There is no ignoring or denying it. Every major poll and survey acknowledges what we in the gun community have known for years: Women’s involvement in shooting is growing at an unprecedented rate and has been for nearly a decade. In fact, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), female engagement in target shooting grew 60 percent to 5.4 million participants between 2001 and 2013.
Our presence can be felt in every facet of the wide and wonderful world of guns. And while some talking heads and cultural influencers seem to believe this trend is short-lived and will eventually die out, we know better. What we’ve seen since 2001 is simply building on the long and storied history that is a woman’s relationship to her gun.
We’re standing on some impressive shoulders, to be sure. From the sophisticated, tenacious Abigail Adams defending her family with a musket, to the precision shooting that the lovely and feminine Annie Oakley showcased, to the leadership and victories of today’s female shooter, we know that women’s love of guns is nothing new.Women are entrenched in every aspect of the shooting community, and our innovative influence and economic impact is palpable in the aisles of Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and any local gun shop or gun show.
Women are entrenched in every aspect of the shooting community, and our innovative influence and economic impact is palpable in the aisles of Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and any local gun shop or gun show. The market has taken notice and is catering to women in new, exciting ways. We see adaptations from personalized firearm colors at DuraCoat Firearm Finishes to gorgeous luxury concealed-carry purses that rival high-end fashion labels.
Do we still have hurdles to overcome? Certainly. I’ve experienced times when I have walked into a range and a man has questioned my competency with my handgun. (Subsequently outshooting him becomes particularly satisfying in such cases.) Friends have relayed stories of their first attempts on a range, noticing the counter clerk snickering about their inexperience.
Those incidents can be disheartening and might even prevent a woman from coming back to try again. But fortunately, there are fail-safes, like Ladies Days and female gun clubs, which help eliminate these undesirable situations and encourage women to give shooting a try.
There’s a path that a typical new female shooter walks. If a woman hasn’t been lucky enough to learn to shoot a .22 single shot rifle at camp, like I did, or to have a family member who taught her to shoot at an early age, we can often thank those who did have such experiences for bringing this new class of ladies into the fold. A new shooter might attend a Ladies Day at the range with a friend or significant other. She might take that first class out of a desire to be more competent in her own self-defense or simply for the novelty of hanging a paper target with 9 mm holes at her desk for bragging rights. The pattern I’ve observed over the last few years is that once introduced to a firearm, these women simply can’t get enough. We call it the “potato chip effect”: They can’t shoot just once.
These women come from different backgrounds and have various reasons for going to the range or purchasing a gun. They are soccer moms, college students, widowed senior citizens, daughters who desire to connect with their fathers, community activists, doctors, lawyers and so much more. No matter how disparate the background, they find a common thread in their love of shooting. And that common thread branches out into several shooting-related activities that have all seen a large increase in female participation.
The Self-Defense Shooters
Many women find their way to the range with the help of a class, like NRA’s Refuse To Be A Victim®. Since it was founded in 1993, this program has taught more than 100,000 women about self-defense, and now boasts more than 7,000 instructors. Likewise, NRA’s Women on Target program grew from 500 participants in 2000 to more than 13,000 in 2014.
Some of these women were reluctant to even touch a firearm when they entered the classroom. I’ve seen shaky hands and the occasional tear or two when it comes time to fire the first round. By the end of the class these ladies consistently walk away with a target to be proud of and several new friends that often become their “range sisters.”
Girls Clubs And Ladies Days
Countless friendships have been formed at the range, many of them at all-female shooting clubs or Ladies Days that can be found at ranges all over the country. From nationwide chapter-based groups like A Girl and A Gun, founded by Juliana Crowder, to more local gatherings like the Austin Sure Shots and She Can Shoot in the D.C. area, women are bonding with one another over unforgettable experiences. Annual conferences, including the one Crowder hosts in Texas, and first-time “glamping” (glamorous camping) events help broaden horizons and solidify the sorority that these women create.
The Competition Shooters
Despite being tragically under-publicized by major media, we have our own equivalent of rock stars, with a fan base as dedicated as a group of New Orleans Saints season ticket holders: female professional competitive shooters. Saying this field is broad would be wildly understating the reality of this booming category. Names like Smith & Wesson team captain Julie Golob in IDPA, Lena Miculek in 3-Gun, Anette Wachter in Long Range and Kenda Lenseigne in Mounted Western are now etched into the foundation of these games along with those of their male counterparts.
Though available prize money continues to lag behind what is available to male shooters, professional shooting can still be lucrative for women. Miculek has twice won the $25,000 3-Gun Nation grand prize, and is pursuing it again this year. But for female shooters, it’s not just about what they can get—it’s also about what they can give back.But for female shooters, it’s not just about what they can get—it’s also about what they can give back. Without exception, these women devote time to the junior shooters in their respective sports, encouraging the next generation’s “ones to watch” like Katelyn Francis, Molly Smith and Shyanne Roberts.
At the highest competitive level we find the Olympians. These are women who are often lucky to discover their passion early. Shooters like Gabby Franco, a contributor to the NRA Women’s Network and NRA News, inspire men and women alike in their instruction, talent and biographies. Lanny and Tracy Barnes, known as the twin biathletes, fit this bill as well. The world took note of their heartwarming story of sisterly dedication as Tracy gave up her spot on the 2014 Olympic Team to allow Lanny to compete. Even Jimmy Fallon of the “Tonight Show” appreciated the sacrifice and gave tribute to them on his show.
Kim Rhode, who has competed in five Olympiads, is the definitive name in Olympic shooting. She has participated and medaled individually in more Olympic Games than any American athlete in any sport, making her one of our country’s most accomplished athletes of all time.
As an incredibly articulate and capable spokeswoman, Kim is a leader among leaders, lending her voice and her time to worthy causes such as Kids & Clays and the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, among others. She is outspoken in her defense of our rights, but she never takes her eye off her target, as evidenced by her record-tying 99 out of 100 clays broken in the London Olympics in 2012.
Perhaps the most unexpected shooting subset in which women’s participation numbers have grown greatly in recent years is hunting—much to the chagrin of those who work to ban it. In fact, the NSSF report cited earlier shows that between 2001 and 2013, the number of female hunters increased by 85 percent, putting us at 3.3 million strong!
New products, like the female-centric outdoor and hunting gear line Prois, created by and for outdoorswomen, as well as ladies-only hunts, like this September’s stag and wild boar hunt offered by the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, contribute greatly to a newfound comfort level that many of us find in the field. While anti-hunting messages in both mainstream and social media are as prevalent as ever, sisterly encouragement is empowering established female hunters to educate others on the relationship between hunting and conservation—and to invite others to join our ranks.
While quality teaching is more important than gender in choosing an instructor, we are blessed to have our fair share of exceptional female-oriented classes and female instructors to welcome new shooters and equip them with proper training. Among them are names like Kay Miculek of Babes with Bullets and Team Smith & Wesson, Kathy Jackson at CorneredCat.com, Il Ling New at Arizona’s legendary Gunsite Academy, and “Mama” Jeanie Almond, founder of Lipstick and Lead and president of Youth On Target. An estimated 73 percent of female gun owners have armed themselves with training in at least one gun-related class.
The Mentors And Philanthropists
There are other women who play a significant, though somewhat quiet, role introducing an ever-growing number of women to the shooting sports. They may not be as visible as some of the aforementioned ladies, but their contributions play an indispensable role in protecting our rights for future generations.
NRA Women’s Network has highlighted many of these women in the “Armed & Fabulous” series at NRAWomen.TV, including former NRA president and veritable force of nature Sandy Froman, Diana Award winners Suzie Brewster and Melanie Pepper, and this year’s Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon co-host Kelley Beaman. NRAWomen.TV is also a great place to learn about the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, which was founded by Susan LaPierre and a group of other women who wanted to raise the philanthropic profile of women within the NRA, while helping the NRA fulfill its mission of protecting the Second Amendment.
Few people would understand the effect that women have had on the shooting industry without the bloggers, columnists and hosts whose knowledgeable and dedicated coverage highlights the importance of the female contribution. Ladies like Barbara Baird, founder of Women’s Outdoor News, and Shelley Giddings, editor of the GunUp magazine, relentlessly promote and fearlessly defend women in the gun industry.Women are making an undeniable impression, both politically and financially, in the preservation of our Second Amendment-protected rights.
The Bottom Line
Women are making an undeniable impression, both politically and financially, in the preservation of our Second Amendment-protected rights. Female candidates across the country, from Joni Ernst to Carly Fiorina, proudly display their pro-gun records.
According to the NSSF, retailers reported that 20 percent of their shooting- and hunting-related sales were attributed to women, and of those women surveyed, 42 percent owned three or more guns. In many households across the nation, women monitor or control budgets, meaning the more women are involved in the shooting sports, the healthier the state of the firearm industry.
In a speech at the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in St. Louis several years ago, LaPierre said that when women find a passion like shooting, we don’t keep it to ourselves. We share it with our loved ones. This is the reason it’s so vital that women feel comfortable participating in and taking ownership of this precious right we hold so dear. The more women we bring into the fold of our beloved gun community, the more we can count on the security of our freedoms for generations to come.
Natalie Foster, NRA Life member and the host of “Love at First Shot” on NRAwomen.TV, blogs at GirlsGuidetoGuns.com. She has appeared on ABC, MSNBC and the Discovery Channel promoting the Second Amendment. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and is excited to become an NRA mom this September.