Break in service

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The reason for a complete lack of offering (other than Thought For The Day) today is because I went shooting.

I was invited to go clay pigeon shooting for the first time back in February, and I was a bit ambivalent about it but decided to go. After all, how bad could it be? I wasn’t going with a bunch of really keen shooters, just some guys (a couple of whom were female) who got together a few times a year to do a fun 50-clay shoot at a local gun club shooting ground. So if I didn’t hit anything all day it wouldn’t be too embarrassing.

It’s what I now know to be ‘sporting’ shooting, where the clays are set up to imitate real-life shots, as well as you can with a little frisbee-thing, usually black but sometimes fluorescent orange or green.

The instructor started me off on a 20-bore shotgun (girly gun… OK, not only used by girls, but the majority of shooters use a 12-bore and the lighter guns are mostly used by people who can’t cope with the weight and recoil of the 12-bore).

To my surprise – and I think to his surprise – I hit some clays. This was fun!

And after lunch, he swapped me over to one of the 12-bore guns (there was a feeling of having been promoted to a ‘real’ gun, having proved that I wasn’t a complete danger to shipping and that I was man enough to cope with a man’s gun). And I broke some more clays.

At the end of the day, the instructor I’d been with and the other instructor (who is also the gun club secretary) gave me the ‘hard sell’. Having done so well to start with, it would be a pity not to carry on… the club needed more women shooters… etc.

Well, I’m a club member now. Still haven’t got a gun of my own – I’m still borrowing – the delay in getting a shotgun certificate issued has to be seen to be believed. It’s quite strange hearing how easy it is to buy a gun in some places, such as the USA – I applied for my certificate in spring and I’m still waiting.

I’m really enjoying it. I’ve improved since that first time, but I’ve still got a long way to go. And, indeed, they do need more female shooters. I think on at least one shoot, I’ve been the only female out of nearly a hundred people; there are never more than four or five women. Most people are also older than I am, although there are some parents who come with their sons.

Why don’t women shoot? I think there are several reasons.

Firstly, there is the perception that shooting is a male sport. I think it comes from the days when the men went out shooting and the ladies stayed at home and did embroidery – you just watch the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. You don’t see Lizzie or Jane – or even the hoydenish Lydia – out with a gun. Although I personally would not have trusted Lydia with any kind of firearm. And it is a very male-dominated sport. Of course, it will continue to be so until more women start taking part. And that’s not to say that women are not wanted – and least in my club, they most certainly are.

Secondly, there is a perception that you have to be strong to shoot. This is complete rubbish. I’m 5’3″ (about 1.6m, for those who think in metric) and a size 8 (US size 4). OK, I have decent upper-body strength, but I’m no Amazon. And I’ve never noticed the recoil from the gun. Maybe I’m just unobservant. But if you can’t cope with a 12-bore, you can use a 20-bore, which is quite adequate for clay-shooting, or even a 28-bore, which has even less recoil. Children shoot, so there’s no reason why a grown woman shouldn’t shoot.

Thirdly, it’s just unladylike. You know, making loud noises and breaking things. What would people say? I know exactly what my mother would say. And indeed does say. There’s this kind of puzzled, bewildered silence: how could she have gone so wrong as a mother as to have given birth to a daughter who likes shooting? The fact that I am also good at needlework is only a slight consolation.

Fourthly, I think there’s some kind of societal conditioning that makes women afraid of guns. I was watching one of the other women shoot today. She’s bigger than me all over, and she was using a 20-bore. And when she shot, her gun muzzle wobbled all over the place, as if she only just managed not to drop it. Believe me, I was glad I was ten yards right behind her. Little girls are taught that it’s cute and feminine to be afraid of spiders, slugs, snakes, driving fast cars, and guns. (I remember my driving instructor was surprised that I never had a problem driving fast, and remarked that a lot of his female students did.) And so, it turns into truth. Girls are told they ought to be afraid, and so they are. Any girls who dare to be different are looked at askance.

I find clay pigeon shooting very relaxing. Of course, I don’t know about the other forms of clay-shooting, but for sporting, you’re out in the open air, with a friendly bunch of people. You can stand in the sun while you’re waiting for your turn, and have a chat with the others. And when it’s your turn to shoot, you clear your mind of everything, and turn yourself over to pure instinct. As the instructor says – repeatedly – Don’t think. If you stop to think, you’ll miss. See it, know it, shoot it. You can’t afford to have your mind cluttered up by worrying about other stuff – you can only ride the moment, and for those few minutes at the stand, when the whole world narrows to you, your gun, and the clays, it’s like flying.

It’s very sad that most women won’t ever get to experience this, either because they never think they’d enjoy it, or because their conditioning says that guns are noisy and scary and dangerous and anyway nice girls don’t.

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