To steal a line from the 1968 Virginia Slims ad campaign, women shooters “have come a long way” since the early days of shooting sports.
In her 1988 book Fair Game, A Lady’s Guide to Shooting Etiquette, Englishwoman Piffa Schroder wrote, “Shooting was considered to be an unladylike pastime. In 1882, Queen Victoria herself had written in a letter to her daughter, that although it was a perfectly acceptable for a woman to be a spectator, only ‘fast women’ shot.”
More recently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that “The face of America’s target shooters is changing. New target shooters—those who have taken up the sport in the last five years—are younger, female and urban when compared to established target shooters—those participating for more than five years.”
The number of women shooters has grown steadily thanks to trailblazers like Ruby Fox, America’s only woman to earn an Olympic Pistol medal (1984 Los Angeles Games). Kim Rhode has medaled in Shotgun for six consecutive Olympics, and recently retired Master Sergeant Julia (Watson) Carlson won the overall, shoulder-to-shoulder National Service Rifle Championships at Camp Perry in 2014.
In 2009, the percentage of female NRA-classified shooters was less than 10 percent. Industry sources now report that 37 percent of new target shooters are female, compared to 22 percent of established target shooters. The number of NRA-certified women instructors has reached 9,343 or about 8 percent of the total count of 122,394, and 796 women out of 7,206 are NRA-certified coaches.
As recently as 2013, a Pew Research Center survey found that there was a substantial gender gap when it came to gun ownership: Men were three times as likely to purchase a gun as women (37 percent versus 12 percent). But just two years later, 78 percent of retailers queried reported that they have experienced an increase in women customers. “Interest in the shooting sports” and a “Desire for personal protection” are the common justifications given by women entering the world of firearms ownership.
As the largest buyer of firearms, even the U.S. Department of Defense acknowledges the trend toward more women customers in their current recompete of the U.S. Service Pistol (XM17) contract, for which the Beretta M9 has supported American servicemen and women since 1985. The XM17 Request for Information (RFI) solicits modular systems with a “slimmer design,” recognizing that Polymer pistols with replaceable grips have become increasingly popular as lightweight and ergonomic alternatives, particularly among women.
As an incentive for industry to devote resources to the growing number of female customers, NRA Publications unveiled a new category for the Golden Bullseye Awards during this year’s Annual Meetings & Exhibits—The Woman’s Innovation Product of the Year. American Rifleman and Shooting Illustrated presented their inaugural version of this prestigious award to EAA for their Witness Pavona semi-auto pistol, and Hunter Safety System was recognized for their innovative HSS-Contour Harness by American Hunter. Perhaps in response to this new award, the number of woman-specific advertisements in recent NRA magazines and websites confirms that a growing number of manufacturers have committed their support to women sports shooters.
If you’re in the industry and have a candidate for Woman’s Innovation Product of the Year, perhaps a purpose-built holster for personal defense or an adaptation to make racking the slide easier, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re new to women’s shooting, consider joining the NRA’s Women's Leadership Forum, the only philanthropic society of its kind and the fastest-growing community in the NRA, at www.nrawlf.com. Also, http://women.nra.org lists many women’s programs sponsored by the NRA.