Rudyard Kipling’s legendary poem, “The Female of the Species,” has as its recurring refrain the following: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” But what if the species in question is Homo sapiens sapiens? Most shooting instructors will happily tell you that yes, women are better shooters than men. That leads us to the real question: Why this is the case, and if so, is this shooting success something that men could emulate? In the interests of objectivity, we asked three male gun trainers for their thoughts … and the answers may surprise you. (Or not.)
We’ll start with a core truth: Firearms are truly the great equalizer. As women, our lack of upper-body strength relative to men’s stops mattering the second we step up to the firing line. All you really need, physically, to be a good shooter is decent hand-eye coordination. That’s something that should be more or less consistent across both sexes. And yet…
A while back, our sister publication NRA Family asked a 27-year Army marksmanship instructor for his thoughts. His reply was:
“As a military logistician, my units had around 20 percent female personnel in both officer and enlisted ranks. All the women fired Expert their first day, but less than a third of the men did so. Several men had to re-train and repeat the course to qualify. This pattern continued when the 9mm replaced the .45 in 1985, until I retired in 1997. It also appeared that differences in musculature and hand size had no effect on the scores.”
So what did make the difference? Says Col. Haynes, “Told how to hold the gun, that’s the way they held it. Told to look at the front sight, that’s what they looked at. Told what I thought they were doing wrong, their first instinct was to believe me.”
So, our first male gun instructor says that yes, women are better shooters, and his theory is that it’s because we listen.
We also checked with firearms instructor and legendary gun writer Sheriff Jim Wilson. Here are his thoughts:
“Men and women are equal in terms of the ability and physical skills needed to learn to shoot. However, I think more women approach the task in an open-minded manner. They seem to have fewer pre-conceived notions and ego doesn't seem to get in their way quite as much. We've all been in the class where one student tries to act like he is a junior instructor—and in my experience that has always been a man. My Hispanic friends call that ‘Macho’—a fine, descriptive word—and something that every student needs to park at the front gate before class starts.”
So, our second male gun instructor says that yes, women are better shooters, and his theory is that it’s because women listen to their instructors instead of trying to one-up them.
Frank and Barb Melloni, owner/operators of Renaissance Firearms Instruction, have trained thousands of women and men to shoot safely. We already know what Barb would say (given that she’s an NRA Women contributor), so we checked in with Frank.
“It’s because they take better instruction than men. Usually women come into a course without a preconceived idea of shooting stands, trigger press or any of the other things that ‘the guys at the range’ taught them.”
Seems that Frank’s take is that women are better shooters than men because women are more likely to listen to a professional gun instructor and follow his or her advice than men.
Readers, I think we have officially established a pattern here. Women are better shooters than men because we listen to our firearms instructors, believe them when they tell us what will and will not work, and weigh the advice of professionals more than that of our buddies.
So the answer seems to be that no, women aren’t naturally better shooters than men … we’re just better listeners. (Cue the expressions of non-shock and total lack of surprise on the face of every woman reading this article.) That would seem to indicate that this highly successful trait is something anyone, male or female, could emulate for shooting success. And yet …
I once had the opportunity to speak to a male Olympic shooter—I won’t name him, since he didn’t agree to be quoted—and I asked him a question that had been bothering me for some time. We must assume that at the Olympic level, any differences between male and female learning patterns has long since been erased. It doesn’t stand to reason that “listening to instruction” would matter at the ultra-elite competitive level.
“I understand why Olympic sports are segregated by sex for strength- and speed-based competitions,” I asked him, “but why the shooting sports? Shooting is even more gender-neutral than bowling.”
“They don’t segregate the women shooters from the men shooters to keep things fair for the women,” he whispered in reply. “They do it to keep it fair for us.”