someone is operating them.” She passed out hard plastic training guns to each student to help explain the basics of firearm safety and function, saying, “words and definitions are important” when it comes to understanding the mechanics of a firearm.

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Vicki agreed with Bonita’s choice of a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm handgun for the class. As Bonita explained, “I feel that the M&P is the easiest pistol for women beginners to learn on and to manipulate.” Vicki explained the foundation of the “master grip,” briefly outlined the week’s activities and then told us it was time to board our bus to Hillsdale’s outdoor pistol range.

At The Range

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Ladies for Liberty at Hillside Shooting Range

On our first trip to the range, the women chatted nervously. There was some trepidation about shooting for the first time. When we arrived at the range, each student was issued the pistol they would be using for the week, complete with a holster and two additional magazines. Vicki took control of the range, and it was immediately apparent that safety was going to be our first priority. It also became very clear that we were going to be treated like shooters, not “ladies.” The DTI staff was strict and straightforward—“Any bullet that leaves your gun is your responsibility,” we were told. We were then taught the basics of handling our pistols, loading magazines and making sure our holsters fit securely on our pants.

The staff taught us a thumbs-up way to grip a pistol, they called it “flying thumbs,” which would become one of the familiar reminders while on the range. Vicki finds this to be a good grip for small-handed people, especially women. She emphasized that our “grip is the foundation for your gun’s accuracy.” After mastering our grip, we went on to sight picture, trigger control, reset and much more. Vicki appealed to the women by being stern but supportive:“You are making the gun move! Make it happen for you!” she’d bark. “Stay in the moment, this is a process not an event. This is a skill you will master.”

By that first afternoon women who had never touched a firearm were proudly wearing one on their hip. Hillsdale College and Vicki Farnam’s staff had set the tone for success. On the final day of shooting Vicki gathered us around for a few lessons in self-defense, which she aptly calls “self-preservation.” There were many questions about carrying a handgun, keeping one safely at home, and, of course, the righteous use of deadly force. By week’s end new shooters were plinking steel targets, delivering accurate headshots and engaging in move-and-shoot drills. We cheered each other on, high-fived and snapped smartphone pictures. We had become a team, and it was hard to say goodbye.

Final Thoughts

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I originally agreed to attend the Ladies for Liberty camp primarily as an observer, but I quickly became a fully vested participant. I learned so much about myself as a shooter. I broke some bad habits. I strengthened my stance and improved my trigger control. The DTI staff were excellent role models for anyone who trains or teaches.

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For more information on the self-defense training, visit or call 970-482-2520.

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