How Annie Got Her Gun

Shooting ain't just for the boys.

When I was growing up, the boys in high school would return victoriously from sighting in their guns and I would hear things like, “308 BR549 Roger 4 Clicks MRAD Over.” I had no idea what they were talking about, but was pretty sure the language of guns was the language of men, and men alone. Then I met my husband-to-be.

It started innocently enough. He cooked me a romantic breakfast, and right in the middle of my eggs and bacon, asked if I liked shooting guns. I gulped hard, stared at my bacon, and prayed for a small earthquake to distract us. I may be a farmer’s daughter, but couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. I spent most hunting seasons on the ranch granting permission to others, or pulling vehicles out of poor-judgment situations. In high school and college, I survived conversations about target practice by using the Smile ‘n’ Nod technique, or changing the subject.

Before I knew it, I was hunkered behind a small Remington .22 bolt-action rifle, and my future husband (whom I later discovered was a 4H Shooting Sports coach), began asking me a lot of questions. He noted that while I was right-handed, I was left-eye dominant. This meant that looking through a scope with my weak eye resulted in tilting my head at awkward angles just to see the target. So I learned to shoot left-handed. We modified a rifle stock to fit me, not a lanky 25-year-old man. I was hooked.

It’s funny how target practice is a lot more fun when you actually hit things. Tin cans fell right and left. Next we moved to paper targets and bigger calibers at 100 yards. Then 200 yards. Then steel targets at 500 yards and wedding rings six months after that. That first .22 evolved into a multitude of guns on my side of the cabinet and my husband and I now co-own a custom rifle shop with another couple. I love every minute of it.

 Pulling the trigger while aiming at a target is a simple, uncluttered act. The quiet moment when you breathe, organize your thoughts, then squeeze the trigger, is pure gold. It’s every training effort summarized into a few short seconds. You don’t have to talk about powders, bullet drops, or first-focal-plane scopes to successfully fire rounds downrange. You don’t have to be an expert.

Women are the fastest growing demographic in the gun industry. Four years ago, I competed in my first steel-target match and had the uncomfortable notoriety of being the only female out of 60 shooters. Since then, multiple females (wives, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, and friends) have joined the men on that firing line. Firearm companies are realizing that our arm spans are shorter, our frames are smaller, and “shrink it and pink it” isn’t the only way to define a female-oriented firearm.

Check out these five tips to ease your way into shooting confidently alongside the boys:

Check your eye dominance
Have a partner hand you a paper towel tube. Look through the tube, focusing on your partner. The eye you use is most often your dominant eye.

Size the gun for your physique
The distance from the butt end of the gun (which should fit into your shoulder) to the trigger is called Length of Pull (LOP). With your elbow bent at 90 degrees, measure from the bend in your arm to the first pad on your index finger. This gives you an initial LOP and adjustments can be made from there.

Practice makes (closer to) perfect
Don’t spend your time figuring out caliber differences and powder loads in the beginning. Use that energy to learn the basic principles of marksmanship.

Ask questions
There are no awards for people who refuse to ask for help. Your vocabulary and knowledge will increase in proportion to your interest level in the sport.

Don’t overspend
Like many sports, shooting can be pricey. You don’t need fancy-schmancy gear to get started—check in with your local shop or shooting range to learn about the basics. Don’t overlook used gear either, but always be sure to have firearms and gear (used or new) checked out by an experienced individual or professional.

Anne L. Miller is co-owner of Sage Flats Shooter, a Montana-based company specializing in precision rifles for hunting and competitions. Dates with her husband have included shooting out of boats and helicopters.