By Jackie Adams
When the first modern-day Olympic Games were held in Athens in the summer of 1896, there were only nine sports. These included shooting, and only 241 athletes participated, all of whom were men. Today the Olympics have evolved into a vast, multiday event with 28 contested sports and a diverse mix of thousands of athletes, including women who have joined the ranks of competitive shooters.
Olympians Corey Cogdell, 30, and Morgan Craft, 23, are two of the women who are excelling in the world of shooting. Both athletes grew up exposed to guns from a young age and participated in their local 4-H shooting sports programs, where they fell in love with the sport. But it wasn’t until they were older that they realized they could pursue their passion at an Olympic level.
“Growing up, I never would have even known about our Olympic sport were it not for a coach who worked at our local shooting club,” Craft says. “I grew up hunting with my family. We were always involved in the outdoors and hunting, but … we never knew that shooting was an actual Olympic sport.”
Thanks to a spreading awareness of the sport and a shift in societal norms, more women than ever are trying their skill with a gun. Research by the National Sporting Goods Association shows female participation in target shooting grew by 46.5 percent between 2001 and 2010, and an October 2011 Gallup poll found that 23 percent of women own a gun in the United States.
“Over the past 10 years there has been a big influx of women joining the shooting sports, as well as becoming … outdoors enthusiasts in regards to hunting and fishing,” Cogdell says. “I think as our society changes, it’s … more socially acceptable for girls to be involved in a more … [male-dominated] sport. I think women are becoming more empowered and … [have] the courage to try something that maybe before had the connotation that it was something that guys go out and do on the weekends.”
Cogdell took up competitive shooting very early in life and participated in her first Olympic Games in 2008, where she earned a bronze medal for trap shooting (in which clay targets fly away from the shooter). She also represented the U.S. in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and earned a second bronze medal for women’s trap in the 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile, Craft qualified for the 2016 Olympics after winning a gold medal at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Championships, becoming the 2015 world champion in women’s skeet (in which clay targets cross in front of the shooter).
For those who are new to the sport, Craft recommends trying out all the different types of shooting, such as trap, skeet or sporting clays, to figure out which type is the best personal fit. “There are several different disciplines in shotgun shooting, and one may not be for a certain person, but they may really enjoy the other,” Craft says. She also stresses the importance of using the correct equipment. “Gun fit is a very big deal in shooting. It’s hard to be extremely successful without a gun that fits you and is customized for you.”
In addition to getting the right fit, learning how to shoot from a professional is one of the best things new participants can do. “Go to your local gun club and find someone to give you a lesson,” Cogdell says. “With the shooting sports technique … starting out and not developing bad habits is one of the most crucial things …. [to avoid] becoming frustrated and … [to achieve] success in the sport.”
The Sea Island Shooting School offers expert guidance for women who are interested in sport shooting.
Jon Kent, director of outdoor pursuits at the resort, runs the Sea Island Shooting School and has prepared a one-hour ladies-only shooting clinic, entitled the Annie Oakley Hour, to teach fundamentals to beginners. The course begins by fitting the participants with the proper gun, followed by a safety rundown before an hour of practice on a skeet field.
“It’s a great place to start as a beginner and learn the fundamentals,” Kent says. “We’re trying to make sure that they learn it the right way and [that] they are having a comfortable, fun experience for the first time. That’s the key: Keep it nice, simple and easy and make sure that they hit some targets—that’s what brings them back.”
(Top photo courtesy of USA Shooting)