Females and Firearms: Let’s Get More Women Into Competitive Shooting

The unfortunate truth is that women are underrepresented in shooting sports. My travels to compete across state lines have landed me at many different kinds of shooting competitions and events: long-distance rifle, run-and-gun, and stand-and-shoot. Paper targets, cardboard targets, steel targets, bowling pins, 3D ballistic targets, moving targets, clay targets, electronic targets, pop-up targets, pop-down targets—there are many things to shoot in competition!

Certainly, there are many specific types of competitions, but I’m trying to stay general in my description. Disappointingly, at many of these events, I am one of a very few females and sometimes I’m the only one! This is curious, because according to the U.S. Census, 50.5% of the United States population is female, and of those females, 22% report owning firearms (compared to 43% of men). So where are all the women in competitive shooting?

Even though the firearms industry is male-dominated, female gun owners are one of the fastest-growing segments of the firearms industry. 40% of all firearms sales in the last two years have been to women. As a result, I would hope that this would also show up in similar demographics at shooting events, but I have not yet found that to be the case.

I am working at a local level to help change that by encouraging a women’s group I co-lead to show up to local events, educating women about what happens at a competition, and explaining the benefits of shooting competitively. During these discussions, I’ve picked up on a few barriers preventing women from competing that I’d like to address.

Barrier One: Don’t I need to be good?

You need to handle your firearms safely and that’s it. As long as you can demonstrate safe gun handling and follow safety protocols of that particular range and event, you can compete.

Woman demonstrating gun safety skills at a range
You need to demonstrate safe gun handling skills.

I feel like there is a belief held by many that they need to obtain some level of proficiency before they are worthy of starting in competitions. This is common in the business world too, and we know this effect from research. Before applying for a new role or promotion, women on average want to be far more certain that they are capable and qualified before they ever apply. Men, on average, are far more likely to over-estimate their own skillsets and apply to roles even if they are only mildly certain they could actually be successful.

While organizations grapple with this effect with a variety of interventions, I see it mirrored in the shooting sports. I see plenty of very well-qualified, extremely competent male shooters, but I also have seen many that, well, aren’t. But they show up, don’t worry about their score, enjoy themselves, and work to get better every time.

Women, take note, just because you don’t feel like you are ready doesn’t mean you can’t try, have fun, and get better over time. And, who knows, you could be surprised by your performance as it’s really fun to show up and score much better than you thought you would!

Barrier Two: The logistical details feel overwhelming.

Depending on the type of event, the “show up and shoot” mentality can be a little hard to get used to. However, that is the mentality new competitors need to adopt. Some events are incredibly well-promoted, with lots of details, clearly explained instructions, and helpful contact information. Other events sometimes simply list the type of match it is, what time it starts, and where to show up. That can be incredibly overwhelming to a beginner. It almost necessitates knowing someone—usually a shooter who already shows up to those events—who can provide additional details.

Remember, if you’ve been attending a match or an event for quite some time, those extraneous details aren’t needed! But, for someone who is trying to evaluate whether or not to attend, not having details available can really derail their plans. It serves as just one more barrier that can keep someone away, without the event staff even intending for this to occur.

If you are interested in the event but just don’t know enough, try to locate someone who can provide additional details. If you are the host of an event, ask yourself—are you doing all you can to bring in new shooters? Or, is it more difficult than it should be?

competitive shooters
Let event staff, and other shooters, help you determine what categories you may qualify to shoot.

Barrier Three: The categories are confusing.

Different events are usually broken into different categories, classes, or other levels. These may be determined by the type of gun, the caliber, if any modifications are present on the gun, the type of shooter you are (novice, intermediate, etc.), and other demographics (female, veteran, or active-duty law enforcement, to name a few).

If you’ve competed for a while, these are usually extremely easy to figure out and navigate the categories, classes, levels, or ranks you are shooting in. But for someone who is new and unfamiliar with different types of firearms, this can be an overwhelming discussion. When encouraging newer competitors to attend events, this may be something you have to help them with—don’t assume they know!

Fortunately, if a new shooter can get to the ‘show up and shoot’ phase, the event staff will be more than happy to help them determine what categories they should be in.

Barrier Four: I’m going to be the worst shooter/scorer.

This is probably true and it’s completely okay! In fact, especially with run-and-gun type matches, just understanding footwork, timing, and rules are enough to make any first-time competitor go slower. It is not unusual at all to experience one of the lowest scores your first time or several times!

Even at a stand-and-shoot event—a type of match where you stand still and shoot at targets under a controlled condition—it is completely normal to get nervous before shooting, be rushed by the timer, or feel unsettled by the unfamiliarity of working at a particular distance or with a different type of target!

Other shooters around you can also speed up your shooting to the point that you are shooting less reliably than you normally would. This is often called contagious fire and is one of the reasons many ranges have a maximum fire rate rule.

All of these are expected effects at an event, which is why it is good to practice. The beauty of this effect is that, with time, it goes away and your performance is likely to improve. I like to encourage newer competitors to remind themselves that they are taking the opportunity to compete against themselves—not others.

Don’t compare yourself to other people, except to take note of their effective techniques. Take your first matches with a focus on going slowly and safely, not worrying about scores.

Meghan Lowery competitive shooter and friend
One way to avoid being the only female is to bring friends!

Barrier Five: Will I be the only female?

Maybe, but consider bringing friends. And if you are the only one, that is fine too. I love to see more women at shooting matches! It’s not that I don’t love hanging out with my dude friends, but it’s kind of boring if I don’t see any other women at the match who are shooting. This is why I actively encourage more women to come! It’s super fun to see women gain confidence in their shooting abilities and get caught up in the excitement.

Some matches draw in more of a female crowd, but not all do. Some competitions offer giveaways based on the number of people in each category, and with enough people those prizes may even include firearms! Let’s get those women-only category numbers up!

I’d love to have more people attend all events, but especially fellow female shooters so we can qualify for those prizes in the women-only categories. Gun giveaways are rare but there are some! Let’s take advantage of this, together.


It is so exciting to me when I see more women at matches. Most of the men I talk to comment about how it’s nice to see women at the events as well, as they recognize that it can be challenging!

If you are a competitive shooter, consider if there are opportunities to meet newer shooters—especially women—who might just need a bit of encouragement to try out competition shooting.

If you are a female competitor, introduce yourself and strike up a conversation with other women. Being inclusive creates more opportunities for all, and also positions you to expand your network and serve as a mentor. Let’s get more women into the shooting sports!

Known as “the eclectic one,” it’s probably easier to tell you what she hasn’t done. Meghan is an accomplished professional, consultant, wife, competitive shooter, researcher, writer, proud Army mother, and instructor. Her day job keeps her quite busy, but in the evenings and weekends, you are likely to find her outside on adventures with her horses, teaching a wide range of firearms classes, hosting shooting events, practicing fine art, and building a weird set of emergency skills that may or may not come in handy someday. There is no question she’s beneficial to have on a trivia team and is likely to be high up on anyone’s zombie survival lists. You can follow her on her Instagram account (@SmackRackandRoll) which is a play on words with firearms but also incorporates her former roller derby moniker from an internationally competitive team.

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