With Amber Hill winning the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2013 and sealing her Rio 2016 place by shooting gold at the Baku European Games in June, women shooters are increasingly making their mark. And unlike other sports, women don't have to be fitter or stronger than men to win. As Ed Ling says: "Women can compete at the same level as men in this."
More and more women are now taking up the sport. So we caught up with the founder of the woman-only Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, Victoria Knowles-Lacks, at the CLA Game Fair and asked her a few questions
Shooting UK: So Victoria, what gave you the idea of setting up the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club in the first place?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “I was finding it quite hard to find girl-friendly advice about gameshooting, so I set up a website in 2011 called Ladies-Shooting. I’d been shooting for a few years and I wanted to get my girlfriends from school involved in it, so I set up this little blog about my shooting trips, news, game recipes and that type of thing. I wanted it to be a resource where girls going on their first shoot could learn about tipping, etiquette, all sorts. I think if women have a bit of information it leads to confidence.
“In September 2011 I managed to get some schoolfriends to come clayshooting with me. We went to the South Worcestershire Shooting Ground (which is where I am from) and we shot 50 clays. I baked a Victoria sponge beforehand and put it on a lead crystal cake stand I had (which is on our stand today) and afterwards we had cake and tea. It poured with rain, my mascara ran but it was really fun – but it wasn’t the club then, just me taking friends clayshooting.
“Then I went on holiday to Australia, was lying on the beach and I thought ‘yes I’m going to make it easier for women to get into shooting.’ I decided I was going to make it my job. I wrote down my core values – affordable, inclusive and supportive. We would run events at shooting grounds using their coaches and guns because obviously I am not a shooting instructor!
“I really liked the cake element of the day so I acquired a couple of china tea sets. I had this crazy idea of a day with tea and cake. So then I did another event at the Oxfordshire Shooting School who were very good to me and that’s how it all started really.”
Shooting UK: And how did you get people to come along?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Well, it’s all mainly been through Twitter and social media. I had a friend that lived in Oxfordshire. She had quite a bit of a network of school mums and people who hunt, that sort of person and I contacted loads of local papers. I had no experience in marketing, PR or press – it was all just a wing and a prayer. I just thought ‘I’m really going to make this work and if I can get 10 people that’s amazing’.
“I didn’t make any money out of it for the first year. I was working full-time as a compliance manager, previous to that I worked in country houses for Knight Frank.
“I just thought I wanted to create something ..even if women come and shoot just once and then think ‘well it’s not for me’ … I wanted to open it up to more people really.
“So we did this event in Oxfordshire and had about 30 or so people coming along which was just amazing. We had a great day and everybody loved it and was asking ‘when is the next one?’ I just thought, gosh I don’t know because I was busy. I mentioned it on Twitter and wrote some more blogs on the Ladies Shooting site and then all of a sudden people were saying, ‘Can my wife come shooting with you?’ Or, ‘Can you come to Derbyshire or the south coast?”
Shooting UK: So then you suddenly had a business on your hands?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Absolutely!”
Shooting UK: Was anybody doing anything similar at the time?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Not really – Claire Zambuni was the first one to have a club – The Covert Girls – they’re all really kind of cool chicks! That was a higher price point than mine.”
Shooting UK: Although your name – the Chelsea part – suggests you might have a higher price point.
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Yes. It’s all just grown and grown. So I started doing two events a month. I’d get in my car with these fine china tea sets and I’d trundle up the motorway and kind of like spread the love and got as many women together as I could. I have always liked to think I’m quite friendly and inclusive and I like introducing women with a common interest. Some girls in the club have made lifelong friends and go on holiday together. By accident I guess we’ve created a lovely community.”
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Shooting UK: Looking at your leaflet it quite surprised me that the starting point for a Chelsea Bun Club day is just under £50 for non-members. What do you get for that?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Thirty clays, four hours from start to finish.”
Shooting UK: How do you manage to do it so relatively inexpensively?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “The shooting grounds give me a special rate and I work on small margins. In return I do lots of social media plugging for the grounds so I help them with their marketing.”
Shooting UK: How many shooters would you expect to get coming along on a day?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “The biggest day we ever had was about 70 women at the West London Shooting School, which was a bit like herding cats but great fun. Hard work with lots of excitable women who wanted to chat! Usually we average about 30. From far-flung grounds in say, Cumbria, we might just have 15-20 but in the south east we might have 40-45.
Shooting UK: What’s in it for your members?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “They get a reduced shooting fee, and we have a secret members-only Facebook group which includes some top lady shots so you can get advice and support and see who’s going where and message one another. We’ll introduce members to other members in their area as well. We also do simulated game days, an annual conference and we’re doing a members-only free social event with Dubarry. Oh, and members have a discount directory for shooting grounds, equipment and clothing.
“About 8000 women have tried shooting through our club and that’s only our club, there are several others out there.”
Shooting UK: So presumably you’ve given up your full-time job to focus on this?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Yes, back in June 2012.”
Shooting UK: Are you from a shooting background yourself?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “No. I’m from the countryside but none of my family shoot, apart from my sister who shoots because of the club.”
Shooting UK: When did you first pick up a gun?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “At a Young Farmers shoot when I was about 16 I kind of did a bit of shooting. It was in my 20’s I got into game shooting in a big way, but I’d done quite a bit of beating and I’d always had horses and there were shoots close by.”
Shooting UK: How often do you go now?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “I do a fair bit of game shooting and always make time for that. I have a grouse day on the 12th that I’m really looking forward to, as a gun in Inverness and another grouse day in Yorkshire. We do novice game days at Ripley Castle in North Yorkshire and a day at Belvoir Castle with the Duchess of Rutland and a small 150 bird day in Hertfordshire.
Shooting UK: What guns do you shoot?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “A Browning 725 Black Action Sporter Gun sponsored by Malmo Guns in Lancaster. It’s their gun but I shoot it.”
Shooting UK: And you’ve got your own tweed …
Victoria Knowles-Lacks “Our own estate tweed. I studied fashion at the London College of Fashion so I designed the collection and chose the tweed. We launched it at the Farmers Club in Whitehall in December last year, the girls love it. The breeks are amazing to shoot in and they make your bum look great! We also have a skirt, two different style blazers and a trapper hat with fur inside and a tie, a flat cap and tote bag.
Shooting UK: Does your husband shoot?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “No. And I couldn’t have done this without him, he’s been a great support, listens to my woes. He is very understanding – but he runs triathlons we don’t get involved with each others’ things. I don’t push the shooting to him because I don’t want him to make me run a marathon.
Shooting UK: Coaches have been heard to say that women easier to teach than men. What do you think women bring to shooting?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “I think we bring a bit of fun. There are some very serious clay shooters who are very focused –that’s why they are very good. Then there are some ‘old school’ guns who think women shouldn’t be here. But I think we listen, we don’t take things so seriously, except safety and making sure that everybody is involved. We’re maybe more supportive of each other. It’s all about shooting well, not getting the biggest bag.”
Shooting UK: And what’s the best day’s shooting you ever had?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “I’ve had lots. We had a really good day last season up at Ripley and Cheryl Hall came along and she’s 33 times World Champion woman clay shooter, deer stalker and game shot and she’s our ambassador, It was a lovely day, frosty and fresh. The birds were good, we were looked after, it was a fun day. We got about 200 birds between us.”
Shooting UK: And what’s your plan for the future?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “In about four years’ time, I’d like to have 10,000 members and be a well respected, well-reputed shooting organization. I’m just about to launch an academy. A recognised qualification in shooting starting with a safety first badge.”
Shooting UK: Men-only clubs have run into trouble for excluding women. If a man came along and said he wanted to shoot with you what would happen?
Victoria Knowles-Lacks: “Well we do get a lot of jealous boyfriends and husbands who accuse us of having all the fun. We do very occasionally put them in a group together with other men and let them join in for tea and cake afterwards because actually I think it’s the tea and cake they’re very interested in. We have some events men can come to, simulated game days because we don’t want to exclude them but the idea of our club is to support women and women shooting together.”
The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club is welcoming new members. You can find out more here.