The remarkable rise of girls with guns

It was only 100 years ago when some, but not all, women were first granted the right to vote. Now they are just as likely to be seen shooting clays at the gun club before sitting down to tea and cake.

In this, the 60th anniversary year of The Game Fair, which returns this summer to the familiar surroundings of Ragley Hall from 27-29 July, women are shooting in greater numbers than ever before.

So when the festival of the great British countryside takes place this summer, don’t expect it to be all about men in flat caps and tweed trousers.

It used to be, of course. When The Game Fair began in 1958, Olympic clay shooting was not open to the fairer sex. How things have changed. At the most recent Olympic Games, in Rio two years ago, Team GB’s shooting team was made up of three men and three women.

Women were allowed to take part in Olympic clay shooting team events for the first time in 1967. The first purely women’s events appeared at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and it was only in 1996 that the men’s and women’s programmes were completely separated.

In a more recent but equally significant step forward for gender equality, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board decided in 2017 to replace three men’s events with mixed events.

Away from the competitive, results-driven Olympics, the growth in the number of women shooting for fun across the UK has been remarkable.

One of the first ladies-only shooting clubs was Green Feather. Formed in 1995, it launched at the Holland & Holland shooting school and subsequently triggered the formulation of ‘Covert Girls’, set up by Claire Zambuni. “It gave women the opportunity to learn how to shoot in a supportive and relatively uncompetitive environment without fear of being humiliated,” she explained.

Over the past 20 years more and more ladies-only clubs and ladies-only days have been springing up all over the country. There has been no sign of it slowing down. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) had 1,212 women members in 2011. That figure is now thought to be around the 10,000 mark.

But it is the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club that has perhaps changed the face of the ladies’ shooting scene more than any other. Founded in 2011 by Victoria Knowles-Lacks, who got together with some school friends to do clay shooting followed by tea and cake at the South Worcestershire Shooting Ground, it has gone on to welcome more than ten thousand women at ladies-only events across the UK.

“I’ve made it my mission to make it really easy, affordable and to showcase how social and how much fun shooting is,” she said, acknowledging that the tea and cake formula has worked wonders.

They’re certainly not all country ladies with a gun on their shoulder. Members are now as likely to be students and nurses as they are lawyers and accountants.

Lydia Abdelaoui, who started the Femmes Fatales women’s shooting group, explained: “It’s not farmers and the gentry, it’s just normal people from all different backgrounds. We try to get away from the misconception that people have about shooters and to make it a bit more feminine and up to date.”

Alexandra Henton, deputy editor of The Field magazine commented: “There have always been talented lady guns (take Annie Oakley) but the last decade or so has definitely seen more women take to the shooting field. The shooting schools have played a large part in this, particularly getting women into the line on a game day, and the newer ladies shooting clubs have encouraged a great take up of clay sport, which I believe is the perfect starter for a nascent game shot.”

She continued: “I’m a passionate supporter of encouraging more women on to the shooting and sporting field and to do that, one needs a good example. The Sporting Dianas column I started in The Field is a distillation of this belief, I suggest picking up a copy of The Field and discovering just what the possibilities are. It’s not about just looking pretty on the peg or on social media but getting your hands dirty and realising that’s where the fun lies. There is no limit to the fun and adventure that can be had in our world.”

Isabel Bontoft who works in the marketing department of the family run business, the Hull Cartridge Company, also added: “We have seen a huge surge in lady shots over recent years. This can only be helped by organisations such as Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club who do a great deal to support ladies entering our sport. Our range is focused towards minimising recoil without compromising performance, making it the perfect ladies choice. We anticipate lady guns will continue to increase and we will support this, why should men have all the fun!”

So ladies, as we look forward to the 60th anniversary of The Game Fair this year, get your guns up.