Love them or loathe them, ladies-only shooting groups have the potential to create excellent ambassadors for shooting in places where they are most needed
The outlook for women in the shooting world is looking reasonably rosy these days. It’s not merely a matter of there being more patronisingly pink skeet vests, fuschia-trimmed tweeds and shotguns with flouncy flowery engraving on sale in shooting shops, nor is it simply the case that there is an ever increasing array of ladies’ days, courses and clubs to choose from.
The real ray of hope comes from the fact that many of the women who’ve taken up shooting in recent years are embracing the sport’s more serious side with just as much enthusiasm and dedication as they have the social side. It’s not just squealing with delight at every clay hit, or giggling every time someone mentions a male pheasant (though I’d be lying if I said there’s not a certain amount of Carry On style banter).
There’s a raging thirst for knowledge among many of the female newcomers to the sport that more than equals the thirst for shopping and enjoying the sight of strapping men in tweed. And it’s resulting in many of the ladies not only becoming better Shots, but better sportswomen too, with an appreciation of the underlying importance of the safety and etiquette of shooting, of the hard graft that goes into making it what it is, and of the benefits it can bring to the environment.
It can be hard for newcomers to shooting, especially ladies who aren’t already well-connected in the local shooting circles, to pick up this kind of knowledge. It’s much easier for a young boy to join the beating line or offer to help the pickers-up than it is for a fully-grown woman, who’s in danger of coming across as if she has a screw lose and suffering from a Lady Chatterley complex. Fortunately, this is one of the areas where the ladies-only shooting clubs come into their own.
Star of the show
The recent Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club conference, held in Warwick earlier this month, was a prime example. More than 100 ladies milled into the Hilton conference suite for a series of lectures on shooting, a cake-baking contest and a chance to spend considerable sums of money on accessories – a concept that would probably have had many male Shots, and a fair number of female ones, heading full pelt for the nearest hills.
Surprisingly perhaps, one of the most popular talks was ostensibly one of the least glamorous or girly: Liam Bell, head keeper at the Millichope Estate in Shropshire, had the audience hanging off his every word as he took them through “A Keeper’s Year”, from egg incubation, through feeding, drinkers and bitting, to pest control and transvestite pheasants.
Other technically-orientated talks were devoured with the same relish as the cakes in the baking competition. These included presentations from Browning on gun design and maintenance; from Hull Cartridge on choosing the right load; from coach and competitive clay shot Ed Solomons on getting the most out of lessons; from barrister and BASC council member Peter Glenser on how to stay on the right side of firearms law; from CPSA honorary solicitor Laura Saunsbury; and from BASC’s Chris Brooks, who taught the room about stalking and conservation, and how to identify six different deer from the rear.
The few men present coped pretty well in the circumstances; one young gunsmith – Mike Moody of South Coast Gunmakers – even offered himself up to go under the gavel of Bruadar whisky liqueur’s Kate Knight, who acted as auctioneer to raise funds for the Disabled Shooters Group. Mike’s generous donation of a full gun service, along with a slab of cartridges from Hull, raised £230 for the group’s campaign for funds to take part in a demonstration event to get shooting made into an official Paralympic sport.
On the girlier side – there was a selection of cakes fit to make the Women’s Institute quail, a mini-field fashion show put together by Rosie Prest of Lancaster’s Malmo Guns, and some pretty serious shopping stands.
The net result was that the attendees went away a good deal wiser about a range of aspects of shooting, if also a good deal poorer having indulged in quantities of new gear to go with the new ideas.
The rise of ladies only clubs
However, the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club is far from the only ladies shooting club going. Though these enterprises may not be every woman’s (or man’s) cup of tea, they’re appealing to enough people to make some of the big fieldsports brands and mainstream businesses sit up and take notice.
One of the first on the block was The Covert Girls, part of the Shooting Society, set up by Claire Zambuni, whose PR company now represents some of the best known country names on the high street. The Society – which is definitely intended to have a capital “S” – has stayed true to its luxury London roots and typical events include dinners at private members’ clubs, game shoots on exclusive estates, lessons at top London shooting schools and “champagne and shopping at exclusive London gun dealers and shooting outfitters”.
The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club came along just over two years ago, when Victoria Knowles-Lacks – a girl with a penchant for shooting and a weakness for cake – decided to get a group of female friends together for a lesson at her local clay ground, followed by afternoon tea. These days the club tries to maintain its accessible, affordable ethos and holds clay and gameshooting events across the UK along with game cookery courses, “back to school” days looking at what goes on behind the scenes at a shoot, as well as social events.
Online platform Guns on Pegs, which allows members to buy and sell shooting, also has its own girls sporting agency, established by City lawyer Emma Pegler for like-minded women – Just for Ladies – which organises gameshooting packages in the UK and overseas for its members.
One of the newest arrivals on the scene is Femmes Fatales. It has less of a traditional and more of a transatlantic feel, unashamedly proclaiming itself to be all about “guns, girls, glamour”. The Femmes are planning to hold clayshooting events to encourage newcomers to shooting in the future and are donating prizes to their highest scoring members at a number of high profile shooting competitions.
The rise of ladies only shooting clubs – whatever your view of them – has opened up a new channel through which these girls can disseminate an increasingly well-informed, positive image of shooting among people who rarely come into contact with the sport and who at best wouldn’t previously have given it a second thought, at worst would have actively disapproved.
The nature of these societies means that they attract many women from non-shooting backgrounds; women who already have shooting in their blood don’t tend to be in such need a “leg up” to get started in the sport (though that’s not to say that some life-long shooters don’t seek out the girls’ clubs too).
This means that they take their tales of shooting successes, failures and fascinating facts they’re learning back to social settings where shooting is rarely talked about other than when it hits the headlines for the wrong reasons – to the tea points in urban offices, to the school gates, and, in a big way, to their own social media spheres.
All this is particularly important at a time when shooting is looking to improve its public image and appeal to – or at least not put off – those who weren’t born into shooting families. With proposals to tighten firearms licensing and ammunition regulations looming on both European and domestic horizons, and the Scottish independence referendum and a general election around the corner, combating bad press and prejudice with positive facts and personal experiences of the benefits of shooting could be crucial.