Females in the new gun culture

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Growing up a boy in the south in the 1970s and 80s, I spent my formative years on hunting trips and expeditions to the local unofficial shooting range. These trips, no matter what, were always unquestioningly males only. It was only in my late teens that I came face to face with the concept of females in the shooting sports when I met female members of my high school rifle team. Well, times, they are a changing.

Ground-up reinvention

Back then, I was issued the standard set of toys that many young men in my age group were. These included a Stretch Armstrong, green army men in a bag, Star Wars figures, and a wide array of cap guns and water pistols. As I grew older, Stretch broke, the army men suffered in backyard campaigns in battles whose names are long ago forgotten, the heads came off the Star Wars figures, and the cap guns and water pistols wore out.

Then came a pellet rifles and BB guns. Meanwhile, female cousins were equipped with Barbie dolls of various sorts, tea sets, and items that I do not know the names of. This is how it was. This is likely why I never saw females on hunting trips or at the local range growing up.

That, however, was then. Today, toys are aimed at wider groups of kids. You want to know what Hasbro's bestselling toy is right now? Nerf guns for girls.

Yup, the Nerf Rebelle line, launched last fall that includes some 22 different bows, crossbows, and blasters that fire foam darts is made to appeal not to that dirty faced little boy, but to the little girls out there. With swirly artwork and bright colors, they are flying off the shelves.

(The Nerf Rebelle line of foam firing gatts for little girls.)

And they are still guns, for girls. Starting in the single digits.

Introduction to the real thing

Sometime in the past twenty years fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, collectively have begun including young girls in things that they didn't used to. When I became a father in the mid-1990s, I taught my daughter how to shoot, first with air guns, then rim fire and later centerfire guns.


Moreover, I'm not the only one. As I was on the (official) range with my girl, I noticed others passing on the gift that is the shooting sports as well. As an adult now, she has her own guns and shoots often. It's just how she was raised.

Today, when I got shooting at public ranges, its no longer all men and boys, its the whole demographic from old to young, rich to poor, Republican to Democrat, boys to girls. And I couldn't be happier.

When a proposed law came out in Iowa this month that pushed to restrict handgun use to those over 14 years of age, its biggest and most effective critics were not a high-powered lobby group, but a pair of prepubescent women.

Meredith and Natalie Gibson, aged 8 and 10, have been shooting since they were five. After making this video and launching a social media campaign, the Iowa bill died and youth with parental supervision can continue to shoot handguns in the state.

And they aren't alone.

According to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, America's next generation of target shooters are increasingly younger, urban, and female.

(Photo credit: Minot Daily News)

The demographics of new shooters show they are . . .

Younger: 66 percent of new shooters fall into the 18-to-34-year-old category compared to 31 percent in the same age category for established shooters.

Female: 37 percent of new target shooters are female compared to 22 percent of established target shooters.

Urban: 47 percent of new target shooters live in urban/suburban settings versus 34 percent of established target shooters.

Mainstream role models

Back in the day, with the exception of trick shooters like Anne Oakley, there were almost no well-known women in the shooting sports. This has done a complete 180 in recent years. Today from outdoors television hosts like Haley Heath to competition shooters like Julie Golob and Jesse Duff are household names to those who follow that sport.

(Jamie Grey, 2008 US Olympic shooter, photo credit USA Shooting)

In the NCAA college rifle competitions, women are ruling the range these days, which is surprising considering the first modern female shooters, only started competing in the 1970s. Since 1976, female shooters have been regularly making it count in the medal department at the International Olympics.

This month's Field and Stream magazine, that icon of outdoors illustrated periodicals that stretches back 119 years, featured a female hunter on the cover.


Archer, hunter and TV host Eva Shockey was only the second woman to ever fill the cover, the first being Queen Elizabeth in 1976. Clad in camo and equipped with her bow, Shockey is an instant icon to any little girl who would see her staring back confidently from the newsstands.

And we care to guess that she will not be the last.

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April 28, 2014  •  12:51 AM
Our family taught the girls to shoot. The boys received the pellet rifle as a gift but in short order an older family member took the girls out shooting.

The girls might not have got as much trigger time as the boys but the girls can shoot a gun well.

After all the girls couldn't let the boys have all the fun.
September 12, 2014  •  09:09 PM
My daddy taught me how to shoot guns and a bow as a child. It wasn't just a 'boy' thing in the south.
Women should know how to shoot and shoot well.