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An Interesting Take on Women & Shooting

I don’t really know how to describe this piece in a British magazine about a woman who gives shooting a try. I suspect my questions are more directly related to cultural clashes than anything. It’s obvious that in light of current laws, our shooting culture is radically different than that of Great Britain. So there’s the element of knowing she’s probably not trying shooting sports that would really catch her fancy, but there’s also more of an economic disparity in the shooting culture.

I don’t know, it’s just interesting.

The before perspective:

When I was asked recently whether I wanted to go shooting, I felt torn. It’s clearly very fashionable at the moment, as Charles Moore’s story about Cherie Blair and Lord Mandelson at the Rothschilds shows. But shooting is unutterably bloody, if you’re a woman.

It starts with a long drive to a big house, encumbered by a vast array of boots, hats, gloves, jackets and thermal underwear, as well as sparkly evening outfits. You spend the night carousing, and in the morning the men – henceforth to be referred to only as ‘guns’ – wake early and pad about in heavy, Scott-of-the-Antarctic tweeds that smell of gun oil, reeking breeks, and long, gartered woollen socks in amusing colours.

A massive cooked breakfast is underway.

The guns’ gossipy wives are wearing tight cashmere sweaters and showing off their bottoms in Austrian leather britches, and reading Richard Kay in the Daily Mail.

After brekker, everyone – i. e. guns, women in britches, dogs – totters out via the gun-room and gents’ and forms up in front of a selection of mud-spattered offroaders that wouldn’t look out of place in Baghdad’s Green Zone. They listen to the head keeper’s announcements about not shooting ground game or each other, and the guns are handed their peg numbers.

They all pile into the Land-Rovers and Subarus, etc, to sit packed like sardines with wildly aroused dogs who nuzzle crotches and try to get to second base with everyone on board. You want to faint from the combined odours of old Barbours, coffee breath and dog. You wonder what on earth you are doing there. The chatting, the flirting, the delicious meals, the dressing up, the hours on the M3 already seem like a distant, Vaseline-tinted dream. For it is now that the misery truly begins.

‘Shooting is hellish, I haven’t for years, ‘ says Emma Soames, echoing David Cameron’s careful line that he hasn’t shot for ages and has no plans to do so again. ‘It’s brain-numbingly cold, ear-splittingly noisy, and bone-crunchingly dull. And worst of all, you can’t even walk, you have to just stand there.’

That’s my objection, too. It’s so boring and cold. After bumping along to the first drive, you have to stand in squelching mud by your gun while he fires at the birds and swears.

You are only allowed to open your mouth to say ‘good shot’ when he hits a pheasant, after which it plunges to the ground hard by, twitching in its death throes. Your teeth chatter and you wish that you’d worn the down anorak even though it makes you look like an enormous chalet girl and you remember too late Nancy Mitford’s advice on surviving point-to-points, published in the Lady, which was: ‘Nobody will notice what you are wearing: they will be feeling far too wretched themselves to think of that.’

You long for the quad bike to arrive with elevenses of grouse soup and fruitcake, and possibly a pistol so you can quietly go off into a culvert and shoot yourself. None of the guns would even notice. They’re too grimly focused on the important business of blasting as many birds out of the sky as they can. After a hearty elevenses, it’s back to freezing mud and raining pheasants till lunch, which is always a big beef stew, lots of claret, followed by crumble. Everyone drinks and goes red in the face until the head keeper lurks in the doorway.

Then she explains that a movie producer invited her to learn to shoot. She claims that it is the stylish thing to do in upper crust circles since it is much more like golf with a shotgun for networking, so of course she jumped at the chance.

So I said yes, please, and so on the appointed day I was picked up in a Bentley (thanks, Bentley – the letter’s on its way) and conveyed to the 100-acre Holland & Holland shooting ground, with its landscaped grounds, and uniformed staff serving bacon baps and coffee. It became instantly apparent that Willie was right. Shooting has indeed become ‘wildly glamorous’. The place was thick on the ground with models, film-makers, designers, the glossy posse and the titled heads of Europe. It was like Studio 54, only with flat caps and Purdeys.

Soon after arrival, I was introduced to a tall, dark, handsome man who was strapping a shoulder pad on, to protect himself from the recoil of the gun. I made an admiring noise, at which he gallantly reached down and handed me his spare. ‘Are you sure?’

I stammered. ‘It will be even more valuable to me after you’ve worn it, ‘ he insisted with heavy gallantry. I later found out it was Prince Nikolaos of Greece.

Wow. A prince gave her a spare recoil pad. I guess I’ll have to be happy with my on-the-bra version of a Past recoil pad bought off of Amazon.

As for the actual sport – piece of cake!

Basically, anyone who can see and move their arms and fingers can do it. With steady Mike Colwell at my side, I felt like the shooter in the Day of the Jackal: eagle-eyed, poised, hair-triggerish. The thought even crossed my mind, as I smashed clays, that if my husband is kindly invited to Exmoor and Gloucestershire and Scotland to shoot again, then I could have a crack too.

And this, of course, would solve the problem of female shooting misery at a stroke, those hours of standing motionless in driving rain with nothing to do between meals while the gun blasts away happily. And yet, and yet.

Could I really? I enjoy shooting clays. But could I really kill warm feathery things just or pleasure? Yes, happiness is a warm gun but being able to feel your extremities is fun too.

I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see.

So in one trip, she’s a convert to shooting as a sport, and possibly to hunting. That’s pretty damn impressive.

The last time I took a European student to shoot, she was also an immediate convert on the sporting side of it. We never really discussed the other issues like right to self-defense and the right of individuals to own and have access to firearms, but I got the impression she was either already with me on those. She was extremely independent and eventually got involved in smaller government groups. Of course, when I did an interview with a European reporter, she was absolutely appalled by the story. She was convinced that I somehow corrupted the poor little French girl with my crazy American attitudes and our wild, gun slinging ways. I just smiled. :)

7 Responses to “An Interesting Take on Women & Shooting”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Of course you corrupted her. That’s what we crazy gun slinging Americans do.

  2. Jeff says:

    Converting a non-gunner to any aspect of the sport is the business we should all be in. It doesn’t matter yet if she’s not discussing self defense; getting folks past the “all gunners are nuts” is the biggest step.

    For a good visual of this story, see the Agatha Christie’s Poirot episode, The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge. English hunting sure is different from American…

  3. Bitter says:

    I agree, Jeff. Some people look down on baby steps, but that usually has the best track record of gaining supporters.

    As for the difference in hunting, I’ve heard that, too. To some degree, I wonder how much of that is based on the classes who are attracted to the sports.

  4. Heather from AK says:

    I am newly “corrupted” myself. While I’m not European, I grew up in Connecticut. Needless to say, I knew nothing about guns.

    I admit to being incredibly unnerved the first time my deployed husband sent me a picture of him in full gear displaying several firearms.

    I was even more unnerved when days later all he was talking about was guns and how he wanted to buy some when he got home. Guns? In my home?

    So I read some stuff I found on my own, and some stuff he sent me. And eventually, while he was still gone, I took a Ladies-only handgun course. And that just sealed the deal. In fact, I bought my first gun before he did!

  5. Matthew Carberry says:

    In a moment of statistical rarity, I met a British doctor last July up here in Anchorage who was also a champion clays shooter.

    She’s a climber and general adventuress so I suppose that skews the odds, but it was interesting to talk shooting with a Brit who actually knew more than I did about the sport (not that that’s tough, not a clays guy).

  6. And this is why I love hunting in America. I met a woman here in Northern California who hunts only abroad, never on her own turf (which, despite the politics, is rich with delicious game). When she described the driven pheasant hunts, how tired her shoulder was after downing 100 birds that were driven into her face, how her gun guy (whatever they call them), just said, “Reload, ma’am,” I knew I would never be interested in that kind of hunt.

    But it’s good to know that such a hunt can stlll attract people. Wouldn’t it be great to get that woman to America?

  7. Brad says:

    I think the story says a lot about the nature of British society.

    Isn’t it interesting how even though the anti-gun crazies have destroyed British civil gun culture even to the point of driving Olympic pistol shooting offshore, the upper classes still get to have their fill of gun fun. The in thing to do, like Studio 54! No doubt the rarity and exclusivity of the sport adding to it’s upper class cachet. How very European, and how very appalling.

    Thank God I’m an American.

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