Born and raised in the bustling port city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, firearms were so far removed from Natasja Haex's world as to be almost alien.
“Nobody in Holland that I knew had guns,” Natasja said. “It just really wasn't something that was done there, and it was not something that I ever even thought about. The only guns we ever saw were in the movies, and from places way far away that I would never be in contact with.”
Adulthood found Natasja in Costa Rica as the owner of a small hotel and restaurant. Again, firearms were a non-factor. No one she knew was a shooter.
By chance, an American named Trevor Brant stayed at Natasja's hotel while attending his sister's wedding. Another wedding then occurred, and Natasja Haex became Natasja Brant.
With Costa Rica in the rear view mirror, Natasja found herself living on the 80-acre Ohio farm owned by Trevor's parents. Once again, firearms weren't on the radar, but another 'shooting sport' was.
“Trevor's parents, “Natasja explained, “had been competitive archers and had all the equipment. That was great because I had been involved in archery growing up in Holland. I really loved the focus, the precision, and watching … at least most of the time … that arrow hit exactly where I wanted it to. This was something I missed. I brought it up to Trevor and we began to shoot archery.”
“We both loved it and a few years later when we moved to the city of Palm Coast, FL, we wanted to continue. But we couldn't do shooting in our backyard because you can't have an errant arrow going over the fence and not knowing where it would wind up. We started looking for a place we could shoot and found Flagler Gun and Archery Club that was close by.”
Located just west of Bunnell, FL, this member-owned NRA-affiliated club comprises 117 acres. In addition to static and 3-D archery ranges it offers three rifle ranges, 10 pistol bays, along with trap, skeet and sporting clays fields. The archery ranges were what prompted Trevor and Natasja to join, but the crackling gunfire caught their attention.
“Trevor and I had never really thought about guns,” she said, “but we realized that we were living in a city and should probably have a gun in the house. And to also get some training for the carry permits to carry them if we felt the need. We were already members of the club and they had the shooting ranges and classes, so we thought, why not”.
A 9 mm handgun was purchased and they began semi-weekly trips to the range to learn to shoot. In the process, Natasja and Trevor learned something else.
“We didn't realize it when we joined the club,” she explained, “but there was a great big firearms knowledge base among the other members. There were active duty and retired military, law enforcement, and instructors. There were also some very serious competitive shooters who had won trophies in World and National Championships. They saw that Trevor and I were new, and all of them were willing to share their knowledge with us. They were incredibly helpful, and I honestly think that our learning to shoot was greatly helped by the advice they gave us.”
Those 'plinking sessions' continued for several months, until one day they found themselves at the range when an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) match was in progress. That changed their view on 'practice'.
As Trevor explained it: “It was much more than just standing in front of a target and shooting at a slow pace. I saw movement, gun handling skills, self-defense scenarios, the need to be fast and accurate, and it looked very practical. I knew that if Natasja and I were going to have a gun in the home, and maybe even carry it with us, that this was something we should do to make certain that we had the skills to do things right.”
Natasja agreed and they signed up for a match. Natasja then achieved a thorough understanding of the term “first match jitters.”
“Right before our first match,” she remembered,” we had the safety briefing, and the guy was saying that he wanted all of us to leave the range with just the same number of holes that we arrived with. I was already nervous about running around with a loaded gun in my hand and all these people watching me. At that point I was really starting to think that I don't want to do this. I began to talk to Trevor about it and told him I really didn't want to do this and he was on his own.”
“After I talked to Trevor, something happened. I really, to this day, don't know what it was. But I then decided to go through with it.”
“Once I was called to shoot it all changed. At that point I was so focused on the gun, the movements, and the safety aspects that I completely forgot about anyone watching me. It didn't register. It was a lot like when I was shooting archery competitions. You just concentrate on the task at hand, and get 'into the zone'. Getting into that zone was really cool. I was hooked and wanted to do it again!”
Steel Challenge was added to their IDPA match schedule, and after several years of competition Natasja (now a Naturalized U.S. Citizen) made a decision.
“I decided to take the NRA instructor courses for Certified Pistol and Well Armed Woman,” she explained. “I was between jobs and had the time to complete the courses, and I thought that this was an excellent way to continue my shooting education. It would be a sense of personal accomplishment, but I also remembered how helpful other shooters, both at the club for practice and during matches, had been to me. Even during a match the other competitors would offer advice and really wanted to help Trevor and I become better shooters. I felt that by becoming an instructor I might be able to help women in the same way my fellow shooters helped me.”
"The first stage," she continued, "was an online test that was followed by classroom time and then a range qualification test. I didn't have to shoot that because of my IDPA classification, but the classroom sessions were very rewarding. We learned the course curriculum and then broke into groups where we would rotate being the instructor, and then the student. It was very comprehensive. I felt it gave me valuable knowledge, and the tools I would need to transmit that to others. That, plus my competition experience, has definitely given me much more confidence in my CCW carry."
While IDPA and Steel Challenge are current interests, Natasja intends to expand her horizons.
“I do want to keep improving and growing as a shooter,” she said. “Trevor and I have talked about doing more and different matches, like USPSA and 2-gun. Those will broaden my knowledge. I also want to help more women get into the sport. They don't know how valuable this experience will be if, God forbid, they ever have to actually use a gun for personal protection.”
While building a knowledge base and possibly helping other shooters is important to Natasja, there is another plus to their range trips.
“Trevor and I both work now,” Natasja noted, “and the matches we shoot are actually 'quality time' for us. And, of course, there is a friendly rivalry.”
“I'll confirm that,” Trevor said with a laugh. “I move a little faster than Natasja and normally finish a bit higher in the overall standings. But she will beat me on some stages and I'll hear about it. An older club member suggested that I turn the radio up real loud on the drive home.”
Natasja stopped laughing long enough to say, “Okay, maybe I rub it in a bit. But it's fun!”
That 'quality time' extends beyond Trevor and Natasja.
“Our dog, Pyrat, knows exactly what a range bag is,” Natasja laughed, “and when we pick them up he will beat us out the door, and as soon as the car door is open he's inside and won't come out. He won't let us go to the range without him. But, it's OK because he's totally deaf. He's the perfect 'range dog' and the other club members love him. He greets them all, and even the Club President calls him 'our range dog'. I put a stake in the ground and leash him to it. He's out of the way, but loves that 'quality time'.”
We all have regrets in life, and when it comes to shooting, Natasja has one too.
“I never touched a gun until I was over 40,” she said, “but if I had known how much fun this is I would have started much earlier! Joining that gun club was one of the best investments Trevor and I ever made.”