by Karen Mehall Phillips, NRA Endowment member, hunter and NRA Publications employee - Friday, April 28, 2023
It was amazing to be a part of the synergy created by the tens of thousands of female NRA members at the 152nd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits at Indianapolis, April 14-16, 2023. We NRA women gathered as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends, business professionals, college students, hunters, target shooters and staunch 2A constitutionalists in addition to nearly 20 NRA Board members.
Fortunately, the NRA recognized long ago that there is no typical NRA member—let alone female member—as our interests span the spectrum of firearms ownership. So in addition to working with a national network of 130,000-plus NRA-certified firearms instructors, coaches and training counselors for decades to offer basic pistol, shotgun and rifle safety, education and training courses nationwide, the NRA offers several key programs designed specifically for women of the NRA.
In 1993 it began addressing our requests for personal protection and crime prevention seminars through the Refuse To Be A Victim program. Thirty years later, the program continues to provide personal safety tips and techniques to help women avoid becoming a victim. In perpetuating training opportunities in the areas of personal protection, hunting and recreational and competitive target shooting, the NRA launched its noted Women On Target Instructional Shooting Clinics to teach safe firearms handling and storage and offer opportunities to hone newly acquired shooting skills. In addition, the NRA’s eight-day NRA Women's Wilderness Escape provides women ages 18 and older with opportunities to learn about hunting, shooting sports and other traditional outdoor activities under the supervision of NRA-certified instructors and outdoor specialists. Whether participants sign up to learn to shoot sporting clays or to go turkey hunting, they are guided in the safe handling and shooting of firearms alongside other women while amassing the skills needed to prepare for their own adventures.
To make sure such programs are funded into the future, in 1992 The NRA Foundation launched a Women’s Programs Endowment. Tax-deductible contributions to the fund are invested and NRA women’s programs are supported by the earnings and interest captured from the investments. As women continued to shape the future, the NRA went on to launch the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) nearly two decades ago to form a community just for women of the NRA. It is now one of the NRA’s largest and most influential philanthropic groups as we share our time, resources and passion to protect the Second Amendment. In fact, the WLF just held its 17th Annual NRA Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon and Auction during the NRA Annual Meetings in Indy.
Most recently, perhaps the best tool at our fingertips is the NRA’s fasting-growing digital property: NRAWomen.com. The site launched in April 2020 amid the global COVID-19 pandemic when many organizations were shutting down. It took a giant step forward in supporting our needs and interests with a national website that gives a voice to women who shoot, hunt and seek to engage in Second Amendment advocacy. With a strong focus on personal protection, the site offers reviews of guns and gear ideal for women, while serving as the 2A community’s most credible resource for firearms training and education. Home to thousands of articles written by respected experts in their fields, NRAWomen.com caters to all levels of expertise in firearm ownership and hunting. It provides the resources to help women get outdoors while welcoming and encouraging the millions of new female gun owners and hunters who have joined the NRA’s ranks. And best of all, the website is available free of charge for members and non-members alike.
NRAWomen.com has also led the charge on helping women find the right handgun. Through her annual Ladies Pistol Project, Editor-in-Chief Ann Y. Smith solicits input from a women-only focus group to test dozens of models of handguns and offer feedback through a survey. The results are posted online and serve as one more tool for women who are looking for advice on what might be her perfect gun.
For the many hunters in our midst, the NRA show also featured the annual NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum’s (HLF) Dinner and Awards Ceremony. We were there in part to honor one of the most intriguing women in the outdoors—South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem—and to present this NRA Life member with the HLF’s NRA Distinguished Hunters Leadership Award for exceptional leadership in hunting and wildlife conservation. But we were also there to support the NRA, the organization we’ve counted on for 152 years to do hunters’ heavy lifting—to protect hunting as a freedom, a right and a cherished way of life.
Protecting hunting’s future is critical as we gun owners and hunters watched the 21st century bring about a culture war on us hunters fueled by groups like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and others dedicated to shutting down all hunting. This is why in 2014 the NRA launched the HLF and established a permanent endowment to address the challenges to legal, regulated hunting’s future. First up was tackling the communications hurdle to seize control of the narrative, accomplished in 2016 when NRA Publications launched the award-winning website—NRAHLF.org. The only issues-based news site of its kind, it works with our NRA Institute for Legislative Action to report on the threats to hunting on the state, national and global levels.
NRA also has always played a role as America’s hunter safety leader. In fact, it designed America’s first-ever hunter education course in 1949, which to this day remains a cornerstone of the NRA, offered in all 50 states. In 2017 it launched the free NRA Online Hunter Education Course—the most comprehensive online hunter education course nationwide. To date, it has certified more than 100,000 new hunters and is available in 12 states, with more pending. To take the free course or to learn how to get it approved for use in your state, visit NRAHE.org.
Underscoring the course’s impact, in 2019 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced state wildlife agencies now may claim a dollar value of the course as in-kind match dollars to access federal Pittman-Robertson (P-R) grant funds. The move marks a major win for the NRA and state wildlife agencies, which rely on the P-R dollars administered by the USFWS’ Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Division for their fish and wildlife conservation programs. It also bolsters states’ hunter recruitment efforts and the national NRA-backed R3 movement (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation).
I’ve spent my decades-long career promoting the NRA and helped it launch two official journals, but I’m an obsessed hunter who happens to be an NRA Endowment member particularly because I know what it does for hunters. Imagine what would happen if there were no NRA. Pick up the March issue of American Hunter where I wrote how my husband, Phil, and I travelled to Turkey to hunt ibex. While the extremists—backed by some of the usual suspects—had been fighting the outfitters in court for months to end hunting, I never thought it would happen while we were in the air. Such confidence comes from living in America where the NRA has our backs.
Imagine landing and learning the area we were to hunt was already closed and that all hunting would end soon. We moved to a new area and had three days to hunt before it closed too. We split up and were fortunate to both get ibex on what should have been a 10-day hunt. Turkey is still closed to ibex hunting. With no NRA, outfitters are on their own.
Lucky for us, we have the NRA, though it is more than luck because the NRA is made up of millions of impassioned defenders like us, defending firearms pursuits across the board. Of course, the NRA knows how to rally its troops and communicate with us by putting a key benefit of NRA membership in our hands every month: our monthly NRA magazine. With four NRA official journals in the mix, I’m excited to share that two of them have big anniversaries in 2023. Read by millions, American Rifleman—the NRA’s Flagship and world’s largest firearms authority—is celebrating its centennial. And American Hunter—the largest all-hunting publication worldwide with 1 million-plus readers—is turning 50. There is something for everyone each month as hardcore hunters and shooters appreciate the how-to tips and techniques and destination-and-adventure stories that transport us into the great outdoors.
Last month’s NRA Annual Meetings proved that NRA synergy is at its peak when we NRA women gather to celebrate freedom all under one roof. With our support, as America’s oldest civil rights organization, our NRA wields its firepower to protect freedom’s future while creating opportunities for us all to embrace the benefits of firearms ownership, hunting and the shooting sports and to be a voice for wildlife conservation and our cherished outdoor traditions all in freedom’s name.
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