Becoming an Equal Presence
The Birth of the Charity Shoot
Written by Karen Ward 2017
It was the late 1980’s. A small group of somewhat disgruntled women were huddled together in a parking lot, with shotguns in hands. The mood was foul, and there was a thick sense of urgency in the air. Something needed to be done. Things had to change. No. These ladies were not huddled together planning their next bank robbery or a march in the townsquare, but they were making plans that would revolutionize women’s place in the shooting sports.
Feeling a little dejected, Sue King, Sandy Brister, Vicki Ash, and Sandi Nail stood in the Champion Lake Gun Club parking lot after competing in a tournament earlier that day. Although they had shot well, they were empty-handed. Unlike the men, none of them were holding trophies or prize money. But it wasn’t just money or prizes that they were after. What they really wanted was to be recognized as women shooters and to be extended the same opportunities that their male counterparts already had. Tired of competing in a sport that was predominately men, these ladies questioned how they could get more women involved in shooting clays. How could they get their own divisions and trophies? How could they gain recognition as women shooters and become an equal presence?
Just years before in the early-to-mid 80’s, sporting clays made its first appearance in the United States. Sandy Brister's husband, Bob (also known as the “Godfather of American Sporting) had been instrumental in introducing Americans to this sport that had originated across the pond. Now, in the late 80s, the sport was catching people’s attention and rapidly gaining popularity across the United States. Among those showing interest was that small group of Houston women.
This small group of disgruntled women huddled in the parking lot after shooting that day, but malcontents they were not! In fact, they were just the opposite. True, out on the course they were sometimes greeted with suspicion, and at other times, a sense of awkwardness simply complicated things. The men weren’t used to the ladies being out there, and the ladies weren’t used to being there. But the ladies knew they had a right to be there, and they wanted to be recognized as shooters who could shoot at the same level as the men. There were issues, but these issues just made our band of shooters more determined to gain the respect they deserved.
These ladies had all been new to shooting at one time. But before long, due to commitment and diligent practice they had moved from following along behind their husbands to becoming accomplished shooters. What had not followed, was recognition of their shooting accomplishments. Unfortunately at the shoots, the prize money and awards were not equal to what the men were receiving. Financially, it was not a good deal for shoot organizers to give away prize money and trophies to the women. Trophies cost money, and the organizers were not willing or able to spend the money. There just weren't enough women shooting!
It was a fact. They were competing in a man’s world. With typically only four to five women showing up at the events, this clan understood that although it was regrettable, they would have to accept this as a reality unless something was done. They recognized that they would have to get more women involved and introduce them to the sport they loved. Being a progressive group of women who weren’t afraid of hard work, our girls knew it was up to them to make things happen; to change things for generations of women to come. And, it was out of this frustration and desire for recognition, that the idea of an all ladies shoot was born!
Back in the parking lot that night as they were putting their guns away, Sue King cracked a joke, “Why don’t we have an All Ladies Shoot?” Skeptically, Sandy Brister remembers asking, “Well, who would we get to shoot it? The five of us?” They all began to talk at once, but when the laughter died down, the ladies knew they had their answer! And just like that, the idea of the Ladies Charity Classic was born.
Overcoming obstacles and perseverance were no strangers to these ladies, so they went straight to work using all the resources they had! Bob Brister wrote about it in his Thursday column in the Houston Chronicle. The Houston Post featured articles. Ron Mosier, Browning's Vice-President of Sales, was asked to be a sponsor. The ladies showed up on radio talk shows and pumped up the event. They talked to anyone who would listen. Sue King went through her rolodex calling students and encouraging them to attend. When they weren’t on the phone, they were knocking on doors. Since this was before the internet, to advertise Vicki Ash, along with the other ladies, laboriously handmade signs and brochures and hung them up in Oshmans and at the gun clubs. As the shoot got closer, they continued to meet in each other’s homes, and they worked independently in their own homes. They spread out sheets of paper across the floor. This time they carefully hand-lettered the banners, signs, and station sponsor posters that would be used at the shoot. They met with sponsors and secured prizes and donations to make their event successful. These visionaries also realized that an important component of their shoot was to give back to the community, so they named the Houston Area Women’s Shelter as the charity of their choice.
Within a matter of months, it was almost time for the big day. Like every other well-planned event detail, it was Mother’s Day weekend- the perfect day to honor women and encourage camaraderie. As advertised, the afternoon before the shoot, a free shooting clinic was offered to familiarize new shooters with gun handling, safety, and tips on how to hit a target. Equipped with every kind of shotgun known to man, droves of ladies showed up with everything from over-unders, semi-automatics, side-by sides, and pumps. They dusted off their husbands' dove and quail hunting guns and lined up for practice at various stations on the course. If they didn’t come equipped with a gun, Les Freer-local gunshop owner and gun-fitter, loaned out 20 gauges. Sue King, Sandy Brister, Vicki Ash, and Sandi Nail along with several other male instructors took the rookies through the steps of loading and mounting, focusing on targets, and of course-safety. Meanwhile, other husbands and supporters were out on the course setting up stations and preparing for the big day. The media came out and gave a final pitch to promote the event.
Early the next morning, excited and exhausted, this same group of ladies along with their devoted husbands and supporters, showed up to add the final details. They hung the banners, blew up balloons, set up tables and added floral arrangements; each person doing their part. Then they waited. But not for long. Soon a swarm of ladies filled the grounds at Champion Lake Gun Club. There were 99 women in all!!
As the ladies shot the 50-target course, it was hard to tell which was louder; the laughter and cheering that erupted or the thunder of shotguns. Because of the hard work that our disgruntled group of women had done, there were prizes galore. And the ladies were treated like queens! They knew that this could not have been done without the support of the industry, and they were grateful. Winchester provided free ammunition and White Flyer provided the targets. Browning donated a gun and 50 pairs of shooting gloves. Other national sponsors did their part as well.
When the ladies returned to the tent after shooting, they were thrilled to find tables set with Texas-Inspired flower arrangements of bluebonnets and daisies tucked neatly inside empty shell boxes. Targets scattered on the table added to the festivity. While the laughter and bragging continued, a buffet style lunch was served. And of course, after that there were prizes!
Knowing that it was important to encourage women and to have them return, the focus was on fun and not competitiveness. The lady champion, our very own Sue King, won a Browning Over-Under, donated by Ron Mossier Vice-President of Browning, a proponent of women in the shotgun sports. This was not the typical gun that was given away at that time, and to tell the truth more than one man in the crowd looked on with a little bit of jealousy and envy.
After the top prize was given away, the real fun began! Once again, the organizers got creative when it came to awarding prizes. Prizes were given for Lucky Score Draw and Lewis Class. Shoot-offs took place over the lake with more winners named. A delightful mayhem broke out when it was announced that additional winners were the ladies who found special stickers under their chairs. Along with the awards, hugs of appreciation were given out to the sweaty field referees for all the work they had done. At the end of the day, the ladies went home loaded with prizes that included handguns, leather vests, binoculars, shooting gloves, and ammunition. They went home happy and excited to be a part of such a fun and fast-growing sport. They went home wanting to come out and do it again. And ESPN was there to cover it all.
The next day more shooting and more fun continued. The ladies invited their husbands and supporters to join them in the couples’ event, called the Couples’ Cup. New challenges were presented out on the course. They shot doubled-caged and with timed targets. Couples had to work together deciding who would take what shot, and when to reload since timing was important. Lunch was served and prizes were awarded. Later that night as the couples drove home, they were already thinking about how they could improve their score next year.
At the end of a long weekend, when the last few decorations and banners were taken down, the ladies knew that they had made their presence felt in a sport dominated by men. They were grateful for the fine group of men who had happily supported them and devoted days of hard labor. They were grateful that they had guys who wanted the women they loved to enjoy the sport they loved. They felt that the industry had taken notice of them. And they were encouraged by the ninety-nine women who had shown up for the event; more than the total number of shooters who shot in the state championship that year.
Over the years some things have changed. The locations have changed, organizational names have changed, new charities have been named, and some of the event details have changed. But the goal of the charity shoot has remained the same. It is a way to give back to the community. The shoot encourages and welcomes new shooters. It fosters friendship. And... it is still difficult to tell which is louder-the laughter and cheers that are erupting or the thunder of shotguns.
Meet the Women Who Made a Difference
Sue King wasn’t new to shooting when she suggested the idea of a ladies only shoot. She received her first gun, a Remington single-shot bolt action, when she was only three years old. She fondly remembers shooting off a bench near her East Texas home. Both her mother and her grandmother could shoot. She thought all women shot. Sue hunted and shot with her father and grandfather and eventually, her husband of 55 years, Jerry King. Sue knew what it was like to be busy. She was the mother of twin boys. But somehow, she still found time to be a dynamic force in the shooting community. Sue traveled throughout the country promoting shooting for women and was instrumental in organizing “Ladies Only” shooting events in the United States. Over the years, Sue won numerous shooting awards and held many prestigious positions including becoming an NRA Training Counselor, the chief instructor for the U.S. Sporting Clays Association, and she was elected four times to serve on the board of the National Rifle Association (an unheard-of position for a female at that time.) Sue's work and accomplishments were also featured in the book, Silk and Steel-Women at Arms. Ask Sue which of these trophies and titles are most important to her, and she will shake her head. Her crisp blue eyes tell the story as much as her words. It’s not about the trophies and titles. It’s knowing that she gave back to the sport she loved so much. She helped open doors for women and helped give women more credibility in the shooting sports. Over seven decades later, Sue is still out shooting four-to-five times a week. She's still out doing what she loves.
Sandy Brister laughs perceptively when asked how she got into shooting. She freely admits that when she met her husband, Bob Brister, she knew that she was going to have to learn how to fish and hunt if she wanted to spend time with him. And she didn’t waste any time! Frustrated at first because she couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn, she knew she had to do something. And like many of us ladies today, she didn’t want to listen to her husband’s advice. Ultimately, she learned that she had an eye dominance issue and switched to the left shoulder. Before long she was smashing targets, hunting doves and was even named as an All-American Pigeon Shooter in the 1970s. Just like Sue, Sandy claimed numerous shooting titles and was a dominant member of the shooting community. Sandy was not only an excellent shot, but she is often credited with being her husband’s right-hand man, and is known for driving the station wagon with the pattern board behind it as he tested out theories on shot patterns. Sandy and Bob spent a wonderful life together shooting, competing, and writing about the life they shared. They attended Shot Shows together; where Sandy was later able to help secure prizes for the women’s tournaments. Still spunky today, it’s obvious that Sandy wasn’t just in it for the trophies either. Sandy loved hunting, fishing and shooting competitively. She loved the life and the good friends that the shooting community brought her.
Sandi Nail also stood in the parking lot that day. Like Sandy Brister, her husband Kenny Nail introduced her to the world of shotgun sports. Sandi started shooting skeet at Hot Wells with a 20-gauge side-by-side with double triggers. Shooting skeet with an IC and Mod chokes, Sandi learned how to handle the gun and break targets. Although she often came home bruised from the recoil, that didn't stop her from falling in love with the sport. Sandi took a short break from shooting after having her son, but soon she was lured back into shooting. Encouraged to learn that other women were beginning to shoot sporting clays out at Highland Bend, Kenny talked her into joining them. It wasn’t long before she found her place in the shooting world. It became a pattern for Sandi and Kenny as well as the other ladies to travel around to the various shoots on the weekends. She recalls progressing through a variety of guns and getting chokes from Jess Briley when he worked out of his garage on Gessner. Sandi came home with her fair share of awards; including being named the first NSCA Ladies National Champion and was four times the USSCA Ladies Champion. To this day, you only need to shoot a station or two with Sandi, to know that she hasn’t lost her touch. As some of the old newspapers liked to say, “She’s still nailing it!”
Vicki Ash was another prominent member of that parking lot huddle. When her husband, Gil Ash, told her that he was going out to shoot his shotgun, she remembers laughing and asking, "What's a shotgun?" Having been raised in Houston, Vicki was not familiar with shotguns at all! But that didn't last long. Not wanting to get left at home alone and knowing that she wasn’t the spectator type, Vicki jumped right in and started learning how to shoot with her SKB 28 gauge, a gift from her husband. Like a lot of other ladies, she graduated from taking lessons from her husband to finding a gentleman who owned the Hot Wells Shooting Range to give her lessons. Vicki faced many of the same obstacles that ladies face today such as eye dominance and gun fit; not to mention that it was thought of as a “man’s sport.” But these obstacles didn’t hold Vicki back. She shot skeet until 1983 when this new game of shooting called sporting clays came from England to the U.S. Fortunately for her, the first range was only 10 minutes from her house. Over the years, Vicki and her husband held clinics and taught many new and accomplished shooters. Stand in a handful of shooters today, and it is almost guaranteed that someone will have been influenced by them. Vicki won numerous titles herself, including NSCA Ladies National Champion in 1994, Texas State Champion, winning Zone Shoots and being named to the NSCA Ladies All American Team.
These ladies were just like many of us today. They came to the sport with different backgrounds, different influences, and different reasons for shooting. And like us today, they came to love and respect the sport. The next time you are out breaking clays and shooting with your friends, take time to break one more clay in recognition of the work that these ladies did for all of us!
Lucky Score Draw-scores are listed in descending order and are divided into preset groups, each score within the group is dropped into a bucket; a number is drawn from the pot; whoever has that score wins, if there are several shooters with that score a shoot-off determines the winner.
Lewis Class-a handicapping system based on the final scores for a particular event; scores are compiled in descending order and are divided into groups called classes; each class names winners
Generations of Women's Organizations Hosting Charity Shoots in Houston
Ladies Charity Classic
Women’s Shooting Sports Foundation (WSSF)
Women on Target-Sponsored by the NRA
Women’s Recreational Shooting Association (WRSA)
Lady Clay Shooters, Inc.