Ladies' shooting – The American way
Back in November, my very good friend Claire Sadler and I went to the States to meet some of our American members. This invite came about (as the best invites do) after three bottles of Champagne in a quiet hotel in Surrey last June. We were celebrating the success of our National Ladies’ Shooting Day (#NLSD2016) initiative with the wonderful Barbara Baird, an American Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club (S&CBC) member who came all the way from Missouri to take part in our event. Babs, as we like to call her, is definitely our kind of girl. She’s kind, funny and works bloody hard. She’s reached incredible levels of success with her Women’s Outdoor News website. So when Babs invited us over to the States, we knew we had to go – even after the hangovers had subsided!
On landing in the US, we were met by Babs’ managing editor and S&CBC member Princess Gunslinger (aka Michelle Cerino). A serious Downton fan and competitive Shot, this woman is not only hilariously funny, but she has the best faux English accent, and lives and breathes shooting and hunting. We knew instantly that we’d get on.
Apart from the baking heat and oversized pick-up trucks, one of the first things that struck me in America was the realisation that almost everyone has a gun. Indeed, Michelle’s pretty handbag actually turned out to be her concealed carry bag. My initial thought was ‘Gosh, you’re armed?!’, but we soon got used to it; handguns in the centre-consoles of cars quickly became the norm; whilst there we were determined to embrace their customs.
As customs go, Dallas is all about going hard or going home. And bling. The Queen of Texas bling is Judy Rhodes, a prolific hunter and Shot who is known to many game Shots in the UK. She shoots pheasants over here and hunts all around the world. She’s my new hero. She’s loud, she’s proud and she’s the epitome of Dallas. Like Babs and Michelle, she’s made huge waves by introducing women to shooting with her ladies’ shooting club called ‘Diva WOW’. Wow is a good word to describe her and her divas! Upon meeting Judy, she politely pointed out that we looked a bit plain (note: Claire and I had made an effort with best shirts, blazers, jeans and silk neck scarves). She duly took us to get kitted out with rhinestone belts, cowboy hats, boot straps and earrings. We went all-out Dallas style!
The first shots we fired on the other side of the Atlantic were at the rather exclusive Dallas Gun Club, a firm favourite with UK Shots when in Texas (I lost track of the number of times I was asked if I knew George Digweed...). Babs flew down from Missouri to be with us, which was such a treat. We shot clays with leopard print semi-autos and had the kind of girls’ banter that might make anyone blush. Dallas was our warmup before heading on over to Kansas to take part in the Governor’s Ringneck Classic, a two-day hunt for pheasants and prairie chickens which Babs had kindly arranged for us.
We shot clays, made new friends and ate Mexican food. Nights were spent drinking margaritas, discussing aspirations, achievements and lots of raucous girly banter. When in Rome…
We were sad to leave our new friends, but more fun awaited with Michelle in Kansas at the hunt, followed by some serious R&R, and then machine gun and pistol shooting with Babs over in Missouri.
The Governor of Kansas is all you would hope a governor to be. He is amenable, approachable, loves hunting, and loves his State. I think it’s fair to say Claire and I made an impression. When he invited me to the lectern at dinner to talk to the 100 or so guests about driven shooting in the UK, there were gasps of amazement as I explained how we often shoot 200–300-bird days, don’t wear Day-Glo orange, and regularly enjoy a good Sloegasm.
America is a big, ballsy place where so many things are done differently to back home in the UK, but it was a pleasure to note the similarities. There’s chivalry, good-hearted sportswomanship and a sense of pride surrounding their sport. And, most importantly, their respect for quarry and ethics is of the highest order.
I was eager to try pheasant hunting whilst there, which is done walked-up. The pheasants are truly wild and there are no keepers, feeders or rearing pens – just wide open space and lots of cover. It was interesting to hear how they view pheasants as incredibly wily birds that are tricky to shoot. In contrast to the UK, you can buy a permit and hunt over State land whenever you so fancy! Still, millions of dollars and (wo)man hours are invested in conservation and habitat management.
What really touched me was the wonderful welcome we had, and the genuine sincerity and respect we were shown – not only from Babs, Michelle and Judy, but from all of the other hunters we met, too. Women’s shooting is on the rise in America, just as it is in the UK. I’ll never forget my trip to meet these amazing ladies and their friends, and I can’t wait to hold our first S&CBC Stateside event there this June!