Ladies that shoot
Matt Limb OBE looks at the ever growing number of ladies taking up shooting as a sport and their wider interest in field sports and love of the countryside.
I have enjoyed being in the British countryside all my life, be it a simple walk with the dogs or a day out shooting or even picking up with good friends – shooting traditionally being a gentleman’s sport.
But in recent years there has been a big change in the countryside, which anyone with even the slightest interest in shooting could not have failed to notice: the rise in the number of ladies that shoot.
It would be hard to pinpoint when this change started, even harder to work out why and what keeps driving the ever growing numbers. There was only one way to gain a better understanding: join a group of ladies and hopefully find out.
After a few phone calls and emails, I left home early on a blustery and showery late autumn day, to join five ladies on a morning at the Pinewood Shooting Ground near Gainsborough, in the hope of some answers. I was surprised at what I found out.
I will confess I was a little hesitant; my observations would suggest, with no real proof, that there could be a little hostility from five women out enjoying a day’s shooting and being watched, but my misconception was soon put to rest.
In the grand old tradition, we met over a cup of tea, and I started chatting with Jo, who admitted to being new to shooting. For her it was in the main clay shooting and it was simply about the challenge of breaking clays. Jo’s earliest shooting experience involved her father’s airgun and breaking a few of her mother’s plant pots, so breaking clays may have come naturally.
Working in the equine field and a regular horse rider, Jo admits she is competitive and feels the same drive for shooting as she has for competitions in showjumping or dressage. But no one in her family shoots, nor do any of her close friends – yet after a relatively short time, she is enjoying her shooting and says it has led to many new friendships. She even apologised in advance that she might have to leave a little early, as she had been invited for an afternoon’s pigeon shooting, which would be another first for her. Speaking to Jo a few days later she explained that it was something different and a new challenge, as the pigeons could change direction so quickly, but Jo enjoyed the experience and learned even more about shooting.
Thinking of my background and my interest in field and country sports, I would guess I had the traditional introduction from my late father. Certainly, chatting with fellow shooting men, the interest being passed from father to son is not uncommon. But what about from father to daughter?
As I finished my mug of tea Jordanna arrived, gun slip under her arm. It was Jordanna who organised the day and asked me to join. As we walked out to the first stand, she explained how her countryside interests range beyond just shooting, which comes from her father, who has been an active falconer all his life. She has now picked up the baton and is working to help interested ladies with an introduction to shooting and other field sports but admits it can be hard, as many see not only shooting but many of the traditional field sports as a gentlemen’s club.
But when asked what it is that drives her and where her specific interest lies, she quoted the well-known phrase ‘field to fork’; that great pleasure in eating what you shoot, which is sustainable and healthy. This was familiar among the ladies on the day. It is the same with most gents who shoot, but here with the ladies I found a twist: an interest in finding new recipes to try and experiment with – be it pheasant or pigeon, in fact any game.
Shooting is without doubt a skill that needs to be worked on and coaching can help, but Alice was told she would never shoot. A third-year university student, Alice explained how she was introduced to shooting only a matter of months ago; she was quite open in admitting it was on a first date with a new boyfriend at Pinewood Shooting Ground. While the relationship may not have lasted beyond a few weeks, the now ex-boyfriend did Alice a great favour and she is now shooting clays regularly, in the main with a shooting coach; plus in the coming weeks she will be out on her first game-driven day and has met a group of ladies to shoot with who have encouraged her. Add to which she is also looking at beating for the first time this season.
Talking of game shooting, there was wide agreement that a traditional driven game shooting day is harder for a woman to get into than clay shooting, if you do not have a reliable connection, someone – often a family member – to introduce you.
Amy was introduced by her father and now has over 12 years of shooting experience. Now she sees herself as predominantly a game shooter, having bought her own 20 bore gun almost a decade ago. However, Amy’s advice for any girl wishing to have a go at game shooting is to be brave and simply go for it. By doing so you will quickly be respected and accepted on a driven game day. Enjoying shooting so much, Amy has also taken to training her gundog, a three-year-old black Labrador called Ivy, who will sit on a peg with her during this season.
Taking a short break as we walked around the shooting ground, I asked about the perception of ladies shooting, whether they think many see it as little more than a fashion show, with such images plastered across social media. All admitted that there were some who are more interested in the image and wearing the latest trends and tweeds, who hardly ever pick up a gun. As Chloe commented, everyone likes to dress up for the occasion, but for the majority it is about the shooting, not the image of shooting. She said that social media can be very damning in the vision it projects of ladies taking part in field sports, but as a regular clay shooter she sees far fewer fashion parades than social media would have you believe. Jo added that seeing fake and photoshopped images could be a barrier to a newcomer, especially if the beginner lacks some confidence.
But defending social media, Chloe added that growing up in a very rural area she begged to be involved in shooting, which was then male dominated, and she never got the opportunity – before she joined a ladies’ day, via social media.
All agreed that the internet can be helpful. Smartphones and tablets today provide access to numerous shooting events. And with the ever increasing number of ladies shooting, there has been a growth in ladies-only clay days, ladies shooting clubs, and regional meetings and competitions for ladies of all abilities.
Chloe did admit that once you have formed a good mix of friends with like-minded women, the need for social media is less important. However, she also noted that it is far easier to get an introduction to clay than game shooting via an online programme.
There is one thing I picked up on as we walked around the shooting ground, which I did not expect: shooting formed only a part of the wider interest and activity in field sports. Within this small group, they can also list wildfowling and duck flighting in addition to deer stalking, including stalking trips to Scotland for the near-legendary Red Stags. Add to this rabbiting with ferrets and falconry along with game shooting, both driven and walked-up. This proves the ladies’ interest in a broader range of field sports, not just shooting, and all said they wanted to try more, especially deer stalking.
Sadly, all good days must come to an end. As we made our way back to the clubhouse, I spoke with Chris Chipman, who has owned Pinewood Shooting Ground for the past couple of years and admits that the number of ladies coming for shooting lessons, or in small groups, is still on the increase.
He also commented on the growing number of husband-and-wife couples who come for a social morning’s shooting, further adding that it is not uncommon for the lady to outgun her husband in breaking clays.
Chris added that Pinewood prides itself on welcoming lady guns, especially if shooting for the first time; there are female members of staff in the office and on the telephone too, to help make them feel as welcome as possible. His comments were supported by Alice, nodding in agreement, who has shot at Pinewood several times and admits the ground is especially friendly.
I had a good hour’s drive home after I bid my farewell to the ladies – more than enough time to think. Firstly, if there is one thing that came home firmly and squarely it was that ladies like their shooting. This is not a tweed themed fashion show with a few shots thrown in while sipping an exotic cocktail. I would almost go as far as to say that the ladies I met hated that thought more than the gents I shoot with.
Yes, we all like to dress up – even I like to dig out the tweeds for a good day’s shooting – but for these ladies the day is about shooting; in that respect I see no difference between a ladies shoot day and a gents’ team out on their pegs.
One more thing I was not expecting was that it is not just about shooting; there is a wider and strong interest in field sports among our lady guns – one that the country gents would be well advised to take note of.
But I think, looking back on my day out in the field there is something I noticed that is much stronger that will bond the ladies and gents together. That is the love and passion for our countryside, its heritage, history and pastimes, along with the well-known fact that spending time in the outdoors is good for your health – be you a lady or a gentleman that shoots.