Karen Butler is the face of the Shoot Like A Girl movement. In 10 years, her concept of inviting women to shoot guns and bows, under the guidance of competent female instructors, has seen great success and support within the shooting industry.
Butler started Shoot Like A Girl (SLG2) in the off hours after working for the Department of the Army in Huntsville, Ala., in a Civil Service job. She retired, after 22-plus years, two years ago and stepped into a full-time career with her SLG2 business. Karen set up the business plan to include employees, contractors and volunteer staff shooters who work either on a daily basis or, when needed, onsite.
These days, you more than likely will see her onsite at the mobile range, which has been built to incorporate simulated firing ranges for pistols, rifles and bows. This trailer appears at Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops events around the country, as well as at outdoors-related shows and conventions.
Karen’s First Act
So why did Karen Butler invested her time, money and heart into this business? Some background on her “first act” is key to understanding why she founded SLG2.
“It was all by chance,” says Butler. “Shooting sports changed the trajectory of my life.” admitting she had previously been a “I don’t camp … hotel kind of girl.” In the middle of a divorce, sharing custody of her two young sons, she found herself alone two weeks every month in her Colorado home.
“Even though I had a professional career, my life was defined as being a mom,” she says—the mom that helped with homework, Cub Scouts, and coached baseball.
Butler says some friends noticed she became a bit down and out when the kids were at their dad’s, and suggested she go camping with them. “I tried to refuse, but they insisted, she says. “I went, and when I woke up on the back side of Pike’s Peak mountain and was surrounded by the glory of the outdoors, I felt a peace surround me that I don’t think you could feel, unless you were sitting on a church pew that thousands of your ancestors had sat on for centuries.”
Not only did her friends take her outside, they also introduced her to guns and bows. “I shot both, and was really good at it. I felt a confidence sweep over me that I didn’t even know I was lacking,” she says. After that weekend, Butler says she took her -$22 dollar budget and bought a bow, (on a credit card), and went to the range every night after work when she didn’t have the boys. “I found an entire new family that was vested in my success, eager to help and just really great people,” she says. “I shot so much, I became the Colorado State Champion.”
History of SLG2
Butler started SLG2 in 2008 because she wanted to share with other women the certain confidence that comes with learning how to shoot. “It’s a feeling of self-pride that isn’t boastful, but makes you feel confident,” she says.
Butler says she had the idea for Shoot Like A Girl for several years before actually acting on it, and credits her husband, Todd, for pushing her to pursue the idea. “Todd returned from deployment as a United States Marine Corps First Sergeant, and went through a transition assistance program.” At one point in the class, Hilary Claybourne, of the North Alabama Womens’ Small Business Center, delivered a briefing that left an impression on Todd, as it focused on the services and education they offered to help start a business, including something called the Patriot Express Loan, offered to veterans and their families.
“Todd came home all excited, and told me I had to go see this woman to implement my idea … I already had a great job with the Army, and so, I prioritized the idea to the bottom of the pile,” she says. However, Todd persisted, asking her every day if she had called her yet. “After several weeks, I gave in and called her. She asked me to bring my business plan to her. I was like, ‘Business What?’ I didn’t have one.”
Butler researched the Internet and determined that a business plan would mean a lot of work. “So, I did what any good Army Action Officer would do, and prepared a PowerPoint presentation. I delivered it to Hilary, and told her, ‘If you were going to hire me for this job, I would tell you that I could do it 110 percent; but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to hire myself.” Hilary’s reply: ‘What do you have to lose?’”
Butler says she couldn’t answer, so the journey began. “Without Todd’s constant pressure and unshakable confidence in me to start the business, I may never have had the courage to do so,”.
The company launched at the National World Archery tournament in Las Vegas in 2009. “For the first couple of years, it was only archery. I did a proof of concept to see if this would work with a business plan that had adding firearms to it in the 5th year,” said Karen. “My dad made vinyl signs that we put over card tables. It was very ‘Mom and Pop.’ I would hand draw my signs.”
Today, SLG2 rolls into an event in a state-of-the-art 53-foot mobile range, built to hold a military grade firearms simulations system and a live archery range. The trailer is equipped for people with physical challenges, as well. A team of NRA-certified firearms instructors work with the shooters and women may shoot a 9 mm or .40-cal. pistol and a .223 rifle. The women also are invited to shoot a bow, under instruction from qualified coaches.
Here’s how it works: First of all, it’s free, thanks to the generosity of SLG2’s sponsorships. Women sign in at a kiosk outside the trailer. The team at SLG2 does a quick assessment of their shooting skills, and participants are asked to sign waivers, and then they step up into the world of the trailer where instructors are ready to work with them. SLG2 runs two firearms stations: 9 mm or .40 cal. and .223 rifle. The bow station is situated on the other side of the trailer. The entire experience takes about 15 minutes. “We give them instructions on how to execute a proper shot,” said Karen, “which includes stance, sight alignment, grip and trigger squeeze on a firearm.” For a bow, the steps are almost identical. They also provide helpful tips on how to properly rack a slide on a semi-automatic pistol, and draw a bow. “It is amazing how many women think they can’t do these tasks, but given the correct technique can accomplish them like a pro,” says Butler.
Butler says she and her staff encourage participants to find an NRA-certified instructor or course near them, or research “women’s shooting groups near me.” Nationally, there’s A Girl and A Gun, The Well Armed Woman, Diva WOW and Sisterhood of the Outdoors,” said Buter. “I tell women, ‘It’s like going to church. There’s going to be one that fits your personality and your needs. Find the one that’s right for you and get out there and shoot.’”
Outside the Trailer
Karen believes that more training needs to be done within the industry in order to make the shooting sports welcoming to women. “We find that new shooters aren’t comfortable in a retail environment, and experienced shooters feel they aren’t valued in a shooting environment,” she said. Butler researched the problem further and approached Cabela’s a few years ago. “We said if they would tweak a few things, women will have a better experience in the stores and you will sell more guns to them.” She then told Cabela’s that she’d like for the company to lead the way. “We did a pilot program with them and a proof of concept with them.”
The training often involves sending in a secret shopper first. Then, the SLG2 training team spends time with the sales team onsite, stressing the problems as well as solutions. “Perception is reality. We show them how the things in our training can change those perceptions,” said Butler. After a training session is complete, SLG2 sends in another secret shopper. “Our data shows that the secret shoppers have a better and more comfortable experience after the training.”
As of May 2018, the SLG2 team had trained all but 12 Cabela’s stores in the U.S.
The SLG2 Team
“To see the company grow with all the support of the industry, from where we were to where we are now … I’m thrilled,” said Butler. “We survey everybody that comes through the trailer and never do they comment, ‘Oh, what a great idea this was!’ It’s always ‘the instructors were great.” Butler credits the success of the program to the team of instructors who share their passion for the shooting sports.
Why Shoot Like A Girl Matters
“I believe women are carrying the industry right now,” says Butler, who has data that 76 percent of women who go through their trailer will commit to buying a firearm. To illustrate this statement, Karen recalled the story of a recent trip with the trailer to Wisconsin. “Two sisters went inside the trailer to shoot. Then they came out to shop. We offer 27 pistols that they can hold (no firing pins) in our store outside the trailer. One of the sisters went inside Cabela’s and bought the Ruger EC9. I just got a Facebook message from the other sister and she’s going next week to buy her firearm. It’s such an impact.”
Karen believes that although self-defense is the primary motivator in the women’s market, they go to ranges and participate in target shooting, more than self-defense training, and that they are loving these new experiences.
“I am convinced that women will sustain this industry. We have the most growth opportunity, and we have a positive effect the number of youth who shoot, too,” said Butler, who strives for “every woman in this country have an opportunity to try shooting sports, and to be familiar with firearm safety (especially if they have firearms in their homes).” More than that, though, “I want them to experience this unbelievable confidence that comes when you aim at a target and hit where you are aiming, and let that confidence seep into the rest of their lives.”
SLG2 can be found online, with its schedule, online store with logo merchandise and helpful blogposts and articles. Visit Shoot Like A Girl online.