Shooting has traditionally been a man's game and, for the most part, it still is. The past 20 years, however, have seen significant changes and the industry is filling the girl-shaped gap in the market.
If current trends continue, women could have an important role to play in the future of shooting.
At the end of the 20th century, many women were put off picking up a gun by lack of opportunity, lack of suitable equipment and the perceived prevailing attitude of general disapproval. These days, there are not only more shooting opportunities, but also vastly increased scope for buying stylish, functional clothing, kit that fits and for finding like-minded companions.
One of the first to identify and address the girl-shaped gap in the market was the Holland & Holland (H&H) Shooting Grounds in Northwood, near London. Twenty years ago, the firm launched its Green Feathers course, aimed at introducing women to shooting. In 2001, in response to demand from more experienced women, the Chanel-owned gunmaker launched the Silver Feathers course. Both courses were, and still are, highly popular.
Demand has skyrocketed
“In 1995, there were about a million mostly male shotgun licence-holders and we felt there were probably half a million sympathetic ladies who would like to give shooting a go,” H&H operations director Steve Denny told me.
“We thought that was a huge untapped market and were proved right. We have seen the demand for ladies’ lessons/gunfittings skyrocket and they now account for about 20 per cent of our school business. And it’s still growing.”
New-found shooting skill
Since then, other shooting schools have made similar packages available — usually offering substantially discounted lessons and a clubbable competition day for participants to put new-found shooting skills to the test. Many girls get thoroughly hooked and spread the word among their friends.
I was one of them; another was Claire Zambuni, who discovered her penchant and talent for shooting on the Green Feathers course 15 years ago. She set up Covert Girls “to give women the opportunity to learn how to shoot in a supportive and relatively uncompetitive environment without fear of being humiliated”. Like Claire, many female Shots around the UK felt the urge to found local ladies-only clubs and syndicates. The Dorset Game Birds (DGB) was set up in 2006 by Oonagh Langrishe and three friends during a post-shooting pub lunch spent lamenting the lack of female fellowship on the peg.
Similarly, the Kent Game Birds (locally known as “the KGB”) began life four years ago, when friends Sarah Dean and Rochelle Godden Kibble decided they wanted to have a ladies-only day at local shoot Mersham-le-Hatch. Both the DGB and the KGB were overwhelmed by the numbers of local women wanting a part of the action and have since gone from strength to strength: the KGB’s Rochelle now even runs the shoot at Mersham.
Female shooting equals cake
The same happened wherever a local group started: Holland & Holland had clearly been right — once given the opportunity, the women of Britain were positively burning with desire to shoot things. Good though the local groups were, they relied largely on word of mouth, so women across large parts of the UK still lacked an undaunting way into shooting. In 2012, brightness began to spread to the blackspots with the advent of a national network of ladies’ events in the shape of the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club (S&CBC).
The club started with a small clayshooting taster session followed by afternoon tea. Word got around and clays and cake proved to be an irresistible combination. Soon S&CBC founder, Victoria Knowles-Lacks, found herself swamped by demand for similar events. By 2014 she had held events in almost every county in England and had also ventured into Scotland and Wales. To date, the club has introduced more than 5,500 women to shooting.
Such has been the club’s success that Victoria declared 27 June to be “National Ladies’ Shooting Day”, with events at 20 grounds across England and more than 1,000 ladies simultaneously squeezed their triggers. As always with the club, the shooting was followed by cake.
The Covert Girls, S&CBC and local groups all benefited from encouragement within the shooting world and from organisations such as BASC and the Countryside Alliance. They were also boosted by the Internet, which enabled them to reach whole new reservoirs of potential recruits. In particular the rise of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has played a vital role in getting more girls into shooting. The S&CBC has online origins: it grew out of a website (www.ladies-shooting.com) that Victoria Knowles-Lacks set up in 2011 to give women interested in shooting the information they needed to get started and, crucially, to link up with each other. Victoria is also active on social media and many S&CBC members first discovered the club online.
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National Ladies Shooting Day, organised by the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club, is aimed at encouraging ladies from all age…
Just over a year ago, another national female shooting force emerged with Femmes Fatales, launched by Lydia Abdelaoui and Rachel Carrie. Both know the shooting world well and are passionate advocates of promoting it positively to the wider world.
Online presence has been equally fundamental for the Femmes, who have successfully used the Internet to appeal to new, more urban markets. “We wanted to showcase the sport outside that existing community, casting the net wider to women who’ve never come across it before,” said Lydia. “The response to our campaign was overwhelming and it quickly became apparent that there is this huge potential to introduce thousands more clayshooting virgins to the sport.”
North of the border, Mhairi Morriss, founder of Scottish ladies-only shooting club Glad Rags & Cartridge Bags, experienced a similar tidal wave of enthusiasm when her first event sold out three weeks in advance.
Clothing and kit
All this hasn’t gone unnoticed by companies making shooting clothing and kit, and even gunmakers are responding to the increase in the female market. The days of “shrink it and pink it” are on the way out and more shooting clothing is being designed from scratch for the female form. It’s a move that makes commercial sense: the market is still growing.
It looks as if the number of women shooting will continue to rise. Irish clothing brand Dubarry has teamed up with the Oxfordshire Shooting School to put on a discounted ladies’ course, and fully fledged female syndicates have been flourishing around the UK in recent seasons, with feisty names such as the Firebirds in the North-East and the Gunpowder Girls in the North-West.
The girls’ groups are getting creative too. Some, such as the Femmes Fatales, bring shooting to new markets. Others approach the sport with alternative outlooks that open up opportunities. For example, Lucie Boedts was keen to explore the environmental, emotional and culinary aspects of shooting for women, so she set up the Ladies Mac Nab Challenge at Tulchan of Glenisla in Scotland. During Lucie’s challenge weeks, female guests stalk, shoot, fish and fly falcons, while discussing issues including food miles, taxidermy and waste reduction.
“If we want shooting to have a strong voice for the future, we need to encourage ladies to get out and give it a go”
Demand doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Claire Gamble, who set up a syndicate of London- based women last season, has been amazed at how many people wanted to join once word got out and has a lengthy waiting list.
At a time when shooting in the UK needs all the support it can get, getting more girls on board can only be a good thing. As Sarah Dean of the KGB put it: “If we want shooting to have a strong voice for the future, it’s not just the young that we need to see joining, we also need to encourage ladies to get out there and give it a go.”
Courses and clubs
More information about the courses and clubs can be found online at: