It won’t come as a surprise to most that the shooting world is not quite as all-inclusive as one might hope – to me though, it was. My mother was a keen shot in her younger years, shooting a twelve bore quite possibly larger than herself, and I have grown up surrounded by women involved and successful within the industry. Working at Holland & Holland I’ve met hundreds, possibly thousands, of ladies who have decided to take up the sport, as individuals on lessons or as part of corporate groups and so the notion of negative attitudes towards female guns is an alien one to me.
The traditional nature of the sport has led to generations of men in the field with fathers and sons bonding over barrels whilst women have largely been side-lined from the action. Typically invited as guests of shooting parties, few lucky enough to partake in the fun themselves, women have never been common in the line. That’s not to say that they are or have ever been banned or discouraged from the field necessarily, the industry boasts many seasoned and successful ladies, just that for the most part their roles have been less involved.
Modern opinions of women in the field tend to be positive and anti-women shooting attitudes rare. The ratio of male to female shooters is, of course, still hideously outbalanced but no longer I think from a lack of encouragement. In fact, sexism in the field these days tends to be limited to thoughtless boyish comments not meant to offend rather than overtly offensive statements or behaviours. You’re far more likely to hear a dumbfounded ‘outshot by a girl’ than a scoffed ‘women can’t shoot.’
“Get out there, enjoy the sport
and be prepared to have a lot of fun.”
Steve Denny, director of operations at Holland & Holland, suggests that a shift in societal views as well as the access to training has led to an increase in numbers of female shooters over the past ten years especially. The efforts of the company have really helped to diversify the sport; as shooting has become accessible to a greater variety of people from a wider range of backgrounds the sport has evolved, and so too have the attitudes of those partaking in it.
One thing I have noticed at the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds is the attitude towards young girls learning to shoot. I’ve easily seen as many out with their fathers as boys, and often they seem as eager if not more so than their male counterparts – perhaps because shooting is a much more exhilarating hobby to engage in than typically female pursuits. The Young Shots Mornings practice equality in the field, teaming children up based on height, strength and age rather than gender and it is refreshing to see boys and girls alike comparing clays and sharing in each other’s victories.
Chrissie Alexander-Davis, known for her long standing representation of the British team and famed for her competitive success in gun down disciplines, has been a freelance instructor for Holland & Holland for 30 years. Discovering a local clay club whilst walking her dogs, Chrissie’s immersion into the shooting world was rapid and complete. She herself learned at Holland & Holland and confides that it was the gentle and encouraging attitude of her instructor that kept her coming back, an opinion shared by many ladies today.
“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that women shouldn’t be able to enjoy the sport”
The extra input from an instructor at the beginning of a woman’s journey into shooting is important, she tells me. If handed a gun with no real direction or experience the ratio of hits to misses is likely to dissuade them from the sport when actually, a little advice goes a long way. Learning about eye dominance, for example, could change the game for a lady who’s found her success to be inconsistent or, perhaps, illusive.
Heading off to a shoot this month herself which boasts five ladies in the line, Chrissie admits that she has personally found male attitudes to be generous and encouraging in the field. The best way to tackle shooting for any lady, she tells me, is to “get out there, enjoy the sport and be prepared to have a lot of fun.” Most men are thrilled to see a lady in the line and share in their success, an encouraging thought for any woman a little nervous about their first shoot.
Chrissie tells me that shooting afforded her the opportunity to do incredibly exciting things and meet likeminded people who would become her great friends. I think perhaps that’s the most common thing I hear from ladies when asked about their feelings on the matter. Shooting is about more than just the sport, which is of course great fun in itself, but also about meeting people and sharing in a complete experience.
That’s what’s so great about all of the courses offered at Holland & Holland: not only is it a place where young girls and women are encouraged to pursue the sport, but also one that caters to all ranges of experience. Young girls going beating, loading or on their first shoot, women eager to join family or friends in the field or ladies looking for a fun new hobby that pushes their boundaries. The Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds has something to offer everyone and often at heavily subsidised rates.
2015 marked the twenty year anniversary of Holland & Holland Green and Silver Feather courses. The first of their kind designed specifically to immerse women into the world of shooting. Having been given the opportunity to partake in one myself last year, I really can’t sing their praises enough. What distinguishes them from the competition is the experience the company has in teaching women to shoot- the years of honing not only the teaching techniques used by the instructors but also the tips and tricks that really work for women in the field. On top of all of that they offer a way in to the industry by hosting a competition for all participants with the chance to win a peg on a ‘ladies day’ game shoot.
Chief Instructor, Chris Bird believes that a positive first experience is imperative for ladies learning to shoot- and that starts with a gun that fits correctly and comfortably. Guns chosen for lessons need to be as suited in strength and proportions to women as they are men, recoil sensitivity and often nerves mean that the fit of firearm is crucial for that first lesson. This is perhaps where Holland & Holland is truly set apart from the rest. With the advantage of a comprehensive gun room there is a firearm to fit every man, woman and child of all varying shapes and sizes.
Chris stresses that there is “absolutely no reason whatsoever that women shouldn’t be able to enjoy the sport” and acknowledges that women “learn with a style and elegance which leads to results.” Women are just as capable in the field and, with cartridge performance so improved, there is really no reason why they can’t be as successful as men. In fact, many men are opting to use 20 bores, opening up a much more level playing field. The defining feature of a good shot is in no means gender but instead attitude.
Arguably the biggest hurdle on a ladies’ journey to the field isn’t learning to shoot well but instead making the leap from clays to live birds. Finding a place on a shoot is hard for anyone with no personal contacts in the industry, let alone women, especially if a syndicate is a stretch on the purse strings. Holland & Holland’s courses aim to bridge that gap, introducing ladies to like-minded individuals and giving everyone the opportunity to make those necessary connections. It’s not only the ladies packages that do so, the Pheasant Sharpener, for example, offers the same. It’s a necessary step in the right direction for those struggling to get a wellington in the door.
There are certain aspects of shooting that are more suited to men than women, namely being able to relieve oneself between drives without coming face to face with a nosy Labrador hurtling through the brush. That being said, the industry is definitely heading in a promising direction in terms of ladies and (hopefully) amenities. From here onwards the numbers of women in the ranks are only going to increase, a fact welcomed by most and encouraged by good quality, value for money courses like the Feathers.
For anybody learning to shoot, especially women, I would encourage them to take a look at the various courses offered at Holland & Holland. Tried and tested packages and days are available throughout the year and cater to everyone. Designed by Steve Denny- who himself boasts over forty years in the industry as an instructor and director of business- they focus on what really matters when learning to shoot: safety, technique and enjoyment. For me at least, it’s worth it for the experience, not to mention the friendly faces and cup of coffee at the end of a cold sessions shoot!