Jason Harris offers some pointers ...
Shooting has becoming increasingly popular – and accessible – in the last 20 years and the number of female shooters has risen too. The number of women joining the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has risen by a third over the past four years and BASC now has around 10,000 female members.
Why are more women shooting?
Shooting is a sport centred around skill, technique and co-ordination rather than strength. So women can shoot just as well as a man. However, when it comes to finding a shotgun to suit a woman, certain matters require consideration. Weight and balance are important – some women shooters prefer the lighter weight and lesser recoil of a smaller-bore gun.
Appropriate gun fit is absolutely essential, as a gun with an ill-fitting stock is a sure-fire route to frustration and injury. Have a proper fitting session at a shooting school and bring the resulting measurements with you when purchasing a gun.
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Most guns are built with men in mind, and the shape of the stock can often be uncomfortable for females. To counteract this the stock may be altered so that the toe of the stock (the bottom of the stock at the butt) is made square or even inverted. Any good gunsmith should be able to do this for you.
Another common problem for women relates to the height of the comb, the top edge of the stock. Often the comb is too low, as women tend to have higher cheekbones than men.
If the stock is not altered to raise the comb most women will find themselves looking into the action when mounting the gun, making accurate shooting very difficult.
This problem can be exacerbated on guns with long barrels, where there will be a tendency to shoot higher. Again, any good gunsmith should be able to alter this if provided with the appropriate measurements.
Most men are right-handed and most of these will have a dominant right eye. However, most women have a dominant left eye.
Being right-handed but having a dominant left eye can cause some interesting problems when fitting, but there are a number of ways of getting around this through shooting technique and equipment.
Dealing with left eye dominance
The most common way of right-handed shots dealing with dominant left eyes taught by shooting coaches is to close the left eye once the gun is mounted and you are into the swing.
This allows your brain to get a proper sight picture of the bird before giving you the opportunity to fine tune your aim and take the shot.
If you have a very dominant left eye and cannot close it while shooting, many would recommend that you learn to shoot left-handed.
Indeed, if you are just starting to learn to shoot then this may be entirely preferable. If neither of these techniques are viable for you there are other options.
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You may choose to have a ‘twisted’ stock built for the gun, putting a significant bend on the wood and bringing the barrels closer to the left eye. However, this is very expensive and can lead to significant problems with recoil.
A rather cheaper and easier option is to shoot while wearing glasses and to block out the left eye with Vaseline or tape, forcing the right eye to take over.
Some instructors have also suggested that fitting fluorescent sights onto the barrels can lessen the impact of eye dominance, and this is a very cheap option, which is very easy and quick to fit.
Female gun purchases
Kaylie Bloxham recently bought her first gun and decided on a Browning 20-bore. She made her decision with the help of Mark Heath, shooting instructor at the West London Shooting School who says: “With a view to which shotguns I feel are best suited to a novice female shooters, mainstream gunmakers are always a good place to start; Beretta Silver Pigeon, Vittoria or a 690, and from the Browning range a 525, 725 or the Liberty light. It doesn’t always follow that ladies need a smaller calibre or specialist ladies gun. What’s important is what suits the individual.”
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Ideal starter gun
A lightweight over-and-under 20-bore or 12-bore gun would be an ideal starter gun for most women. The two big names in modern guns, Beretta and Browning, both produce some excellent light alloy action guns.
If you were intent on using a 12-bore, then using 24gram cartridges or lighter would alleviate any potential recoil problems and would shoot as smooth as a 20-bore.
However, I still feel that a 20-bore over-and-under is the more suitable starter gun. These shotguns are ideal for all types of shooting, and with a good selection of cartridges from a standard 21gram load upwards available it will be easy to find a comfortable combination.
I would recommend buying a gun with 28″ barrels with either multi or fixed chokes. If you choose to have fixed chokes, I recommend you have the bores regulated to improved cylinder and ¼.
There is a good selection of guns in this category, but any of Beretta’s guns from its Silver Pigeon range would be ideal. They are reliable, shoot well and come in at a reasonable price.
The Browning B525 Liberty Light launched in 2018 and has been especially designed for women shooters who are looking after a lightweight 12-bore shotgun.
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A 16-bore shotgun?
A woman off driven shooting may be interested in side-by-side shotgun as part of the the tradition of the sport. As with an over-under I would suggest a 12-bore with light cartridge loads or a 20-bore, but you might also consider the slightly more unusual 16-bore.
Falling between the light weight of a 20-bore and the heft and power of a 12, a 16-bore gun offers an interesting compromise.
You will find that the weight and balance of a side-by-side gun is quite different from an over-under, so you might consider buying a gun with 26″ barrels.
This will keep the weight of the gun down but does increase barrel flip when shooting. To counteract the slightly greater recoil of a side-by-side I would recommend sticking to lighter loads.
You might also consider fitting a Kick-eez pad to the butt in order to reduce felt recoil. Discuss both these issues with your instructor and gun dealer.
If you are likely to be shooting lots of clays or doing more rough shooting then you might consider buying a semi-automatic shotgun.
You’d be frowned upon if you took one out on a driven shoot but a semi-automatic is ideal as a second gun.
Having only one barrel means that these guns are lighter than their double-barrelled cousins. This makes them much easier to mount and swing, and they will have much less felt recoil.
They are generally available in 12 or 20-bore, and lightweight versions are also common. Once again, I would suggest that if you buy a 12-bore gun you shoot with a lighter cartridge load.
Semi-auto guns are very popular outside of Britain, and therefore see a lot of technological innovation such as hydraulic dampers in the stock to reduce recoil.