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HAMMOND — The women loaded clips into AR-15s and Glock 9mms, took off the safety and fired away.

The guns, however, weren't loaded, and the ladies were firing at a video screen.

On a Sunday in a trailer outside Cabela's, the women were getting an introduction to shooting sports and gun safety.

The Shoot Like a Girl mobile shooting range stopped in Northwest Indiana, Saturday at Bass Pro Shops in Portage and Sunday in Hammond, with about 120 women trying out the shooting simulator and bow-and-arrow exhibit.

Karen Butler, of Athens, Alabama, founded the organization 10 years ago after, she says, shooting sports helped her regain her confidence after a divorce.

"If I could put a gun and bow in every woman's hand, they would love it," she said. "It feels good to aim at a target and squeeze a trigger or release an arrow and hit exactly what you were trying to hit. It gives you an inner pride."

Now, the Shoot Like a Girl trailer travels the country — it's currently in the midst of its Heartland Tour — to introduce other women to weaponry. The exhibit is free; the business makes money from advertising, mostly by gun manufacturers and makers of archery products.

Butler said three-fourths of the women who do the simulation commit to buying a gun, while 40 percent commit to purchasing a bow.

Butler said the training importantly stresses safety: keeping your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot, always pointing the muzzle in a safe direction, treating a gun like it's loaded no matter what.

Randi McPherson, of Burnham, stopped in the trailer to see what it was like to shoot an AR-15.

"It was big for me," she said. "I think I'll stick with handguns."

But she said she appreciated how the event taught women how to properly handle a gun and gun safety.

Liz Velazquez, event coordinator for Cabela's in Hammond, said the store has a lot of female customers who are interested in guns and bow shooting. Sunday's event will make them feel more safe and secure around the weapons.

"You gain confidence," she said. "When they go in they're shy and when they walk out you can tell the difference"

Angie Kokes, an instructor with Shoot Like a Girl, said everyone should at least know how to uncock a gun, in case, say, they find one on the ground or are the victim of an armed robbery.

"It's really cool when we get the moms in here, and the dads shoot, and they want to keep the guns safe around the kids," Kokes said.

After she shot an arrow in the trailer, Shelby Sisco, of Hammond, said archery is a sport dominated by males but doesn't have to be.

"It was a lot less scary than I thought," she said. "I thought it was going to be very heavy and forceful."

Toi Taylor, of Chicago, was asked why she came to Sunday's event.

"To shoot like a girl," she said.

She said the mobile range taught her proper shooting form, as well as how to load and unload a gun.

"A lot of ladies are afraid to shoot," she said. "It helps your confidence."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.