“We may like to do our hair and nails and look pretty, but deep down, every woman wants to feel like Wonder Woman,” says Karla Herdzik, professional 3-gun shooter for Team FNH USA. Super heroes and heroines are all the rage these days on the big screen and in popular culture, and there is no shortage of female heroes slugging or shooting it out with the bad guys and villains. From Lara Croft the Tomb Raider and her dual-wielded H&K USP Match 9mm pistols to Katniss Everdeen’s recurve bow in “The Hunger Games,” women in the movies aren’t afraid to mix it up when the weaponry comes out.
It’s not all that different when the lights come up. Female shooters are a growing segment of the shooting community, and it’s not only women looking for a little self-defense that they can carry, just in case. The recent trends in the world of shooting have really brought more women into what most have traditionally thought of as a man’s sport — driven in large part by the tactical revolution.
Herdzik notes that the list of things that bring out a little bit of the hero in her is pretty short.
“It includes heavy barbells, modern sporting rifles, and not much else,” she says. “Women want tools and experiences that make us feel empowered, and it definitely doesn’t have to be pink for us to want it.”
Tactical guns, particularly AR-style rifles and their derivatives, meet the need for a tool that’s empowering and provides an experience that brings out the best in the shooter. The “tacticool” factor of ARs and other modern sporting rifles is as strong of a draw for women as it is for men. When looking at rifles for women, it’s hard to find one that comes as close to perfection as the modern sporting rifle.
When compared to their male counterparts, female shooters will often be of smaller build and lighter weight and generally not as physically strong as men. And while they might be just as tough as the guys (or tougher) in a lot of ways, their slighter frame won’t hold up to a long day of pounding recoil. This, for the same reason that many women prefer to shoot 20-gauge shotguns instead of 12-gauge, means that the 5.56/.223 semi-automatic modern sporting rifle is at the sweet spot between accuracy, hitting power and recoil manageability.
The shooting magazines and Internet forums might be full of complaints about the shortcomings of the lighter 5.56mm round compared to hunting cartridges or earlier standard military rifle rounds, but in the hands of female shooters, this supposed weakness becomes a strength.
“The AR-15 is a fantastic platform for women shooters, because there are so many options available that women can find exactly what they’re looking for in terms of weight and length,” adds Herdzik. “And even colors.”
Another thing that makes the AR the perfect rifle for women is the same thing that makes it the perfect rifle for whichever group you happen to be talking about: its modularity and adaptability. The customization that can quickly and easily be performed on the AR means that whoever the shooter, whatever the requirement, the right gun can be put together. Adjustable carbine stocks that allow soldiers in body armor to have a right-sized weapon perform the same function for civilians, even if they aren’t wearing a bulletproof vest. Women aren’t stuck with an oversized, heavy, wooden shoulder stock and don’t have to cut it down just to get a good sight picture. Click. Click. Done.
Picatinny tactical rails and the new KeyMod system provide virtually limitless adjustability and customization for optics and accessories. Every shooter — man or woman, tall or short — can dial in the perfect setup on every gun. Even better, they can change it quickly if, for example, a property defense rifle is going to serve as a hunting gun for a few weeks in the fall or get swapped between two shooters of different statures. Sights, grips, lights and everything else can be easily locked into a new position without delay.
Herdzik noted that, while not all women are going to want pink guns, colors are easily added to the AR. Black guns are no longer just black, or even desert tan. Customizing the look of guns has become almost as big a priority as the gun’s design, and just like everyone wants a protective case that personalizes their iPhone, shooters are increasingly making personalization of their guns a priority. Many ARs are already available in non-standard colors, such the Bushmaster Enhanced Crimson XM15E 3-gun rifle. Smith & Wesson offers its M&P 15-22 rimfire ARs in a variety of colored camo schemes, including pink and purple. The modular nature of the AR and the availability of colored aftermarket parts or firearms finishes means that turning a standard black gun into a pink or purple or polka-dot gun is almost as easy as moving the vertical forward grip.
The features that make the AR and its tactical cousins the perfect rifles for a wide range of missions in the military, professional and civilian world are the same things that make it the perfect rifle for female shooters.
“When a man hits a target, they call him a marksman. When I hit a target, they call it a trick,” Annie Oakley, the famous sharpshooter from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, is reputed to have said. “Never did like that much.”
ARs and the growing number of women shooting them are going to be delivering a lot more “trick shots” in the years to come. Just get used to it, boys.