Technique and Gunfit for Women
I wanted to be practical, and consider some real cases again, I also thought it would be good to do something specifically for women shooters, who, in my experience, do not always get the advice or encouragement that they need to progress to the maximum of their ability. Let’s start off, with the story of a young Chinese shooter, Shan Zhang – a young woman from Sichuan province in the south west of that great country. In her early twenties, she won the tough Olympic Skeet championship in 1992 Olympics with an extraordinary world record score of 200/200 – unbelievable, considering how hard this discipline is (our own Joe Neville had recorded a marvelous 200 ex 200 many years previously, but, sadly, not at the Olympics).
To quote Ray.P.Carter of US Shooting Team Alumni Association: “She [Shan Zhang]was the first, last and only female to win an Olympic Gold Medal in an open Olympic shooting event”. Why? The answer is quite surprising. In this age of equal opportunity, she did not have the opportunity to defend here title because, it would seem, that the response of ISSF and the International Olympic Association to her staggering achievement was to change the rules. Women could not be able to compete with the men again! There are no open events in the Olympics now (though, in 2000, a women's Olympic skeet competition was added to the Olympic line-up).
This diminutive but formidable Chinese athlete – proved a point, nevertheless. Women can, potentially, shoot as well as men even at the highest level. Why don’t they do it more often? Looking at the simple statistics women, with some notable exceptions, would seem to be well down the list usually. There is more to this than there might seem, however. First, culturally – to date at least – women are not traditionally encouraged much with regard to shooting sport. I also think many women struggle with visual and gunfit issues, and, again, being blunt, I do not think that they are always given the correct information to overcome this.
Let’s start with eyes – they’re so important – and some real cases. Most (but not all) women struggle to shoot with both eyes open. I have had dozens of cases where right handed females have been misdiagnosed as having left eye dominance. On close examination they have what I have come to call in recent years ‘indeterminate eye dominance’ (a category now being adopted by some shooting schools). This is an eye dominance shared by many pre-pubescent boys. The two eyes fight for control and unless you squint, wink or obstruct the vision to the offending eye you will have problems.
Recently, for example, I had a lady client who had been incorrectly told to switch shoulders and keep both eyes open. She was in just as much of a muddle off the left shoulder as she had been off the right! Once, I had patched out one of her eyes with a small spot on her shooting glasses she was fine. She did find in the end, interestingly, that she was more comfortable shooting off the left shoulder than the right even though normally right-handed. There is no definitive advice here. You must experiment to determine what is most comfortable for you.
Another female client had been in a serious accident and suffered terrible head injuries. She was seeing 4 sets of barrels when we begun! In her case a small spot did not suffice – with my normal 1” diameter one in place she was still picking up a confusing image to the occluded side of her shooting glasses and this was sending the wrong messages to her brain. A patch covering half the lens completely on the left side solved the problem, and, happily, her performance immediately jumped 25%.
I would guess that only about one woman in ten (perhaps less) would be well advised to shoot both eyes open (though if you are sure it works for you carry on) (see article on eye dominance here). I know many women who do, who are absolutely convinced they are doing the right thing in keeping both eyes open (just as many men misdiagnose themselves as absolutely right eye dominant). Yet, when I watch their shot in the air, I consistently note that they are shooting to one side of their mark because of their eye dominance. Shooting with both eyes open has huge potential advantages, but it is an even greater impediment potentially unless your eye dominance in the eye looking down the rib is absolute (which, as noted, is very, very, rare in women). Can one learn to shoot with both eyes open? It may be possible to a degree, but I remain to be convinced that it is reliable. [I might, meanhwhile, note that fewer and fewer men are testing absolutely right eye dominant. Modern life, or something, seems to be affecting the distribution of eye dominance (which in men used to be something like 70:30 in favour of right eye dominance, but now is more like 50:50). Why? Who knows, maybe it has something to do with staring at computer screens so much.]
Another big issue for women is gun fit (see gunfit article here). Let’s keep it simple. Most women are shorter than most men, and, they tend to have smaller skulls too. Therefore, women tend to need shorter stocks with higher combs (because the distance between the cheekbone and eye orbit is reduced). The problem is that most ‘off the shelf’ stocks are made for the average female – not the average male. Women may also need a smaller grip, typically, and reduced toe dimension at the sole of the stock (especially if they have a large bust).
Another big issue for women (and young shots) is gun weight, especially at the front end of the gun. Women, typically, want a lighter gun than men (with notable exceptions again). I often find myself advising ‘game’ models to my female clients because of the reduced overall and frontal weight (guns with narrow ribs tend to have lighter barrels). I also think that gas operated, alloy auctioned, semi-automatic guns of good design can be ideal for ladies. 12 or 20? Generally, a 12 is to be preferred for serious competition.
Cartridge choice is also important, no-one needs more than 24 grams in an over and under these days. Semis will usually want 28 grams to work reliably (but their mechanism soaks up quite a lot of the recoil). Those who still suffer from recoil may consider a Kick-Eez recoil pad or similar.
Let us finish by considering matters of technique. First, upper body strength is important to all shooters. The power of the leading hand and arm is especially critical. If you feel you have problems with this, practice mounting a proven empty gun every day. You may also want to acquire a small dumbbell, and practice weak hand curls, raising it up and diagonally across your chest as you rotate your upper body right and left as if shooting at a crossing bird. As with men, power for the swing should be generated primarily with core body movement not just with the arms. Other points to watch include keeping the back relatively straight with the front shoulder over the front foot. You must also follow through well, keeping the head well down on the stock and not lifting it prematurely (as many girls tend to do).
As for systems of forward allowance I advise the two old faithfuls – point at the target and pull ahead, or, come-up on the back edge and push though. Maintain focus on the target throughout. Many women, like many men, do not realize the sheer variety of different lead pictures required to break targets on a typical sporting course, or, indeed, at skeet. Finally, don’t restrict yourself to gun up shooting indefinitely (as many ladies do) experiment with shooting gun down. If you are shooting with one eye closed, dimmed, or obstructed at the moment you shoot the target, you will find that gun down shooting can greatly increase your field of vision initially. Try it, but, don’t give up on it too easily, it takes some practice to master. It’s worth the effort.