This is a milestone year for me. I turn 35, and in preparation I made a list of 35 activities I wanted to accomplish before the year ended. Of all my bucket list items, the one I was most nervous about was shooting a gun. The first time I did it things didn’t go so well. It was New Year's Eve, and I was 6-years-old. I stood in our backyard watching my father fire his shotgun. When he finished, he handed the gun to me, and helped me position it. But when I pulled the trigger the kickback was so strong it injured my shoulder. I hadn’t picked up another gun since that not-so-stellar experience. But this year I decided it was time I got past my gun-shyness and take another crack at shooting. In researching shooting ranges, I discovered I picked a perfect time to give guns another try. According to the National Rifle Association, women make up the largest group of new gun owners and concealed carry permit applicants. The National Sporting Goods Association indicates there are more than 17 million women gun owners in the U.S. and that the number of women participating in target shooting has increased by 46.5 percent in the past decade. This trend is reflected locally in the number of shooting ranges offering programs designed to appeal to the 'fairer sex.' When business partners Dave Driscoll and Jim Lipsey opened Point Blank Range last year, they designed the Mooresville facility specifically to appeal to women and families. According to Driscoll, families make up a little more than 60 percent of Point Blank's memberships. To encourage women to come in for training and instruction, Point Blank Range, which has 15 shooting lanes, offers Women on Target. The program is an informal, self-paced way for women to develop and improve their shooting skills. It’s designed to take shooters from beginner skill levels all the way up to a nationally recognized expert. In addition, Point Blank Range hosts Ladies' Night at the Range on Thursdays, where ladies can shoot for two hours at a discounted rate. Much like myself, Mooresville resident Rena O'Connell hadn't touched a gun in more than 25 years. Once an armed security guard, O'Connell quit her job on the spot after having to draw her gun on three men. She had not picked up a gun again until she started going to Point Blank Range. "When I heard about Women on Target, it sounded like exactly what I was looking for — a way to test my skills and measure my progress," she says. O'Connell bought a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm gun, received her concealed carrying permit in November and has already qualified as a Marksman First Class and a Sharpshooter. "I'm so excited about my new hobby,” she says. O'Connell's enthusiasm was contagious. I headed to another local facility, The Range at Lake Norman in Cornelius, to see if I, too, could find my joy through shooting. Huntersville residents Trish Stukbaker and Tricia Sisson opened The Range last year, and it’s the only female-owned and operated range in the state. In addition to individual instruction, The Range, which has 15 shooting bays, offers a number of programs specifically for women, including self-defense classes and concealed carrying classes. Ladies' night is the last Tuesday of each month. The Range even hosts divorce parties for women. I started off watching a video on gun safety basics, and was then introduced to my instructor, Sharis "Bunny" Van Sciver. Van Sciver was carjacked and abducted in broad daylight when she was in college. Her assailant was never caught. "I vowed to never be a victim again, and to teach other women not to be victims either," says Van Sciver. Van Sciver is an NRA-certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor, as well as a certified Smith & Wesson instructor. On top of that, she teaches women's self-defense and hand-to-hand combat classes. She’s one woman you don’t want to mess with. Van Sciver outfitted me with a Ruger Mark III semi-automatic 22 Long Rifle. After going over shooting fundamentals, such as proper stance, breathing and grip, Van Sciver helped put me at ease by comparing the gun to a power drill and instructing me to think of it as just a tool. After a few final pointers on things like sight alignment and trigger control, I took my first shot in 29 years—the bullet struck the target dead center. I felt a warm rush flow through my body, a combination of adrenaline and a feeling of empowerment I got knowing I'd conquered a fear. I unloaded the rest of the gun into the target, with all my shots evenly distributed around the "X" in the center. While The Range helped me get back in the saddle, Quail Haven Hunting Preserve boosted my confidence. Lloyd and Tamara Knox opened the 113-acre acre facility in 2004. In addition to quail hunting, the preserve, located in Harmony, also offers skeet shooting, a pistol range and field trials, where you can test your hunting dog’s abilities, such as flushing out and retrieving game. During my visit, I decided to try skeet shooting. My instructor was Jeffery Allen, who teaches hunter education and shooting basics, specializing in youth programs. In less than 30 minutes of instruction, I was able to clip the very first trap target I pulled, and split my second one straight down the middle with a CZ 20-gauge shotgun. Allen's energy and encouraging personality made the experience easy and enjoyable, and I surprised myself by hitting the clay pigeons from a variety of positions. If it hadn't been for shoulder fatigue, I could've shot for hours. When all was said and done I not only conquered my fear of shooting, but I've found a new hobby.