Women changing the culture of gun ranges

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SAN DIEGO -- For a long time the sport of shooting was predominantly a man's world. But over the last few years, more and more women are taking aim and changing the culture of the shooting range.

"Women and firearms were non-existent 10, 15, 20 years ago," said John Phillips, president and owner of Poway Weapons and Gear.

With more women wanting to learn self-defense and gun ranges even becoming a date night hot spot, the very feel of shooting ranges are evolving.

"Me and my husband love to take dates at the shooting range, so he definitely loves that I know how to shoot," said Jessica Miller, a gun enthusiast.

"Couples came in and showed us how important [shooting] was for their lifestyles versus us going out and marketing to others. So they've educated us," Phillips said.

Phillips offers all women VIP parties at his 42,000 sq. ft. indoor shooting range.

Restaurants and gyms are also popping up in gun ranges across the country, catering to girls who shoot.

"Women account for 25 percent of firearms ownership in the market right now, and purchasing," Phillips said.

Over the last five years, he has seen a shift in the culture of the shooting range and believes a sense of safety and independence has pushed more women to pick up a weapon.

"You're seeing more women who want to be in control of their own destiny,” Phillips said. “There's nothing that equalizes the playing field of a 100-pound woman versus a 200-pound man than a firearm.”

In January, the National Sporting Goods Association released findings from their study conducted between 2001 and 2013. In the last dozen years, there has been an 85 percent increase in female hunters, from 1.8 million to 3.3 million.

There were also 5.4 million women target shooters in 2013, which is a 60 percent increase from the 3.3 million in 2001.

"I see woman everyday more and more eager to learn how to shoot," Miller said.

"I started shooting with my father. I started shooting shotguns. I've always had an interest in it because my parents hunt so I've been around it," said Natalie Mangusing, gun enthusiast.

Other women have also sparked romances at the gun range.

Shane Alfer works at Poway Weapons and Gear and met his girlfriend at a local gun shop.

"Since she was into [shooting], it was a very big deal for me too," Alfer recalled.

Alfer's girlfriend, Brittany Marciel, fell in love with shooting when she joined the U.S. military.

On a night out with girlfriends at a local shooting range, Alfer unexpectedly became the target of Marciel's affection.

Perhaps learning how to protect themselves is why most women are taking up shooting in the first place. But the thrill that follows is what keeps them coming back. In Alfer and Marciel's case, there is proof that the sport of shooting can sometimes offer the woman more than just peace of mind.