Elizabeth Lanier aims to help women excel in shooting sports.
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From left, Marge Samuels, Mimi Wingfield, Glenda Moore, Karen Hulebak, Elizabeth Lanier holding Labrador retriever puppy, Grits, and Piper.
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A small, orange disc screams across the sky. In an instant, it dissolves into a black powdery dust. As the chorus of enthusiastic cheers breaks out from the onlookers, the shooter stands in stunned—and shocked—silence. A big, confident smile slowly spreads over her face.
Add one more non-believer converted to the ever-growing cadre of GRITS—Girls Really Into Shooting—a group of 70, which was established in 2005 by Goochland’s Elizabeth Lanier.
An advocate and promoter of women in shooting sports, Lanier has attained a national reputation as a shooting instructor. She was the lead shotgun instructor at this year’s NRA Women’s Outdoor Adventure in Park City, Kentucky, and has coached men and women at Virginia’s Primland Resort and at New Jersey's Hudson Farm. Lanier also organized the Glamour & Guns event at the Orvis-endorsed Highland Hills Ranch in Oregon, and has traveled internationally as a private shooting coach.
“I was hooked immediately,” says Lanier of her first shooting lesson in 2000. She then encouraged friends to try shooting, and soon word began to spread about her skill. It wasn’t long before Lanier’s hobby developed into a career as a shooting instructor particularly adept at working with the novice shooter.
“To see people who come on the range obviously a little concerned about what is going to happen realize shooting is not painful or scary,” says Lanier, “and then see the smile on their faces when they break targets, is very gratifying.”
Although the GRITS take shooting seriously, it is not about competition. “As a group, we have never cared how many targets you can break, so there is no scorecard that we hand out at the end of a shoot to see how much better one person is over another. ... Women are realizing that shotgun sports are not as intimidating as it seems, and it is a good way to spend time outdoors,” explains Lanier.
“Since the early ’90s, attempts to attract women to shooting sports have met with mixed results,” notes John Alexander, one of the owners of Flying Rabbit Sporting Clays in Mount Crawford. “Elizabeth Lanier has come up with the perfect recipe ... no scorecards, only fun.”
Some women have found that participating in GRITS has not only been fun, but life-changing. Freda Rosso, from Hampton, and Whitney DeCamp, from Falls Church, joined GRITS in 2011, then took up bird hunting. Rosso says she loved it so much she purchased a setter. Tina Nyczepir of Midlothian started taking lessons from Lanier, which then led to hunting trips to Argentina and South Africa. “For me, this was definitely stepping out of the box,” says Nyczepir. When people see her big game photos, she says, “They are just amazed!”
In May of 2011, Lanier launched Shotguns & She-nanigans—a weekend-long women’s shooting event at The Homestead. Lanier says that although there were non-shooting activities offered, including discounted spa treatments, “Not a lady left the shooting course while the shooting was going on.”
Marlene and Richard Sipes of Esmont have taken shooting lessons from Lanier: “This is the first sport we have been able to do together in our 40 years of marriage,” says Marlene, who adds that Lanier, in addition to helping the novice, is “an excellent diagnostician for the experienced shooter who may have developed a slump in shooting.”
Lanier and the GRITS reflect a growing national trend of women excelling in shooting sports. Michael Bazinet with the National Shooting Sports Foundation points out that there has been a 51.5 percent increase from 2001 to 2011 in women target shooting, and a 41.8 percent increase over the same period of female participation in hunting. Says Bazinet, “Almost any instructor will tell you that women are better students and tend to be better shots quicker than men.”
Brad Landseadel, owner of Central Virginia Sporting Clays in Palmyra says this about the GRITS: “These women don’t care if you are an experienced shooter or a beginner— they welcome you with open arms and embrace who you are. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with them?” LanierShootingSports.com