It has traditionally been seen as a man’s game, enjoyed by country types wearing flat caps and tweed. But the number of women taking up shooting – particularly clay pigeon shooting – is on the rise. Why?
Growing up in Berkshire, Danielle Brown’s only experience of the countryside was “seeing it on the television”.
“I was a right town girl,” she said. “Went to a comprehensive, mum on her own, didn’t have much money, never thought about country pursuits.”
It was when she moved to Herefordshire with her husband that she was introduced to shooting by a neighbour. After a bit of investigating she came across the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club – a group holding events specifically for women – and she was hooked.
“I just loved it, that feeling when you shoot a clay, a moving target in the sky. I wanted to do it again.”
The club is one of a number of groups attracting an increasing number of women to shoot, and building a new image for the sport.
Gone are the days of shooting being just a pursuit for country folk; members are now as likely to be students and shop assistants as they are bankers and lawyers.
And numbers of female shooters are rising.
Figures show the number of women joining the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) each year has risen a third over the past four years.
The association welcomed 1,212 women in 2011, compared with 1,603 in 2015, and now has almost 10,000 female members.
Femmes Fatales aims to “challenge the misconception that shooting is a man’s game”. Participants are more likely to don sportswear than reflect the “Downton Abbey and farmers in tweed look”, says founder Lydia Abdelaoui.
Miss Abdelaoui, 33, works in the shooting industry for an ammunition manufacturer, but only took up the sport three years ago.
“It never really appealed to me that much until I went with a group of women,” she said.
“I had been before, but it was just a bit dull, I find men are really competitive. We had such a laugh and got to talk about doing things to attract more women and that’s where the idea of Femmes Fatales came about.”
The group started out on social media and has built up a “community” of about 7,000 women.
“It’s not farmers and the gentry, it’s just normal people from all different backgrounds who are just serious about the sport,” says Miss Abdelaoui.
“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.
“I had a Twitter exchange with a guy and he called us ‘privileged women’ and he suggested that women that shoot are all ‘ladies that lunch’ that don’t have jobs – nothing could be further from the truth. Everybody works hard and we shoot at weekends.”
At the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, women meet for shooting followed by tea and cake.
It was founded by Victoria Knowles-Lacks who, while learning to shoot with her uncle, saw there was a “major lack” of women shooting.
“I’d see wives and daughters being dragged round clay grounds press buttons on clay traps for their husbands and I just thought the shooting industry is missing a trick,” said the 33-year-old from Shropshire.
When Mrs Knowles-Lacks took four female friends who “weren’t overly keen” to a group shooting lesson, she baked a cake to “soften” the day.
And the winning combination of clays and cake was born.
“We shot in a small group under instruction, then we had tea and cake. The format has stayed the same since that very first day.
“I’ve made it my mission to make it really easy, affordable and to showcase how social and how much fun shooting is,” she added.
It is the social side of the club that Mrs Brown, 38, says has “transformed” her life.
“I don’t have children so I didn’t have any natural way of making my own friends, I didn’t have any hobbies but all of a sudden I went to those clubs and met these lovely ladies.”
The financial controller now practises once or twice a week and competes a couple of times a month.
While she admits her hobby is expensive, she says there are many routes into it, such as hen parties, and it’s not just for the well off – she herself makes sacrifices to fund her passion.
“I don’t go clothes shopping any more, I buy shotgun cartridges instead.”
The profile of the sport is giving women shooters “visibility” for the first time, added Mrs Knowles-Lacks.
“When we started the club back in 2011 there was literally nothing for female shooters. You’d see a few ladies at clay shoots or in the kitchen on game shoots, but there weren’t really any opportunities.
“It’s definitely reaching people who wouldn’t really have considered trying the sport before.”