By Kyle Arnold Orlando Sentinel.
Ladies' night at Shoot Straight's gun range in Casselberry was a chance for mom Annette Coleman and 22-year-old daughter Kaitlyn Coleman to spend some time together during the holidays.
Mom with a Glock 26 and daughter with a Luger 380.
Every Monday night, the Apopka-based shooting range chain opens lanes to women free of charge, dumping the traditional $15 fee in hopes of attracting a new audience to the firearms world.
In fact, shooting ranges across Central Florida and the country are welcoming women with special events, discounted rates and gender-specific classes.
"It's a very male-dominated industry, so we want to be able to introduce firearms and shooting to females so they don't shy away," said Ryan Roozrokh, a manager at Shoot Straight's Apopka store. "If there is a group of ladies that want to take the course, it can be pretty intimidating being around a bunch of guys being macho."
Orlando Gun Club has a similar event on Friday nights. Gander Mountain in Lake Mary offers discounted range fees for women on Thursday nights. The Central Florida Rifle & Pistol Club, an outdoor range in Orlando, hosts a ladies' day in March when the property is open to women only.
Participants still have to pay for ammo or targets, but the fees help bring in female customers, operators say.
"Ladies' nights at ranges are very popular around the country," said Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Sports Shooting Association.
Women are a growing part of the firearms industry at all levels. A 2012 survey from the National Shooting Sports Association showed that 6.4 million women participate in target shooting, a 67 percent increase from a decade ago. The number of women hunting grew by 43 percent as well during that period.
Firearms retailers are also reporting a noticeable increase in the number of female customers, the NSSA reported.
"A lot of women that are surveyed say that initially their intention was self-protection, but they find that they enjoy the activity of shooting," Bazinet said.
Ladies' night at Shoot Straight isn't a female-only function, said Roozrokh, but it definitely balances the gender ratio.
"It's nice to be able to come and shoot for free," said Kaitlyn Coleman of DeLand, a waitress whose hand was starting to blister from the short grip on her handgun. "I need the practice, and I can't come quite as often as I used to."
Kaitlyn's mother, Annette, is a guard at the Orange County Correctional Facility and needs to maintain her skills for annual shooting certification.
"I like to come out as family and do something we both enjoy," Annette Coleman said.
Orlando Gun Club has been offering ladies' night since the Orlando Gun Range opened two years ago, said manager Jon Kirson.
"It's a booming market, and women aren't going to walk into a gun range by themselves," Kirson said. "We do it so that a group of women can come together and overcome the intimidation hurdle. And we've been able to develop a new market by introducing it."
Michelle Heller wanted to make sure she visited the shooting range while she was in town for the holidays visiting from China, where she teaches English.
"It's really a family outing," said Heller, who was there with her brother teaching her husband and niece how to shoot. "We were raised shooting, and this is something we love to do."
Heller's father was a law-enforcement officer, so firearms and gun safety have been a part of her life since she was about 4 years old, she said.
However, she said free range use on ladies' night does give her extra incentive to go shooting.
Several area shooting ranges also host special classes for women teaching self-defense and basic handgun safety.
Many of the visitors to Gander Mountain Academy's ladies' nights come with a boyfriend or spouse but also come for "a girl's night out," said manager James White.
"I've been in this business for 20 years, and I would say that the largest growth section is female shooters and usually 35 and up," White said.
Many are novices, but several store managers said that women also learn much faster and are better firearm students than men. "For whatever reason, women just seem to listen better and are more concerned with doing things right," White said.