In 2014, the National Shooting Sports Foundation released data regarding the rise in the number of female shooters and hunters: In 2001, there were an estimated 1.8 million women hunters. By 2013, that number had jumped to 3.3 million—an increase of 85 percent.
During that same time period, the number of women target shooters jumped by 60 percent. In 2001, 10 percent of all hunters were female. But by 2013, that percentage rose to 19 percent. Women are, without question, the fastest-growing segment in the hunting and shooting industry.
The NSSF survey uncovered another revealing statistic about this new wave of women hunters and shooters. When asked which features were of primary importance when selecting a firearm to purchase, the female hunters and shooters surveyed cited gun fit as the single most important factor when buying a gun. Gun fit ranked higher than quality and even practicality. In short, women wanted a gun that fit them well.
There weren’t a lot of really good options for serious female shooters prior to 2013, but that’s changed today. There are more companies than ever offering guns specifically for women.
However, these are not the “pink-it-and-shrink-it” guns of yesteryear. Today’s guns for women shooters are purpose-built firearms that have been engineered from the ground up with the input of some of the top female hunters and shooters in the industry.
Here’s a look at some of the best competition and hunting firearms, both shotguns and rifles, for female shooters in 2018.
SYREN—SETTING A NEW STANDARD
Shotguns for female shooters have been around for decades, but for the most part, they were nothing more than compact versions of standard production scatterguns. When I was shooting in college, most of the dedicated female trap and skeet shooters I knew either made due with ill-fitting production stocks or had stocks custom built—a lengthy and expensive process.
When Syren USA launched its extensive line of shotguns built exclusively for women, that all changed. A division of Caesar Guerini and Fabarm, Syren was the first gun brand for women. Because building guns for female shooters—many of them serious competitors (just take a glance at the credentials of their pro staff)—is all that Syren does, it goes without saying that these firearms are designed to perfectly fit the most demanding and accomplished women shooters. While other companies build a handful of shotguns for female shooters, Syren offers women a wide array of upland, competition and waterfowl guns.
“Syren has over 70 options, even left handed,” says Syren pro staffer Chelsea Davis. “A lot of gun manufacturers don’t even have that for men. Every model has different barrel lengths, and some have adjustable combs. All you have to do is turn a wrench a few times to fine-tune it to make sure it fits perfectly. Syren is the first brand that has a whole line designed just for women.”
New this year: the L4S Sporting, a gas-operated semiauto built to the exacting standards of a high-level competition gun. Overall length of pull is just 13.75 inches, and the stock design—including the raised comb on the stock—is engineered to properly fit female shooters. Also new, the Syren ELOS Sporting is an elegant competition boxlock with exquisite fit and finish and superb detailing. And women who like to hunt waterfowl should check out the XLR5 Waterfowler, a light-recoiling, fast-cycling gas gun that’s duck blind-ready with its butt-to-muzzle Realtree MAX-5 camo dip.
All these Syren shotguns come with five choke tubes (Inner HP chokes come with the Waterfowler and EXIS HP chokes for the two competition guns), so you’re ready for any shot presentation. MSRPs are $1,895 for the L4S, $2,725 for the ELOS Sporting and $1,835 for the XLR Waterfowler.
SAVAGE’S LADY HUNTER 11/111 —BREAKING GROUND
Back in 2013, Savage set about building a version of its bolt-action 11/111 rifles specifically to fit women hunters. Unlike other “ladies’” rifles that simply had truncated stocks, this new Savage was a rifle built specifically for female shooters.
Known as the Lady Hunter, this rifle features an oil-finished American walnut stock with a 12½-inch length of pull, a tall comb that helps align the eye with a scope, and a narrowed pistol grip and forearm designed to be more comfortable for women shooters.
Additionally, the rifle comes equipped with a 20-inch, light-contour barrel, which helps shift the balance rearward so the gun isn’t as nose-heavy as longer-barreled models. The 11/111 Lady Hunter comes with all the standard features we’ve come to expect from Savage—a carbon-steel barrel mated to the action using a barrel nut that allows for very precise headspacing (and, in turn, superb accuracy), along with the bladed AccuTrigger, which is light, crisp, user-adjustable and safe.
There is a long list of available calibers, including .223 Rem, .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Win, 7mm-08, .308 and .30-06. Priced at $899, the Savage Lady Hunter is an accurate and affordable rifle that’s built specifically to fit women shooters.
BERETTA 691 VITTORIA—SOPHISTICATED LOOKS AND DESIGN
If your goal is to develop a shotgun specifically for female shooters, it makes sense to take into account the opinions of top women competitors in the sport … and that’s just what Beretta did when it introduced the Vittoria series. Based on the robust 690 boxlock shotgun, the Vittoria offers the time-tested reliability of Beretta’s world-beating, lowprofile boxlock action with a totally reinvented stock design.
For a fair evaluation of the shotgun’s performance (most notably, whether or not the improvements to the stock design were functional or fictional), I sought out a top female shooter, Courtney Smith. Better known as “Sportswoman Courtney,” Smith is an avid shooter—and, as luck would have it, she had, indeed, spent time on the range and in the field with the Vittoria guns. She assured me that they lived up to their sales pitch.
“This gun was made with a woman’s frame and body in mind,” Smith says. She complimented the gun’s shortened (13½-inch) length of pull, the narrowed pistol grip and the high Monte Carlo stock that, according to Smith, helps automatically and comfortably align the eye with the top of the rib. A comfortable and consistent cheek mount leads to better shooting and more broken targets or dropped birds; and Beretta’s stock redesign offers female shooters the advantage of a proper fit.
Like other Beretta shotguns, the Vittoria line is elegant and stylish. The Field version, which I saw at SHOT 2018, features roll-marked floral engraving on the receiver and an oil-finished grade 2.5 walnut stock. The Sporting and Field versions both come with a single selective trigger and ejectors. Beretta’s over/unders have a solid reputation and hold their resale value well. This shotgun should be on the short list of all serious female shooters and hunters. The MSRP for the 690 Vittoria Field is $2,650, and the 691 Sporting Vittoria model carries an MSRP of $3,000. Welcome to the Vittorian age.
THE SHOTGUN SISTERS—ITALIAN MAKER FAUSTI’S TAKE ON THE PERFECT WOMAN’S SHOTGUN
Italian gunmaker Stefano Fausti had always envisioned handing his successful company down to his son. There was just one problem—Fausti never had any sons.
Instead, his three daughters took over the reins of the company when their father retired, and they have managed to make Fausti guns popular with shooters and hunters the world over. Giovanna, Barbara and Elena Fausti (Italy’s “Shotgun Sisters”) are at the head of one of the nation’s largest gun companies, and its custom-built side-by-sides and over/unders are as appealing to the eye as a Corneliani suit or a Maserati Granturismo.
Because Fausti was the first major firearm company in the world to be owned by three sisters, it seems only fitting that the Faustis developed a high-end over/under shotgun built to fit women shooters. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, this new Fausti shotgun utilizes the brand’s time-tested Four Locks boxlock action. The round body action is dripping with high-end engraving, and there’s an image of the Greek goddess, herself, ringed in laurel on the action. The wood, fit and finish are up to the very highest Italian standards, and the hand-selected Turkish walnut stocks feature a Prince of Wales grip and an oil-rubbed finish.
You can select from 12-, 16-, 20- or 28-gauge or .410 bore. Price is TBD, but guns of this ilk don’t come cheap.
FRANCHI’S CATALYST LINE—AFFORDABLE AND BEAUTIFUL
Italian gunmaker Franchi’s Inertia-Driven Affinity shotguns and its Instinct over/unders are both highly sought-after by upland hunters, competitive shooters and waterfowlers.
A few years ago, Franchi decided to start building versions of the Instinct and the Affinity with stocks designed to fit female shooters. These shotguns feature drops, cast, pitches and lengths of pull that are all optimized to properly fit female shooters.
The Affinity line of semiautos is available in both 12- and 20-gauge versions that offer A-grade satin walnut stocks with 13 7/8-inch lengths of pull. Inertia guns tend to be light, and the Affinity Catalyst is no exception: The 12-gauge version weighs 6.6 pounds, and the 20-gauge version weighs just 5.7 pounds. Both of these guns come with three choke tubes, a fiber-optic front sight and an MSRP of under a grand.
For double-gun fans, the Franchi Instinct Catalyst offers everything shooters love about the standard Instinct in a package that’s custom designed for women. With its color case-hardened receiver and A-grade satin walnut stock, the Instinct Catalyst looks fantastic and is loaded with practical features, including a barrel selector, automatic ejectors and safety, a vented mid-rib and three interchangeable choke tubes. Perhaps most important for women shooters is the fact that the stock of the Instinct Catalyst—like that of the Affinity Catalyst—is designed to fit female shooters for maximum control and comfort. The MSRP of the Instinct Catalyst is $1,469.
WEATHERBY—PAYING HOMAGE TO CAMILLA
Roy Weatherby is a familiar name to most big-game hunters. After all, Weatherby’s ultra-fast cartridges helped usher in the belted magnum craze, and Roy’s namesake rifles and shotguns are still very popular with hunters and shooters.
The Camilla line of rifles honors the late Camilla Weatherby, Roy’s wife. The initial offering, the Camilla Vanguard, utilized the same push-feed action with dual lug bolt design and adjustable two-stage trigger found on the standard Vanguard rifles, but virtually every stock dimension was altered. The buttstock has reduced heel-to-toe dimensions, and the toe of the stock is angled away from the body for a more natural fit and more comfortable shooting.
Weatherby rifles are known for their classic Monte Carlo stocks with raised combs, and the Camilla Vanguard has a similar design that helps align the female shooter’s eye with the optic for fast target acquisition. Pistol grip dimensions have also been altered on the Camilla Vanguard to include a finger groove, right-hand palm swell, a slimmer radius and shorter grip-to-trigger length, all of which help promote a more natural and comfortable hand position for female shooters. The overall length of pull on the stock was reduced to 13 inches, and the Camilla’s forearm was shortened and slimmed down to improve balance. The Camilla Vanguard carries an MSRP of $849.
For 2018, two Camilla Mark V rifles emerged: the Mark V Camilla Deluxe and the Mark V Camilla Subalpine. The former is a traditional walnut-stocked rifle with AA fancy-grade claro walnut. It comes complete with an exotic forend cap with maple spacers and fine-line, diamond-point fleur-de-lis checkering. The latter rifle comes with a hand-laminated composite stock in Gore Optifade Subalpine camo and a Flat Dark Earth Cerakote finish on the metalwork. Both rifles utilize the time-tested, six-lug Mark V action and the new LXX trigger, and both have stock dimensions that are designed exclusively for female shooters.
You can expect all the Camilla rifles from Weatherby to shoot extremely well (and the company backs that with a sub-MOA guarantee with prescribed ammo). The Mark V Deluxe carries an MSRP of $2,700; the Subalpine costs $3,000.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.