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Karen Butler was heading east for the weekend, trying to keep from hammering down too hard in her truck. But she was as eager as could be to get to where her young Labrador retriever awaited after months of training.

“She’s running blinds and retrieved her first goose recently, and I think she’s ready,” said Butler, founder, president and jet engine of Shoot Like A Girl. “She’s in Phase 2 of training now, but I have to get my own training to learn the commands and signals. I’m ready to get her and be with her. She’s been at S&S Outdoors in North Carolina. The founder was once part of my staff, and at age 19 started her own business. She’s trained multiple champions and field trial champions.”

Shoot Like A Girl was founded in 2008 with a mission “to empower women to participate in shooting sports with confidence.” Butler and her husband, Todd, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, were waiting to sign a loan to start the business. Butler, also retired from the U.S. Army, had laid out a business plan and was eager to get her idea rolling.

“We were waiting and the news was on, and it continued on and on about how that was the worst day in the history of the United States for small businesses,” she said. “That was the start of the financial recession. Todd had just returned from deployment and could get a certain loan, and was very encouraging that I had to take advantage of it. Now, 15 years later, it’s still a fast-moving train I’m trying to catch up with.”

Shoot Like A Girl events feature a vivid, interactive trailer at sites around the country. Many are Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s locations; both are longtime sponsors. At the events, 20 of them in 2022 from January to November, women ages 16 and older can shoot inside the trailer’s mobile range with handguns, long guns and compound bows using state-of-the-art technology. The range’s Test Shots and Test Flights introduction sessions are with certified National Rifle Association instructors and archery coaches. Women also can compare and learn about firearms including revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, shotguns and rifles.

I asked Butler how she’s managed to create a successful, nationally-known business amid an admittedly male-dominated firearms industry.

“It’s been great, quite honestly, because we’ve had a lot of men who have supported us all along,” she said. “I have a rule at the trailer that there is no male bashing, ever. Nothing like “we shoot better than men” or “we’re better than men, wooo” … nothing like that. I have a lot of great men in my life who have been extremely pivotal in helping us succeed, and we’re not into anything like that.

“We’ve traveled across the country, and prior to this year I went to almost every event we had. Generally, almost every person we’ve encountered is polite and kind. I think that quite often … things only are political for politicians. There is not one set demographic of people who enjoy our sport. It spans every demographic, every stereotype, age, gender, race, identification, you name it, of our ranks and files, and I think that makes us better. I personally may not agree with a position, but that doesn’t stop me and shouldn’t stop us from being polite and kind.”

Travel can get old pretty quickly, especially long hauls over multiple states. Gas station stops, hotels, traffic jams, insane drivers, early mornings and late nights all take their toll. When she’s gone “I definitely miss my supportive husband, being home, our dogs and cats and horses, and my mother lives near us. That’s the worst part.” Butler and her team pretty much have seen it all. Yet she’s buoyed by several constants, including the chance to meet new people eager to learn something and seeing her big ol’ bright trailer at the events.

A favorite thing? Definitely meeting people in different communities. It doesn’t ever get old, and doesn’t get old when I walk up to the truck and see it sitting there and it takes my breath away that we’ve come this far and make a difference,” she said. “This year alone we’ve helped more than 3,100 people and I think more than 40,000 since I started the company. I retired from civil service with the Army, so as a civilian if you can’t measure what you’re doing it doesn’t mean anything. We started with collecting emails on paper, and then email them a survey three weeks later asking whether they liked the experience, if they were going to buy a bow, gun or something else, did they go inside BPS or Cabela’s, all those things. We still have all that somewhere. It was very hands-on like that from the start.”

After 15 years, Butler is ready for the next phase of her business plan. She is building a second semi-trailer rig and branding a company division called Safe Living. It will “stay true to our mission to empower women to become involved in and enjoy shooting sports.

“But we’ve also had men who have come to our events or contacted us about learning how to hold and shoot handguns or rifles or bows, or how to look through binoculars or use trail cameras. Home and personal safety, for example. For many of us those are second nature because we were taught those things, but not everyone grew up that way. Safe Living will be the same as Shoot Like A Girl but not have archery. It will be open to women, men and communities, so anyone who attends can feel welcome. Different gender roles, inner-communities, rural, whatever.”

Butler got the name Shoot Like A Girl after a shooting team she was on was nicknamed “The Girlies” by some other shooters. The team decided to get t-shirts with “Shoot Like A Girl” on them and it stuck. Now, after 15 years and a new idea for the next step, Butler is looking for continued success and growth.

“Fifteen years from now I hope I’m retired and have built the business so someone else can take it and run with it, and deliver our sport to people in a way that helps them be more responsible citizens,” she said.

About the author: Alan Clemons is a professional outdoor writer whose work has appeared in countless newspaper columns and magazine articles for more than three decades.

 

 

 

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