Women Shooters

You’ve spoken, we’ve listened, and now we’re here to champion your cause.

On the skeet field, on the sporting clays course or out on a driven pheasant shoot, women say that men can be a real pain in the stock butt. Men either gush with gratuitous and contradictory advice, or they pretend that the women shooting next to them simply don’t exist.

And then there’s the gun makers. When the heck are they going to wake up and make a shotgun for small-framed women that has a 13-inch length of pull?

But the clock is ticking and women’s influence on the shotgun industry is about to be felt -- big time.

Across the sports of trap, skeet and sporting clays, the number of female participants age 12-17 rose 56 percent-from 133,000 to 208,000-between 1999 and 2004. The upward trend also has been seen in the National Shooting Sports Foundation's (NSSF) Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP), which in 2005 alone saw an 84 percent increase in participation by girls from elementary through high-school age.

Judy Rhodes: Texas Shooting Diva

If anyone deserves to be a Texas shooting diva, it’s Judy Rhodes.

A rancher’s daughter, Judy has been toting a gun since the age of four (she started with a Red Ryder B-B gun in Rockwall County, Texas).

Maybe her calling as a cheerleader for the shooting sports started when she became a majorette in school; after practice or a game, she would go dove hunting with her friends.

Fast forward to1999, when Judy was recruited to the board of the Women’s Shooting Sports Foundation -- an arm of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (www.nssf.org). The charter of the WSSF was to get women more involved in the shooting sports and hunting, as well as function as sort of a lobbying group to influence manufacturers and retailers on the special needs of women shooters (and Judy has some strong opinions about that).

At the same time, Judy started the Texas Women’s Shooting Sports/DIVAS. Today, DIVAS has members in 48 states and 14 foreign countries. Over the years, DIVAS has taught over 800 women how to shoot a shotgun.

Her motto is “Women Helping Women…Women Teaching Women…Women Supporting Women.” Her leadership in shooting, hunting and civic organizations led to a major story with photograph (including shotgun) in the Today Section of USA Today in March 2006.

She has also been featured in stories promoting women’s positive outdoor experiences throughout the world, including broadcasts on German Television and the United Kingdom BBC Television.

Maybe that’s where she got the TV bug. She started Divas in the Outdoors Television Show for reaching women and families worldwide. The show teaches simple techniques from professionals. Divas in the Outdoors is the number-two show on MOR (Men’s Outdoors and Recreational) shown on Direct TV, DishNetwork, Comcast and Turner Media.

All the while, Judy has been to South Africa 18 times, in addition to Spain, Argentina, Scotland, England, Canada and Mexico, as well as all over the U.S.A.

Her leadership, enthusiasm and commitment have made Judy the voice of outdoor women within the industry. As you can appreciate, she has a word or two for shotgun makers.

“Make guns that fit us.”

Judy believes that the Beretta 391 semi-automatic is probably the best-fitting full-size gun for women on the market. Otherwise, she recommends that smaller framed women get themselves a youth gun.

But knowing Judy, we can expect to see a lot more shotguns on the market tailored to women.

Lisa Snelling: Woman Hunter

Lisa Snelling is on the vanguard of women shooters.

When she was a newcomer to the sport, Lisa searched for information that she simply couldn’t find in the numerous male-oriented hunting magazines that line the racks. So like many women pioneers, she took the initiative and launched The Woman Hunter (www.womanhunter.com), an online hunting magazine and social networking site for female hunters.

While some women would be satisfied with that accomplishment alone, Lisa, secretary of Camo & Lace, a non-profit organization that introduces women to the outdoors.(www.camoandlace.net) also organized one of the largest all female skeet leagues in the state of Michigan.

If you want hunter education courses designed for women and taught by women, Camo & Lace is the place to be. Women learn about shotgun shooting, birding, camping, fishing, hiking, wild game cooking, ATVing and other outdoor-related activities.

As Lisa tells it, many outdoors programs for women focus on only introducing them to the sport. Camo and Lace wants to take it to the next level: bringing women into a supportive group that meets on a regular basis. The league helps them achieve this goal.

The skeet league provides women a place where they can learn how to shoot in a comfortable and encouraging environment. The league meets every year in August for ten weeks at the Grand Blanc Huntsman’s Club in Atlas Township, Michigan. Women who have never shot before or who do not own a gun are encouraged to attend.

The benefits are cumulative. The female bonding of Camo and Lace helps nurture self-confidence and self-esteem that so many women gain from shooting. And while women can join a bowling league or go the cosmetics counter for a makeover, Lisa believes that nothing matches the confidence-building of being a good shot.

She knows it first hand. In Argentina, she was one of an elite group of shooters who downed 1,000 doves in a single day.

Cindy McCrory, co-owner, MizMac Designs

Cindy McCrory has something to tell you men shotgunners out there: “Get over it.”

Women shotgun shooters are here to stay.

If any woman has earned her stripes on getting women into the front door of the shotgun clubs of America, it’s Cindy. She grew up in western Ohio, the only girl of six kids. It was a hunting family, and so Cindy always felt comfortable around long guns.

But hunting wasn’t her style. So about 15 years ago she took up sporting clays. For Cindy, sporting clays conjured up the thrill of hunting -- with a sharper degree of fun. Turn back the clock 15 years, though, and Cindy will tell you that fun in sporting clays was nearly impossible to find.

That’s because men had a rough time seeing their beloved sporting clays go co-ed. As Cindy recalls, three or four chivalrous chaps would arrive on cue -- proffering gratuitous (and often conflicting) advice to this poor damsel in distress. Or by contrast, the men at the clubs would simply ignore her -- using that blunt instrument called he-man silence to drive her back into the quilting bee where she darn well belonged.

These guys had no idea who they were dealing with. During a banking career that spanned 25 years, Cindy handled some pretty tough customers. And now she was ready to turn up the heat in sporting clays. After her divorce, she starting going to the clubs by herself. Not only was there a woman with a shotgun walking through the front door, she did it in spite of them.

As it turned out, this was a love story in the making. She met her husband at a shooting club. On their first date, they went shooting -- and she beat him. That was the test; he sucked it up like a bona fide gentleman.

Today, Cindy calls her husband “my rock” as she and co-owner Joanne Mizek started MizMack Designs in Roundhead, Ohio (www.mizmac.com). MizMack is a pioneer in women’s shooting apparel. After all of those years of shooting, Cindy and Joanne grew so exasperated with the lack of comfortable shooting clothing for women, they forged ahead with their own company.

What began out of necessity turned into a leading women's shooting apparel operation. At the time they started MizMack, they didn't know a whole lot about the business. But as Cindy has clearly shown, perseverance pays.

There are plenty more women like Cindy, Lisa and Judy helping women become acquainted with the shotgun sports -- and becoming great at the shotgun sports. Over time, we hope to meet more of them.
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Story and photos by Lisa Metheny

Typically, when a gun manufacturer is ready to launch a new gun model they often take the predictable advertising road and take out magazine ads, do television commercials, and maybe even hire a celebrity to endorse the new model and then sit back and hope for the best.  Benelli, makers of world class firearms, is not your typical gun company and neither are the folks that make up their promotions and advertising departments. This group of creative individuals tends to think outside the box and they have a knack for generating more buzz and hype over new products than most companies could only hope to come up with. So unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, chances are you have probably heard about the now famous Vinci shotgun “Torture Test” that took place in Argentina.

When I first heard about the Vinci I was excited, like many shotgun enthusiasts, I thought perhaps the excitement generated was due to the media blitz created by Benelli rather than excitement over the gun itself.  Benelli must have anticipated this type of skepticism and figured a torture test trip to South America would likely silence most critics. Not only did it silence many of the skeptics, the torture test may have raised the bar for future shotgun testing.

Benelli’s Christi Gates With a Vinci.

Some called it the torture test. Others referred to it as the ultimate shooting test because for three days nearly 88,000 rounds of ammo were fired from twelve Vinci shotguns. The stories generated from this media blitz dominated the press as story after story of the blazing hot Benelli Vinci began appearing in countless magazines, blogs, photos and newswires.

Perhaps some of the excitement was caused by the millions, yes I said millions, of doves that filled the sky hour after hour and which may have influenced some of these writers. Or perhaps it was the romantic lure of Argentina, although I doubt if a dozen manly, outdoorsy type men found standing shoulder to shoulder in a dove field under the blazing hot Argentina sun romantic. According to legendary outdoor writer J.Wayne Fears, the new Vinci shotgun was a homerun for Benelli. Todd Smith of Outdoor Life added that “the Vinci is an absolute ten.” So maybe it was the actual gun and not the media circus that generated the excitement over the Vinci. But whatever it was, I knew that I was anxious to give this shotgun a try.

My first opportunity to see the Vinci was all too brief as the editor for Shooting Times, Joseph VonBendict toted the gun to a Gil and Vicki Ash OSP shooting clinic that I was attending. In a sick sort of way it was like a mini torture test because of the fact that I only had the chance to shoot the Vinci a few times. It seems like anytime there is a new gun around gun enthusiasts, politeness is thrown out the window and we all become gun hogs. Thankfully, Joseph did let me shoot his Vinci and despite shooting a mixed bag of loads, from light Winchester AA to a few heavy Federal goose loads, I didn’t feel much recoil.  Unfortunately, a few trigger pulls is not much of a torture test for me or the gun. Instead, it was just a brief introduction, more like a teaser, rather than an all-out test drive.

Benelli’s Vinci in the SteadyGrip configuration.

Fast forward nearly a year and I found myself embarking on a turkey hunt in Oklahoma with Benelli, Hunter Specialties and SHE Outdoor Apparel. Anytime you hunt with Hunter Specialties you know you're going to get some great products to use and the same can be said about SHE Outdoor Apparel. And from my experience, any gun from Benelli would work just fine to shoot a turkey with. Thankfully, Cristi Gates of Benelli sent the Vinci 12 gauge for us ladies to use and I would get my own Vinci for three days. I could hardly wait.

Although the small cowboy town of Sayre, Oklahoma is several thousands of miles north of the dove filled skies of Argentina, there was still plenty of game for the Vinci to take aim at on nearly 24,000 acres of Rut and Strut Outfitters.  Despite mile after mile of gently rolling hills, brushy draws and creek bottoms dotted with century old Cottonwood trees the land offered its own version of torture for the hunters and for the guns. Country duo Brooks and Dunn may have sung about it, but I was getting a taste of the famous Oklahoma Red Dirt. Like sand on the beach, the red dirt finds its way into every imaginable place, including inside zipped interior pockets, ears, nose, turkey calls, boots and guns, especially the guns. Add in the constant hurricane-like winds of western Oklahoma and the red dirt literally becomes part of your DNA.

The Vinci in Realtree camo.


Six women turkey hunters, a bumper crop of Rio Grande turkeys, an ample supply of ammo, and a Vinci for everyone gives you the makings of a great hunt. Despite the fact that we would not be shooting thousands of rounds of ammo, this hunt still would put the Vinci through the paces.

We had a wide range of shooters, from the beginning shotgun shooter to the intermediate level to the advanced level of shooter. As every shooter knows, if it don’t fit, you can’t hit, so the mix of body types, some with long arms, others with short arms and even a leftie shooter thrown in would create a challenge for the Vinci as it would need to fit a variety of body types.

The majority of firearms are made to fit one body type and that is the body type of a six foot lean man with long arms and a flat chest who is right handed, of which I am none of. The first noticeable difference about the Vinci compared to other brands is the quick change recoil pad system. Because I am a left handed, shorter arm shooter, I have had my fair share of traditional gun stocks that do not fit. The stocks are too long and usually come with a recoil pad with a pitch for the right handed shooter. More often than not the recoil pad requires a screwdriver or some other special piece of equipment to change the pad.  Not the case with the Vinci. One twist and the pad was easily changed to accommodate a recoil pad for a leftie or to give a shorter length of pull.

Besides the ease of changing the recoil pad, there are several things that set the Vinci apart from other semi-auto shotguns. First, compared to the majority of semi-auto shotguns on the market today, the Vinci is lighter than others, weighing only 6.9 pounds.  Because of its advanced ergonomics, the Vinci offers flawless gun movement. And with fewer moving parts, this equals less hassle, less cleaning and more shooting.  An added bonus is the Quadra Fit buttstock module, making this gun easy to shoulder and with the uber-comfortable Comfort-Tech recoil system combined with the in-line inertia driven action, this gun is not only lightning fast but a blast to shoot. You simply forget you are shooting a 12 gauge. Also the gun breaks down and easily packs into its own cool James Bond-like distinctive carrying case.

The NWTF's Shannon Coggins with her first two gobblers.

Forget the futuristic carrying case or the catchy marketing campaign, what really matters is how the gun performs in the field.  Six women hunters with a total of twelve Rio Grande turkey tags among us would ultimately be judge and jury for the Vinci. First time turkey hunter, Shannon Coggins, Public Relations Specialist for NWTF admits to concerns surrounding shooting a 12 gauge shotgun “The Oklahoma turkey hunt was not only my first turkey hunt, it was my first time to shoot anything besides a youth model shotgun. I was very nervous about shooting a 12-gauge because I thought it would kick so hard that my shoulder would be bruised and sore— or that it would knock me to the ground. The recoil from the gun wasn’t bad at all so my neck and shoulders didn’t hurt afterward. I also give full credit to the Vinci because it was accurate enough that this novice made two shots at about 35 yards and killed two birds

Don’t let the fact that we are women fool you into thinking that we are delicate flowers when it comes to shooting or that we worry about breaking a nail or getting dirty, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact just the opposite could be said. In fact, when Gina Schmitz of the NRA accidently stepped into an armadillo hole in the dark, both her and the Vinci crashed to the ground. Although she spent a number of weeks in a cast she was a trooper and proved to be just as tough as her Vinci.

Author Lisa Metheny with her Rio Grande turkey, taken with the Benelli Vinci 12 gauge.

As for me, I tend to be rough on equipment, a princess I am not; still there are often things out of your control such as the endless battle with the red dirt. Rick White, pro staffer for Hunter Specialties chose to guide me as we chased bird number two. When you hunt with Rick, a 10-time Iowa State Calling Champion it is just a matter of time before you’re given a shot opportunity, so you and your equipment better be ready.

After Rick, Cristi and I arrived at our evening hunting spot I prepared to load my gun.  As I jacked a shell into the chamber I noticed the large amount of red dirt in the barrel, despite the fact that my gun had been in a case while driving. With no time to clean the gun before our hunt began, I could only hope that the excessive amount of dirt would not cause a malfunction.  Thanks to Rick’s champion calling skills, I soon tagged my second gobbler, I emptied my remaining shells along with another a handful of dirt, obviously the excessive dirt in the Vinci barrel did not cause any problems, although I could swear that I saw of puff of red dust fly when I shot the bird. Perhaps the dirt added an extra wallop to the Federal load I was using, but I doubt it. Ideally you should always have a clean gun, but with real, in-the-field hunting situations it is not always possible to do so.

Perhaps Leonardo Da Vinci, master artist, innovative thinker and the namesake of the gun said it best, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” Benelli has created a shotgun that is simple, hassle-free and fun to shoot. Guns and Ammo magazine’s Peyton Miller said, “the only thing wrong with the Vinci is that you can’t keep it loaded.” I tend to agree with Peyton.

From the fertile farm fields of South America to the target rich rolling hills covered in red dirt, the Benelli Vinci really doesn’t need any slick marketing campaign to convince serious shooters that this gun is worth its weight in gold and is well on its way to the front of the gun safe.

Useful resources:

Benelli USA

Hunter’s Specialties

SHE Safari

Rut and Strut Outfitters

Georgia Pellegrini stands at the crossroads of the Upper East Side in Manhattan and the Lazy Triple Creek Ranch in the Big Hole Mountains of Idaho.

A Harvard and Wellesley alum, she takes to the fields with a 20-gauge shotgun ready to bag any game bird, as part of her quest to fuse hunting with haute cuisine.

One prong of her culinary mission is to upend the metropolitan revulsion of fresh-killed ingredients taken by thine own hand. Grass-fed buffalo from New York’s Ottomanelli’s Butcher Shoppe is splendid, but if you really want to sit down to some real, honest meat Georgia suggests you start with buying a shotgun and a box of shells.

Of the 13 million American women with the ability to show off a freezer full of elk and venison that they personally harvested, it’s Georgia’s contradictions that make her unique in the tribe of female hunters.

A former cubicle dweller with Lehman Brothers, which was vilified for sparking the mortgage meltdown, Georgia now devotes her life to the little guy – the mavericks who live off the grid hand-crafting artisanal foods.

While strangers expect to find her strutting the runway in Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo, you’re more likely to find her shooting over dogs in Filson and Le Chameau.

And her role of chef-as-hunter forges a new media spectrum currently neglected by the likes of The Food Network, the Outdoor Channel and the Today Show.

From her unique cultural junction, we can expect Georgia to rally the next wave in the locavore movement here in the U.S. Started in Europe, the strict interpretation of locavore cuisine demands food culled within earshot of the village church bell. In countries such as Italy and France, the audible perimeter virtually ensures food untouched by the maws of industrial farming and slaughterhouse assembly lines.

You can savor locavore dining today in white-table-cloth restaurants devoted to the daily, backdoor delivery of regional ingredients. Georgia, meanwhile, is adding pride of the pursuit into the locavore movement by hunting the meat herself – and advocating the same sense of duty by fellow carnivores. For hunters who spend half the year in camo, there are no surprises here. But the sudden revelation of this Ivy League stunner slitting the throat of a fresh Tom can render a Jean-Paul Gaultier fashionista wickedly speechless.

Georgia Pellegrini

Armed with her trusty CZ 20-gauge, Georgia has taken her fair share of quail, dove and turkey in a quest for the freshest fare. Give her a rifle and she’ll track down a hog for a savory repast reminiscent of Sunday suppers at grandma’s.

“So many chefs are focused on food pyrotechnics and the food often suffers as a result,” she said. “Keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

Georgia’s affirmation of simple, flavorful cooking complements the barbequed pheasant hunters proudly serve with a sly grin that dares you identify their secret ingredient. In her own twist on the preparation, Georgia substitutes the slathering of Oscar Mayer bacon strips bought at the supermarket with her recipe for homemade bacon from dry-cured pork belly, sugar and kosher salt.

The bacon recipe was inspired by a boar roast she attended. As she wrote on her blog on ESPNOutdoors.com:

The first time I saw a wild boar smoking slowly under the soot-blackened eaves of a dome-shaped grill I was mesmerized. I was standing 100 yards from the banks of the Mississippi, deep in the beating heart of the Arkansas Delta.

The body of the pig was cloaked in thick slabs of bacon which were coated in thick layers of molasses and the whole thing oozed and dripped onto a tray of cut green apples.

The mere sight of the animal left a permanent imprint on my brain, and the taste set into motion my quest to relive that culinary experience as many more times as I could in one lifetime.

“The reason I started hunting was to use every part of the animal” including the offal such as liver, heart and brains, which she described as “delicious,” during an online radio interview on ESPNOutdoors.com.

When we caught up with Georgia via phone she was in the very non-offal city of Berkeley, California – home to Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse – the birthplace of the American locavore sensibility. Berkeley is the third point in her constellation of residences that includes Manhattan and the family farm where she was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley.

From Berkeley it’s a quick drive across the Carquinez Bridge to the finest wine terroirs in the country: Napa, Sonoma and Cry Creek. And America’s most highly acclaimed restaurant is also there, The French Laundry – along with other not-too-shabby eateries including Bistro Jeanty, Dry Creek Kitchen, Tra Vigne and Mustards Grill.

Berkeley was Georgia’s West Coast base of operations for the research on her second project called The Girl Hunter. The agent-brokered package of book and TV show teams Georgia with seasoned hunters in locales where she cooks their quarry hauled back to the lodge kitchen. The Girl Hunter follows on the heels of her first book titled Food Heroes: Tales of 16 Artisans Preserving Tradition slated for publication in the fall of 2010 by H.N. Abrams.

If you haven’t heard of Georgia Pellegrini yet, the trajectory of her rising star seems destined to make her a household name in the kitchens of every American hunter and (hopefully) subway rider.

The gig at ESPNOutdoors, her own award-winning blog, the books and possible TV show, an appearance on Fox TV, all serve as outlets for her message.

“The success of any food culture lies in preserving its artisan foods. These artisan foods are the foundation of a food culture, and upholding them are the small-scale culinary artisans who choose to make their products the traditional way, the slower way, and perhaps the less economical way, because they are passionate about their craft.”

Call it artisanal or simply homemade, her gastronomical journey started as a kid. In a local creek, she caught fresh trout for breakfast. Her great-aunt was an expert gardener. Her father raised honeybees and quince trees. There were always chickens running about. Her mother instilled the importance of healthy food on young growing bodies. And when it comes to her grandmother, Georgia’s blog pays homage with an entry…

She took care of me when I was young. She would pick me up from nursery school and bring me to her house and sit me at the end of her long wooden table so I could watch her cook. She cooked every day. She still does. And every day after nursery school she made me one of two things: pastina with butter, or broccoli with cheese. I can still taste them. The memory still nourishes my soul.

Georgia’s call to food ultimately proved as inescapable as her own DNA. After Lehman Brothers, she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City – graduating at the top of her class. She worked in two highly acclaimed restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. In fact, it was in the back of La Chassagnette that she slit the throat of her first live kill – a turkey – and then butchered it.

“I realized this is what it’s about to be a meat eater,” she told us.

Georgia is the first to admit that she came to hunting late in life. But at the end of the day, does it really matter?

As she writes on her ESPNOutdoors.com blog:

In life, you need few things. Everyone has their list. Mine includes a shotgun, good whiskey or a smooth Cabernet, a butcher and an open flame.

Here is Georgia’s recipe for Braised Pheasant…

Pheasant, quartered


White wine

4 cups


1/2 bottle


1/2 cup


2 cups, diced


1/2 cup, chopped


1/2 cup, chopped


1/4 cup, chopped


2 sprigs

Bay leaves



1/2 bunch


2 sprigs

Bacon, cut into 1” cubes 

1/2 cup


2 tablespoons

Chicken stock

12 cups

1. Heat the white wine and sauternes and cool.

2. Marinate the pheasant parts in wine and vegetables overnight.

3. In a hot pan, brown the pheasant. Then remove the meat from the pan and add vegetables and bacon.

4. Separately, heat marinade to a boil with chicken stock.

5. Deglaze the pan of vegetables with verjus, return the meat to the pan and cover with the heated braising liquid.  Bring to a simmer.

6. Let simmer for 60 - 90 minutes, until meat is tender. Reduce some of the braising liquid by half and serve as a sauce.

Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at letters@shotgunlife.com.

Helpful resources:



This is the third installment of our occasional series on DIVA, Women Outdoors Worldwide.

While there are certainly plenty of women in the great state of Texas who own a gun, Cheryl Long is special among them. That’s because she’s the current president of the organization, DIVA Women Outdoors Worldwide.

DIVA is thoroughly dedicated to encouraging and mentoring women of all ages in the shooting sports.  For more than 10 years through successful clinics for women and youth across the USA, this unique organization has introduced more than 3,000 women to the shooting sports.

And so it only makes sense that a devoted gun enthusiast like Cheryl takes the helm of DIVA. It also makes sense that the group was formerly known as Texas Women’s Shooting Sports, since Cheryl and her husband, Denny, love to hunt quail, dove, duck and mule deer on their leased 12,000 acre spread in west Texas.

Cheryl came into the world of shotguns and hunting from a fairly unusual start.

“I sang with a band called Maya for 20 years in Oklahoma City,” she recalled.

She subsequently became acquainted with shooting when she moved from Oklahoma City to Texas 1992. She had moved to Texas because of the big “L,” love.

“I had fallen in love with this gentleman who was very big into hunting and who was just an overall shooting enthusiast,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know a thing about guns, and really, I was afraid of them.”

Still, she was swept off her feet and onto the alter.

As proof that love conquers all, despite her fear of guns, she stuck by her man even though there were loaded guns stashed all over their house. “They [guns] were there for home protection and the occasional coyote and skunk.”

Eventually, Cheryl was talked into her first shooting experience by her husband. He handed her a Smith & Wesson .357 pistol and told her to hit the target. Without having any ear protection, the boom of that first shot only served to frighten her all over again. But she didn’t give up.

The turning point for Cheryl was a Dallas Safari Club convention where she found an instructor who offered an intensive two-day course in shooting. Shortly afterward, she purchased her very own first gun, a Glock 17 9mm. This Glock took her on a journey from someone who was frightened of guns to where she reached the point that she could speed shoot from the holster and sometimes “beat the men,” she said.

It was during this time as a crackerjack pistol shot that Cheryl was introduced to shotguns.

There was a one-year anniversary soiree in 1998 of the Beretta Gallery in Dallas, and she attended the reception. She registered for the door prize and sure enough won a 20-gauge Beretta 390. She was elated…until she tried shooting the gun.

“I shot horribly,” she recalled. “I tried to get better, but couldn’t.”

It turned out that the main problems were eye dominance and gun fit. Her first instructor, Gaylen Capps, recognized that she was a right-handed shooter, but left-eye dominant. He  had mentioned the eye dominance issue and suggested using Chapstick on the left lens...but that was way too messy for Cheryl and she really didn’t understand the importance of seeing the targets with the right eye...the SHOOTING eye.

After learning this important piece of information, she got that Beretta 390 fitted to her and started using a patch on her left eye to shift the dominance to her right one. As usual, there was no stopping Cheryl after that.

She started taking lessons from the greats such as Andy Duffy and Dan Carlisle, and made it into B Class for sporting clays.

As Cheryl’s sporting clays career began its ascent, she had a terrible and unfortunate turn of events. Her beloved husband passed away in 2003. Now a woman shooting on her own, she decided to join the Dallas Gun Club to find other people to shoot with.

Fate would intervene…

In 2005, a mutual friend introduced her to Denny Long. Their friend told Cheryl, “You have to meet this guy. He’s single, he’s fun and he’s a great shot and I think you’ll be wonderful together.”

They went on their first date that Memorial Day weekend. “I thought he was OK,” Cheryl confided. “He didn’t have much to say and he didn’t call me, and I didn’t think much about it because he didn’t make much of an impression.”  That was about to change.

It was about three weeks later that Cheryl went with one of her girlfriends to Backwoods Gun Range (sadly now closed) north of Dallas to practice skeet for an upcoming league at Dallas Gun Club.

“There was Denny,” she said. “When my girlfriend and I were finished with practice and about to leave, he convinced us to get to get into his 1949 Willys Jeep named Nellybelle and join him for some sporting clays. We had the best time, we laughed, had a lot of fun. We’ve been inseparable since then. We’ve been married three years now.”


Cheryl and Denny Long

For their honeymoon, they went to South Africa to hunt kudu, blue wildebeest and impala. Last month, she and Denny went to Argentina with DIVA founder, Judy Rhodes and a bunch of her closest friends in the Provence of Cordoba at an estancia operated by SYC Sporting Adventures.

“We hunt a lot and love it,” Cheryl said.

Cheryl has graduated up from her 20-gauge Beretta 390, which she still uses for birds, to a 12-gauge Beretta Urika 391 for all other shotgun sports. 

By her own admission, the Urika 391 is chock full of aftermarket bling including a Briley action closer button and forend cap (both in red), Briley titanium chokes and a dropped and a canted stock by Ken Rucker of Speedbump Stockworks. Her initials are engraved on the receiver by a renown Italian engraver. And DIVA TEAM is proudly displayed on the barrel.

Now most of her life is tied up hunting with Denny and staying involved with the DIVA WOW.

“DIVA has done so much for me,” she explained. “I receive great satisfaction from what I’ve learned by sharing and passing that knowledge on to other women. It’s extremely empowering to women. I know, because shooting and hunting has empowered me…and I feel a sense of purpose. To see it take shape in front of you, and see someone else run with it is extremely rewarding.”

Deborah K. McKown is Editor of Shotgun Life. You can reach her at contact@shotgunlife.com.

To read Shotgun Life’s previous stories about the DIVAS, please visit:

Judy Rhodes Gets Women Out of the Mall and into the Hunt

The Secret Passion of Anginette Jorrey

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I'm not usually the kind of woman who hollers out to perfect strangers in public. But, my choices were continue lurking around a Memphis airport telephone booth or find out if the two women strolling by, one in a camouflage jacket, were my ride to Hunter's Paradise Lodge.

"Hey, are you Shannon?" I blurted.

The woman in the camo coat, who was pushing a cart piled high with pink luggage accented with white polka dots, turned around and said "You must be Tammy."

Imagine my relief. I was lucky because the two women I had waylaid, Ann Smith of the NRA and Team Winchester's Heather Reddemann, were on the same Winchester/Mississippi Department of Tourism duck hunt I had been invited to. Turns out the woman I was supposed to meet, Winchester hunt hostess Shannon Salyer, was delayed at the Houston airport.

Heather Redmann and Shannon Salyer
Heather Redmann and Shannon Salyer

Within moments of meeting each other, Ann, Heather and I were in fast food heaven at the airport Arby's. In a rush of introductions and comparing notes on people we knew in common, I finally got the scoop on the pink polka-dotted suitcases. I quickly realized that Heather was a serious waterfowler with a capital S. Not the kind of young woman I would associate with Barbie Doll bags. I learned, though, it was Heather's foolproof way to ensure that when (not if) the airlines lost her luggage; it would be easy to describe and find. It made sense in a kooky kind of way.

Shannon finally arrived many curly fries later, and we all piled into an SUV and headed south.

The Mississippi Delta is known as the birthplace of the blues and the land of catfish, cotton and waterfowl -everything from snow geese and specklebellies to mallards, wood ducks, scaups and shovelers. Lucky bum that I am, I was cruising down I-55 with three new friends on our way to hunt these heavenly creatures.

Our destination was Hunter's Paradise Lodge outside of Charleston, Miss. in Tallahatchie County. Presumably it was the same area where Billie Joe McAllister flung himself off that bridge. When I asked the local guides about it, they looked at me like I was a flake. However, it was too late. I couldn't get the song or the movie out of my head for days.

When the pseudo female voice from our SUV's navi system curtly instructed us to "turn right in .2 miles," we were more than ready to finally arrive at Hunter's Paradise. Lodge owner Tim Gray and his guides immediately whisked our luggage inside, and soon we were mingling with the rest of our hunting party: co-host Mike Jones from the Mississippi Department of Tourism, freelancer Stephanie Mallory and Hillary Mizelle of Grand View Media. It was immediately clear this was a fun group of people, and I was quite pleased at how things were turning out.

As my roommate Ann and I were chatting and unpacking, I was hit with the sinking feeling I had forgotten to pack something. Last time I traveled it was undergarments. This time it was my toiletry kit. No deodorant, shampoo or facial cleanser. Just as this group was getting to know me, I had to be the doofus who couldn't remember to pack a toothbrush. For the rest of the trip, I was forced to panhandle for contact solution, toothpaste and lotion. But everyone was kind to me, and I decided I could make do with the group's generosity and the odds and ends I found in my briefcase. At least I didn't forget my hunting boots.

The first night at Hunter's Paradise, I vowed to eat dessert like there was no tomorrow. That was a good decision, as Lucille, camp cook, makes a mean chocolate chip cake. I even woke up one morning before the rest so I could devour the last piece. I admit it was a desperate act for someone living on the shampoo charity of others.

After dinner, Tim visited with the group about what we could expect on the hunt, covered some safety basics and let us check out the firearms we would use. I was pleased that we'd be shooting some quality sporting arms. There was a nice selection of Browning Silver and Gold autoloaders in 12 and 20-gauges. Both models are a splendid choice because they employ Active Valve gas operation making them low recoil choices as well as a beautiful combination of wood and metal. I chose a sweet little Silver 20-gauge because it shouldered almost perfectly. We also examined our Winchester ammo choices (12 and 20 gauge Supreme Elite Xtended Range HD Waterfowl and Xpert Hi-Velocity Steel). I knew I'd enjoy getting to test the various loads to discover what would have maximum impact on birds and minimum impact on me. Tim, who has duck hunted since he was 8 years old, left no doubt he is passionate about waterfowling. For some, hunting ducks and geese is a hobby. For Tim, it's a way of life. By age 18, he had already decided he was going to own, or at least run a guide service so he could introduce others to what he loved. For the next 20 years, Tim worked towards his dream while he held "bill-paying jobs" before finally opening Hunter's Paradise Lodge.

Today, it's a popular destination for duck hunters across the country. Situated in the Mississippi Flyway, the area boasts a heavy concentration of waterfowl. I was getting pumped just thinking about birds circling our decoys, and finally cupping their wings as they made the commitment to join their faux friends.

Our first morning, after only four hours of sleep, we were up and pulling on waterfowl bibs, coats and boots - ready for snow goose action. About an hour later, our vehicle was bouncing down a mud road leading to the middle of a field. Just as the guides were getting ready to unleash a bevy of decoys, it happened. A flash in the distance. Could it be lightening?

The ensuing clap of thunder verified that it was, in fact, lightening. And we got to see many more examples of it. For the next 16 hours I swear, every thunderstorm in North America rolled across the Delta. Luckily, we got a brief respite after sunrise when we saw the wind hurl about 25,000 snow geese high overhead. I was thankful my layout blind had doors, because with that many birds in the air, chances of being pooped on were pretty high.

The first wave of rain that morning alternated between a gentle pitter patter on my layout blind to fatter, more frequent raindrops. Tucked away in our little camo coffins, we stayed fairly dry, each in our own little world watching birds and clouds sail by. As morning progressed, a blasting wind and cold rain conspired to make our surrender inevitable. Finally, the guides began to load up dogs and decoys, while we tried to snap a few photos. Afraid to ruin cameras, we packed them up and stood with our backs to the wind. And passed the time telling stories and laughing at how funny we looked with hoods cinched tightly around our faces. This was a plucky group of women so I might have been alone in this thought, but I was thankful to be excused from picking up blinds and decoys in a driving rain.

After this gallant effort, we headed back to the lodge where our growling stomachs were greeted by one of Lucille's big country brunches. Hurrah!

Hillary Mizelle
Hillary Mizelle

It rained the rest of the day. And I don't mean sprinkled. Or drizzled. I mean a full on toad-floating downpour. There wasn't much more to do beyond accept our fate. Fortunately, the lodge is a spacious and comfortable place to fritter away an afternoon. A great room includes a huge living room, ringed with several comfy sofas and a big screen TV, perfect accoutrements for a mid-day snooze. Connected to that is a roomy, cafeteria style dining room while the six bedrooms are off the beaten path down a quiet hallway. Five private bathrooms means even in a group of women, nobody has to wait for a post hunt shower.

After eating, a few of the women grabbed blankets and sprawled out on the sofas for a siesta, but not before checking email and text messages first.

Others sat at one of the many dining room tables, looking at photos, snacking and talking. While we waited out the rain, Mike Jones filled me in on the birding opportunities in Mississippi, which are plentiful and easy to identify thanks to the tourism department's handy map and brochure. Shannon, Heather and I also discussed the art and science of waterfowling and the best ways to reduce felt recoil. We agreed that while butt pads and shooting vest pads work wonders, gun type and fit as well as proper stance and handling are key.

The next morning, after it had rained about 6 inches, I figured the ducks would be scattered from one end of the state to the other with so much water available. Still, Tim and his guides were steadfast about getting us out there for a chance to shoot some ducks. They set us up on some old catfish ponds less than a half hour away from the lodge, which also meant a bit more shut eye for us hunters. It was drizzly, windy and cold (an ongoing theme), and we were all dressed to the teeth, each in our own way resembling the Pillsbury Dough Boy or some other enormous roly poly figure. Kirstie Pike, who founded Próis, sent us beanies and neck gaiters from her line of functional women's hunting apparel. We pulled the hats down over our ears and pulled the gaitors up over our noses so all that was visible were our eyeballs. Still, we managed to shoot some ducks. And some photos.

Driving back to the lodge through the Mississippi Delta, I could almost imagine what this swampy wilderness looked like 100 years ago. The fertile soils of this alluvial floodplain were too good to pass up for the sharecroppers and landowners of yesteryear, and they quickly cleared it for cotton. Today, you'll see huge working farms, growing cotton, soybeans and rice, bordered by acres of forest and sloughs. Though impressively flat, the meandering rivers and pools of water lend the area a backroad beauty no serious traveler should miss.

While the weather remained a challenge, I got just enough of a taste to want to go back. There's no question that if the weather had cooperated, we would have had our hands full shooting ducks and geese. Next time, though, I'm making contingency plans in case there's another monsoon. The Delta is a hotbed of American culture and on my return visit, I'm going to soak it up.

First, I'd head over to Clarksdale to check out the Delta Blues Museum and maybe actor Morgan Freeman's joint, Ground Zero Blues Club. Then there's the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in nearby Indianola. In Oxford, there are several historical sites linked to Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulker that I'd like to see.

Just to be well rounded, I think I'd opt for some wacky entertainment, too - the Catfish Museum in Belzoni or the Jim Henson Museum to pay homage to Kermit the Frog's birthplace in Leland. Maybe I'd wrap things up with a stop at the Home of Scissors, World Champion Hog just outside of Charleston on Route 32. While there's plenty to see and do, it's worth going back just to take another shot at duck hunting.

After eight reflective hours in the Memphis airport (the inconvenience of storms had moved from duck hunting to air travel), I realized that the take home message from this trip was that when you're in a wonderful area, eating delicious food and surrounded by people who are smart, funny and thoughtful, a limit of ducks is merely a bonus.

Tammy Sapp was raised in an outdoors family who enjoyed spending time together trapping, fishing, camping and hiking. That outdoor background inspired her to pursue a career in the wildlife field. Sapp worked for 11 years at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation as an outdoor writer, photographer and publications supervisor. She then spent the next 11 years overseeing the communications department for the National Wild Turkey Federation. As the NWTF's senior vice president of communications, she supervised the production of six national magazines and played a leading role in launching three national television shows and several Web sites. Today, Sapp edits an e-newsletter called the Women's Outdoor Wire, writes the Outdoor Scene blog and works as a media and agency relations coordinator for MyOutdoorTV.com.

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I was recently invited to go to South Dakota pheasant hunting, and what a trip it was. Kirstie Pike the President of Prois Hunting Apparel, Keli Van Cleave, and I went as Prois Hunting Apparel Pro Staff members and were treated to outstanding hospitality by the owners and staff of Pheasant Phun at the Olsen Ranch in Hitchcock, South Dakota.

Dave Olsen is the proprietor and the head wrangler of the operation. Dave's mom, Annie, and his father, Art are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. The film crew of SSOutdoor Adventures was also there filming for an upcoming show.

We got to the Olsen's J Bar Ranch early on a Friday morning. We were received with a warm hearty breakfast and were given the game plan and instructions for the day. Anxious to begin, we headed out to the garage for the safety talk and a thoughtful prayer by Dave for our good day.

The trucks were warming up and we ladies were supposed to ride in a nice warm, cushy dually. As we walked outside to the waiting vehicles Kirstie, Keli and I spotted a huge beast of a machine sitting among the vehicles that were not being warmed up. Almost simultaneously we asked if we could take the huge retired military radio truck. Dave laughed, then realized that we were serious and was more than willing to let us hunt in the beast. When will men understand how much we ladies love big trucks? We climbed in and as we sat down for our ride, all got a huge chuckle at our seats. The beast was well outfitted in antique church pews.

Kirstie Pike

As we bumped and rolled along the road we got to know the other hunters and the wonderful dogs who were to be our helpers. Charlie and his delightful, young, yellow Lab Bailey, Bob and Zoe, Gerard and Titan and our host Dave with Grizzly and Chopper.

It was cold that morning and the birds seemed to be flying out way further than I was comfortable shooting. I was using a small 20 gauge that I hadn't shot much before, so I didn't want to take ridiculous shots. A few birds were harvested that morning, but not by me. Keli Van Cleave was hunting with her bright pink bow and we were all curious to see if she could actually hit a flying bird with it. I didn't know Keli well and was skeptical.

We headed back for a hearty, hot meal of chili and some of the most wonderful Cheese-Broccoli soup I have ever tasted. I knew my diet was heading out the door. We took our belongings up to our loft bedroom and were shown the lay of the 'bunkhouse.' The bunkhouse was a converted barn that slept around 18 people very comfortably. There was a warm, inviting sitting area, with a long bunkhouse dining room. To look at it from the outside it still looks like a working barn, but once inside it is clean, luxurious and well-appointed. The view from any window is beautiful and the sunrise, breathtaking.

After lunch we went out again and some of the hunters filled their limits. I didn't shoot any birds, but had a great long walk and lots of exercise. Maybe going off my diet at lunch wasn't a total loss.

At dusk, we returned to the bunkhouse and enjoyed a fabulous dinner followed by cocktails and tastings from Dave's wine collection. We chatted with the other hunters there and soon found ourselves getting sleepy. We got ready for bed and once we turned in, found ourselves behaving like we were at an adolescent slumber party. We gabbed and chatted for quite some time before finally falling into warm, deep sleep in our cozy beds.

When the sun came up we were ready to go with a delicious hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy. We hunted all morning and I took a few shots, but nothing fell. I was a little discouraged and frustrated with myself, but still had a great time. Keli and Kirstie didn't shoot anything either and were also a little frustrated. The men were all able to get birds, so we knew they were out there and plentiful, but we were getting nothing.

Lunch was amazing and the table was set for a special holiday party that was to take place that evening. Kirstie and I were keeping an eye on the weather reports because we had a 14 hour drive home the next day. We learned that a storm was headed our way, but still planned on staying for the party and leaving early the next morning.

We knew that afternoon would be the last time to shoot so we needed to make it a good one. After lunch, we loaded up into the big green beast for the last time. We went to a thicket of trees and began our long walk. The dogs jumped several birds right off the bat and I was never in the right place for a shot. We walked about a quarter mile further and suddenly the woods came alive with pheasants. I pulled up on one as it flew up into a tree. It was hit but needed another shot. I finally bagged one. Then a few feet later another flew up and I shot it.

Anne Vinnola and Kirstie Pike

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a beautiful pheasant fly up through the trees toward Keli. I hollered at her to watch for it and for a few minutes guided her back several feet to where she could see where it had landed. The bird flew up, off of a tree limb, and she stuck it with her arrow. WOW she actually did it! We all cheered and were so excited for her. It was a perfect shot and was her first pheasant taken with a bow. I had never seen anyone shoot a flying bird before. It never occurred to me that it was possible, but Keli sure made a great shot and believers of us all. That was some serious "girl power!"

Kirstie shot two birds and loaded up for another. The dogs were everywhere and each was working hard and fast. In the midst of all of the noise and excitement, two pretty little does ran out and startled everyone.

I was quickly onto my last bird of the day and shot it just as it started to land on a branch. It was wounded and luckily I was able to get to it with the aid of my favorite dog of the weekend, Grizzly.

I had earlier asked Dave to show me a quick way to finish off a wounded bird without wringing its neck. Ever mindful of keeping a bird whole for taxidermy, I know that many hunters get into a bad habit of wringing the neck of a bird and invariably ruin a good mount. Dave showed me to place my thumb in the V of the throat and to press with up with my thumb and my forefinger on top of the head to crush the windpipe. This was a quick and humane way to finish off the bird without damaging the feathers. I also felt it was important to personally know how to finish off an animal as the hunter, and not need to rely on a guide to do it for me.

In the last few minutes of this exciting hunt we all limited out and met our hunting goals for the weekend, Keli, with her bow and Kirstie and I with our shotguns. The happy dogs were all running with their tongues hanging out after a thrilling afternoon. As we all went back to the bunkhouse, we had a lot to congratulate each other about.

Kirstie and I took one more look at the weather and decided to hit the road that night and drive as far as we could. We were going to have to miss the wonderful holiday celebration that Annie and her crew were putting together, but we felt the weather was making it impossible to stay.

If you are in need of some great pheasant hunting, warm hospitality and friendly, welcoming people, give Dave and his family a call. They will make your stay as happy as possible and you may even get a few beautiful pheasants for your table. Kirstie and I decided this will be a place we will return to and bring our families. Once you are there you are treated as family, and somehow, as royalty too. If you need help finding the place call Dave at 605-266-2848 or go to www.pheasantphun.com. He will leave the lights on for you. Keep an eye out for our show on SSOutdoor Adventures.

Anne Vinnola is a dedicated sportswoman. She is a freelance writer and blogger on the outdoors, and co-owner with her husband of the Colorado Institute of Taxidermy Training and Big Timber South Taxidermy Studio. Anne is also a Pro-Staff member of

Prois Hunting Apparel.

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A venue for traditional wingshooting will soon open, tailored specifically for women - and it's about time.

Called the Ladies Shooting Syndicate, it's the brainchild of Blixt & Co. in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Ladies Shooting Syndicate is by membership only. It organizes splendid shooting trips to luxurious destinations for like-minded women. In effect, Blixt & Co. has transported the Golden Age of Shooting into the 20th century for women with adventurous sensibilities.

The Ladies Shooting Syndicate enables individual women, and small groups as well, to benefit from the economies of scale typically enjoyed by a larger circle of shooters. These advantages include access to exclusive estates, better rates and of course more fun.

Members of the Ladies Shooting Syndicate can leave their passports at home and let Blixt & Co. parlay its expertise in the traditional driven shoots that have become synonymous with wingshooting in the British Isles.

For the uninitiated, a driven shoot takes planning and experience to create the pinnacle in wingshooting. Weeks before the opening day of shooting season, pheasants, partridge and other game birds are placed on the grounds of the estate. The objective here is to let the birds orient themselves to their surroundings. Professional gamekeepers help ensure the birds' health and welfare.

On the morning of the shoot, the guns are assigned their positions, which custom calls for a team of eight guns spaced 20-50 yards apart. The gamekeeper and his team of beaters drive the birds toward the shooting line using their traditional tools of the trade such as tapping sticks, dogs and flags. The flushed birds are now flying overhead at varying speeds and height toward the shooting line.

For hunters accustomed to the American walk-up shoot, a driven shoot couldn't be more different. With walk-up shooting, a squad of guns relies on a dog to flush birds that have been planted in the field - as early as only a few hours before the shoot begins. Naturally, these newly released, pen-raised birds can have difficulty flying. That means the birds are generally flying lower and slower as the dog startles them from the underbrush. By comparison, the driven shoot presents birds already on the wing - a much more challenging proposition.


While the low-gun method of shooting dominates walk-up shoots, traditional driven shoots demand an entirely different approach - most of them developed in England.

Blixt & Co. teaches the Percy Stanbury method. Its namesake helped make the West London Shooting School a bona fide institution. The Percy Stanbury method is still taught there.

The Stanbury method can be as new to American shooters as traditional driven shoots. To bag the high-flying birds, Stanbury recommends pointing your feet at one and three o'clock to the kill spot. There is a forward bias on the ball of the front foot for better balance in overhead shots. The shooter tracks the path of the bird while bringing the butt of the gun to his or her shoulder. The trigger is pulled when the stock is put to the cheek. This all happens fairly quickly, and taps into the shooter's subconscious instinct for pointing at moving prey.

As it turns out, Blixt & Co.'s founder Lars Magnusson served as an instructor at the West London Shooting School from 1995 to 2003. He directed the establishment of the West Stockholm Shooting School in Sweden. In 2003, he was recruited by Griffin & Howe as its managing director of their Shooting School here in the U.S. In 2006, he moved to Jackson Hole to help a group of investors establish one of the first traditional pheasant and partridge shooting estates in North America. Blixt & Co. was formed in the summer of 2008 and is focused on helping land owners in the American West to create shooting related solutions on their land.

Lars' wife, Jennifer, serves as a marketing executive with Blixt & Co. and as the director of the Ladies Shooting Syndicate. "The interest in woman shooters is growing," she said by phone.

In forming the Ladies Shooting Syndicate, Blixt tastefully packaged its services for women shooters.

Notably, the Ladies Shooting Syndicate aims to adapt the traditional art of shooting to women - without turning it into a men's event for women.

"What's interesting for gentlemen is not necessarily interesting to women," Jennifer explained. "There's a slightly different focus: some women don't have the experience to feel comfortable to be on the line yet. We want to make a woman feel comfortable to be on a peg in a line of men shooters...and eventually have a full line of ladies shooting."

Jennifer will make sure that women who need the proper English attire will be steered to the appropriate outfitters who have apparel for the female shape; women who need smaller shotguns will have access to better fitting game guns; and women who were introduced to the art of gameshooting by the men in their lives will now get the opportunity to move out on their own.

In talking with Jennifer, one point came across quite clear: the Ladies Shooting Syndicate is about friendship and etiquette. Proper English shooting attire and a working knowledge of a safe and traditional shoot lend that theatrical atmosphere to a delightful day outdoors with a fine side-by-side and the company of other women.

"Basically, it's about grace, elegance and tradition," she said.

Blixt & Co. will go to great lengths to introduce women to the world of shooting. The organization provides certified instructions to ensure a time-honored and safe shooting experience for its members.

Starting spring 2009, the Ladies Shooting Syndicate will open its door to all women with a passion for wing shooting and the great outdoors.

Here is a list of their planned events for 2009:

Shoot in the West
May 1 - 3rd

Lessons & Lunch
May 16th
Griffin & Howe's Shooting School
Hudson Farm, New Jersey

Girls, Guns & The Grand
June 5 - 7th
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Ladies Team
September 2009
Game Conservancy Showcase
Hudson Farm, New Jersey

For additional information, please visit the Blixt & Co. web site at

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Irwin Greenstein, Publisher

There was a golden time in America when fresh-faced kids could routinely bring their guns to school, stash them in their locker with books and lunch boxes, and then after football practice all run out to a big field and shoot at rusty cans and elusive squirrels with their very own .22.

As a girl growing up on a ranch in Texas, those days are still a living memory for Judy Rhodes - and it's her mission in this God-given life to share that boundless joy with other women today.

Judy has been toting a gun since the age of four and she got her start hunting rats, pigeons "anything that was a nuisance" using her first Red Ryder BB gun. At 8, she got her first real gun, which was a .410 shotgun.

Judy recalls that during those days she was "a ringleader of organizing people to go out and shoot. Maybe 30 kids would go after a game... only two girls, and the rest were guys...it was a time when girls weren't encouraged to play sports."

But being a rancher's daughter, Judy said she didn't know there were any limitations for girls. "I was used to the call of the wild."

Little did Judy know at the time that those wonder years of her life would set the foundation for her to become one of the leading advocates for introducing women to the shooting sports and that very same call of the wild.

Judy Rhodes

When she left home to attend Oklahoma University, her natural talents as a hunter and leader roped in some "Yankees" from the East Coast, where she demonstrated her early talent to get people involved in the kind of life that Judy loved.

She recalled how she had invited those East Coast guys back to her home in Texas. "It was my first time around Yankees who had never been exposed to the outdoors," she says, laughing.

Judy remembered how she would get them on a horse and to touch a cow - often the first time her new friends got that close to livestock - or any big animal. Then, at night, Judy introduced them to hunting as they stalked coyotes.

After college, Judy returned to Texas where she landed a job as an interior decorator working on high-profile projects such as the Ritz Carlton in Dallas. Back home now, she got right back into hunting, which turned out to bring her some business because there simply weren't that many women at the time who shared her passion for the sport.

One day, she was on the job and "a cowboy gets in the elevator. He'd just come back from hunting in Wyoming." What neither of them realized was that they both worked for the same company. In fact, as the vice president of finance, he signed her checks.

The stars were aligned, and they got married. For their honeymoon, they went hunting in Wyoming.

In 1999, Judy was recruited to the board of the Women's Shooting Sports Foundation -- an arm of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The charter of the WSSF was to get women more involved in the shooting sports and hunting, as well as function as sort of a lobbying group to influence manufacturers and retailers on the special needs of women shooters (and Judy has some strong opinions about that).

When the WSSF ultimately dissolved, she started the Texas Divas, which is short for Texas Women's Shooting Sports/DIVAS. It is now known as Women Outdoors Worldwide - Divas WOW - and remarkably is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Today, DIVAS has members in 49 states and 15 foreign countries. Over the years, DIVAS has taught over 800 women how to shoot a shotgun. They don't call them chapters, they're called liaisons because it's a sisterhood - women who need encouragement to enjoy the outdoors.

Her motto is "Women Helping Women...Women Teaching Women...Women Supporting Women." Her leadership in shooting, hunting and civic organizations led to a major story with photograph (including shotgun) in the Today Section of USA Today in March 2006.

She has also been featured in stories promoting women's positive outdoor experiences throughout the world, including broadcasts on German Television and the United Kingdom BBC Television.

Maybe that's where she got the TV bug. She started Divas in the Outdoors Television Show for reaching women and families worldwide. The show taught simple techniques from professionals. Divas in the Outdoors was the number-two show on MOR (Men's Outdoors and Recreational) shown on Direct TV, DishNetwork, Comcast and Turner Media.

All the while, Judy has been to South Africa 18 times, in addition to Spain, Argentina, Scotland, England, Canada and Mexico, as well as all over the U.S.A.

Her leadership, enthusiasm and commitment have made Judy the voice of outdoor women within the industry. As you can appreciate, she has a word or two for shotgun makers.

"Make guns that fit us."

Judy believes that the Beretta 391 semi-automatic is probably the best-fitting full-size gun for women on the market. Otherwise, she recommends that smaller framed women get themselves a youth gun.

But knowing Judy, we can expect to see a lot more shotguns on the market tailored to women.

"When we conduct our clinics women are afraid and we tell them that women can't be afraid. They know what guns can do, but don't know how to use them. But once a woman hit her first target its amazing how they want to go out and be a marksman and buy their own guns," she observed.

There was something else Judy discovered about women involved in the shotgun sports.

"Women enjoy the smell of gunpowder." She went as far as to say that women considered the smell of gunpowder a turn on.

Does that mean there's a new women's fragrance in Judy's future? Not really, but she is exploring the possibility of returning to TV this September.

"It will involve a lot of women and the outdoors," she said.

Judy honestly feels that she has been chosen by a higher power to get women involved in hunting, shooting and the great outdoors. "It's a sisterhood, a bonding, to make sure we have that next generation of women shooters. This is a mission I believe that I have in life."

Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

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She's a teacher, an artist, and a ballet aficionado originally from Brooklyn, New York--and an avid clay shooter!

If this doesn't entirely add up, don't be surprised. Sometimes, even Bonnie Berniger herself wonders how she ended up becoming passionate about clays shooting.

"My friends can't understand how I can go from the arts to shooting," she says. "People from Brooklyn don't understand that shooting could be a sport. They associate a gun with crime. When I come into work happy after a weekend of shooting, they looked at me very strangely."

Like many women shot gunners, Bonnie was introduced to the sport by her husband Joe, a financial planner. At that time, in 1992, she was on a one-year sabbatical from the New York City school system. Joe had always been into handguns and rifles, but started shooting trap with a good friend, and an NRA instructor. He suggested to Joe that he take Bonnie out for a trap lesson.

Joe asked her, and why she accepted his invitation is still a mystery. She had always felt wary about the guns Joe owned.

"I guess I was curious. Joe introduced me to the NRA instructor. He worked with me one day and after a few hours of watching, learning, and then shooting, I was hooked. Since I had that year off from teaching school, I pursued learning and improving my technique on my own. I started to show some success, and then I really I got into it. I became a convert. Joe saw my devotion to the sport and bought me a Browning BT-00 trap gun."

How could that possibly happen to someone like Bonnie?

"It was the first time I ever felt successful in a sport," she says.

Not being a natural athlete, she easily mastered the hand-eye coordination that helped her become a successful trap shooter. Best of all, with trap "you don't have to run or hit a ball," she says, laughing.

Like many women shooters, Bonnie had to get a shotgun that fit her. To make it more interesting, she was a lefty. So she had to cut the stock for a shorter length-of-pull and then have the cast changed so that her eyes lined up with the beads.

With trap gun in hand, she became a regular at Joe's trap club. "I was the only woman in this club. Some of the members weren't happy about it, but I held my own and after a while I was accepted as ‘one of the boys.'"

Over time, Bonnie gained enough confidence in trap to try her hand at skeet. She subsequently signed on with the skeet league at Thunder Mountain, in Ringwood, New Jersey. That called for another shotgun and she purchased a used 12-gauge Beretta 686 White Onyx from a friend of Joe's.


Just about this time, Bonnie's sabbatical had come to an end and she returned to work teaching gifted third graders. Despite the demands of her job, Bonnie stuck with skeet.

Her colleagues at work also began to grasp that one of their own had turned into a dedicated clays shooter. "They could not understand how I could possibly get into a shotgun sport," she recalls.

Bonnie persevered. She decided to improve her skeet game mostly on her own. Although she attend a few shooting clinics, most of her success came from constant practice and the support from the guys she shot with. Then she took the leap...

When she started to shoot competitive skeet, "I met a wonderful group of men who groomed me to try to make me successful in skeet. One of my problems was that I was teaching full time. I couldn't devote that time to being the best I could. I was teaching in Brooklyn, and living in New Jersey. But I did my best."

That's when Joe struck again. He introduced Bonnie to sporting clays, and of course another shotgun was called for. She opted for 12-gauge Beretta Sporting Clays gun. She found sporting clays so much fun that she backed off on her skeet and trap shooting. As she tells it, "Sporting clays is now my primary clay sport," she says.

She also discovered that her skeet game suffered. "If you really want to be successful with one sport, and compete, you can't go back and forth. I had a different gun for each sport and each gun fit and felt different. It took a few rounds to adjust."

At that point, Bonnie had left her teaching job in Brooklyn. She landed a job closer to home at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, where she's an Educational Supervisor. In her current capacity, she is a liaison between the University and the placement site where she monitors and evaluates the progress of student teachers. She now has more time to shoot.

For Bonnie, the beauty of sporting clays is that it lets her and Joe spend more time together, traveling to different venues with their sporting guns.

"We travel to shoot and make a little vacation out of it. Wherever we go, we find places to shoot," she says. In fact, they recently returned from Maui, where they shot sporting clays on a course inside an extinct volcano. "Now I shoot for pleasure, not for competition."

What's her advice for other women who want to lead the Shotgun Life?

"Conquer your fear of the gun," she advises. "By taking lessons, I got to learn the correct way to hold a gun, how to ‘read' the flight of a bird and respect the handling and firing of a gun." She also notes that this is a sport both she and her husband enjoy together, which makes for an even happier marriage!

Deborah McKown is Editor of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to letters@shotgunlife.com.

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Caution ladies: If your husband or boyfriend hands you one of his old shotguns for a round of clays shooting, say “Thanks but no thanks.”

Anecdotal evidence points to the above situation as a sure-fire way for a woman to never pick up a shotgun for the rest of her life. Why?

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