Gunstar sponsors the Great British Shooting Show 2022
Gunstar ran a survey from January 2019 to April 2019, asking shooters to answer a few questions about themselves, their shooting habits and their buying preferences. One of the first questions asked of a participant was ‘which gender are you?’. From a sample of 1,000 participants, just 18 were female. As a result, we can make a rough assumption that women account for 1.8% of the shooting population. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect statistic, but it’s a very strong representation of the way things are structured and it’s a truly staggering figure.
It’s not surprising that men heavily dominate the field sports community and perhaps this will always be the case, but to see more than 98% of any pie chart controlled by a single category is shocking. There’s no reason why we can’t get a whole lot closer to equal participation levels and without a doubt, it’s something that needs to be addressed.
But it still seems that people are reluctant to ask the all-important question, so we will: Why don’t more women shoot?
An immovable tradition?
If we head back to the 19th century when shooting in England really took off - not just as a means of catching food but a hobby and social sport - you’ll see that it was only accessible to those in positions of power or possession of land. Of course, at the time, these people were men. Although this probably has a slight impact on the way things have been since then, it can’t really be used as an excuse. Yes, field sports are a lasting country tradition that are protected by those who love them most, but there are plenty of other British traditions which have moved with the times. In fact, if attitudes in other walks of life had stayed as shooting has done, we might not have seen women playing sports, voting, or even working honest jobs today.
An even more poignant reality is that many powerful women in the past have insisted on having access to extravagant estates where they can shoot themselves. Queen Victoria was one of the first people to kick off the trend of purchasing land to shoot on, and Queen Elizabeth ll still goes out for a driven hunt herself from time to time. If influential figures like these two can promote and enjoy it, why aren’t other women inspired to do the same?
The answer to this question in recent history is probably fairly straightforward; accessibility was all down to power, money, time and interest. Time and power are very closely related, as very few women would’ve had the power to both choose their own leisure activities or have the time to have any hobbies at all because they had so much work to do elsewhere. Interest is something that we’ll be covering in detail later on too - is it simply that the majority of women just aren’t that interested in firing a gun at some targets or animals? men and women have different genetic makeup, so is there something more scientific that simply suggests women would rather do other things with their spare time?
The inequality of professional shooting.
Often when a huge sporting event like the Olympic Games comes around, people are inspired to get involved themselves and take up a new sport. Unlike most Olympic sports, however, shooting disciplines are noticeably imbalanced as far as gender is concerned. In the most recent edition of the Olympic Games (2016, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) shooting held 15 different medal events - 9 of them were for men, 6 of them were for women. Up until 2004, there were 7 events for women, but the Double Trap was scrapped after the Athens edition. So an event that was already swaying in favour of male dominance is now even more controlled by men 15 years later.
To add insult to injury, the women's disciplines have only been 40-shot competitions up until now, as opposed to the 60-shot men's events. In fairness that rule was changed in 2018 and although it’s taken way too long to get to this point, at least the progress is being made. The original reasoning for having fewer shots in the women's events was that female’s weren’t as physically capable of maintaining the strength and muscular endurance that a male shooter had, therefore reducing the quality of shots in later rounds. The latest investigations actually suggest that the differences in gender performance are very minor and a lot less than evident than previously thought.
The point here is, why would a young girl looking for a new sport to take part in, choose the one that so clearly looks discriminatory towards women from the outside? This is definitely a factor to take into consideration, as we all look for role models to learn from no matter what we’re doing, and they’re often found in professional sport. In the current climate, women would probably rather go somewhere they feel they would be treated more equally…
From an expert’s perspective.
In order to truly break things down and investigate the answers to the question ‘Why?’, it’s vital that we learn from someone who’s been there, experienced it first hand, and feels strongly about the matter. We got in touch with Louise Maynard, a 26 year old from Sussex who loves shooting and does a lot of work as a loader. She travels right across the South of England during the shooting season to a number of extravagant estates gun loading throughout the day. She does anything from low profile, single gun stuffing for a friend, right up to double gunning on large corporate days.
We asked Louise a number of investigative questions to get a better insight into what it actually might be that prevents more women from shooting.
The pathway into shooting - we wanted to know if women found it as easy as men to actually get started. Is the accessibility the same? Do women have more obstacles to get round? Louise said that “The pathway is not as straightforward as it is for men. I think some women find it intimidating being in such a male-dominated sport, for example at a shooting ground, if they were going to have lessons. Not seeing as many, if any other ladies around can be off-putting. This also applies on game days too; women can feel out of place and often men instantly underestimate your capabilities which can make you question yourself.
An obstacle for some ladies can be gun weight and recoil. 12 bores and heavier ‘loads’ can kick a little or be too heavy to shoot for longer periods of time, so many ladies opt for 20 or 28 bores for less weight and recoil.”
It’s probably not too surprising, but women find the thought of turning up to a shooting ground that’s dominated by male company quite daunting. It’s never a comfortable situation being the minority in a large group of people, so you can understand why a lot of women are completely put off by the thought of it. The fact is it probably only takes a couple of individuals to make the plunge and it would start a domino effect which could help certain local communities thrive.
Perhaps the best solution here is for ladies to team up, find some friends who want to achieve the same thing and turn up as a group. Of course, this will be easier said than done as getting the girls together will take a fair bit of communication and commitment, but we’ll get onto some of the possible strategies shortly.
The influence of male shooters - how encouraging are male shooters towards female shooters? Do they actually want to see women out in the field or on the range giving it a go, or do they feel threatened? We posed the question to Louise: From your personal experience would you say that men, on the whole, try to encourage or discourage women to shoot?.
“I’ve had a real mix of really encouraging and discouraging men within the sport. I’ve had them let me take their peg and they’ve stood with me and loaded or given advice. Also if I’m struggling with something they’ve given me tips and encouraged me not to let it get me down. However, I’ve also been treated as if I wasn’t capable or good enough to be there. When waiting to be selected for loading I’ve seen guns faces drop when given me as their loader, only for them to apologise later and ask if I will load for them next time and would I travel to other estates. I do think the majority overall are trying to encourage more women to shoot which is great.”
Louise suggests that although there are a handful of men who let the side down (as there will be in every community), most people are very positive and encouraging towards herself at least. This is really reassuring to hear, and although the attitude towards a female loader may be different than shown towards a female shooter/competitor, we can confidently assume that the attitude towards women in shooting will be very similar across the board. This implies that the problem doesn’t really lie with the active shooting population; it must be coming from elsewhere. One thing that we’ve touched on briefly is the genetic makeup of the two genders - could this play a big role in participation levels?
The effect of hormones on participation - Sometimes there might be a much deeper reasoning for the inequalities we see. Hormone levels and chemical balances play a massive part in the distribution of personality traits between genders. Testosterone is possibly the biggest influencer here, as it’s commonly known to promote aggression, competitiveness and enhance primal instincts. All of these give men far more reasons to want to go shooting than a female might have. Going out into the wild with a firearm in hand, hunting game just appeals to the male mindset more easily. That’s not to say that many women won’t enjoy the same thing - it’s just a lot easier to pull in male interest.
To build on this, we asked Louise: Which would you say is a bigger factor for low participation figures with women? Gender traits or social stereotypes?
“I think it’s those gender traits that put off more women from joining the sport. If you aren’t connected to the shooting world, for example, live in the town or have no family/friends in the sport then I think women from a distant perspective would consider it more of a man's sport. Many think that it’s just killing things for fun and that it’s not for them and that it’s a man's job. But actually, few know the facts behind what we do as far as management and where our meat comes from. Also many don’t realise you can just shoot clays and take up a great hobby!”
There are some really key points here. The first one is that most rural shooting communities are really detached from urban life and vice versa. The majority of people who live in the city will never have experienced the country lifestyle or perhaps never been to a shoot day. This means that their only opinion of shooting sports will be based on traditional stereotypes which, referring back to earlier, are that shooting is historically for men. If that message is constantly relayed back to most of the urban population, we’re stuck in a vicious circle where we need more women to get involved, but they won’t get involved until they’re convinced it’s not a ‘man’s sport’...
The other big point here is the preconception that all shooting is, is killing things for fun. As mentioned before, that ‘hunt to kill’ instinct is not embedded in female nature as much as it is in men. This fact is backed up by the data from our own Gunstar survey, which shows that 72.9% of women want to shoot for targets as opposed to game. This clearly shows how dangerous the stereotypes could be to female shooters. This isn’t the be all and end all of shooting, as Louise points out. “Many don’t realise you can just shoot clays and take up a great hobby!”. Maybe before we try and target women specifically, we need to try and promote shooting in all its different forms so that people are fully aware of the extensive opportunities the field sports community can provide.
What happens next? - It’s all well and good highlighting the issues and saying what the causes might be, but this is all worthless if nothing is done about it. We need a plan of action, and people need to know where they can go to make a difference.
Our final question for Louise was: Is there anything that female shooters can actively do themselves to help increase participation? Are you aware of any projects/schemes that are in place especially for women in shooting?
“To help increase participation, ladies need to be confident in themselves and get out there as much as possible. There are ladies shooting clubs such as the Shotgun and Chelsea bun club and so many others that host ladies only days up and down the country, both on clays and game. National Ladies Shooting Day is held on the 8th June and is a great way to get into shooting as a beginner or meet up with other ladies as a more experienced shot. Many estates also host ladies day during the season. Don’t be afraid to attend a mixed day with men, as women are just as capable!”
As pointed out, lots of clubs and grounds offer ladies days and specialist events to help females get off the ground. BASC has a ‘Ladies Shooting’ section of their site including blog posts, shooting events and training courses all tailored to improving the female game. Their ‘Ladies Day’ calendar features a huge selection of one-off shoots right across the UK that are on offer all year round, so there’s always an opportunity for you to go and improve your skills, January to December.
The last point from Louise really sticks in the mind; “Women are just as capable”. This is the biggest thing to remember. Shooting is a test of balance, hand-eye coordination, patience and control, amongst other things. Nothing here suggests that male shooters will be any more talented or successful than the female population. Women share these fitness components equally with men and in some cases are even better than the opposite gender, so the best way to move forward is to truly believe that and shout about it.
We truly believe that 99% of people in shooting, male or female, want women to get involved, excel and enjoy it. Shooting is an activity that could do with having its profile raised in general as it lacks funding and awareness. There’s no one involved who doesn’t want to see it thrive and expand to as many people as possible, so getting women involved is vital for that. Encouragement is the answer to it all. Encouraging people to actually make the leap and turn up, but also encouraging people to improve once they’re actually there. Because whether the art of shooting is a pastime that appeals to female genetics or not, everyone enjoys something that they’re good at; success is one of the greatest feelings a person can experience. If we can encourage partners, friends, family to get involved, perfect their skills and achieve a personal level of success, none of the rest matters.
The pathway into shooting doesn’t need to be intense or serious - get the girls to organise a charity event with a fancy dress shoot or turn up to your local grounds for an action packed hen party - the possibilities are endless.
Things are definitely improving, and we see more and more women joining the gang each and every year. If we get together and create some enthusiasm in the women's shooting community, we’ll see a far less one-sided survey this time next year.