Kate Bonn handled her first shotgun at the tender age of 10. Her father, a gun owner, felt it would be prudent to teach her gun safety through firsthand experience. He took her to his local gun club, handed her a .410-gauge shotgun, and taught her how to trap shoot—a form of clay target shooting similar to skeet. Kate clearly had natural talent, often out-shooting the middle-aged men at the club. After winning an event at an annual Turkey Shoot—where contestants shoot clay targets to win frozen Thanksgiving turkeys—Kate heard a man say, “That little girl is kicking our asses!” She was 13 years old, and with that remark, she decided to start shooting competitively.
Now 23, Kate is a regular leader in state, national, and international trap shooting competitions. She is the first woman to win the Pacific International Trapshooting Association’s Oregon State Singles Championship—a unique recognition since men and women compete separately in most shooting events. Labeled the “lady” category, a woman is often expected to fall back on winning the lady’s trophy, even if her scores qualify her to win a more prestigious trophy in a category with men. “If you say you are the lady champion in an event where there are multiple women, it still doesn’t carry the same weight as saying you are the overall champion,” Kate said.
In some sports, the rationale behind dividing men and women is due to the physiologically superior musculature of men—it’s a case of natural sexual dimorphism within the human species. But handling a shotgun has nothing to do with braun or stamina—it’s about skill—yet women struggle to find equality in the sport. And a woman named “overall champion” in a sport comprised of 80–90 percent men certainly causes a stir in what Kate calls “an old boys club.” The reason for such low female representation is unknown, but Kate theorizes that shooting has always been labeled a masculine activity, and the notion that women can’t handle guns has been culturally perpetuated by the idea that women are fragile.
“The stereotype about women shooting is that it’s going to be like a YouTube video where the girl doesn’t know how to hold the gun and she pulls the trigger and she falls back on her ass and everybody laughs and she comes back to the camera and she cries about her shoulder hurting,” Kate said. “That’s because no one was properly teaching [her] how to hold a gun. It can happen just as easily to a man.”
When Kate teaches women to shoot, she witnesses a lot of fear stemming from the cultural stigma of the “frail woman,” and it frustrates her because women buy into it. “The annoying thing to me is that women don’t want to try [shooting] because they’re scared of it. People have made them believe for so long that they’re fragile, that they’re breakable.” According to Kate, people ask her things like: “How can you do that? How does your shoulder hold up to all that—you’re a girl.” Her answer: she comes home with a bruised shoulder after a long day of shooting, just as a man would. With proper handling and body positioning, shotgunning isn’t more painful than any other sport that’s new to someone’s body.
Kate knows a lot of women who have had negative experiences with shooting lessons, especially those taught by boyfriends or deprecating male instructors who treated them like children. She feels that men have also internalized this idea of the fragile, breakable girl. She has witnessed men teach women to hold shotguns away from their faces, or to shoot from the hip, which is far more dangerous than teaching proper gun safety and handling. “Men tend to teach women as if they weren’t trying to hit something, but just enough so they can say they pulled the trigger,” Kate said. Her goal is to empower women learning to handle shotguns by teaching them proper techniques so they can be safe, effective shooters.
Kate is used to winning; she’s spent countless hours and dollars training as a trap shooter and she wants to be recognized for her high scores beyond the lady category—that, or to increase the number of women challenging her. She thinks women could dominate the sport if they were given the opportunity, and for her, that opportunity starts with teaching women to shoot in a way that doesn’t sexualize it, that doesn’t trivialize it, and that doesn’t include people who say things like “oh, look at the girl that hit the target.”
“I don’t want to see myself as some sort of special snowflake in this sport,” Kate said. “I want to be seen as a person that is respected for my shooting ability.”
It’s debatable whether the answer to equality in gun-based sports means dissolving the “lady” category altogether, enabling stronger recognition of women’s scores in “overall” categories alongside men, or encouraging more women to participate, but one thing remains clear: with ambassadors like Kate Bonn, the frail woman stigma will hopefully start to vanish.
“To me it doesn’t matter how you’re getting [women] out there as long as you’re enforcing proper gun safety, and you’re showing them that they don’t have to go about this sport any differently than the men do—they’re just as capable—but they need somebody to show them that,” Kate said. “You can be awesome at something that society has told you is an area that you’re not supposed to delve into.”