Female Participation in Shooting Sports Higher than Ever


Female participation in the shooting sports is on the rise and that is a good thing!  Having a bigger tent with more people involved and enjoying firearms can open eyes (and minds) to the reality of how safe, practical, and fun firearm ownership can be.

According to both the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA), women are one of the fastest growing demographics in the shooting sports.  From 2001 to 2013, the number of female hunters increased 85% to 3.3 million and the number of target shooters increased 60% to 5.4 million.  When polled on why they wanted to own a firearm, the top three answers were: self-defense, learning to hunt, and to enjoy shooting with friends and family.  Another point from the NSSF study that I found interesting is that nearly 75% of all women gun owners have attended at least one training class with either a professional or a family/friend.

Roughly half of all women gun owners will visit a shooting range an average of one or more times each month for practice or training.  You may have noticed an increase in the number of first time women shooters at your local range; I know that I have.  Unfortunately, not all of that range time is necessarily productive.  During my range visits, I have seen some really terrible “training” sessions at nearby shooting tables.  I watched one guy hand his girlfriend a .410 revolver, show her how to hold it, and then – with his hand over top of hers, reach in and pull the trigger for her from across the bench.  He seemed to find it amusing that she was frightened of the large, heavy recoiling handgun and did not want to keep shooting with it.  On a different trip, I saw someone hand another female shooter a semi-auto pistol to shoot before standing by to watch as she gripped it in her left hand and supported it with her right hand… directly on top of the slide.  Once was enough for that new shooter, who stopped shooting for the day and waited while her partner finished his range day.

Since many women receive training from someone close to them, and many women feel encouraged by family and friends to go shooting, it is a disservice to the new female shooter to not offer proper instruction, especially if it is their first time shooting.  As Olympic shooter Kim Rhode said in a recent interview, shooting is a family sport.  Everyone should actively participate in the entire shooting process for everyone else in the family to help build relationships based on this common interest and to ensure that everyone in the family is familiar with the firearms in the house.  This becomes even more important because a NSSF study showed that more than 40% of women prefer having male present when purchasing a firearm and a similar number feel that they need more training.  This is an enormous opportunity to promote the shooting sports and the Second Amendment within a family.

I am fortunate that my significant other has been my primary instructor and he takes it seriously.  It is one of our many hobbies that we both enjoy and enjoy together.  While the actual activity is an equal playing field between the genders, the firearms industry has been slow to catch up to the growing number of women shooters.  As a female shooter, I have had to learn to adapt to a sport that is largely designed by and for men.

Despite the push for a bizarre progressive agenda, men and women are different.  Let’s start with the obvious differences.  The average American man is ~5’10” and weighs 196 lbs whereas the average American woman is ~5’4” and weighs 166 lbs.  Men are typically taller, weigh more and have less body fat, larger hands, different muscle mass, different lung capacity, and so on.  Women are generally shaped differently than men, especially in the hips and chest – a product of being built to produce and care for offspring.  All of this should sound like common sense right now, but what does it mean?

Women, on average, are smaller in every aspect of the body.  Many full-sized pistols are too large (sometimes too heavy) to hold comfortably and consistently for extended shooting periods.  However, smaller compact and sub-compact handguns – which may fit better in the hands – tend to have stiffer springs to counter the low mass of the slide, which can prove problematic when manipulating the slide.  Fortunately, many manufacturers are designing both new firearms and ammunition offerings that address this recoil issue.  Some manufacturers have designed pistols that are balanced differently to help women manage the recoil.

Staying with the smaller theme, women have shorter arms and proportionally longer necks than men, placing the shoulder-pocket slightly higher than the average man.  This means many rifles and shotguns are uncomfortable to handle and could explain why your lady may bruise more easily and have problems getting a consistent cheek weld (the answer is not a youth stock).  While a child-sized stock may work for some women, the fact remains that most women are larger than children and the smaller, shorter stock will make a weapon front-heavy which could prove burdensome, especially when walking in the field (speaking from experience).  Being smaller also means being shorter.  This can make shooting from a kneeling/sitting position feel like a battle to find the happy medium between comfort, stability and getting the appropriate elevation to hit the target.  As I have consistently found at SHOT Show Range Day and various shooting ranges, many shooting benches are not designed for a short person.  A few companies have been tackling the issue of women shooters in rifles and shotguns with success.  At least two companies have rifles designed by women, for women and two more companies make pricey shotguns that are balanced and proportioned with a woman in mind.  

As mentioned previously, women have wider, rounder hips, which can make holsters in and on the waistband difficult to conceal and draw or to shoot weapons from the waist.  Hips also make shooting from the prone position uncomfortable and a challenge to be consistent, but small adjustments in the angle of the body, knee position and rolling into the position can make the position do-able.  Lastly, the most obvious difference: boobs.  Breasts can actually prove to be an advantage during shooting if taught correctly.  While shooting a rifle from a standing position (sling preferred), women have a built in rest that adds an extra point of contact to minimize muzzle movement.  Bringing that support arm into the chest can make it much easier to support the muzzle and to adjust the height of the muzzle without the need to muscle it.

SHOT16range_6166Now, let’s look at some not-so-obvious differences.  Women are better at conserving energy than men when the intensity of the task is low.  However, if we’re looking at heavy lifting, for example a crate of ammunition, since women are smaller, women must exert more work in order to move the same object as a man, which leads to fatigue quicker.  If we look at a high stress situation where maximum effort during a short time period is needed, called anaerobic capacity, like the need to run away quickly from an attacker while carrying groceries or to drag a wounded person out of a dangerous situation, women just do not perform as well as men.  Some will point out that in the heat of a moment, amazing things can and do happen, but those are not normal stories and no one should count on a miracle in a dangerous situation.  Looking at aerobic capacity, if a man and a woman of equal fitness are walking uphill, the female’s body will need to work at a higher intensity to keep up the pace.  Since women naturally have a higher percentage of body fat, and women perspire at a slower rate, women are not able to efficiently cool off in hot environments (remember women fainting all the time in old Western movies?).  In contrast, in cold environments, that extra insulation comes in handy and women perform better in cold environments than men.   Lastly, women obviously have a menstrual cycle that causes fluctuations in hormones resulting in a host of side-effects, including both mental and physical changes to the body.  Some of this may seem obvious now, but it is not something that stands out in our minds.

Studies done in the military have shown that exercise and strength training can increase a woman’s ability to physiologically perform almost as well as a man of the same size.  While hard work and dedication can minimize certain differences between men and women, there are not a lot of options for the monthly chemical changes.  There are multiple studies that suggest that the menstrual cycle affects each woman differently and it can alter eye sight, cause motion sickness, cause weight gain and mood changes, and effect aerobic capacity.  You read that correctly:  a woman’s menstrual cycle can temporarily alter her vision.

Now for the least obvious differences: heart rate, lung capacity and the brain.  The male heart is naturally larger than a female heart, which means that the male heart beats at a slower rate than the female heart since each pump of the heart moves more blood.  This can make distance shooting a slight challenge since an increased heart rate can affect your breathing and overall stress level.  The average  lung size for males is larger than that of females, which means greater respiratory volume, and larger overall capacity.  Men can take in more oxygen per breath, thus can exhale more per breath which again affects distance shooting.  Shooters are encouraged to shoot during the exhale: steady respiration with a slower heart rate makes distance shooting just slightly more natural for men.

Pavona_01Next time you are out shooting with female shooting buddies, remember that most women are open to instruction and training, and a majority prefers shooting on private or family land rather than at a public range around strangers.  As mentioned, the shooting industry has been slow to catch up to the needs of women shooters: the typical response is to make an existing weapon smaller and to make it pink (“shrink it and pink it“).  About 75% of women surveyed by the NSSF think that the colors and patterns meant for women make the weapon look like a toy, and more than half find the colors to be inappropriate for many shooting activities.  In case you are wondering if women buy these colorful options anyways, less than 10% of women surveyed said the color influenced their choice in firearm.

As for rifles and shotguns that may not fit properly, women will adapt to what they have available.  I recall a Project Appleseed that I participated in where an instructor tried to build up the rifle stock with foam and tape so I could achieve an actual cheek weld.  Once I started shooting with the “improved” rifle, I lost all of my accuracy and I could barely hit the paper at 25 yards.  We immediately removed the additions and I went back to shooting decently.  If you notice something does not look quite right, ask what she is doing first.  For example, if she can’t work the bolt after firing while keeping her sight picture, do not immediately conclude that she is doing it wrong.  Instead, help her find a method that minimizes movement to make site re-acquisition quick (e.g. when in prone position, I found that I can keep my cheek weld if I roll on to my side to work the bolt, change magazines, etc.  and then roll back into prone position).

Be sure to teach the fundamentals in using hand guns and long arms properly, like sight picture and breathing.  The fundamentals carry over from firearm to firearm, so when she finally finds the perfect firearm, she still knows how to use it.  Correct fundamentals will ensure her safety, improve her shooting skills, and increase her interest in the shooting sports to share with other members of the family and her friends.  The only way to save the legacy of the Second Amendment is through education and sharing your love for a hobby is an excellent way to do that.

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