Some women play tennis. Some women crochet. But, Judy Rhodes, founder of Divas – Women Outdoors Worldwide, prefers to load up a pistol and shoot at paper targets. Rhodes, a former country girl who grew up around firearms, says she was tired of watching women stay at home while their husbands went camping, fishing, and hunting.
“I decided that wasn’t gonna happen anymore,” Rhodes said. “We’re gonna be out there shooting and hunting and being in our own blind. And now we are.”
Rhodes founded the Divas with 16 of her closest girlfriends, and in the past 12 years the group has grown to a world-wide membership of 15,000. In addition to sharpshooting leagues, the group hosts adventure weekends and clinics on everything from AR-15 semi-automatic rifle shooting to dog training, bird watching, and map orienteering.
For two hours every Tuesday night the Cowtown Divas gather at The Shooting Gallery, an indoor firing range in Fort Worth, Texas, for jokes, fashion tips, and the chance to fire some very loud handguns at hot pink targets.
Not A Tomboy
Anginette Jorrey, who’s been with the Divas since the beginning, calls the group “a sisterhood.”
Jorrey was raised a “Texas girl” who would visit her family’s farm on the weekends and shoot for fun. These days, she’s a successful city-dwelling mortgage broker who enjoys surprising people with her not-so-secret passion.
“They look at me and they give me a once over and they go, really? You shoot?” Jorrey says.
Jorrey certainly doesn’t look the part of a gun-toting tomboy. She says she loves her lipstick, mascara, and high heels. She’s even been known to shoot in her heels when she doesn’t have time to change into something more appropriate after work.
The Divas like to say that they take shooting sports on their own terms. Many of the women shoot .22 caliber handguns, which have a quieter bang and less kickback than larger calibers. They also stand at the firing line decked out in bedazzled baseball caps and sparkly T-shirts.
“We want it to be very functional, but we want it to be stylish, too.” Judy Rhodes explains. “Like I say, our favorite color is leopard.”
Prizes For Everyone
On a Tuesday night in October, Maggie Arendsee handed out the prizes for the night’s top shooters. There were a couple of cowboy hats (one in a zebra print, one in tiger print), a cheetah print fragrance warmer, and everyone’s favorite… a charming little lion stuffed with a lavender scented insert that can be warmed in the microwave.
Arendsee first discovered marksmanship in college when she signed up to avoid less appealing Physical Education classes. She never thought she’d still be shooting, especially with a group of women.
“My husband really wanted me to join and I say, ‘Hon, you know I like to hang out with the guys,’” Arendsee explains.
On Thursday nights, the Dallas Divas gather at the Elm Fork Handgun Range. There, Diva’s newest members learn about the sport under the watchful eyes of more experienced shooters. The Divas like to say that women are better students than men. They listen better and follow instructions. They also say that women are best taught to shoot by other women, who might explain things differently than a man would.
As many as 75-percent of Divas had never fired a gun before coming to the group. Murietta Johnson, who’s been shooting guns since she was eight, says the appeal of the Divas comes not only from what she can learn, but also from what she can teach.
“I’ve been shooting in a man’s world for a long time. By myself,” Johnson says. “It’s nice to have some other women around that are eager to shoot, that want to shoot, [and] that want to learn something.”
Judy Rhodes says it’s important not to lose another generation of female shooters. Other Divas say it’s important for women to know how to protect themselves or to get more quality time with their husbands. But, Johnson says teaching women how to use firearms isn’t important at all…
“Why is it important for women to play tennis?” Johnson asks. “Why is it important to go play golf? To me it’s just another sport. All I’m doing is punching holes in paper. I can do that all day long.”
Lessons For All
No woman who visits the Divas gets away without a lesson, and that includes Public Radio reporters. It wasn’t the first time I’d held a gun, but it was the first time I’d been taught how to hold one by another woman.
Sally Zimmerman, one of the more experienced Divas, was my guide. Zimmerman spends five to six hours a day shooting air pistols in hopes of making the US Olympic team. On league nights, she rushes through her own shots so that she has plenty of time to help the less experienced women.
“It makes me feel good that I helped somebody improve in something that later on they can enjoy all by themselves,” Zimmerman explained.
Sally talked me through every nuance before asking me to pull the trigger. She told me how to stand, how to breathe, where to look, what to look for, what to think about, and what not to think about. Still, I wasn’t convinced that I’d even hit the paper target.
“You’re not with that attitude, Missy,” Judy Rhodes shouted from the peanut gallery.
With Judy and the rest of the Divas watching I let out my breath, checked my sight picture, and slowly, very, very slowly squeezed the trigger.
To my amazement, not only did I hit the target, but my first shot was within 1 ½ inches of a bullseye. I would have been happy to quit while I was ahead, but Zimmerman had more to teach…and more bullets loaded in her gun.
My final shot was truly a marvel of excellent instruction and beginners luck. It landed right in the middle of the cross hairs. Zimmerman joked that she was going home, now that her work was done. Rhodes teased that the new girl was “smoking” the old pro.
There’s a lot of joking around when you shoot with this group, just like there’s a lot of hot pink, leopard print, and bling. But, Judy Rhodes says, that’s just all part of being a Diva.
“If we’re not having fun, you know how women are, we don’t do it. With our organization, we might be a little bit louder or a little bit blingy-er, but I always say moths come to the flame,” Rhodes says.