The Changing Landscape Of The Shooting Sports

Female Gun Ownership, Participation On The Rise
By Nancy Bacon

It’s no secret the shooting sports have long had a reputation for being a boy’s club. Hunting and target shooting have historically been dominated by male participants — more specifically, white, middle-aged men. Until recently, the community of hunters and recreational shooters in this country largely resembled this historic norm.

But things have begun to change over the past few decades, and new faces are emerging at shooting ranges and in the field across our country. Many of these new participants are women, and their impact on today’s shooting sports industry can hardly be understated. 

Just how many women are active in today’s hunting and recreational shooting sports?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 1.1 million women participated in hunting in 2016, representing 10 percent of the national hunting population.1 

According to the National Sporting Goods Association on behalf of the NSSF, female participation in hunting increased by 104 percent between 2001 and 2016.2 This same research indicates over 6 million women went target shooting in 2016. Mirroring this trend, female participation in target shooting has increased dramatically as well — by more than 80 percent between 2001 and 2016.

Findings from Southwick Associates’ and, which collect information from a national online panel of hunters and shooters on a bi-monthly basis, suggest female participation in both hunting and shooting may be highest among younger women. Between 2017 and 2018, more than 10 percent of 18- to 24-year-old respondents who hunted were female while less than 3 percent of all hunter responses in other age groups came from women.

An even stronger trend emerges when examining young target shooters within this panel. Female respondents made up 16 percent of responses from 18- to 24-year-old target shooters, while the overall female representation among respondents in other age groups was again under 3 percent. If younger participants maintain their participation rates, both of these figures provide evidence future generations of hunters and shooters will contain more women than ever before.

A Call To Action
Research conducted by Southwick Associates for the NSSF to better understand new shooters showed a key barrier to participation for women was not having anyone to shoot with. Women were more drawn to participate than men by feeling empowered, learning how to protect themselves, better understanding firearms and spending time with family and friends. Additionally, women were more likely than men to want safety and personal instruction as first-time shooters.

Several women’s shooting organizations have been established within the last decade, which have lifted the barriers and addressed the needs of women. Shoot Like A Girl, The Well Armed Woman, A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League and DIVA Women Outdoors Worldwide are just a few examples of active, female-led recreational shooting or hunting groups that have shown significant growth in recent years. These organizations serve an important role in empowering women to shoot and offering opportunities to women who are new to the shooting sports to gain training, experience and product education needed to become regular, lifelong participants. Additionally, they offer experienced female shooters the chance to engage with a community of like-minded women, and to follow their passion by participating in competitions or events related to recreational shooting, hunting, outdoor skills development or by mentoring others.

These trends all indicate women are becoming an increasingly important part of the recreational shooting and hunting communities. Therefore, women are also starting to represent a more significant part of the market for recreational shooting, personal defense and hunting equipment. It’s essential manufacturers and retailers not only recognize this trend, but also understand the motivations, interests and needs of female shooters are frequently different. By identifying unique groups of female shooters, companies can improve their products, marketing and interactions with this vital segment of the market.

Segmented Focus
A recent study conducted by Southwick Associates on behalf of the NSSF reveals important characteristics of female firearm consumers.3 Providing insights into consumers’ motivations and product preferences, this study divided American firearm and accessories consumers into eight distinct segments. Four of these eight segments contain a relatively high proportion of female consumers, and those segments are described below:

Debbie Defense (100% Female): An all-female segment, Debbie Defense wants to own a firearm for personal protection, at and away from home. Young and more ethnically diverse, she enjoys the outdoors. Debbie Defense wants concealability and light weight in a firearm but is not set on specific product features or brands when she starts shopping for firearms. Recreational shooting is of little interest.

Skills Builder (43% Female): Suburban with a modest income, the Skills Builder is not outdoorsy and is the youngest of all segments. With higher rates of female and minority participation, this segment does not own many firearms but wants to be proficient with the firearms they own. Similar to Debbie Defense, concealability and light weight reflect their interest in personal protection.

Protector (34% Female): The largest segment, the Protector is typically a family-oriented professional with a slightly above-average income. They do not describe themselves as outdoorsy, but strongly define themselves as protective of their families and home, and already know what they want in a firearm when they visit the retailer.

Urban Recruits (34% Female):

Urban Recruits have a lower income, are price conscious and seek versatility in their firearm purchases. Largely urban and suburban, these relatively new owners have the highest proportion of minorities (25%), low rates of target shooting participation and the highest rates of law enforcement and military background.

Impressive Growth Potential
At this point, it’s worth reiterating women are already an important part of today’s recreational shooting and hunting markets. Current trends indicate female participation in these sports is growing quickly. In fact, according to additional recent work by Southwick Associates for the NSSF we know out of the 24 million Americans who want to buy their first firearm but haven’t yet taken the last step, 47 percent of them are women. Our industry’s growth potential may be enormous.

Women will continue to increase in importance as both shooting sports participants and firearms and accessories consumers in the coming years. To succeed in this space, it will be imperative companies effectively develop products, market and sell to female shooters and hunters. Those who understand female consumers will be better positioned to take advantage of the shifting demographics within the shooting sports. 


To explore additional consumer segmentation research, gain access to detailed market reports or to use custom research to help your business grow, please contact Southwick Associates at


Nancy Bacon is Southwick Associates’ VP of business development, working on behalf of its private sector clients. Bacon has more than 25 years of experience researching the hunting and shooting market.

1. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Census Bureau. 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

2. National Sporting Goods Association, Shooting Sports Participation, 2017 Edition.

3. Consumer Segmentation of the U.S. Commercial Firearms & Accessories Market. Southwick Associates on behalf of the NSSF, 2017.

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