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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.