Find The Right Fit: Shotguns & Rifles For Women

By Ashley McGee

Easy to handle, with less recoil and more than adequate stopping power, 20-gauge shotguns like this Beretta
A400 are a solid choice for female customers at Nichols Store in Rock Hill, S.C. According to Josh Brown, sales
of 20-gauge shotguns “far outpace” those in 12-gauge among women.

As a female hunter who stands at just 5 feet 3 inches tall, I’m all too familiar with the challenge of finding a firearm that truly fits my frame. When shopping for a firearm, I find myself empathizing with the timeless fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks struggled to find the right chair, bowl of porridge and bed, and ultimately found Baby Bear’s to be “just right.” I’ve often settled for a youth model because my shorter arms cannot properly support the barrel of a heavier weight or longer stock. Of course, not all women share the same challenges; we’re simply built differently than men.

When the rapidly increasing population of female hunters and shooters first drew attention from firearms and outdoors manufacturers, the first inclination was to “shrink it and pink it.” In their defense, this marketing strategy was already widely used in a variety of other industries including electronics, children’s toys and even beverages.

Being the obvious and easy strategy, it worked for a while, but only for a few niche segments. In the shooting sports industry, manufacturers and dealers often struggled to truly understand and address the needs, challenges and desires of the female population. Thankfully, in 2018, I think it is safe to say this generalized marketing strategy is behind us.

The dealers and manufacturers who have found success appealing to the female shooter have recognized not everything has to have a gender lens on it — only products where women can benefit from tailored performance and comfort features. A few months ago, Shooting Industry shared recommendations for the best handguns for women (see “Best Self-Defense Handguns For Women” in the Oct. 2016 issue). This month, we take a look at shotguns and rifles.

Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon

Women-Friendly Shotguns

With more than 40 percent of its customer base being female, Nichols Store in Rock Hill, S.C., has a keen understanding of the makes and models most popular with female shooters. “When it comes to shotguns, 20-gauge sales far outpace 12-gauge,” said Josh Brown. Brown has been working in the store’s firearm department for three years and has worked in the industry for 10. “They are easier to handle, have less recoil and provide more than adequate stopping power,” he added.
However, many women can and prefer to handle the added power of a 12-gauge. Size, ability and sensitivity to recoil are the key factors to consider when helping a woman decide which gauge is most suitable for her.

“The A400 Xplor Action from Beretta is our best selling semi-automatic shotgun,” Brown shared. “It’s lightweight, low recoil and easy to maintain so women tend to really like how it handles.” The A400 is available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge models. Featuring Beretta’s Blink technology, it’s capable of firing four shells in less than one second ­— the fastest follow-up shot of any shotgun on the market. Additionally, hydraulic shock absorbers built inside the stock coupled with a Micro-Core buttpad help contribute to as much as 70 percent reduced recoil. (MSRP $1,600.)

Another popular choice is the Instinct Catalyst by Franchi. First introduced at SHOT Show in 2016, the Instinct Catalyst is one of two guns made especially for women. According to Franchi’s website, the stock was designed with a drop, cast, pitch, length of pull and grip length to offer better alignment with a woman’s body. The over/under shotgun comes in 12-gauge and features a 28-inch barrel and interchangeable chokes. “Since this gun was designed with a shorter stock, many women won’t need a recoil pad spacer to adjust for length of pull,” Brown relayed. “Plus it’s chambered for both heavy 3-inch shells as well as lighter 2.75 inch.” Weighing in at just 9 lbs., the Instinct Catalyst is well balanced with great overall swing ability. (MSRP $1,599.)

Those looking for a premium shotgun should look no further than the 686 Silver Pigeon I from Beretta — another 12-gauge over/under. It’s available with either 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrel lengths, and is also offered in scaled-down 28-gauge and .410 versions. “For smaller-framed adults, this is a great compact, low-profile option without sacrificing performance,” Brown informed. “However the premium price point sometimes puts it out of budget for the average, everyday shooter.” The 696 Silver Pigeon is available in both sporting and hunting editions. (MSRP $2,350.)

Savage Arms 11/111 Trophy Hunter XP

“Just Right” Rifles

When it comes to purchasing a firearm, the part most often overwhelming isn’t necessarily the gun itself, but figuring out what accessories are needed to go with it. Considering women tend to spend more time on research and education before committing to a firearm purchase, the more guesswork you can take out of the buying process the better.

Brown said when it comes to the most popular rifle for women, it’s why the 11/111 Trophy Hunter XP from Savage Arms consistently remains one of their best sellers. While .243 is the retailer’s most favored caliber among female shooters, the Trophy Hunter XP is available in more than a dozen other chamberings. The biggest selling points are that it comes packaged with a 3-9x40mm Nikon scope and features user-adjustable AccuTrigger technology at an affordable price point. (MSRP $629–$658.)

The Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas is another great choice for female or other smaller-framed shooters including youth thanks to a shortened stock, short throw bolt and adjustable trigger. Despite its compact size, the Micro Midas has all the same features as the full-size model. It is available in seven different calibers including .243. (MSRP $859.99.)

Final Takeaways

Firearm options for women have evolved and expanded in recent years, but many women may still find a youth model is a reasonable solution. “If a youth model is too short, you can add a recoil pad,” Brown said. “It not only dampens the felt recoil enormously but also adds length to the stock.

Regardless of which rifle a woman ultimately chooses, Brown recommends pairing it with Hornady’s Custom Lite ammunition. Available in the most popular calibers, “it offers an accurate load, but with about 40 percent less recoil,” he said.

In short, the female shooter should not be underestimated. The majority of us don’t make firearm purchasing decisions based on color options or aesthetic embellishments — performance matters most to us. And as a dealer, when you take women seriously enough to stock inventory tailored to our performance needs, you’re likely to gain a lifelong customer.

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