“What is it like being a female in a predominately male sport?”
Man, I’m asked that question a lot. Every interview, every dinner party, at a new job, a business conference, and even by my hairdresser! Perhaps I just had a really supportive local club when I started out because I’ve never noticed that there was a difference. I’ll admit that the first club match I shot was pretty nerve wracking. I was super new, had zero experience with firearms and a rifle I’d only learned the basics of how to use the day before. I will say that my inexperience ended up being more of a blessing than a curse for me because I had no knowledge of how intimidating this sport could be to some. This is probably where I should share a little of my back-story for those of you who haven’t heard it 100 times already?
In February 2009, the Arizona Long Range Precision Rifle Shooters (my local club) held a national level match in Phoenix. My brother-in-law, Scott, was the match director. This match would later be known as the Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge (TPRC). I’d watched my husband shoot competitively in several other shooting sports (3Gun, IPSC, IDPA, etc.) and had balked any time he mentioned getting me involved in competing. “Too fast,” I said. “And there are too many things to be proficient at.” So he let it go.
Anyway, I’d broken my right wrist a few weeks before TPRC, so I was planning on being a spectator when I decided to go watch this “sniper rifle match” (hey, I was new to shooting! I had no idea about the nomenclature at the time). Tim threw me on a scoreboard and told me to write down any hits that were called out. Okay. Simple enough, right? Until someone had to go to the bathroom and they threw me on a spotting scope. Remember I said I was really new, right? I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to be looking for through the scope. Tim pointed out the steel target set up on the side of the hillside. I looked through the spotting scope at the target that I could barely see with my naked eye and it looked huge. I mean, HUGE. I looked over the top of the scope, back into the scope, back over the top and asked Tim, “waaaaay over there???”
He laughed at me and said, “well, yeah. It’s not that far. It’s only about 400 yards.” I was floored. I couldn’t believe these guys could possibly hit something four whole football fields away. I find my naiveté amusing now, but I sure do remember how impressed I was that these guys were shooting targets that far and hitting them!
It took another 8 months before we bought my first rifle; a used left-handed .223 Remington 700 in an HS Precision stock. Tim put a spare scope on it, took me to the range, talked me through getting a zero (which really means he did the work and I tried to understand what he was talking about), and then ran me through a few drills to work on basics. After about 4 hours, he told me I was going to shoot the club’s monthly match the next morning. Say WHAT!?!?!
So, I’ve basically been in competitions since I started shooting. November 2009 was my first match and I think I finished in 5th or 6th place. However, all I had to do at that first match was point the rifle at the target and pull the trigger because Tim dialed the scope for me and told me what to do on every stage. It’s good to have a great coach like that when you’re learning something so new and completely outside of your comfort zone. Especially when all the information sort of sounds like it’s coming from Charlie Brown’s teacher!
At the next monthly match, all the same guys from the month before showed up to compete, but something weird happened. A couple of the guys I’d somehow beaten walked up to the line with their rifles and gear, saw me, and decided they just wanted to spot and help out instead of shoot. The month after that, those guys quit showing up. Thankfully a majority of the guys in the club weren’t scared of being beat by a woman once in a while and they’ve become my own little dysfunctional extended family. They used to watch their language and sarcasm around me too. That totally doesn’t happen anymore!
The tactical precision rifle sport has grown tremendously in the last few years. Much like other shooting sports and firearms in general, it’s grown where ladies are concerned. When I started shooting there were only a handful of women actively competing, and I was one of two who consistently shot national level events rather than just local club level matches. Now there are somewhere around 25 ladies shooting on national level circuits including the Precision Rifle Series.
Match directors won’t always recognize a top female at their event but our numbers haven’t exactly supported having a specific award just for us… yet. Personally, I don’t really care about a top female award. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take the High/Top Lady awards any chance I get, but that ain’t my goal. I want another top five, or even better: a 1st place trophy! Perhaps I haven’t noticed a difference because other competitors and match staff have always treated me like I’m one of them: a competitor. I can’t remember a single time when anyone at a match treated me differently than they treated each other. So what’s it like being a female in a predominately male sport? My answer is this: it’s not any different than I suppose it would be for a guy.