Shotguns come in a variety of types – single shot, pump action, autoloading, side by side and over and under. There is a diehard group of shotgun shooters and collectors who consider a side by side the only style truly worth their time, and nowhere in the United States can you find more of these male and female side-by-side aficionados in one place than the Spring Southern Side by Side Championship and Exhibition, held each year at the Deep River Sporting Clays and Shooting School outside the central North Carolina town of Sanford.
The shooting rules are casual, with the only stipulation being that all guns shot on the sporting-clays course must have horizontally aligned barrels. This is more of an exhibition, so although some shooters take their shooting very seriously, posting a good score is secondary for many, with camaraderie and a chance to rub elbows with fellow side-by-side enthusiasts being the true main attraction. It’s called a championship, but that’s just for bragging rights – there’s no purse, there’s no betting, and there are so many trophy categories that it’s almost like a kid’s soccer club.
One of the more notable changes at the Spring Southern over recent years has been the influx of lady shooters. They’re not just attendees either, but actual competitors. Groups such as Girls Really Into Shooting have led the way for more women to get involved.
Bill Kempffer, owner of the Deep River shooting school, says he’s seen a steady uptick in the number of women shooters over the years. Kempffer serves on the National Shooting Sports Foundation Board of Governors and has been in the shooting sports business since the 1950s – certainly long enough to notice any trends in the industry. “I’ve seen big changes – particularly in the last 20 years, and Deep River has been around for 27 years,” he says. “In the beginning you’d occasionally have a wife or a daughter come out to shoot, but around 15 years ago we had an increase in single mothers who would bring their sons to the range to be around men and learn masculine things, because that’s what their fathers and brothers did. In the last five to 10 years more women have stepped out and started doing it themselves.”
Elizabeth Lanier didn’t shoot much as a child growing up in Texas, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she handles her shotgun on the clays course. On her call of “pull,” two orange targets are launched and instantly turned to dust by her 12-gauge side by side. Liz’s childhood experience with guns was limited to 4th of July celebrations when the men in her family would set up a few soda bottles for the youngsters to shoot with .22 rimfires. Several years back she bought her then-husband a set of five shooting lessons, tagging along with him for the first outing. She discovered she liked shooting so much that she used the remaining four lessons on herself. “I thought it was great therapy; it was something I could go out and do that was just about me, the shotgun and the target. I used to drive my kids up to the five-stand and leave the car running, air conditioning on and a movie playing. They were all in car seats and I’d take an hour lesson, go back to the car and they’d all be sound asleep. It was wonderful fun,” she said.
As things progressed, Lanier figured she needed to learn more so she could help the group become more proficient. She got her National Sporting Clays Association level I certification, and then her level II. The only woman in a class of nine, she was so full of nervous excitement that she literally cried when she was awarded her certification. One thing led to another, and people started coming to her for instruction, but she says money has never been the object – it’s the love of the sport that drives her. Her sights were then squarely set on her level III certification, which she considered the ultimate goal – one that would place her in a select group of women so few you can count them on one hand. Lanier calls the day she obtained her level III certification one of her proudest moments. After weathering her divorce, instructing morphed into a career that not only offsets the cost of her hobbies, but ultimately ended up supporting her and her kids.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you have, what you do for a living – we’re all together to have fun, to enjoy being outside and shooting,” says Lanier. “People would see us out shooting and think, ‘Oh, my, those ladies are having a good time!’”
With five chapters and two more currently in the works, GRITS is spreading the word that women and shotguns are a good combination You’ll know GRITS girls at clay competitions. They’re the ladies smiling and slapping high-fives while shooting the course. It’s the love of the sport that keeps them and their side-by-side shotguns coming back for more. ASJ