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From June 25 to 28 of this year, I had the privilege of attending the four-day Hillsdale College “Couples for Liberty” Seminar and Shooting Camp held at the Dow Hotel and Conference Center and John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center — both part of the Hillsdale College Campus in Hillsdale, Michigan.
While I’ve personally attended and conducted many shooting courses in the past, I can say with certainty that this is the finest shooting course I’ve ever been a part of — one that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.
Course Objectives of Couples for Liberty Seminar
The Couples for Liberty Seminar for men and women, like the original Ladies for Liberty Seminar, is not an advanced shooting course but one that trains students in the fundamentals of the shooting sports using lots of ammo donated by Winchester Ammunition and training in a wide variety of handguns and rifles donated for program use by manufacturers including Springfield Armory.
The participants are trained intensely in gun safety, clay bird shotgun shooting (on the world-class shotgun training center), and archery. Here is how the Hillsdale program works.
Training and Activities
The organization of the training and activities is second to none. Gena Grant, Hillsdale’s Senior Development Officer, does an amazing job of administering this program, making sure it runs like the proverbial “well-oiled machine.” I never once saw anything running behind schedule, or anything missing or seeming to be out of place. Gena was doing everything from making sure everyone had everything they needed from students to instructors and keeping the program on schedule, to personally shoveling and tamping down gravel into some small wet areas on the pistol range. It went off without a single hitch.
Couples for Liberty Schedule
Day 1: Check-in, a reception, dinner, and introduction to Hillsdale College.
Day 2: Morning classroom time (lecture and presentation about gun safety and shooting basics). Attending the pistol and shotgun range in the afternoon. Then, an after-dinner lecture of “Constitutional Issues Involving the Pandemic” by Dr. Ivan Pongracic.
Day 3: Pistol, shotgun, and archery time at the range. After-dinner lecture on contemporary politics by Dr. John Grant.
Day 4: Range time, with the shooters’ choice of pistols, archery or shotgun, and an introduction to rifles. Then, a farewell lunch.
The class was split into groups of men and women for the live fire events, with everyone rotating through the three disciplines — handgun, shotgun, and later, archery. A primer on rifles was also included. Safety, safety and safety were the watchwords throughout the entire program in a carefully controlled environment.
The John A. Halter Shooting Sports Center is magnificent. It was purpose-built for training Olympic competitive shooters and has since expanded to include other shooting disciplines. In addition to trap and skeet fields, there is a five-stand shotgun course where the attendees began their live-fire shotgun training. By day three those who wished to test their new or improved skills were allowed to try the 22 station Sporting Clay’s course. Like the handgun and archery programs, all equipment needed was provided.
The shotgun instructors were outstanding, and enthusiastic about helping the students. I enjoyed watching them take students who knew nothing about shotguns, and move them to a point where they were regularly busting clay birds. I also saw them greatly improve other shooters’ skills who had some prior experience. The instructors in all aspects of the Ladies for Liberty program are thoroughly invested in creating new shooters and ambassadors for the shooting sports.
The nearby archery range is excellent as well. It’s been many years since I have been to an actual outdoor archery range. By the time I got to see it, the archers had progressed to shooting small balloons which the instructors had affixed to the targets. They were busting them with aplomb and, of course, having a ball doing it.
As expected, the archery instructors were every bit as accomplished and caring as the firearms instructors. While one wouldn’t normally think about archery being a part of the firearms class, it was a natural fit for the program because after all, it’s all about learning to send projectiles downrange accurately and safely.
The pistol range was located on a temporary site. There is a new range building scheduled to be built adjacent to the Halter clubhouse building, and the site had already been prepped and readied. It will house an indoor airgun range as well as an indoor/outdoor pistol range.
Even though the pistol range was temporary, a large awning had been erected to shield attendees from the sun. Cold bottled water was in abundance, as were folding chairs. There were also more than enough firearms with which to learn from — and cases of 9mm and .22 LR ammunition to support all the shooting.
Sheila Hoekstra, a competitive pistol shooter and lead pistol instructor, ran the pistol range — and I mean ran it. She made it clear from the beginning that safety and following directions were critical. The courses of fire she used were just right in my opinion. The participants started on the second morning using .22 LR pistols to get a recoil free feel for handguns, then soon found themselves transitioning to the similar pistol models in 9mm with greater confidence.
I don’t want to sound trite, but the pistol range ran like a well-oiled machine. The patience exhibited by all in working with new shooters was unparalleled. The instructors gave 110% the entire time because they are caring people and 2nd Amendment supporters that believe in the Ladies for Liberty program and the Hillsdale College mission. All the instructors worked hard to build solid bonds with the students, who were visibly grateful for their guidance.
The courses of fire that had been developed were just right for progressive skill development, moving from simple slow fire courses to more advanced courses as student confidence was built. The last day on the pistol range featured a variety of Springfield Armory 9mm pistols — such as the Hellcat, Garrison, SA-35 and others for the attendees to choose from and learn about.
On the last day, the participants were able to choose the areas of participation — they could have spent their time entirely on just one of the ranges if they so chose. I know of one young woman who was there with her dad really wanted to improve her shotgun skills, and that she did. A few others wanted to stay on the handgun range — to which Springfield Armory rifles had been added, including the venerable .308-caliber M1A.
I assumed that those attending the seminar would be mostly from Michigan, and I was wrong. There was a total of 32 attendees who had come from just about every corner of America — Missouri, Indiana, Washington State, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, New York, Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. There was only one couple who had come from Michigan itself! This national draw clearly demonstrates how well regarded these classes are, and what type of reputation the program already has.
The standard Ladies for Liberty Seminar and Shooting Camp will cost $1,200 per lady for 2023. The couples’ course is discounted $200 to $2,200 per couple. For that cost, you get:
- Free shuttle to and from the Detroit Metro Airport
- Free lodging at the Dow Hotel and Conference Center — the cleanest, quietest, most well-appointed hotel I have ever stayed in with the friendliest, most helpful staff
- Three gourmet meals per day (no barbecue on Styrofoam plates with plasticware) served on tables with white linen tablecloths, with wine available during the meal
- Free happy hour with hors d’oeuvres before dinners
- Post-dinner happy hours with more free beverages
- Wonderful dinner lectures/presentations by Hillsdale’s distinguished professors on the U.S. Constitution, liberty and the Second Amendment
- The use of the latest guns from makers like Springfield Armory, plus all the ammo you could want to shoot
One evening I had a chance to interview a couple from Florida whose son and daughter-in-law were both graduates of Hillsdale. They are also Hillsdale donors, as were several of the other attendees. She was a first-time shooter. Their remarks echoed much of what I had heard from the other participants.
They came to have fun, and not for self-defense training. I watched her shoot handguns several times and, by the end of the course, she had clearly developed the ability to defend herself with a handgun if she so chose. They both felt that the classes were very well organized, and that the instructors for all segments were excellent. The fact that there was a near one-to-one instructor ratio on the pistol and shotgun firing lines made them feel very safe and comfortable.
If the couple’s comments weren’t proof enough, I was in the hotel lobby getting ready to leave on the last day and noted that one of the couples who had just gone through the class was registering to take the same class again — which started the very next day. This also increased my respect for the instructor cadre. Teaching two classes back-to-back is most impressive, and demonstrates their level of commitment. I cannot recommend this seminar enough.
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