It's late on a Wednesday afternoon at a shooting range about 10 miles outside of Austin. Cracks of gunfire cut through the dry, hot August air.
"Try not to hold your shotgun too long and overthink," an instructor cautions. "Now, go ahead and get a box of shells and pick your station."
One shooter dips her hand into a box of pink shot shells on the ground. Another grabs ammunition from a tan crossbody purse borrowed from her daughter. A few shotguns are unzipped from their cases. Many of the stations throughout the range are filled with men. But here, all the shooters — and instructors — are women.
They're part of an outing organized by A Girl & A Gun Women's Shooting League
, a club with chapters across the country. Each month, the women meet for "Girl's Night Out" events at trap and skeet clubs and indoor ranges. First, they shoot and get instruction and tips on improving safety and skill. Then they go drink margaritas.
“It’s just really nice to be with a bunch of girls that enjoy the things you do," Maria Mathis, a 23-year-old college student, says.
Tonight, the women are preparing for a sporting clays game called "Five Stand." The aim — to hit clay discs launched into the sky — might sound simple. But the game is notoriously difficult. The clays whir through the air from different angles. From afar, they look like dark, flattened, mini footballs. And they're moving fast. The perspective of the shooter changes each round.
Shooting instructor Renee Blaine offers guidance: Don't load your gun until it's your turn to shoot. Keep the chamber empty and muzzle up as you rotate between stations. And pay attention to fellow shooters' hits — and misses — to inform your own aim.
“If you’re not shooting, you’re watching," she tells the group.
Shooting has long been seen as a male-dominated sport, but these women aren't alone in their passion for firearms. While the number of gun-owning households nationwide has dropped to a historic low, surveys have shown an increase in gun ownership by women over the past decade.
And although defense is still the number one reason women buy guns, according to a 2014 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation
, shooting activities are increasing in popularity with the group as well.
Ahead, the members of Austin's A Girl & A Gun chapter share their stories.