ROCHESTER – Rachel Thomas is busy blowing big holes through the center of a paper target with her .45-caliber handgun.
Standing just next door at the Siddens Indoor Shooting Range & Gunshop in Rochester, Lori Auffenorde isn’t doing so well at first with a smaller-caliber weapon. Her shots drift a little low and to the left. This prompts experienced shooters such as Thomas, Jennifer Lelys and Lori Sanner to gather round and offer lots of advice.
A few minutes later, Auffenorde is hitting the paper targets with much tighter, straighter groupings. The high-caliber woman-to-woman information exchange is clearly finding the bull’s-eye.
“It helps to learn, being around other women,” says Auffenorde, 52, who lives in Sherman. “I’ve just got to learn to listen; and it also helps to see other women who can do this.”
Welcome to a gathering of members of the SangChris Chapter of “The Well Armed Woman”, a hot new gun group for distaff firearms enthusiasts that is sweeping the nation.
Started just three years ago, there are chapters in 48 states, and Illinois boasts eight chapters of its own. SangChris is one of the newest, covering Sangamon and Christian counties. It held its first meeting in March, and more than 60 women showed up.
“I love the camaraderie of it, of going out and enjoying yourself with a bunch of girls,” said Thomas, 33, who lives in Edinburg. She has been around guns since she was 10 and is the SangChris Chapter leader. “I also like to teach people and, if I can make sure somebody out there is safe and also enjoys spending time on the range, practicing and becoming comfortable, well, that is worth its weight in gold.”
Jennifer Lelys helped lock and load the formation of the SangChris Chapter and is about to launch her own covering Menard and Sangamon counties. She is also just about to qualify as a National Rifle Association firearms instructor, and so is Thomas, who is also a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Lelys says the Well Armed Woman approach is to make the world of firearms open and accessible to women, no matter what their level of knowledge.
“We had one lady, and, well, the first time she pulled the trigger she put the gun down and started crying,” recalls Lelys, 50. “The power of it just astonished her. But she got used to it, and she loves shooting now.”
Why do all these females want to blow a hole in the traditionally macho world of guns?
Siddens operator Lisa Richter-Seiler, who claims she runs the only female-owned shooting range in Illinois, said self-defense in a state that now allows concealed-carry is a big driver of the trend.
“I think the more the world goes into a haze we don’t understand, I think the more people want to be able to protect themselves, absolutely,” adds Richter-Seiler. “We do concealed-carry classes here about every other weekend.”
The Well Armed Woman organization has seen which way the gun smoke is blowing and is running with it. Its online store, rated as “just wonderful” by Lelys and Thomas, has everything the well-armed woman might desire.
Hot sellers include the $44.99 FlashBang concealed-carry holster, which clips to the middle of a bra and is tucked under the underwire. Or there is the The Well Armed Woman Pistol Pouch by Thunderwear, at $47.99, which is worn in front over the underwear and under jeans or pants.
“When you sit down, the firearm fits down in between your legs,” says the helpful advertising blurb. “’Sensitive’ body parts are well out of the way of the firearm.”
Lori Sanner, the Well Armed Woman’s state leader in Illinois, said the most comfortable aspect of the organization and its chapters is that they welcome women who don’t know much about guns.
“Teaching women who don’t know anything about how to shoot and handle firearms is a lot easier than teaching somebody who knows something,” explains Sanner, 59, who lives in Moweaqua and sports pretty earrings fashioned from .22-caliber shell casings.
“Newcomers are eager, and there are no bad habits to break.”