I can't say anything about Gander, haven't dealt with them regarding bows, but I can say this, Ive been very happy with everything I have had done with my bow at the Bass Pro in Gurnee! They do have a range there, with some pretty knowledgable staff.
I would recomend buying a bow from a shop that does have a range, and most will let you shoot before you buy! Get what feels best to you, and if you buy from this type of shop, they aren't done until it feels right to you.
I would definately follow the advise to shoot with a release. I think it is safer, more accurate, and you draw more with your arm than your fingers. I just find it easier on my arm and shoulder, but then, I'm old, you're not! :wink:
As for brands, you might be surprised at who makes what for who?
Kind of like water heaters, so to say. Any of the name brands PSE, Parker, Browning, Mathews, make an assortment of entry level bows, and offer packages which even include some arrows, sight, quiver, silencers, etc. at a great savings over buying seperately.
However, a bow is like a gun, and if it doesn't fit you right, no matter how hard or much you practice, you won't shoot well! Get something that is right, from someone you feel comfortable with, and talk to several individuals to get a second and third opinion. If a couple of guys recommend the same draw and weight range for you, then you can pretty much figure that's what you should go for!
I sure hope you and you hub have patience?
Best of luck, and watch that RedFeather guy, he'll have you not only shooting, but acting like an indian in no time!