- In a sea of about 70 men at a Saturday morning shooting match in Kirigiti, 16 women stand out.
- They are taking up their place in shooting sports and outshining their male counterparts too.
- Beyond being an engaging sport with lessons on discipline, shooting is also beneficial for overall physical fitness.
In a sea of about 70 men at a Saturday morning shooting match in Kirigiti, 16 women stand out. Their skill-set matches and even surpasses that of their male counterparts, making their appearance the only stark difference.
Aggressive stances and quick feet characterised their motion with each passing round. Despite the startling noise, it looked like calculated fun.
The National Gun Owners Association (Ngao-K) has seen an increase in women’s membership and participation in competitive shooting in recent years.
“Due to our good efforts to popularise the sport, women’s participation has increased tremendously. There are currently no less than 25 active lady shooters in the country,” says Martin Chengo, chairman of the association.
Most of these women are in the armed forces, having received professional training that piqued their interest in the sport.
There, they find classification in six distinct categories: from novice to marksman, to sharpshooter then expert. The highest rankings in this hierarchy are master and distinguished master. There are currently no distinguished masters in Africa.
Kenya will be hosting the 2021 International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) Africa Championships this September, making it the first time this event is held in a country other than South Africa in the 15 years since its inception.
In preparation, they are aiming to classify more of their participants in the level of marksman and above.
“Some civilian women are even shooting above sharpshooter categories,” Sammy Onyango, Ngao-K match director told BDLife.
Wangeci Muchiri, an officer with the National Police Service, is the first female sharpshooter in Kenya under the Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP) category, and the second female sharpshooter in the country overall.
She has been shooting competitively since 2009 and participates in championships regularly. Ms Muchiri was classified as a sharpshooter in a match in April 2021, bumped up straight from novice and skipping the marksman category.
“I have passion, I love this sport. It also aligns with my work life and helps me concentrate better in my day-to-day activities,” she says.
To her, seeing other women participate in the sport has kept her motivated, as the number of women on the range continues to grow.
“The more women involve themselves in the sport, the more motivation we get to keep shooting,” she says.
Belinda Akoth, an officer in the General Service Unit (GSU) who is also classified as a sharpshooter says this is more than just a sport.
“You meet new people, expand your networks and at the end of the day, it’s a score,” she says.
In love with guns
Ms Akoth has been shooting competitively since 2016 and says that she loves guns and anything to do with them.
“I fell in love with guns and shooting during training, and discovered I could make good shots,” she says.
Guns have taught her to be careful. “You have to treat every gun as if it is loaded. You also have to be patient with the gun and with yourself,” she added.
Since her first IDPA shoot in 2016, Ms Akoth has participated in several championships both locally and internationally, including the World Pistol Competition held in China in November 2018.
She attended the competition along with Irene Wanjiku, an officer from the GSU Training School. Kenya ranked seventh out of 72 participating countries in the competition, a fête that Ms Akoth owed to African marksmanship over Western speed.
“African countries don’t have as many shooters as Western countries do,” she explained, a factor that added to the intimidation during the competition.
Competitions are based on one’s ability to quickly draw and change their gun’s magazine. They noticed that although they were slower than their white counterparts, they were always on target, resulting in their high ranking.
Ms Wanjiku, who was her counterpart at the event, has been shooting competitively since 2013, and has been attending Ngao-K matches since 2014. She is currently a marksman as of April 2021, bumped up from the novice category.
“Shooting skills instil discipline. Good shooters don’t use their firearms anyhow,” she says. She also explained that although the marks are grouped according to gender, the rest of the sport is not as gender-specific as others.
“In these competitions, we are levelled the same; what you score is what you’ll be classified with. It is not gender-specific; you have to compete against men even if you are a woman,” she says.
Alice Njuguna, a novice shooter and officer with the Kenya Navy, started shooting competitively about six months ago after clocking one year of service.
She ranked first at a KDF shooting competition, despite being in a team full of men. This motivated her to join the sport.
“In our career, you need to have good marksmanship; shooting competitively has helped me to improve on that,” she says.
Ms Njuguna also encouraged civilian women as well as those in the armed forces to participate in shooting as a sport, and not be afraid to join as they too can get adequate training.
Well-respected in shooting circles, veteran shooter and first chairperson of the Kenya Women Shooting Team, Nune Bonaya of the KDF, remarked on the increase of women in the sport since its inception.
Currently, a Fullbore target rifle expert, Ms Bonaya has been shooting competitively for the past 35 years.
“Women’s participation has definitely improved, especially in the past three years,” she says, adding that this is a sport like any other, and more women should feel encouraged to join.
“I love that it’s a sport and is also part of training for me,” she says.
Beyond being an engaging sport with lessons on discipline, shooting is also beneficial for overall physical fitness. The basic principles— stance, grip, draw, breath control, sight alignment and trigger manipulation —rely on both mental and physical capacity to guarantee brevity during a match.
“For instance, with breath control, you can decide to take a shot on an empty lung. You can take about eight shots on an empty lung as opposed to a full one, where you’ll only take about four,” she says.
Like any kind of physical training, Ms Akoth reiterated that discipline must come from within.
“When you come to train, it must come from your heart, not someone pushing you to go train, you have to want to better yourself and your skills.”
She then proceeded to teach me how to aim at the target. Shooting looks easy on television, but mastering the balance between mental and physical activity requires practice and, at the time, a keen ear.
The first shot missed the target poorly, but after adjusting my grip and managing my breath, my shot rested right next to hers on the cardboard marker.
While a gun may be dangerous in the wrong hands at the wrong place and the wrong time, the set of parameters at the Kirigiti range allowed me to explore first-hand how shooting can be fulfilling as a pastime.
It is all in the rush of pursuing the bullseye.