About 15 percent of the 1.2 million hunters in Texas are women.
Nationwide the percentage is anywhere from 11 to 16 percent of about 16 million overall hunters, depending on what survey you read.
Even more telling is the recent surge of women hunters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of women hunters increased 25 percent between 2006 and 2011. It had previously been stagnate for the 10 years prior.
The truth, however, is that hunting is still a man’s world. That is especially the case when it comes to hunting gear. There are a few manufacturers making hunting clothes for women, but probably not enough when you consider there are between 1.6 and 2 million women hunters nationwide.
When it comes to the most important item of a hunt, a gun, women aren’t given a lot of respect.
“Women have been mistreated for years,” said Steve Brown, a shooting instructor and owner of Prairie Creek Ranch, about the options for women hunters.
Dove hunting, the first season of the year, is often the gateway into hunting for women, and that means their first gun is likely to be a shotgun.
Mark McBride of Mac’s Gun Shop in Tyler said most of the women customers he works with start with a 20-gauge shotgun.
“If they go with a new gun most go with a youth model. If they go with a used gun they will have it cut down, but some women, if they are 5-foot-6 or 5-7 they can go with a full-sized gun.”
McBride said if the gun is going to be shared between a woman and a child, they will often buy a pump shotgun. If it is for the woman only they often go with a semi-automatic.
Today a 20-gauge shotgun is more versatile than its predecessors because they are capable of handling 2 ¾-inch shells for upland birds or skeet. There is enough options in loads that make a 20-gauge as effective as a 12-gauge without the weight or kick.
For those wanting to hunt ducks or wild turkeys most of the guns made in the last 20 years can also take 3-inch shells.
However Brown warns that unless it is a heavyweight shotgun like the old Remington 1100s, women may actually find that a 12-gauge shotgun cut to size kicks less than most 20 gauges.
“When you compare apples to apples, if you shoot a 7/8-ounce load through a 20 gauge and a 7/8-ounce load through a 12 gauge, the 20 gauge always kicks more because it is lighter and you are shooting the same weight out of a smaller hole. It is physics,” said Brown, whose shooting club is located between Tyler and Longview.
The trade off is women may find the heavier 12 gauge harder to shoulder quickly in a hunting situation.
Having instructed more than 2,000 women in shotgun sports over the past 21 years, Brown said he generally finds that neither youth guns nor regular shotguns off the rack will fit a woman.
He is especially leery of the youth models because of their light weight, and recommends women start with a regular sized gun and have it custom fit.
“When I get a woman that comes in with her husband’s or son’s shotgun the length of pull is too long for her. That doesn’t allow them to stand with the weight on their forward foot which makes the gun not fit in their shoulder properly,” Brown said. The result, he added, is going to be bruising and chafing of the shoulder.
Gun experts explain that most shotguns are made for someone who stands about 5-9, has a 33-inch arm length and wears a 40 regular. For that reason Brown said he has occasionally seen a woman be able to use a gun straight off the rack.
In most cases, especially with competition guns that come with longer stocks, he has to cut as much as four inches off the stock for a proper fit. Of course the gun is refitted with a good recoil reducing kick pad. Fitting, cutting the stock and installation of a pad is a service Brown offers at Prairie Creek for $85.
Brown said there also needs to be thought put into barrel length as well as stock length. For hunting he said a woman’s gun should have a 24- or 26-inch barrel, with 26 inch being the best all-around option.
He also believes gas-driven recoil systems provide less kick in semi-automatic shotguns than the currently popular inertia driven models.
Just like the clothing industry, eventually gun manufacturers will also realize the growing demand and buying power of the women’s market.
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