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Bourjaily: Annie Oakley and Female Snipers

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March 29, 2010

Bourjaily: Annie Oakley and Female Snipers

By Phil Bourjaily

Thanks to editorial assistant Kristyn Brady, who sent me a link to this short movie of Annie Oakley and a copy of her letter to President McKinley volunteering her services in the Spanish American War.

The movie, by the way, was filmed in the very first movie studio, Thomas Edison’s Black Maria, in 1894. Oakley, by all accounts, was an exhibition shooter at least the equal of today’s Tom Knapp and Tim Bradley, and she did her shows without the benefit of a semiauto. When she threw four targets in the air and broke them, she used two double guns. Granted, Oakley doesn’t do anything especially jaw-dropping in this clip, probably due to the constraints of having to film inside Edison’s studio, which was little more than a shack in New Jersey. However, I am very impressed with Oakley’s assistant – possibly her husband Frank Butler – who scarcely flinches as she shoots over his head. He is either fearless, supremely trusting in his wife’s shooting skill, or completely deaf from too many muzzle blasts already.

Whether Annie Oakley and a company of female sharpshooters could have ended the Spanish American War even more quickly is a question to which we will never know the answer. What we do know about female sharpshooters is that the Red Army – which did win – employed as many as 2,000 women as snipers in WWII, as seen in this video interview with veteran Lidyia Gudovanatseva:

Comments (23)

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from Harold wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Towards the end of WWII the Soviet's manpower shortage became acute enought that women were put in regular combat roles such as infantry and armor. Women snipers were used early on and anyone who has seen a properly trained woman shoot can understand why. However, due to the influence of Soviet propaganda I think some of the kill numbers are inflated and should be viewed skeptically.

It's understandable that in the late 18oos and early 1900s that men were aghast at the idea of women in combat. I could never imagine McKinley or Wilson okaying such an idea.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

She often remarked that she very well could have prevented WWI. Just before the war she was doing a tour of the Europen Continent and Kaiser Wilhelm visted one of the shows. The Kaiser wanted her to shoot a cigarette from his lips. She did so and wowed the crowd. Her remark was, "Of all the shots that I made I wish I had that one back to do over, things might just be different..."

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clem Snide wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I am an historian, and I can tell you for certain that killing the Kaiser would have had little to do with the onslaught of the war. It was the system of interlocking alliances and mutual defense treaties then in effect that did the trick. The so called "balance of power" theory.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from BowtechWVU wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

cool post about women shooters

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jasonmarinvet wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I say if they can shoot as well as their male counterparts, and can carry their weight, let them be combat snipers. you never know....They may be as good, if not better than the ones their going up against.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from seadog wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I've often heard that women with equal training tend to be better shooters than men. I don't know if the opinion has ever been proven true or false.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sarge01 wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I know that with the very little training that my students get in the hunter educatiion course male and female shooters who have had no training at all the females will outshoot the males everytime. I don't think it is a fluke because it has been happening for over 40 years. I think a female's nervous system is a little more stable than a males.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Dear Clem Snide,

As somewhat of a historian myself I am familiar with the alliances that led to WWI and to the politics of most of the 20th century.

I simply put forth a quote attributed to Ms. Oakley. I doubt that she really thought killing the Kaiser would have stopped the war but it probably made good interview material in her time.

I have no illusions to that conclusion what so ever...

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Cgull wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

interesting clips, women must be hardwired better to do some things. It might be they can hold focus longer than men.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

The influence of Soviet women snipers is well documented from their training to their successes in many conflicts again Nazi Germany. Perhaps the "kill counts" were not entirely correct, even so these women proved to be a viable threat and no doubt a hidden peril in the mind of every German infantryman. Just their actions at Stalingrad are impressive with many of their shots observed by witnesses.
Apparently Annie was quite a gal as well as an outstanding shot. If you want to actually see quite a number of her guns they are on display at the BBHC here in Cody, WY. Some appear to have been embelished gifts which she did not use much while others are on the verge of being worn out. There used to be several videos at the museum of her shooting but as these films are often changed out I am not certain if they are currently available for public viewing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Ishawooa,

I didn't say the Soviet girl snipers weren't effective. It's just that Soviet propaganda had a tendency to guild lilies.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

A while back I added a somewhat unique story in the Message Board under The Huntress Club entitled "The .500 is a girly gun". Since it sort of goes along with this topic you might enjoy reading it if you like some humor and a surprise.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from squirrelgirl wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I think Annie Oakley did a great job of showing the world that women can shoot and just might shoot as well as men. yeah she was a circus show but she did it in style. if I dressed up in that outfit shooting my lever actions the deer would laugh me outta the treestand.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from elmer f. wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

anyone who thinks that women can not shoot as well as men, is really pretty foolish. the sex of an individual has nothing to do with holding a firearm, or pulling a trigger. my daughter (6) is already shooting. my wife, before she got sick could shoot MY 30-30 way better than i ever could! a few feats she has performed include shooting a deer (and killing it with one shot) @ a little over 200 yards, killing 2 deer with one shot, and out shooting my brother in a contest @ 100 yards. she had no shooting experience growing up, so either i was an excellent teacher, or she had quite a bit of natural talant to begin with. personally, i believe in the latter.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

I agree with elmer f. I taught my wife to shoot a rifle and I've yet to track any deer she has shot at for more than fifty feet. I would prefer teaching women because they listen, they accept the fact that they know nothing or very little about the subject compared to the instructor, and usually come with no preconceived ideas of how things should go. Most if not all boys I have dealt with come with their own ideas about what should happen and tend not to listen until they learn that they don't know as much about shooting as they think they do, especially when you are talking about a handgun.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Last year I took my son and his new wife out to the range to shoot a revolver. Neither had ever shot a handgun of any kind. The young lady shot rings around junior and nearly beat the old man too. At least in this case the theory that women shoot best seems to be correct.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Woman shoot better at first and sometimes ALL the time because when someone is instructing them they ACTUALLY LISTEN!

The first time I took my wife to the "Bullet Hole in Overland Park KS to have her fire I spent 5 minutes telling her about sight picture, breathing and squeezing the trigger rather than "PULLING" she put 10 rounds in the 9-10 rings at 12 yards then 20 yards with a Walther PP then a S&W 686. Needles to say I wont stand in front of her with her holding a pistol. 8^D

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Also I am an Historian of sorts and Agree with Beekeeper, I have taught Classes on the Fall of the Hapsbergs and Hohenzollerns.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

That would be "Hapsburgs".

There is no shooting gene predominant in the male gender. I have witnessed the poorest shooters anywhere in the military, mainly because their training absorption rate was deficient. Folks who pay attention to training and follow advice well generally turn out to be good shooters. I guess the rest become vegans or take up fishing.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

WAM Yur right, should have been wacthing "fat fingers"!!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Moishe, I am a frequent user of the Fat Finger Function myself! LOL

I usually see all my typos immediately upon hitting the "SUBMIT" button...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Plotner wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

cool my sister idolizes annie oakley i offered to let her shoot my 20 ga. but she said no.i read that the first time she ever shot was at a squirrle with a muzzleloader with enough powder to kill off a buffalo and when her mother got there she was just standing there squrrrile in hand and muzzle loader still smoking. wow that took a lot out of me...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dakota.Woman wrote 4 years 1 week ago

My unchi Pearl (that's 'grandmother' in my native language) always maintained that the gals are better fighters than the guys.. smaller makes 'em meaner, she used to say. I figure that goes for sniping, too. The guys I used to hunt with called me 'deadeye' because I'd go out with 10 shells & come back with 9 shells & a buck most years. Can't stand to cripple an animal or cause it to suffer in dying. It's an Indn Thing, I expect - we thank them for sacrificing themselves for our benefit; causing them suffering just doesn't mesh with that. Regardless, some jerk got on my case about my shooting ability so I challenged him to shoot clay pigeons - put $50 & a 'put up or shut up' down.. He showed up with a 12-gauge; I showed up with a .22 . I figured if Granny Klampet could do it, so could I. Then too, I was just plain Fed Up with his stupid cheap shots. He shot 20-some%; I shot 93%. My unchi Pearl was right - don't p--- off a woman who hunts. And yes, we had witnesses.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Beekeeper wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

She often remarked that she very well could have prevented WWI. Just before the war she was doing a tour of the Europen Continent and Kaiser Wilhelm visted one of the shows. The Kaiser wanted her to shoot a cigarette from his lips. She did so and wowed the crowd. Her remark was, "Of all the shots that I made I wish I had that one back to do over, things might just be different..."

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sarge01 wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I know that with the very little training that my students get in the hunter educatiion course male and female shooters who have had no training at all the females will outshoot the males everytime. I don't think it is a fluke because it has been happening for over 40 years. I think a female's nervous system is a little more stable than a males.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

That would be "Hapsburgs".

There is no shooting gene predominant in the male gender. I have witnessed the poorest shooters anywhere in the military, mainly because their training absorption rate was deficient. Folks who pay attention to training and follow advice well generally turn out to be good shooters. I guess the rest become vegans or take up fishing.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Towards the end of WWII the Soviet's manpower shortage became acute enought that women were put in regular combat roles such as infantry and armor. Women snipers were used early on and anyone who has seen a properly trained woman shoot can understand why. However, due to the influence of Soviet propaganda I think some of the kill numbers are inflated and should be viewed skeptically.

It's understandable that in the late 18oos and early 1900s that men were aghast at the idea of women in combat. I could never imagine McKinley or Wilson okaying such an idea.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clem Snide wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I am an historian, and I can tell you for certain that killing the Kaiser would have had little to do with the onslaught of the war. It was the system of interlocking alliances and mutual defense treaties then in effect that did the trick. The so called "balance of power" theory.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from BowtechWVU wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

cool post about women shooters

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jasonmarinvet wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I say if they can shoot as well as their male counterparts, and can carry their weight, let them be combat snipers. you never know....They may be as good, if not better than the ones their going up against.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from seadog wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I've often heard that women with equal training tend to be better shooters than men. I don't know if the opinion has ever been proven true or false.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Beekeeper wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Dear Clem Snide,

As somewhat of a historian myself I am familiar with the alliances that led to WWI and to the politics of most of the 20th century.

I simply put forth a quote attributed to Ms. Oakley. I doubt that she really thought killing the Kaiser would have stopped the war but it probably made good interview material in her time.

I have no illusions to that conclusion what so ever...

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Harold wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

Ishawooa,

I didn't say the Soviet girl snipers weren't effective. It's just that Soviet propaganda had a tendency to guild lilies.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from elmer f. wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

anyone who thinks that women can not shoot as well as men, is really pretty foolish. the sex of an individual has nothing to do with holding a firearm, or pulling a trigger. my daughter (6) is already shooting. my wife, before she got sick could shoot MY 30-30 way better than i ever could! a few feats she has performed include shooting a deer (and killing it with one shot) @ a little over 200 yards, killing 2 deer with one shot, and out shooting my brother in a contest @ 100 yards. she had no shooting experience growing up, so either i was an excellent teacher, or she had quite a bit of natural talant to begin with. personally, i believe in the latter.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Cgull wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

interesting clips, women must be hardwired better to do some things. It might be they can hold focus longer than men.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

The influence of Soviet women snipers is well documented from their training to their successes in many conflicts again Nazi Germany. Perhaps the "kill counts" were not entirely correct, even so these women proved to be a viable threat and no doubt a hidden peril in the mind of every German infantryman. Just their actions at Stalingrad are impressive with many of their shots observed by witnesses.
Apparently Annie was quite a gal as well as an outstanding shot. If you want to actually see quite a number of her guns they are on display at the BBHC here in Cody, WY. Some appear to have been embelished gifts which she did not use much while others are on the verge of being worn out. There used to be several videos at the museum of her shooting but as these films are often changed out I am not certain if they are currently available for public viewing.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

A while back I added a somewhat unique story in the Message Board under The Huntress Club entitled "The .500 is a girly gun". Since it sort of goes along with this topic you might enjoy reading it if you like some humor and a surprise.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from squirrelgirl wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I think Annie Oakley did a great job of showing the world that women can shoot and just might shoot as well as men. yeah she was a circus show but she did it in style. if I dressed up in that outfit shooting my lever actions the deer would laugh me outta the treestand.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

I agree with elmer f. I taught my wife to shoot a rifle and I've yet to track any deer she has shot at for more than fifty feet. I would prefer teaching women because they listen, they accept the fact that they know nothing or very little about the subject compared to the instructor, and usually come with no preconceived ideas of how things should go. Most if not all boys I have dealt with come with their own ideas about what should happen and tend not to listen until they learn that they don't know as much about shooting as they think they do, especially when you are talking about a handgun.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Last year I took my son and his new wife out to the range to shoot a revolver. Neither had ever shot a handgun of any kind. The young lady shot rings around junior and nearly beat the old man too. At least in this case the theory that women shoot best seems to be correct.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Woman shoot better at first and sometimes ALL the time because when someone is instructing them they ACTUALLY LISTEN!

The first time I took my wife to the "Bullet Hole in Overland Park KS to have her fire I spent 5 minutes telling her about sight picture, breathing and squeezing the trigger rather than "PULLING" she put 10 rounds in the 9-10 rings at 12 yards then 20 yards with a Walther PP then a S&W 686. Needles to say I wont stand in front of her with her holding a pistol. 8^D

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from WA Mtnhunter wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Moishe, I am a frequent user of the Fat Finger Function myself! LOL

I usually see all my typos immediately upon hitting the "SUBMIT" button...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike Plotner wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

cool my sister idolizes annie oakley i offered to let her shoot my 20 ga. but she said no.i read that the first time she ever shot was at a squirrle with a muzzleloader with enough powder to kill off a buffalo and when her mother got there she was just standing there squrrrile in hand and muzzle loader still smoking. wow that took a lot out of me...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dakota.Woman wrote 4 years 1 week ago

My unchi Pearl (that's 'grandmother' in my native language) always maintained that the gals are better fighters than the guys.. smaller makes 'em meaner, she used to say. I figure that goes for sniping, too. The guys I used to hunt with called me 'deadeye' because I'd go out with 10 shells & come back with 9 shells & a buck most years. Can't stand to cripple an animal or cause it to suffer in dying. It's an Indn Thing, I expect - we thank them for sacrificing themselves for our benefit; causing them suffering just doesn't mesh with that. Regardless, some jerk got on my case about my shooting ability so I challenged him to shoot clay pigeons - put $50 & a 'put up or shut up' down.. He showed up with a 12-gauge; I showed up with a .22 . I figured if Granny Klampet could do it, so could I. Then too, I was just plain Fed Up with his stupid cheap shots. He shot 20-some%; I shot 93%. My unchi Pearl was right - don't p--- off a woman who hunts. And yes, we had witnesses.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

Also I am an Historian of sorts and Agree with Beekeeper, I have taught Classes on the Fall of the Hapsbergs and Hohenzollerns.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 4 years 2 weeks ago

WAM Yur right, should have been wacthing "fat fingers"!!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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