Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with some female shooting groups and participate in various women-only events around the country. These experiences have broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to the purposes of the groups and the reasons women decide to join. Thinking back, the first ladies-only firearms event I attended was Women on Target. These half- or full-day, hands-on instructional shooting clinics from the Women of the NRA are designed to give women experiences with firearms they might never have had the opportunity to try. The best part is that as a participant, you just show up. No experience or equipment is necessary. It was during this first event I saw something I didn’t expect to witness. When we had the opportunity to shoot an IDPA-type scenario, one of the women got a bit flustered after she shot … actually, she was crying. Thinking back now, I can’t remember what upset her; I just know she wanted to go home. Somehow, I, along with a few other women, talked her through it and convinced her to stay and participate in the rest of the clinics. She ended up having a great experience and enjoying herself.
After that event, I attended quite a few other women-only events that involved firearms experiences. These included Ohio’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman.
One thing I experienced with all of them is the support women give each other—from cheering and clapping to hugs after walking off the line. I saw mothers, daughters and even grandmothers in attendance; all were having a great time. These first experiences were quite a few years ago, maybe 10 or more.
Fast-forward to 2016, when I attended the Brownells’ Ladies Fall Fest, a multi-gun competition put on by A Girl & A Gun (AG&AG). Although I knew about this women’s shooting group and had met founder Julianna Crowder numerous times, I’d never been actively involved with this group. This would be another new experience for me—more than 200 women spending a weekend together and competing against each other. And I was a squad mom for 12 of them.
“Often, when a question was asked, I saw others nodding “Yes!” as if they had the same question. I felt we had a very open, nonjudgmental dialog—something not always present in mixed gender classes.”
As with my past experiences at other women-only events, what happened was much more than I ever expected. My squad had quite a few ladies who had never competed in a match before and were somewhat nervous. Although they were apprehensive at first, they were soon comforted when they saw we all worked together as a team. Competitors shared gear, and sometimes even guns if someone was having malfunctions. We helped each other stage guns prior to shooting and return them to the table when finished. If someone struggled while they shot, we even coached them to breathe, take their time and then, cheered them on. Yes, the dynamics of this ladies-only match were quite different than other matches I had participated in. Honestly, I don’t know if many competitors even asked about their scores on the stage.
Ready to Train
Because I had such a positive experience with the group of women at this match, I wanted to learn more about what these female shooting groups were all about. Fortunately, I had the opportunity in 2017 to teach at both the AG&AG National Conference in Texas and The Well Armed Woman (TWAW) National Chapter Leader Conference in Utah. My first impression at both of these events was, Wow! These ladies are super excited about being together and learning. The cheering and clapping as they arrived at the range was almost over the top. They walked up to my bay, often in groups of two or more, with smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes. They were ready to train!
“I saw mothers, daughters and even grandmothers in attendance; all were having a great time.”
What I actually taught throughout these events is irrelevant to this article. However, I held live-fire, hands-on demos with rifles, live-fire training with pistols and rifles, and even classroom training demos with rifles. I came away from these training sessions with a new understanding of why the female-only shooting groups are so important to so many women.
Unlike other firearms classes I’ve attended or been involved with as an instructor, the students in these classes seemed eager to ask questions. Often, when a question was asked, I saw others nodding “Yes!” as if they had the same question. I felt we had a very open, nonjudgmental dialog—something not always present in mixed gender classes.
On the range during live fire, I witnessed those who were not currently shooting watch the line and vocally support the shooters. I even heard them reiterating tips I had mentioned when their friends might have been getting sloppy with their tactics. And if the shooter’s shots on target weren’t up to par, the positive support they received when they walked off the line gave them the courage they might have needed to keep working on it.
“We helped each other stage guns prior to shooting and return them to the table when finished. If someone struggled while they shot, we even coached them to breathe, take their time, and then, cheered them on.”
That Ah-Hah! Moment
One of the most rewarding parts of being a trainer is seeing a concept click with a student. When a few ladies came up to me after the class or later in the weekend and said, “I finally understand _______. I’ve asked in other classes and just couldn’t grasp it. Somehow, you said it in a way I understood.” As a teacher, I was thrilled.
I know what it’s like to not grasp a concept. These all-female events seem to allow more-relaxed dialog, through which concepts are taught in a different way. Julianna Crowder calls it “speaking Girls.” No one is there to say, “That’s just silly; I would never teach that way.” Well, if it enables someone who didn’t “get it” before to now understand a concept, there must be something right about it.
This is where things were a bit uncomfortable for me. I own and use firearms for many different reasons: to compete, teach, hunt and, of course, for personal protection. Some of the women I met at these events became involved because of a tragic event from their past that involved a male. Regardless of the reason, they feel more comfortable learning from women and gain strength from being around them. They tell their stories and can often find someone who can relate to them when they are struggling. Yes, they might bring along some personal “baggage,” but these female shooting groups support them and help build them back up.
“There are more than enough groups out there that will welcome you with open arms.”
Find Your Group
There are so many reasons to join a women’s shooting group, both at the national and local levels. Whether you want to learn something new, improve your marksmanship skills, meet other like-minded women or just socialize, there’s a group for you. It’s just a matter of finding one that fits your needs. Heck, my friend, Victoria Knowles-Lacks of England, recently expanded her Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club and created the Ladies Shooting Club. This is quite an accomplishment, considering the gun laws across “the Pond.”
Do your research, ask friends, stop at a local range, or go online to find a few of these groups in your area. Most will welcome women to attend a meeting or event and see what it is like.
You might want to find the answers to the following questions when you attend:
- When and where are the meetings held and how often?
- What events do they have planned and how far in advance?
- Am I comfortable with their gun-handling skills at the event I attended?
- Did I feel welcome in their group?
- What are the cost and benefits of joining this group?
Take your time; choose a group you enjoy. And along the way, if things change, move on. There are more than enough groups out there that will welcome you with open arms.
Julianna Crowder, founder of AG&AG, states that this group’s events are intended to be fun, social gatherings at which women can come together for support, encouragement, ask questions in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, improve their marksmanship and bond together in the shooting community.
AG&AG’s goal: to empower, educate and have fun at the range.
According to founder Carrie Lightfoot, TWAW is a complete resource for the female gun owner. It will introduce you to the ins and outs of armed self-defense, gun ownership, gun safety, shooting skills and products for women shooters.
TWAW’s goal: to educate, equip and empower woman as gun owners.
The Women on Target instructional shooting clinics are designed to teach you firearm safety and the fundamentals of marksmanship, giving you the confidence you need to safely handle and operate a firearm upon completion.
Babes with Bullets is a traveling firearms academy that offers handgun and rifle training to women at all levels. Taught by an all-female team of national and world shooting sports champions, this group’s three-day gun camps are designed to teach women how to safely and confidently handle and operate a firearm in an informal “camp” atmosphere.
Karen Butler created Shoot Like a Girl to increase the number of women involved in shooting sports by empowering them to participate with confidence. Through Test Shots, women can shoot a 9mm pistol, .223 rifle and compound bow in a state-of-the-art, 53-foot mobile range that features military-grade firearms simulation systems.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.