Between 2005 and 2020, the National Shooting Sports Foundation documented a 77% rise in female gun ownership. Today, there are over 5 million estimated women who practice target shooting in the United States, whether it’s for hunting, sport shooting, or sharpening self-defense skills.
However, women didn’t always play a prominent role in the firearms industry. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re going to look at some notable women throughout history who pioneered female firearm ownership – as well as some skilled ladies who continue to make waves in the space today.
Famous Firearms Females of the Past
We’re going all the way back to the colonial era for this one. Jane Frazier was a pioneer in early American firearm use.
In 1755, she was kidnapped and taken to the Ohio Valley by a band of Delaware natives. Eighteen months into her captivity, she managed to steal a broken rifle and, using skills she’d learned from her gunsmith husband, was able to repair it. Her resourcefulness allowed her and two additional captives to escape.
Not too long after Frazier, Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution in a bit of an unconventional way – she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces.
In 1782, she joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment under the name “Robert Shurtleff.” For almost two years, she served in the army without detection, although she had a bit of a close call when she was injured due to a sword and a gunshot to her left thigh (the story goes that she actually extracted the bullet herself to avoid having to go to the hospital).
Sampson was eventually discovered when she had to go to the hospital due to an epidemic. She received an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783 and became the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the war. Following her time in the army, she went on tour to tell others about her experience.
Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary
From an early age, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary always loved the outdoors. During her family’s five month covered wagon trip from Missouri to Montana, she spent most of her time hunting with the men in the caravan.
Fast forward to 1870, where she began a six-year stint as a soldier alongside General George Custer. Between her time in the military and her travels that followed, she earned a reputation as a woman who could handle a horse better than most men and shoot like a cowboy.
This reputation led Calamity Jane to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1895, where she performed sharpshooting while riding her horse. She traveled throughout the country with the show, bringing her western flair and impressive aim wherever she went.
Perhaps one of the most famous female markswomen of all time, Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses in August of 1860. At the age of eight, she started hunting, selling the game she shot to local restaurants to help earn money for her family.
When she was 15, Oakley competed against traveling marksman Frank E. Butler, outshooting him by one target. Impressed with her skills, Butler eventually married her and the two began touring. The couple ended up joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where Oakley became a headliner.
Over their nearly two decades of touring, Oakley and her husband had the opportunity to travel the world. Some of her signature tricks during this time included splitting the edges of playing cards, shooting cigarettes out of her husband’s mouth, and shooting coins tossed into the air.
But Oakley wasn’t only concerned with the flashy moves of sharpshooting. She was also a huge advocate for women’s empowerment through firearm use. Oakley made it a point to show people around the world that women were capable of handling firearms and even out-shooting men. She even encouraged women to learn how to use pistols that could be kept in purses in order to protect themselves, paving the way for female firearm use for decades to come.
Back to the Future: Females in the Firearms Space Today
Kim Rhode is a six-time Olympic medalist for Team USA, having earned three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals. Her skills have also earned her five World Championship medals (two gold, two silver, and one bronze).
By the age of 13, Rhode was the youngest ladies’ World Champion in American Skeet, and her first appearance in the Olympics was at age 17. Rhode holds the distinction of being the first individual American athlete to win a medal in five consecutive Olympic Games in 2012. This accomplishment includes her gold that she won while pregnant with her son in London’s 2012 games!
Julie Golob is another modern sport shooter who has had a huge impact on the firearms industry for females. A veteran of the United States Army Marksmanship Unit, Golob has since turned her attention to competitive shooting, becoming the captain of the Smith & Wesson shooting team.
During her time as a competitor, Golob has won multiple world championships. She is also the only seven-division United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) champion in shooting history. As if this wasn’t enough, Golob is also an accomplished children’s author, and she has published a guidebook on competitive shooting to help get others involved in the sport.
Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher
Originally growing up with dreams of being an Olympic figure skater, Ginny Thrasher started shooting after seeing the men’s air rifle event in the 2012 London games. She trained with her father, a retired Air Force officer. Thrasher later joined the air rifle team at her high school before going to West Virginia University to shoot.
In her first year at WVU, Thrasher won both the individual small-bore and air rifle titles, putting her in the running for a potential Olympics appearance. Just four short years after taking up shooting, Thrasher won the first gold medal of the 2016 Rio Olympic games at age 19, setting an Olympic record in a finals upset.
In addition to the Olympics, Thrasher has competed (and in some cases medaled) in the USA Shooting National Championships and International Shooting Sports Foundation World Cups in multiple locations. She also holds more than 20 USA Shooting and National Rifle Association records, an impressive accomplishment at such a young age.
Gabby Franco was introduced to Olympic style shooting by her father at just 11 years old, eventually going on to compete at the state and national level in her home country of Venezuela. In 1999, she won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Canada, earning her a spot as the first female shooter to represent Venezuela in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Following her Olympics appearance, Franco fled the socialist regime of Hugo Chávez and moved to the United States in 2002, later becoming an American citizen. Since then, she has used her experience to educate and empower other women in the firearms space, traveling throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to offer live and in-person trainings. In addition to this widespread training, Franco has also written books in both English and Spanish on firearms skills, and she appeared in two seasons of the History Channel’s reality show Top Shot.
These eight women are just a few of the people who have helped shape the firearms space for females with their advocacy and achievements. And with the number of women pursuing gun ownership continuing to grow, we will no doubt see more impressive accomplishments in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about firearm ownership, defensive living, or the path to getting your concealed carry permit, join the Coalition today!
Sources: WomensHistory.org, Legends of America, WomensHistory.org, The Cheaper Than Dirt Blog, America’s 1st Freedom, Pew Pew Tactical, United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, TeamUSA.org, The Washington Post, Ballistic Magazine, WaltherArms.com