Despite concerns regarding how few women seem to hunt and shoot, more women are hunting and shooting now than ever before.
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Yesterday I found myself caught in a conversation I’ve had countless times over the years. A volunteer RSO at my local sportsmen’s club had shown up while I was running a few guns for work and he was more interested in talking than shooting. After awhile – I would shoot a mag, he would start talking again – The Dreaded Topic came up: why don’t we have more female hunters and shooters and how we do we attract new women to the club? I knew the club had – has – dismally low numbers of women.

It’s crazy, but I’m not a wizard. I can’t tap into the consciousness of females everywhere and discover how to get them hunting. If I could I’d be a wealthy marketing guru. Instead I’m a poor outdoor writer.

Yes, it’s true: women are shooting more now than ever before.

Reality is, gun ownership is actually at an all-time high among women.

This isn’t overnight growth; women have been hunting and shooting alongside men – and without them – not for decades but centuries. Despite the truth to those words, women simply do not participate in the shooting sports – which includes outdoor sports such as hunting – at the same rate men do. That said, the industry has experienced a surge where female gun ownership is concerned. The past fifteen to twenty years alone are quite noteworthy on their own. Narrowing it down further to the last five to ten years makes it crystal clear: women aren’t just buying guns more often, they’re doing it all from turkey hunting to deer hunting to elk hunting.

Back in the 1980s the General Social Survey (GSS) released what’s become an oft-quoted set of statistics culled from their studies on firearms ownership. Some feel it’s the “best available data on the ownership of firearms by gender,” but it is an admittedly small pool to cull from (the studies just don’t exist in great numbers). GSS collected stats with assistance from the National Opinion Research Center, which was based at the University of Chicago at the time.

Results were based on full probability samples – samples purportedly collected using random selection. Selection back then took place in a door-to-door fashion; today it’s done by online questionnaires. The wording of the questions is included with the data meaning we can look back and see exactly what they asked: “Do you happen to have in your home [IF HOUSE: or garage] any guns or revolvers? IF YES: A. Is it a pistol, shotgun, rifle, or what? B. Do any of these guns personally belong to you?”

In 1983 approximately 6.7% of American women informed interviewers they had a firearm compared to over 50% of men. Here’s the thing: the study’s methods are detailed and show this means 6.7% of women said they had a gun in their house, not that they owned it. By 1994 those numbers increased to a reported 14.9%.

It isn’t just women huntig more; we teach our daughters, too. That’s my daughter picture right and another industry woman’s daughter picture left.

When the GSS surveys ended in 1994 the National Rifle Association (NRA) attempted to estimate how many of its members were female. How? By reading through their list of members’ first names, a method admittedly less than precise since many members were listed with only their first initials. According to their estimates, 5% to 16.7% of NRA members at the time were women.

The methodology left the NRA with a gap in their results but the numbers made a point. With under 15% of women telling GSS interviewers they had a gun in their home and scarcely more belonging to the NRA – using the high end of the organization’s estimates – the industry at large was obviously missing the mark when it came to female involvement. This should have been an “Aha!” moment but no, it didn’t herald the beginning of substantial efforts to increase female firearms ownership.

It was when we made our way into the 00s the real rise in female firearms ownership was seen. At first they were gradual changes but it began gaining speed as women not only took a more active role as gun owners but began to work for a foothold within the industry.

Here are some more numbers: according to the National Sporting Goods Association there was a 36% increase in female target shooters between 2004 and 2014; the same time frame saw a 23% jump in women hunters.  The Gallup polls reflected a simultaneous surge in female gun ownership. Gallup polls in 2005 showed 13% of women owning guns; the same polls in 2011 showed those numbers had risen to 23%. That’s a 77% increase in women owning firearms in just seven short years. It’s an impressive leap. Since then those numbers have continued to accelerate with today’s estimates and industry polls tipping the number over 30%.

And yet, women remain the minority.

Women tend to approach firearms a bit differently. Various factors come into play with one in particular standing out. In 2014 the National Shooting Sports Foundation did a new survey, one that’s currently the most comprehensive study available on women and guns. It detailed how training affects female gun ownership. I’ll bottom-line it: women who train buy more firearms (and accessories). It’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. If more women can be drawn into training, will sales increase? Probably. But do they need to buy their first gun before being convinced to train? Yeah, usually.

We’re here, we’re hunting, and yes, we’re women, but gender has nothing to do with it.

Statistics drawn from various polls over the past forty years show there aren’t just a few more women at the range today. There are thousands, even tens of thousands, more. Women are buying guns, training, and hunting in greater numbers than ever. Women make up an incredible portion of the shooting sports industry and will continue to do so in constantly growing numbers. And yet, it’s not about gender. It should never be about gender.

Firearms give those who use them the ability to master a slew of skills. They can be used for self-defense, hunting, shooting clays, competing, or just slinging lead down-range for the pleasure of seeing a watermelon explode (try it, it’s awesome). The gender behind the finger on the trigger should be inconsequential. It isn’t, but it should be. We are not women shooters, we are shooters; we are not huntresses, we are hunters. Whether we are new hunters or seasoned, avid hunters  – hunting Africa, now there’s a goal – it’s about the guns and what we do with them.

Back to my unplanned conversation yesterday. How do we get more women hunting and shooting? Not with pink pistols or revolvers, that’s for sure. The entire industry needs a facelift not for women but for people in general. Many of the behaviors and attitudes in the gun industry stem from the 1960s, not the 00s. Maybe it’s time to start considering why women are hesitating instead of how to get them in the door. Diagnose the root of the problem rather than leaping into guesstimate-based treatment. I’ll leave you all to your own conclusions regarding what those problems might be.

As for me, I have guns to test and hunts to plan.

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  1. I taught my daughter to shoot–at her request. I’ve sent her three pistols, two of which she still owns, her favorite being a FNX .45, the other a Ruger EC9 as a purse carry when she is out walking her dog. She will shoot anything and everything, from .22s to magnums, rifles to shotguns. She will probably never hunt, though, as the thought of dressing an animal is a bit too much for her to consider.

    • It’s awesome you taught your daughter. Good for both of you! I hope it’s a skill she continues as an adult.

  2. You forgot to throw a token “patriarchy” or “systematic” in there for good measure…

    • Maybe I don’t feel that way.

      Or did you miss my desire it be about guns, not gender?

        • Just a guess: because the more who do, the better it is for all gun owners. Since a much smaller percentage of women shoot and hunt, there’s a lot of opportunity there. Every one we can add is another potential pro-gun vote.

        • In the fact the article suggest women are unrepresented in shooting and it’s everyone’s, including the gun industry, responsibility to change and make women feel a certain way in order bring more women into the sport…

          This could’ve come straight off a feminist blog on Buzzfeed. Except it’s from a pro-gun stance.

      • I’ll throw in my two cents that no one asked for here: I personally want more women in my store and buying guns because they generally make better students than men – no male ego to get in the way of learning a skill they know damn well no human is “born knowing how to do”.
        I’ve had more than a few reluctant female students – some I might have even called “tough nuts to crack”… but the know-it-all guys who refuse to listen to simple instructions and rules are the worst to deal with.

  3. Ironicatbest would say:” I can’t speak for the rest, but most wemon I knew that bought a firearm took it out, shot it until they could hit where it was pointing, then that was it. To quote on of my past girlfiends, ” Why waste bullets, I hit the target 6 times.”

  4. I think this is a well-researched and written article, and I went after this author for the piece on trophy hunting. I wonder if, sometimes, we are afraid to admit that many women are in actuality different from men. Our heads are so full of our public school “rewrites” of human and intellectual history that we are now in a state of naked falsehood. The falsehood being that women will do anything men do given enough cajoling and marketing. I would like to see statistics on the fishing industry, for instance. Historically, it hasn’t been tainted with the same assumptions about “masculinity” that the shooting industry has. But from what I understand, it ALSO has less participation by females. Someone tell me the Truth, capital “T.”

    • It does have lower participation as well (fishing). My daughter actually prefers to fish over hunting, though. Stats are awfully hard to find on the outdoor sports in general. Not sure why.

      Glad you enjoyed it. Re: high fence, we definitely don’t have to agree all the time. A good debate makes us think which has a lot of benefits. It’s when it degrades to belittling and name-calling it becomes a problem. (As for trophies, I love trophies. More mounts here than wall space. Would it be weird to put a few Euros in the bedroom? How about the bathroom?)

  5. women simply do not participate in ANY sports – which includes outdoor sports such as hunting – at the same rate men do.

    Fixed it for you.

    • You know, maybe that is a “location” kind of thing. Where I live, there are very active and well attended female sporting activities, including soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball, competitive swimming, and dancing. There are numerous female athletes from this community who receive athletic scholarships to Division 1 schools, or go on to participate on a non-scholarship basis at Division 2 and 3 schools. I know a number of female hunters as well. Fly fishing is a popular sport for both genders, which might have to do with some excellent wild stream fisheries,. Lake Shasta, and the Sacramento River.
      On the other hand, gym classes in California are an increasingly rare activity. When I was in high school in the early ’70s, gym was an all year, five days a week required class. Now kids are lucky if they get gym once or twice a week.

  6. For millions of years, men hunted and women gathered. It’s in our DNA. This alone should explain the difference in the number of hunters. Men and women are different and we should embrace that, not pretend those differences in our instincts don’t exist.

    We should also embrace the exceptions to the rule. My wife hunts, I don’t. She also can outshoot me with a pistol. I’m fine with that.

    Those photos of the women hunting are awesome! And as we all know, if they get posted on faceplant the women will be called heartless murderers by vegans and all manner of morons. So God bless ya, ladies!

    • “Men and women are different and we should embrace that, not pretend those differences in our instincts don’t exist.”

      No way! Hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and history are meaningless. We have cars, iPhones, and Amazon now… which have turned males and females into non-symbiotic, asexual clusters of non-binary human cells.

    • You’re right on about the insults and threats on the Book of Face. It did happen. Those were awesome hunts, though.

      I did get a little pissy when comments started telling my daughter to get back in the kitchen. It was a couple years ago. I’m totally over it….

  7. When I a kid when we visited Grandparents ranch and told go to the house we knew something really interesting was going to happen.
    Oh we went to the house but we didn’t go in we peeked from around the corner.
    And that’s when I saw my grandpa drop a hog for the table. One 22lr right between it’s eyes.
    I knew then that bacon would soon be on the table in the morning. I don’t hunt because I live in the city and, my Grandparents died years ago. Most of my cousins on my mother side are gun gals and gun guys but they don’t have livestock.

    • That’s a great childhood memory. Any memory with bacon is good.

      Fantastic you come from a gun-loving family.

  8. I have always found that women are much easier to teach shooting to than men. Women listen and don’t have all the preconceived notions and macho “I know what to do” attitude. I remember this one woman after she had shot several rounds out of a .375 H&H I asked her how she felt about the recoil. She responded “You mean the push? It’s OK I guess.” She didn’t have notion that it was supposed to be bad and therefore didn’t think it bad.

    I knew another woman that weighed in at 105 pounds and could shoot a .458 WM extremely well. She just flexed with the recoil. Then she took the gun to Zimbabwe and shot an elephant from a squat position like a catcher and ended up flat on her back looking at the sky. She did kill the elephant though.

    I have found that women are much, much more careful with shot placement. They tend to want to make sure they hit where there are aiming. I remember this one woman just would not shoot this bear. She kept adjusting and such. Finally the bear got up on its hind legs which is a sure sign it is going to run. I told her to shoot the damn thing. She didn’t. It dropped to all fours and she fired and dropped like the proverbial bolt of lightening.

    The hesitation doesn’t work so well when hunting birds. I have known many women that just would not shoot until the birds were out of range. One, a professor at the University of Washington after a series of misses unloaded the shotgun and threw it in the truck saying that they should produce a more efficient device!

    I liked your article but a slight critique. If you are going to be a professional writer (I am not) learn the difference between awhile and a while. Awhile is an adverb and an adverb can never be the object of a preposition. After is a preposition. It should be after a while. There is a trick so that you will never get this wrong but it has nothing to do with guns so I will refrain from explaining it.

  9. Just thinking about the water melon exploding and what fun it was. Basic training 1969. Our DI had an E5 fill up an ammo container with water down range and then shoot it with an M14( we switched to M16s 2 weeks later). Most of us were shocked at the missing rear half of the can. He brought it to us so we could look at it and said Gentlemen, the human body is 90% water and this is what you will look like if Charlie shoots you before you shoot him. made a memory I still have. never did try it though


  10. For Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Shooter, shot placement and the importance thereof cannot be overstressed.

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