Surveys continue to show upward trends for women heading to gun ranges or to hunting fields and woods. As a part of this trend, in 2010, Amy Ray, an NRA-certified pistol and Refuse to Be a Victim instructor, created The Sisterhood of the Outdoors (SOTO). In short, SOTO’s mission is to offer hunting, fishing and shooting opportunities to women across the U.S. What Amy has found, though, is that women (and girls) are getting a whole lot more than short-lived shooting or hunting experiences. They leave on fire, with long-term goals and a desire to be educated gun owners—from Second Amendment issues to training to improving their self-defense skills.
“It happens all the time,” said Ray, “you grow into your education about firearms.” Take for example, a woman who signs up for a hunt, perhaps one who has never hunted before or not for the designated species. As soon as she commits, an education begins: firearm, ammo, laws of transport, transportation methods, game regulations, clothing … and the list goes on. “We are finding that deer hunters want to become duck hunters, and now you’ve got a new shotgunner,” says Ray.
Ray says women who participate in SOTO often start on their own journeys to become lifelong gun owners. The Second Amendment becomes real to them—this doesn’t only revolve around hunting and shooting skills.
“We are seeing a new interest in sidearm carry, and not just for hunting out West,” said Ray, who has almost had to draw on a grizzly while on an elk hunt in Wyoming with SOTO. “Women who fly fish, hike and participate in other outdoor activities are becoming increasingly aware of the need for self-protection.”
If SOTO is offering a fishing experience, Ray and crew will discuss beforehand with attendees the importance of knowing how to carry, how to transport firearms and whether the state they’re fishing in allows any type of carry. Ray also teaches “Intro to Pistol Shooting” classes through SOTO.
Ray has surrounded herself with NRA-certified instructors for her events. These female instructors across the nation work with SOTO attendees not only to use their firearms, but also, to find better fits in firearms if necessary.
“When we take them hunting, we have a responsibility to learn about safe shooting,” added Ray. Every hunting event begins with sighting in rifles or patterning shotguns. Safety is paramount to the SOTO ethos.
For the past three years, SOTO has hosted an annual youth antelope hunt in Wyoming, where four teenage girls are chosen (by essay and application) to experience hunting out West. Parents accompany the girls on the hunt, so they can witness and experience it along with their children. Crazy Horn Outfitters BG189 donates the hunt, sponsored by a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Georgia state chapter grant, Weatherby and Leupold. “The only thing youth pay for is travel and tags,” said Ray. “We get all the rest.”
NRA committee member and former Ms. Wheelchair America Ashlee Lundvall is one of the mentors on this hunt. One of this year’s participants, Audrey, wrote this about Lundvall after the hunt: “We spent the rest of the first evening talking about gun safety and Ashlee gave an inspiring speech. Ashlee is an amazing person. She taught me not to ‘settle,’ that I can do anything I set my mind to and pushing myself to get where I want to be.”
After Audrey shot her first antelope, her dad, grandparents and Lundvall (who all had been watching from afar) came over to congratulate and hug her.
My SOTO Experience
I attended a SOTO duck hunt last year in Arkansas. A young Alabama deer hunter shot and downed her first duck on this trip. We all saw it, and celebrated it, and now she’s already been out pheasant hunting and using her shotgun for another species. It has begun. Oh, and I’ve already scheduled time to attend this year’s duck hunt in Arkansas.
“We believe in teaching firearms safety and the right to defend ourselves in the outdoors. Our mission to empower the next generation lady hunter includes empowering them to defend our Second Amendment rights. We encourage our members and guests to join the fight and join the NRA,” said Ray.