One gun club owner describes the experience as a ‘fantastic family sport’

london_free_pressBy Jennifer O’Brien, The London Free Press


Bored after three years of dance, and uninterested in various other “random” activities she’d tried over the years, D’Arcy Allen was 11 the first time she went to the shooting range with her dad.

“I came out to try it once and I haven’t actually stopped,” said Allen, now 16, who traded her dance shoes for a .22-calibre rifle and has been joined by her brother and two younger sisters as a regular at the East Elgin Sportsman Association in Aylmer.

“It’s different . . . it’s what I do for fun.”

And though the Allen girls may be alone among their London schoolmates when it comes to spending their free time at a firing range, they represent a booming demographic across the country.

Empowered by changing times, higher sights and clubs that are scrambling to become cleaner, nicer and more accommodating to families, women and girls have been flocking to gun sports at a “really rapid pace,” said Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

“It’s been steady for about the past 10 years.”

A rare sight on the firing range only a decade ago, females now make up about a third of shooters in any club, the association estimates.

And that ratio is echoed by individual gun clubs.

“There is a huge difference . . . an incredible rise in women coming into the sport,” said J.R. Cox, who owns two 1,000 member clubs — the Shooting Edge in Calgary and Target Sports in Toronto.

When Cox opened the Calgary club 12 years ago, a smidgen of the members were female, he said. That has risen to about 300 at each club.

“Two or three years ago, we realized we are not as family friendly as we could be,” said Cox. “Now the firearms community has . . . de-testosteronized the sport. At our clubs, you are not allowed to swear, you can’t wear stupid T-shirts and the bathrooms in shooting ranges are probably the cleanest bathrooms in the city.”

Many clubs across the country now have women’s programs and youth nights. And, at his facilities, Cox replaced realistic human-looking targets with silhouettes, zombies and cartoonish characters. “We are taking the aggressiveness out of it. This is a sport, gender neutral and age neutral. A fantastic family sport.”

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