With a title like , Lindsay McCrum's new book is bound to turn some heads. When an advanced copy landed on my desk, I thought, this could go either way: It could be great, or it could be wildly inappropriate. I don't bristle at the word "chicks," but some women do. The cover (below) shows a young woman seated demurely on an oriental rug in front of a full-body mount of a bedded stag, a 19th-century English Forsyth pistol near her side and four antique guns on the wall behind her. I opened this sizeable hardcover to one of the 80 photographic plates, and started going through the glossy pages, at first only noticing the striking beauty of the full-page photographs and the women who were the subjects. I found myself wondering if they were just models holding guns as props, until I began to read the personal statements on each adjacent page. Written in the women's own words, it seemed to me that their stories read like something from the pages of Chicks With Guns Field & Stream, and I wanted to know more. Photographer Lindsay McCrum trained as a painter in oils, attending Yale University and the San Francisco Art Institute, and switched exclusively to portrait photography in 2003. Her other photographic works also explore elements of contemporary culture and gender: Superheroes and Commandos is a study of boys and costumed play, while Dress Up examines young girls and notions of fashion and beauty. McCrum called me from San Francisco, where she resides when she's not in New York, to discuss Chicks With Guns. McCrum stumbled onto the subject for her book quite accidentally. While working on another project in Montana on Labor Day in 2006, she photographed some women from a Single Action Shooting Society chapter in costume with their firearms, and it planted the seed for Chicks With Guns. She tells the story... Belinda from Watsonville, California, with a pair of Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Long Colt, was one of the first women in the book to be photographed..
“I was just goofing around, photographing the S.A.S.S. women in their late-century outfits. I learned from them that in the history of the western United States, the gun and the horse were great equalizers for women: No matter your physicality, you can shoot, and a man or woman on a horse sits at the same level on the horizon.” “That gave me about a zillion ideas. I spoke to friends of my father and the women I had already photographed, until I had gathered enough willing subjects in one part of the country to warrant a road trip.” Courtney’s Yildiz 20-gauge OU is her favorite gun for dove hunting in South Texas. Her Texan spin on preparing dove? Soak it in soy sauce, add a slice of Jalapeño and Monterey Jack cheese, wrap in bacon and skewer with a toothpick.
“The women’s enthusiasm just propelled the project, and it took on a life of its own. I spent the next four years trying to hit every region, and I ended up photographing about 280 women. We edited that down to the 80 women in the book.” Lindsay McCrum photographing Jessica from Bozeman, Montana.
“There are so many preconceived ideas about women with guns, but I didn’t see any of that when I got out there. I’m a photographer. I’m not interested in policy, and I’m not in the judgment business. Curiosity trumps judgment, and I document my curiosity through portraiture.” Jillian, shown here with her Winchester SX3 in Mossy Oak Duck Blind finish, was raised on wild game on her family’s tobacco farm in North Carolina. After turning 12, she spent most afternoons in a box stand, doing her homework and scouting. Her college graduation gift was a solo trip to South Africa to hunt plains game.
“There are 15 to 20 million women in this country who own guns, and they are also wives, daughters, or mothers. I hope the book shows their diversity, and I hope it is true to their voices. The personal statement that accompanies each photo is written in the woman’s own words, because it’s not my story.” Morgan from Pray, Montana, holding her .17 H.M.R. Savage Model 93R17 bolt-action rifle, although her favorite gun is a .243-caliber Savage Model 11. Morgan loves to go hunting and camping with her mom and their horse for a week at a time, and says she almost always gets what she’s hunting for. After a hunt, she and her mother make deer and elk sausage or salami.
“Early on, I showed one of these photos to an art dealer who made a lot of assumptions and projected them onto the woman pictured. He took one look at her and thought she was really rich, or that the land she was on was hers, and that wasn’t the case. The profiles give more information, another layer.” Stacie started shooting seriously when she moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1997, as a way to meet new people while she went for her Master’s degree in physical therapy. Her father was proud to buy her first Perazzi, but the Italian gunsmith made her this one, an MX1, which she says she used to complete a full sweep of the international flyer competitions in 2009.
“The portraits themselves were a collaborative effort, because I’m curious about the way people want to be presented. I would discuss it with each woman over the phone ahead of time, and when I arrived we made choices from their closet and took a tour of their home or the area where they typically use their gun. The different narratives come out of what they’re wearing, where they’re standing, and the gun.” Jessica, shown with an Abercrombie & Fitch 20-gauge side-by-side, says it would have been hard not to get involved in hunting and shooting growing up with a firearms instructor father in the plains and coulees of north-central Montana. She found a lifelong passion for shooting while bonding with her dad, and plans to pass these lessons on to her own son.
“Women are women–it’s still important to them to look really good, even in camo.” Victoria practices with her Beretta 20-gauge OU on her father’s sporting clays course, but says she prefers the challenge of precisely aiming a 28 gauge. She loves that women can hunt and shoot alongside men, but can still be girly-girls, like her.
“These women are a really impressive lot–very feminine, but competent with their guns. They really opened my eyes to the pure athleticism and focus a shooter needs to possess. After all, women go into shooting competitions and clean up!” Caitlin (left) and Caroline shoot custom Anschutz Fortner rifles on their biathlon team in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A combination of shooting and skiing, biathlon combines endurance fitness with fine motor control, and has a rich history in many snow-laden countries.
“All the women I spoke to had gun safety on their lips; they all knew the gun laws in their state. A few told me that they weren’t allowed to touch a loaded gun until they could prove that they could handle it while hunting. They talked about having a sense of responsibility and an urge to prove themselves, and quite a few mentioned feeling empowered by being able to shoot better than a man.” Jaiden currently resides at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as part of the USA National Shotgun Team for Women’s Skeet. Shown here with her Krieghoff K-80 12-gauge over-and-under, Jaiden started shooting guns at age six, and later had to earn her first shooting lesson at the shotgun range with a straight-A report card.
“Nobody is neutral on the subject of guns. Your region and background inform your opinion. Some people are horrified by the thought of women or families with guns at home, like ‘What kind of culture do we have?’ One woman in Montana, for example, got her first gun because she lived in a rough area, but owning guns for self-defense is only one narrative in the book. There are also women in law enforcement, in the social set, and hunters.” Allie has been shooting her 1914 model Luger 9mm Parabellum in the woods of southwest Oregon since she was a girl. Shooting lessons from her father taught her dedication and confidence, and many of her friends have been convinced to leave their negative views on guns behind, once they try shooting with Allie.
“I think people think of hunters in a very specific way, but I am learning that it’s a more complex issue, especially when it comes to women in the field.” _At 85, Ruth still hunts every day of open season with her husband–one of the best shots in the state if Georgia, by her account–and all their friends. She totes her Winchester Model 12 20-gauge into the field and fondly remembers the lessons her father taught her: safety first, shoot well, have fun.
“It’s so interesting because, in nature, females are deadlier killers–in a more purposeful way. Not out of bloodlust. And shooting big game at 250 yards takes great skill, for anyone.” _At 5′ 2″ and 110 pounds, Pamela found her .375 rifle too punishing to climb and hunt with, and made the switch to handgun hunting. Her Freedom Arms .454 Casull kicks too much for several men she’s talked to, but Pamela says if she just goes with the recoil, it doesn’t give her any trouble. In 1997, Pamela was the third woman to be honored by Safari Club International with the Diana Award, named for the Roman goddess of the hunt.
“The hunters I photographed had such respect for the outdoors–I had no idea about all the ways hunters contribute to conservation. And if one of these ladies draws a tag for a mountain lion, she is going to drag that animal out! I was amazed.” Ginny from Long Island, New York, owns more guns than shoes–one of them is this Sturm, Ruger & Co. 20-gauge OU. After good friends in Atlanta introduced her to bird shooting in college, she went on to help create the Sportsman’s Hunting Annual for Harris Publications. Her husband isn’t interested in hunting, so many of her most memorable hunting experiences have been shared with other women.
“I heard from quite a few women that they get together with friends to go shooting instead of shopping or playing bridge. One Virginia shooting instructor started a group called GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting) who get together monthly to shoot clays. Others have a weekly night at the shooting range with close friends.”
Alison, Marlee, Lee, and Margaret consider themselves a hunting family. They are each profiled individually elsewhere in the book, but adjacent to this photo, Margaret tells the story of when family friend Bing Crosby declined an invitation to hunt at her great-uncles’ camp–because his wife was not invited_.
“I’m so grateful to these women, who were generous enough to share their amazing stories. Their enthusiasm was just incredible.” Lee from Ridgeland, South Carolina, calls her Boss 20-gauge side-by-side a “miracle of balance and weight” made in the 1930s, the golden age of English gun making. Her most memorable hunting moments include shooting a driven jungle fowl cock in one of the few remaining jungle patches of Bihar and walking up on partridge among wildflowers in Outer Mongolia.
Field & Stream’
s Kristyn Brady talks to photographer Lindsay McCrum about her new book, Chicks With Guns_. Filled with compelling photos of women with the firearms they use for hunting, competition, protection, and sport, McCrum’s book also relates their personal stories.
Photography by Lindsay McCrum. Published by The Vendome Press. Foreword by Stephen L. Meagher. Available October 1 at Amazon.com, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers nationwide._