Skip to comments.Entering a new world and loving it (article on women and guns)
Posted on 08/08/2004 5:47:01 PM PDT by Mulder
When 18-year-old Skye Hansen of Murray arrived at the Heber Valley Gun Club Saturday morning, she had never been trap shooting before. By late afternoon she was begging her mom to buy her a shotgun for her birthday -- and making plans to take up duck hunting.
Trap is a game in which a small disk, or clay pigeon, is launched away from a shotgun shooter. It demands good vision and reflexes, and breaking a "bird" delivers instant gratification.
"I love guns," Hansen said. "It's something that you can control, but it is so powerful it can blow things up. It makes you feel so good when you hit. And I love the smell of gun powder."
Hansen, who will start her freshman year at BYU in a couple of weeks, said guns will improve her dating life.
"As a girl, I love to surprise people," she said. "Boys don't think girls can drive a stick shift or shoot a gun, and it is so cool to surprise them and be different. I think part of dating is how interesting you are. If trap shooting makes me a more interesting person, I might get more dates."
Hansen was one of 60 women who attended a women-only trap shooting clinic on Saturday. If the number of women-only gun and outdoor recreation classes are any indication, there's a new kind of feminism sweeping Utah, a movement to give women equal status with men in shooting, hunting and fishing sports.
Stephanie Henson, manager of the National Rifle Association's women's programs division said nationally 2.6 million women hunt and 4.6 million women target shoot. The demand for women's recreational gun programs has mushroomed so fast that last year the NRA created Woman's Outlook, a new magazine. It describes itself in high-flown language as catering to "the multifaceted needs of today's NRA woman as she exercises her Second Amendment rights in pursuit and enjoyment of the American firearm lifestyle."
Ron Davies, manager of gun sales at Gunnies, a sporting goods store in Orem, estimated that one out of every 10 guns sold in the store is purchased by a woman, and 20 percent of customers enrolling in concealed-carry classes are women.
"To me it seems like there are more women lately buying guns," he said. "I don't know if it is an increased awareness of the world situation or their neighborhood situation."
Experts agree that the Utah movement to include more women in shooting and fishing sports mirrors a nationwide trend launched by an unlikely person in an unlikely place.
While working on her Ph.D. in 1988, Christine Thomas, assistant dean and professor of resource management at the University of Wisconsin's Stevens Point College of Natural Resources, wrote a report on women in hunting and fishing sports. As a result of that project, the university in 1990 asked her to help put together a conference on how to break down barriers that prevent women from getting involved in those activities.
Conference participants listed 21 reasons why there weren't as many women involved in hunting and fishing, she said.
"When it came down to it, two-thirds of the barriers were because women said they never had an opportunity to learn how," she said. "They listed reasons like 'I grew up in an urban family, so I don't know how,' or 'Only the boys in our family got to do these things.' So I thought, we are a university; maybe we could do something about the don't-know-how barrier."
Over the next year, Thomas and others planned a three-day camping event at which women could choose from more than 30 classes, including shooting and Dutch oven cooking. After a local columnist wrote about the event, 106 women signed up in one day.
In 1992 Thomas was invited to organize a similar event in Nebraska, and in 1993 she was invited to organize events in four more states. Today the program, Becoming an Outdoors Woman (known as BOW) has events in 44 states. Some Utah BOW events are so popular there's a waiting list to get in.
"I can't believe it. Sometimes I pinch myself and wonder why somebody else didn't do this first," Thomas said.
But in Utah and other states, hard economic times have forced state agencies to trim their budgets, and the BOW program is often one of the first targets. Launched in 1997 in Utah, the program was cut in 2003.
But it did not die.
Nancy Hoff has been the volunteer director for the program for just over a year. When she moved to Utah from Minnesota in 2001, she had never been an outdoors kind of person, she said.
"My husband was gradually getting involved in fly fishing and I would sit on a rock and mope while he caught all these great fish," she said.
She would ask her husband to help her learn how to fly fish, but the experience was never pleasant.
"It was more frustrating learning from my spouse than not learning at all," she said. "He would try to correct my technique and I would get hurt feelings. We would get in some arguments. When men start teaching, their egos get involved."
When she saw an ad for a three-day BOW event in 2001 she jumped at the opportunity to be taught shotgun shooting and fly fishing by women.
"Those classes hooked me and I fell in love," she said. "I told my husband everything I was learning and showed him I could fly fish and talked to him about the parts of a shotgun and how to stand and how to break targets. And I drove him crazy. I said to him that now we can do these things together -- you do it your way and I'll do it my way and we'll enjoy the outdoors."
When the BOW program was canceled, Hoff went to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and said she would direct it for free. Classes are held each month and include such topics as basic muzzleloading and archery. Participants pay for the instructors and equipment.
Women can't seem to get enough.
"What I think is happening is that women feel left out," she said. "Their husbands and buddies go hunting and fishing when they feel like it, and the women are tired of being left at home to cook and clean. They want to get out of the house. And there are a lot of single mothers who want to be role models for their children, or make their own outdoor tradition.
"Women are taking this into their own hands, and enjoying the outdoors."
With almost every class full, Hoff said she is confident the state will begin funding the program again soon.
"Women have said to me, 'If you don't do this I don't know what we'll do,' " she said. "I've encouraged the women to let the DWR know how much they appreciated these classes, and I'm hopeful we will get funding again."
Gene Ekenstam, who was one of the instructors at Saturday's BOW trap shooting clinic, said women and children are the future of the sport.
"Some fathers don't want to be bothered teaching their girls to shoot because this is a man's thing," he said. "Well, this isn't a man's thing. It's for everyone."
His daughter, Louise Ekenstam, may be the most in-demand women's shooting instructor in the state.
"I just love to expose women to this sport," she said. "When I started shooting when I was eight, there were very few women shooters. This is something every member of the family can do."
Because shooting was traditionally considered a man's sport, it took years for women to feel comfortable participating, she said. BOW events and other classes organized specifically to teach women the basics of handling guns have broken down the barriers.
But not completely.
"I think some women are still intimidated," Ekenstam said. "I hear comments at some gun clubs about how there are too many women shooters at the club."
Thomas said that as more women have graduated from BOW events nationwide, the response from men has been mixed.
"There are probably some men out there who use my picture for target practice, but there are many who send me pictures and thank you notes for saving their marriage or breathing new life into their relationship," she said. "One man said to me 'I sent my wife to one of your workshops and now she's gone antelope hunting and elk hunting, and she bought a shotgun. It would have been cheaper if she'd had an affair!"
Not everyone approves of women's newfound pastime. Ann Reiss Lane, founder and chair of Women Against Gun Violence, a California-based international anti-gun group, said guns put women in danger. She founded Women Against Gun Violence after gun manufacturers began making guns in lavender and pastel colors in the late 1980s, hoping to woo a new market.
"Our experience tells us that a woman is more likely to have a gun used against her than to defend herself with it," she said. "And if you live in a house where there is a gun and you think you want to leave your husband or boyfriend, you are less likely to leave. Intimidation is a big factor."
If a woman "feels compelled to keep a gun, then keep the ammunition separate," she said. The group successfully pressed for legislation in California banning some semiautomatic firearms and fought for similar laws passed by Congress and signed by then-President Clinton 10 years ago. That law comes up for renewal in September.
"We would like to see the assault weapon ban expanded, but we can't even get them to keep the one we've got," she said.
BOW instructors and NRA officials agree that many women who are introduced to recreational gun sports such as trap shooting continue on to become hunters or even to buy guns for personal protection.
Henson said those who take classes specifically for women are then exposed to other options, including personal protection classes.
"What we do is make information available," she said. "The personal protection courses are open to everyone."
Becky Hansen, Skye's mother, enrolled herself, Skye, and 14-year-old daughter, Bethany, in Saturday's trap shooting clinic because she doesn't want her children to be afraid of guns.
"We believe the safest way to protect your children from guns is to teach them about them," she said. "I don't think we'll ever get all the guns out of people's hands. Law-abiding people might turn in their guns if it was the law, but criminals wouldn't."
Criminologists and the gun industry estimate that upwards of 300 million guns are now owned by Americans.
Becky Hansen said she and her children just enjoy guns for the sport of it. "It's competitive," she said. "We're not into killing and hunting."
Skye interrupts her mother. "I might be," she says with a smile. "I might try duck hunting."
For more information about Becoming an Outdoors Woman events, visit www.wildlife.utah.gov/bow or call (801) 560-9605.
Well hells bells... maybe some of us 6'2 240 pounders should be watchin our step... cause she just might have that .357 in her pocket.
And just what is your tail tucking experience??
If I'm not careful, she's going to end up with a cooler collection than me.
Chicks with shootin' irons ping.
Too new here to figure out how to post pics.....
This one, at the top of the page, is a favorite of mine..
"Boys don't think girls can drive a stick shift or shoot a gun, and it is so cool to surprise them and be different."
What the hell century is this person living in. Check out the NRA, hon.
Girls 'n' guns. Don't get any ideas from the clothes, but keep hinting, and I'm sure Grandad will get you a shotgun. Just remember that he doesn't remember that you asked before.
Either I must belong to the wrong club or they show up when I'm not there. Sigh.
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