Annie Oakleys Shooter Debbie Avery, right, fires at flying targets while instructor Cheng Ma looks on. At left, Carol Beerman practices sighting the target.
Annie Oakleys Shooter Debbie Avery, right, fires at flying targets while instructor Cheng Ma looks on. At left, Carol Beerman practices sighting the target.

They named their club after Annie Oakley, that famous 19th and early 20th century woman-with-a-gun. In casual conversation, these shotgun-carrying metro Atlanta sportswomen refer to themselves simply as “the Annies.”

Members of the Annie Oakley Shooters gather the first Monday of nearly every month to shoulder shotguns and blast clay targets that fly like game birds.

“In golf and tennis, nothing blows up,” said Debbie Avery of Sandy Springs. “In this sport, things blow up. It’s instant gratification.”

The Annies grew out of a charity shooting tournament for women, said Mary Huntz, one of the originators and self-described “mother hen” of the group. “We decided, ‘why let all these guys have all the fun?’” This year, their Annie Oakley shooting tournament reaches its 10th year. Over that period, the club has raised $365,000 for charity, she said.

The group’s mission is to encourage women to learn the sport of shooting. New shooters must take lessons. “Most of our women never held a shotgun before,” Huntz said. “I like to say we are peashooters and sharpshooters.”

The club has about 150 women on its email list. They live in communities spread from Cobb County to Monroe. Some months, 60 or more women join the shoots on “Annie Mondays.” On this season’s opening day in September, about 40 women took part in a shoot at the club’s home, a private hunting and shooting club near Social Circle.

They shouldered 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotguns or packed them into golf carts or hand-pulled carts that look surprisingly like strollers. Then they headed into the woods to shoot glow-in-the-dark orange or green clay targets that fluttered from the trees or darted from the bushes or flew into the sky.

Dentist Laura Braswell, who practices in Buckhead, joined the group six or seven years ago. She had done some shooting in college, she said, but had laid aside her shotgun. She decided to take it up again to have an outdoor sport to share with her son. He’s in high school now and they still go shooting together.

Now she shoots regularly with the Annies. “I’m just happy to get out in the woods,” she said

She likes being with the other women. “You meet different people. You have fun. There’s a little bit of networking, but mostly it’s just social,” Braswell said.

Christy Roberts learned to shoot growing up in Texas, where she’d hunt deer. She’s been shooting with the Annies for about five years. “It’s obviously fun to be with a different group of ladies than the usual,” she said.

They shoot “sporting clays,” which means no two shots are exactly the same. They work a course of 15 stations, moving from one to the next like golfers on a course. Targets fly in several different directions and offer combinations of high and low flights. They mimic the various flight patterns of different birds and, in one case, the cross-the-ground scurry of a fleeing rabbit, shooters said.

“It’s a lot like golf to me. To me, it’s easier than golf. Golfing is a little more frustrating,” said Johanna Tate of Dunwoody. “[Shooting] is something my husband and I can do together.”

On opening day, Avery, her friend Carol Beerman of Sandy Springs, Braswell and I set off as a foursome. We were accompanied by instructor Cheng Ma, a 68-year-old competitive shooter and hunting guide who grew up hunting in California and now teaches clients how to properly wield a shotgun.

Avery brought her dog, a German shepherd puppy. “I want to make sure she’s good with gunfire,” she joked.

Avery’s husband introduced her to shooting. Now they hunt together, even going so far as Argentina to find birds to hunt. Other Annies also have traveled in pursuit of a good shoot. Tate, for instance, says she’s hunted in Scotland.

Avery introduced her friend Beerman to the sport. She took right to it and she says she was amazed at how many women are active shooters. “I’ve just kind of fallen in love with it,” Beerman said. The attraction? “I like the challenge of it,” she said. “And maybe it’s the power of the gun.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.