CAPRON, Va. (AP) — BANG! Ping. BANG, BANG! Ping, ping.
Gunshots echoed through the trees of a rural farm, lead disintegrating into dust as it exploded against thick steel targets.
The weapons had pastel-colored handles and pink bullet magazines.
They belong to women, the fastest-growing population of gun owners.
These gals — Glenda Craddock and Amy May — are among those revving up the trend in Hampton Roads. Through shops and gun groups aimed at women consumers, they’ve helped launch new offerings in the $13 billion industry — purses with built-in gun compartments, brightly-colored gun accessories, specialized clothing, even bras with a place to stash a weapon.
Women are taking over shooting competitions and sharing their accomplishments on social media.
Meet the new gun-slingers of the world.
“I won my first competition a few weeks ago,” said May, a single mother who manages one of Craddock’s three South Hampton Roads pawn and gun shops. “I have always shot guns before, but I took up competition last fall because of working for them. Skeet shooting is my favorite, it’s just so much fun.
“And shooting is extremely empowering. It’s a good feeling to know that I can protect myself if I have to.”
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, gun ownership among women has risen 77 percent since 2005. The organization says that 5.4 million women these days target shoot and that the main reasons women own guns are for self-defense, hunting and shooting sports — basically the same reasons men cite.
The National Rifle Association recently started a $6.5 million advertising campaign that targets millennial women.
Craddock is among a growing number of women who own businesses relating to guns, expanding on the pawn shops she owns with husband Jeff and recently opening Glenda’s Guns in Virginia Beach.
She talked about the shop while she and May took turns shooting an array of steel targets moved around in various orders and distances to test their skills at shooting from stationary positions and while moving through the range.
On the Craddocks’ large farm just south of Courtland, the group has the ability to train shooters using pistols, rifles and shotguns.
“We cater to everybody,” she said while loading more bullets into a Glock 34 magazine. “Women, I think, get a sense of accomplishment and a skill level they didn’t used to have. There is a sense of invincibility in a way.
“And I like that feeling.”
Women’s shooting clubs and organizations are popping up all across the country. A new chapter of The Well Armed Women held its first meeting in Virginia Beach two weeks ago.
The organization boasts hundreds of chapters across the country, including 12 in Virginia and 14 in North Carolina, and has an online shop selling all sorts of gear designed for women who own guns.
Expecting maybe a handful for the inaugural meeting, chapter president Kim Thumel was pleasantly surprised when 24 women showed up.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Thumel, a mother of two who has been shooting all her life, seriously for the last 15. Thumel became a gun safety instructor nine years ago.
“We had women who had been carjacked, robbed or raped and others who were just scared of what’s going on in the world,” she said. “We had others that just wanted to learn more and get better at shooting. It turned into a beautiful thing for women to do together, a fellowship where they could share their experiences and bond.
“Eight of them immediately signed up to be on our shooting team.”
Thumel said woman and guns are here to stay and that Craddock’s new store is evidence of how the industry is paying attention.
“Women are powerful and an important part of the economy,” she said. “And let’s face it, we like to shop.”
Women often take up shooting, Jeff Craddock said, because it’s a chance to spend more time with their significant other who also shoots or hunts. Then they often become better at it than the guys around them.
Women, he said, start out with an open mind and the desire to learn — unlike most men, who think they know what they’re doing because they are a guy.
“Women tend to want more specifics when they get started and they are always asking questions,” he said. “I think women are very good at shooting. They pick up on it because they usually learn a different way than men do.
“Women tend to be more brain than action.”
The Craddocks came into shooting with a distinct advantage because they both served in the military. The two stay fit for shooting competitions by participating in cycling events.
And they take full advantage of the women’s gun movement to promote their shop. Training sessions and competitions are recorded on video for use on social media, and the women who manage their pawn shops are used extensively in television ads.
“We take a different approach than most places in the role women play,” Glenda said during another reload. “Our girls know their stuff, but nobody knows everything. So we have a laptop on every counter and when someone asks a question we’re not sure about, we look it up together with the customer. I think people, especially men, really appreciate the extra effort and the fact that they can be sure of what they’re buying.”
While the women prepared for another round of shooting, Jeff Craddock moved targets of various shapes and sizes into a half circle and instructed the two on the order and how many bullets they’d blast into each.
May put a timer on her holster belt and turned her back on the range, hands held above her head while she waited for the beep to start.
She quickly turned to face the target and pulled her pistol from its holster, sending the quiet solitude of the farm into an eruption of gunfire.
BANG! Ping. BANG, BANG, BANG!