It seems like when many of us are young, nothing can stop us from doing what we want to do. We attack things with everything we have and have little worries. I know I was that way.
Growing up I was one of the shortest in school and looked younger than my classmates. When I was 12, everyone thought I was 8. I really hated it. Now that I’m sort of all grown up, but still small in stature, I want everyone to think I’m younger than I am. Life is truly a battle sometimes.
I started at an early age enjoying camping, fishing and hunting. My father loved to do all of these things and I loved being his partner in each and every adventure.
As I grew up, I still loved doing all of these things but also found another partner that liked to do some of these things, especially hunting and also water sports – my husband Randy Brooks.
After we got married, we did a few things to make ends meet, which included running a dairy for Randy’s uncle in Grand Jct., CO, in 1971. While we were running the dairy, we were told by a good friend and gunsmith that there was a bullet company for sale in Montrose, CO. The idea sounded interesting, but we didn’t think we were ready to go into business for ourselves in our early 20’s.
After a few years, we made the decision to move on from milking cows to making saddles in Ramah, NM, with another uncle. We had two very small children at the time. I had a very hard time adjusting to that kind of lifestyle and after a while I knew we had to do something different. After some discussions, we thought that maybe we would see if the bullet company was still for sale and it was.
In 1974 we visited the small two-man business that was located in the basement of one man’s house. The business was called Colorado Custom Bullets, formerly known as Barnes Bullets after Fred Barnes who started the bullet company in 1932. It was once a thriving bullet business when Barnes owned it, but had fell on hard times and had changed owners a few times. After seeing the business, we had some discussions and we made the decision to purchase it. I honestly don’t know what drove us to make such a decision, and looking back it wasn’t a very good one. We had no business background, no money and no college education when we purchased it. I guess it boiled down to that we knew we loved shooting and hunting and this seemed like the perfect fit for us. We were willing to give it all we had.
We had a two-week crash course on how to make bullets, loaded up the small amount of machinery that was there and brought it back to our small home in Utah that was 480 square feet upstairs and the same in the basement. We put the machinery in the basement of the small home that we had purchased when we first got married and lived upstairs with our little family. We certainly were determined, despite our inadequacies, to make this work no matter what it took and we knew sacrifices would need to be made. We had the saying that we were too dumb to know we couldn’t do it. It definitely wasn’t easy and in the beginning thankfully we had family that offered to come and help. They worked for free because they knew we couldn’t afford to pay them.
Fred Barnes called us one day and asked if we would like some help with the business. We felt like that would be wonderful to have his expertise. He drove over from Colorado with his house trailer in tow and stayed in that beside our little home and helped us for 6 months. He proved to be a great help. He advised us to take the original name back of Barnes Bullets and that he felt like the business could benefit from doing that. We were in agreement with that idea. The name Colorado Custom Bullets would not have helped us.
At the age of 4 and 5 our two daughters Jessica and Chandra helped too, but unlike the other relatives, they were paid. We weren’t totally heartless employers.
As time went on we had incredible support from the shooting industry and great employees as we slowly grew. When Randy developed the innovative all-copper X-Bullet in the mid-1980’s, hunters weren’t ready for such a dramatic change in a bullet design. We didn’t have a lot of money to do a lot of marketing either. However, after a while hunters who were willing to give the bullet a chance to prove itself realized how well it worked and through word of mouth the popularity of the bullet grew and so did Barnes Bullets. It was an extraordinary hunting bullet and would change the way bullet performance was looked at then and in the future. As we grew we were able to advertise in numerous magazines and the NRA Publications were some that helped us reach a lot of hunters and shooters.
Randy’s design of the all-copper bullet has been copied by others over the years. We had the phrase, “There are a lot of bullets out there but there is only one X-Bullet.” How true that was and still is today. In 2016, NRA Publications awarded Randy the prestigious NRA Pioneer of the Year Award. This award is given only one time a year at the NRA Convention to a person in the industry who has changed the shooting industry with an outstanding creative product. Randy certainly deserved this award for the innovation of the Barnes all copper X-Bullet.
I will admit with the bullet business we had many extraordinary opportunities and met many life-long friends along the way. We did a lot of hunting in various parts of the United States and numerous countries, testing bullets and venturing into territories we thought we never could dream of going to. We found time and time again that the bullet never failed in all calibers and on all types and sizes of game.
I wish I could share our many humbling adventures as they were very instrumental in helping us to become the people that we are today and helped us to continue making the bullets even better. We ventured into handgun and muzzleloader bullets as well. It was fun being innovative and stepping outside the box.
Over the years we had numerous offers to sell our company but turned many down. It is such a hard decision to sell something that your whole life is based around. We started having some serious discussions about selling during 2009. Randy and I had many sleepless nights trying to figure out if this is something we should do not only for ourselves but for the betterment of Barnes Bullets. On December 31st, 2009 we sold our company. We worked for the company that purchased it for 5 years, and then we retired.
For me to admit I was retiring was a hard pill to swallow. I wanted to do something to stay in the industry. Randy followed his other passion, which was ranching and team roping. Randy and I always have to have something on our plates to do and are not known for acting our age, and we don’t plan to. We have too much fun not acting our age.
Most of my life I shot hunting rifles of all calibers from 22 caliber up through and including 500 Nitro. I loved shotguns too but didn’t really work on my skills with that like I did my hunting rifles. I did a little revolver shooting, but not much of anything else.
After retiring, I soon found something that I felt I could love to do. I came upon an organization for women called A Girl & A Gun Shooting League, founded by Julianna Crowder. Their goal is to empower and educate women, with women teaching women how to have fun at the range while learning how to be safe and responsible while handling all types of firearms. A Girl & A Gun events have been successful stepping stones for thousands of women of all ages. There are well over 200 chapters with thousands members now across the United States. We also have a 5 day conference that is held in April each year at Cameo Shooting and Education Complex in Grand Junction. CO, where 600 plus ladies from across the country and various chapters of A Girl & A Gun Chapters attend. It is one of many exciting events that this organization does.
Facilitators or chapter leads and A-Team members that help out the facilitators are required to become NRA Range Safety Officers. The facilitator is required to be NRA Basic Pistol Instructors as well. I went on to take NRA Instructor courses for Inside and Outside the home as well as do many other chapter facilitators. A Girl & A Gun chapters also participate in the NRA Marksmanship program and participate in the NRA Women Leadership Forum to name a few.
I am currently running the Central Utah Chapter of A Girl & A Gun. We have events twice a month, mostly shooting but some non-shooting events as well. A Girl & A Gun Shooting League also offers events outside the chapter events to all members that include Sporting Clays events, 3-Gun, and all sorts of self defense training, along with many empowerment courses and self help courses too. There are so many opportunities with them and I have to say this organization has definitely helped me to step out of my comfort zone and acquire skills that can help you at any age. There is no need to feel too old, or not experienced enough, or have the best equipment because you are accepted no matter who you are.
I soon discovered after getting involved with A Girl & A Gun that shooting semi-automatic pistols was so much fun, but my techniques were far from good. I knew I had to take some professional shooting courses from people that could help me grow my skills and become more proficient. I wanted to get to the point where I could teach ladies of all ages the skills they need to protect themselves and their loved ones but have fun learning those skills and just enjoy shooting in general. Through the last several years I have taken many courses across the country because I want to teach in the best and most correct way possible.
I realized that there were a lot of ladies in the organization who are a lot younger than me but there were also ladies who were older, some with real health issues. I have true admiration for them that they didn’t let those things stop them from trying and participating.
There were times when I thought to myself how can I compete with ladies so much younger and better than me? Many were in their teens who shot like rock stars and burned up the ranges with their phenomenal abilities. I wish, in my younger life, I would have had those kinds of opportunities that our young people have today. They are so fortunate.
I was at A Girl & A Gun 3-Gun competition event in Kentucky in October of 2022. I really had no experience with 3-gun and had to borrow some equipment because it was a new adventure that I wanted to try. A lady that I knew who was close to my age from another chapter was sitting in her truck, and I walked over to her and we had a conversation about how much older we were than so many of the other shooters. I said to her that there was no way we were going to compete with these ladies that are so much younger and more experienced than we are. She said something that was so profound and sticks with me to this day: “I’m just here to compete against myself.” Just that simple. From that day forward, I realized it isn’t your age, your abilities or disabilities that should hold you back and convince you that you can’t do it. You can, you just have to be willing to try and never say I can’t. Leave your pride and your insecurities behind and admit that you may not be the best or look the best, but you give it a try anyway.
Speaking of pride, I feel I am a proficient hunter and rifle shooter. During the 3-gun competition in Kentucky on the last stage of 7 stages with the AR rifle, I made a bad move – one that disqualified me. I was devastated. I came back to the group so embarrassed and felt so defeated. It took seconds for the ladies to come up to me and hug me and say, “don’t feel bad we have all been there and done that.” I immediately thanked them for their compassion and told them that I would never make that mistake again and I haven’t. Learn from your mistakes and don’t let them hold you back or stop you.
Confidence in yourself and your abilities is what should propel you into things you never thought you could do or wanted to do. Age is not a factor. Confidence has helped me in quite a few dangerous hunting situations as well.
The activities that I involve myself in now keeps me young in mind and spirit. Along with my hunting adventures each and every one has made me strong and will continue to make me stronger. Yes, I have had some health setbacks with torn rotator cuffs, torn meniscus, various feet problems and a few other things, but I get them fixed, heal as quickly as I can and get back to it.
I go to shooting courses like Gunsite Academy in Arizona and others like that as frequently as I can because there is always something to learn. Yes, most of the participants are younger than me, but I don’t let that intimidate me nor should anyone else for that matter.
Now, I want to let other ladies at any age know how they can do these kinds of things. The A Girl & A Gun Shooting League will most likely have a chapter near you in your state, and I can guarantee you will be welcomed with open arms, no matter what your age, your size, your shape, or your ability level. There are other women’s organizations to join as well, but I am speaking about the one I am most fond of and works for me.
Joining an organization like this is like going to the gym with a friend who is always there to encourage you to keep coming. That is what I like about getting a group of ladies together. I now have lady friends that are also a part of A Girl & A Gun across the country and I treasure each and every one of them. I know that if I am broke down or have an issue and it is near them or not so near them that I can call and ask for help and they will be there no questions asked.
An important key factor in being a good shooter is finding the right pistol that fits your hand the best. This isn’t always an easy task. I have been through a few, and as my abilities change my pistol choice may change too. However, I know ladies and men alike that still shoot with the same pistol they shot with from the beginning. Can it get expensive? I won’t lie, yes it can, but just do what you can afford to do and it will be just fine. That is another perk of participating with A Girl & A Gun, as they can most likely help you find the equipment that best suits you and can save you time and money.
I urge you to learn from a qualified instructor that will teach you the basics in the correct way to prevent you from instilling bad habits in your shooting. Bad habits are hard to change, trust me I know. When I teach or help other ladies, I always make sure the basics are being done in the correct way. Doing it the correct way will make you a better shooter.
Please don’t let age hold you back. Age is just a number. Older folks can do it too and we can be good examples to others.