By Chris Kenon
The fairer sex. The weaker sex. High heels, silky hair, perfume, and soft, clean, manicured hands — that’s how women are usually perceived. Rarely does one associate a woman with concealed pistols, ammunition, smoking barrels and gun powder.
But there are a number of women in the Fayetteville area who have indulged themselves in the confidence, camaraderie and competition that come by way of pistols, rifles and shotguns. Beware intruders; these women know how to handle themselves.
Three years ago Jim’s Indoor Range introduced the idea of having a special ladies shooting night to our area and now Gun Powder Gals is the only women’s shooting club in Fayetteville. You’ll catch them at Guns Plus, on North Bragg Boulevard in Spring Lake, from time to time, as well as at the Cross Creek Rifle and Pistol Club and participating in the Coharie Shooting League, a chapter of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) in Clinton, NC. You can also watch these women in action in March at their Impromptu Fundraiser. They are asking for non-monetary donations to benefit the Cumberland County Rape Crisis Center.
Candy Sugarman founded Gun Powder Gals after she started shooting three years ago. She said she didn’t particularly care for guns growing up. Her dad had a gun in the house, but she didn’t feel comfortable shooting it. Then, in 2009, her husband encouraged her to attend the NRA Women’s Wilderness Escape. Candy had no idea what to expect and to her surprise, she had a life-changing experience. She said it was like camp. Each day they would learn how to shoot something different; one day they would shoot rifles, another day they would shoot pistols, and another day they would shoot shotguns. Candy said she met some of the most profound, well-traveled and highly educated women during this camp. She was astonished at how many CEO’s, business owners and highly educated women attended.
Candy returned from the NRA Women’s Wilderness Escape excited and ready to shoot. She said she tried shooting with her husband but it just wasn’t the same. That’s when she started the Gun Powder Gals’ group on a website called meetup.com, where there was an immediate and overwhelming response from 40 women who wanted to join. Today Gun Powder Gals is a diverse group of women that consists of active duty military, women who have never held a gun before, women who have men who are encouraging them to learn, and even national competitors.
These ladies don’t just shoot handguns, they shoot rifles and shotguns, too. They like Trap, Skeet and 5 Stand Shooting as well. Gun Powder Gals welcomes women of all levels; from beginners to expert. Candy said she loves being a part of the group because the women are fun, encouraging and not competitive. Gun Powder Gals is a membership-only group and is private for safety purposes.
Shooting seems to be a sport that is growing in popularity with women, so much so that an entire day has been dedicated to females with firearms at Guns Plus in Spring Lake. Wednesdays there are all about the ladies, all day long.
Walking into Guns Plus means being immediately overwhelmed with weapon paraphernalia like guns, holsters, ammunition, knives, bows and arrows — you name it. It’s a man’s world, or is it? Walking into a shop like that, where even the men who work there look a little rough and rugged, could be intimidating for a woman. But the staff are friendly, helpful, extremely knowledgeable and — they adore the ladies.
“Wednesday is the busiest day of the week,” said Bernard Burr, a Guns Plus employee who, like many of the guys who work there, is prior military and also worked on the police force. “We have women shooters from novices to grandmas to national competitors.” Paul Goodwin, Range Manager at Guns Plus, said, “We get anywhere from 15 to 40 women showing up to shoot on Wednesdays.” He said he is amazed at how many women like to shoot. “Ladies are known to be natural shooters. They have really good hand/eye coordination,” Goodwin said.
Women go to Guns Plus, which is currently being filmed to be featured on truTV’s reality show “Hard Core Pawn” to shoot for many different reasons. Some have husbands in the military, some have had frightening experiences and others get started because they have loved ones who enjoy it. Surprisingly though, Burr said, “the overwhelming majority of women who come to shoot at Guns Plus are not military wives.”
Felicia Hyde, a regular at Guns Plus, walked out of the shooting range wearing her cute pink shirt and matching pink ear protection. The first thing she said was, “Let me wash my hands first.” Burr explained that the lead in the gun powder can be damaging and even cause lead poisoning. Shooters should be careful and make sure to wash their hands and change their clothes after shooting. Pregnant women should not shoot because the lead can go straight to the fetus.
Felicia never thought much about shooting until the summer of 2011. She got started because her husband and father-in-law love to shoot and her husband encouraged her to learn. She moved here from upstate New York where she said, “Shooting wasn’t as acceptable.” At first, the loud noise of the guns firing off in the shooting range was a little nerve-racking for her. Now she hardly notices the noise and even says she enjoys the aroma of gun powder. Felicia now has her concealed carry license, owns three handguns and is looking to buy her fourth.
First timers interested in shooting at any of the local gun ranges should plan to go with an experienced shooter or a group like Gun Powder Gals, or should first take a basic pistol course.