Not Hitting What You Aim At? 5 Things Women Should Consider When Choosing a Hunting Rifle.

.300 WSM (L) next to .300 Win Mag.
I have a love-hate relationship with my rifle.  It has put meat on the table, but I've missed a fair share of deer to the point where I questioned my shooting.  I'm a good archer and general hit what I aim at, so misses with the rifle left me flummoxed. I've taken deer out to 175 yards from a standing position, and then missed them at thirty.  I could kick myself some days.  It was becoming more than a little frustrating.

I bought my rifle years ago because it was the lightest I could find, and I needed a light rifle due to shoulder injuries I've suffered.  Larry was okay with it because it was chambered in a good elk caliber: .300 Winchester Short Mag. The sporting goods store clerk who put the scope on the rifle did so somewhat haphazardly because, well, I'm a woman.  It wasn't even level, and Larry had to re-adjust it.  Sigh.

The Problem

Besides that alignment issue, I wasn't always getting a clear picture through the scope when I was trying to shoot. You see, I wasn't always lined up behind the scope, and the image seemed to bounce around.  Furthermore, I could not look through the scope if I lay my cheek against the stock.  To make matters worse, I had developed a most decidedly annoying flinch when I pressed the shot. So, here are my five recommendations for women when it comes to buying--or adapting--your rifle to you.

#1 Buy Your Own Rifle--Don't Accept Hand-Me-Downs

Perhaps the worst thing you can do is let someone in your family, especially a male relative, buy your rifle for you. Bad idea.  I picked out my own rifle at the time, but in retrospect, I needed to learn more about rifles before I bought it.  Nevertheless, I've seen other women whose spouses handed them a rifle they thought would work for them, typically with bad results.

#2 Educate Yourself on Rifles and Calibers

Although I had an idea I needed a light rifle because of various injuries I've sustained in the past, I shamefully admit I was not well educated about calibers at the time (live and learn).  As I said, I picked the lightest rifle that seemed to fit me, but I didn't understand the effect rifle weight had on felt recoil.  You know that flinch?  Yeah, I developed it after I touched the beast off.
7mm-08 Remington, a good compromise between effectiveness and recoil

Get familiar with calibers.  If you have family or friends who hunt, go ahead and try their rifles. See what you like and don't like.  The .300 WSM is still my hunting rifle, but now I know there other elk capable calibers with much less recoil out there, and I'm practicing dry firing it to eliminate the flinch. 

#3 Be Prepared for Some Modifications

DIY cheek pad made with open cell foam and vet wrap bandages
Unless you go with a youth stock, you're going to find that most rifles won't fit you.  Even if you go with a youth stock, you're probably looking at modifications because most rifles are made for men and male teenagers.  Even though women are a fast growing segment in the hunting world, manufacturers still design rifles with men in mind, except when it comes to those Pepto Bismol pink colors.  (Really, guys?  That's supposed to make me want to buy that rifle?)  What that means is your rifle isn't made for someone with our arms, chest, and overall stature.  So, be prepared for modifications.

After watching me do some dry firing, Larry figured out the root of my problem: I didn't have a proper cheek weld when I looked into the scope.  So, I had no way of actually aiming the rifle properly. Larry rigged a pad that would enable me to rest my face against the stock while aiming.  I discovered that it was also less fatiguing and the sight picture didn't jump around.

#4 When You Look for a Rifle, Go by Yourself

When you're doing your homework and looking at rifles, go by yourself, first.  You can bring your trusted advisor later, before you put money down.  The reason is simple: you need to look at the rifles without someone in your family trying to steer you one way or another.  Even though Larry doesn't do that, I like to look at rifles on my own because I don't want the pressure of worrying about what he thinks.

#5 If You Sense Condescension: Run Away!

Luckily, here in Montana, where the women shoot almost as much as the men, most sales people in gun stores and departments are used to helping women.  Elsewhere, you may be the only woman entering a gun department or store.  If you can, find a family-owned store with at least one woman on staff who shoots.  Chances are the women can help you pick out a good rifle and fit it to you properly.  Before you ask questions, the salesperson should be asking you some.  They should refine how your perceive your own wants and needs before suggesting any products.  Is the sales person courteous and able to answer your questions, or are you left standing in the store like some lost urchin? (Go elsewhere.)  If they immediately thrust a pink gun at you, and you didn't ask for one, RUN!

My point is, in this day and age, you shouldn't have to put up with chauvinist attitudes--and thankfully, I haven't encountered much.  But if you do, take your business elsewhere.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

Other helpful stories:
A Women's Advice: Preparing for your First Hunt with Your Partner

5 Secrets to Sight-in a Rifle with Ten Rounds or Less

Are Affordable Hunting Rifles Any Good? LocaCarnivore Test and Review: Savage 111 Package Rifle

New Savage 6mm Creedmoor Rifle