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Battle of the Sexes

How Much Do Men’s Brains Differ From Women’s in Precision Shooting?

People often question the differences between men and women in terms of their ability to handle firearms, how they take to firearms training, and their motivation for seeking training. We’ll break it down with examples of both as they apply to precision rifle shooting. Note: This article is based on a sampling of multiple interviews conducted with male and female instructors around the United States and is by no means a scientific study. However, the results might make you a bit more objective about your own decision making or desires to criticize others.

Do you often ask yourself if expensive gear is better? See how men answer that question versus women.

Do you often ask yourself if expensive gear is better? See how men answer that question versus women.

Fred is a typical male. He was excited about attending a long-range shooting class. He didn’t regret spending the money on an Accuracy International .300 Winchester Magnum. Fred didn’t want to be handicapped by a cheapo rifle. He liked the idea that, as his friend had said, “The AI is built like a tank and shoots like a laser.” He also felt a tingle when he found out that the rifle had been designed from the ground up for a British sniper rifle contract in the early 1980s. Next came the pricey optics, including a high-end rangefinder. Of course, there was the bipod and other incidentals, but after spending nearly $12,000, he was confident that he would be at the top of his class.

Maria is a typical female and was a little nervous about the long-range shooting class that she was going to take in two weeks. She had become proficient in the use of her handgun and felt it was time to move up. The idea of shooting objects at distances out to 1,000 yards was daunting. That afternoon she called the shooting center and asked to talk to the instructor of the class. He called back 30 minutes later and answered all of her questions, which were, “What type of rifle, what caliber, and what type of optic and accessories should I buy to use in the class?”

The author with C2 Tactical instructor, Aili deGreef.

The author with C2 Tactical instructor, Aili deGreef.

Maria listened and took notes as the instructor provided her with several options in each category, but only after asking her some questions about her physical stature, arm length, height, weight, and previous shooting experience. He also asked her if she had any back, neck, or extremity problems that might cause her discomfort if she were in a specific position for an extended period of time.

She was very grateful that the instructor had been willing to spend over 30 minutes on the phone with her. That evening she went to one of her local gun stores and provided the list to the salesperson who, after trying to upsell her, realized that this customer was going to stick with what was on the list. She walked out of the store feeling somewhat guilty about spending nearly $4,500, but confident that she’d been able to obtain all of the instructor’s recommended gear.

In most cases, women aren't as bashful as men about asking instructors for guidance.

In most cases, women aren’t as bashful as men about asking instructors for guidance.

What Happened?

By lunchtime break on the first day of the three-day shooting class, the difference between men’s brains and women’s brains had become obvious and, in fact, had taken a toll on Fred. After firing approximately 70 rounds from a prone position during the morning, Fred was having difficulty moving his shoulder. No one had mentioned to him about the recoil. A quick inspection of his shoulder while in the men’s room indicated the beginnings of a rather nasty looking purplish bruise. He also ran into difficulties with the complexity of his optics, with which he was unfamiliar, and battled through multiple periods of frustration. He left the restroom disgruntled, in search of some type of padding to cushion his shoulder.

Maria’s morning went fairly well. She found the instruction to be easy to follow, and whenever she had a question, she didn’t hesitate to put her hand in the air and ask. She was enjoying shooting her new rifle and appeared to be making progress. There were four other women in the class, and she enjoyed the mutual support. Although her groups weren’t as good as some of the men, she was unconcerned and felt that she was improving at each evolution with the help of the instructional staff. Although she was tired, she enjoyed lunch.

Who do you think had the most enjoyable and productive morning of instruction?

John Chapman, EAG Tactical Instructor.

John Chapman, EAG Tactical Instructor.

“Women learn differently than men in most cases, but it’s especially so in shooting,” says Aili deGreef, an instructor with C2 Tactical. “Most women get into shooting for the purpose of self-defense. Most women who shoot have had an event in their life that caused them to seek out proper instruction and purchasing a firearm. After a personal incident, I made that very decision. I don’t think I could ever explain fully the sense of independence and empowerment that I felt after becoming safe, confident, and proficient with a firearm. Now, as an instructor, I find women are less likely to have an ego about their shooting or learning; oftentimes the ladies are the best students and the better shot!”

A quote from John Chapman, Instructor EAG Tactical seems to sum it up nicely: “The type of women who self-select to attend a course tend to be confident and truly eager to learn. This gets to the heart of what makes a good student regardless of gender: motivation. In my experience, women tend to be easier to train, but only because a much higher percentage of them are coming to class for the right reasons.”

While men may have the stature to hold heavier guns more easily, a woman's attention to detail can often give her an advantage.

While men may have the stature to hold heavier guns more easily, a woman’s attention to detail can often give her an advantage.

“With men, a higher percentage seem to come to class for reasons other than motivation to learn. Ego and outside validation seem to be a greater factor in men when it comes to tactical training than with women. All men want to be thought of as dangerous, and some choose to validate this not through action, but through training. Women tend to not have this ego-driven trait, and therefore tend to learn more quickly and with greater precision.”

Putting it All Together

Based on the collective experience of the instructors we interviewed, here are some patterns that they’ve seen. Women come to classes for very pragmatic reasons and typically do more research before signing up for a class, with specific reasons why they want to take the class. Additionally, women have a tendency to read the user’s manual, be it a carbine or an optic.

Women are typically encouraged and motivated by incremental improvement whereas men often come to class with the mindset I want to be a gunfighter.

battle-of-the-sexes-prone-position

Women respond more quickly to skills that are broken down incrementally and are willing to move step by step through the learning process. In general, men have a tendency to think in terms of, “Just give me the rifle, show me the target, and let me pull the trigger.”

Women have a tendency to develop personal satisfaction in the small incremental steps in the learning process involved with precision shooting, but when things go off the rails, they have a tendency to become more easily flustered than men. They also seem to be more susceptible to psychological frustration than men.

Men have a tendency to look at success only in terms of results like groupings of shot clusters, as opposed to the woman who often views success as mastery of all the steps. Men have a distinct advantage in their weight and musculature when utilizing higher-caliber weapons.

Jason Palleta, LMS Defense Instructor.

Jason Palleta, LMS Defense Instructor.

Men typically want the latest, greatest, and most powerful weapon, whereas a woman, prior to entering the class, will typically ask the instructor what type of weapon she should be using based upon her size, body structure, and musculature.

Women are typically more compliant in terms of appropriate caliber. They more easily obtain a natural point of aim, and quickly realize that they can’t muscle the rifle. Women also have a tendency to learn alternative shooting positions more easily. Yet, they have less body mass to absorb the recoil of a rifle.

Women will readily take into consideration advice regarding the recoil component involved in the selection of an appropriate rifle.

Men have a tendency to become ego driven, wanting instant gratification and, if they have the money, assume success requires the latest, greatest, and most expensive. Typically, when an inappropriate rifle selection is pointed out to a male, the response usually is, “That’s OK, I can handle it.” This almost becomes appointment worship.

Women focus more on better rifle fit and caliber fit.

Dan Flowers, owner of Ballistic Edge.

Dan Flowers, owner of Ballistic Edge.

“As far as easier to instruct, in my experience, woman are easier. They check their ego at the door and lack the testosterone or ‘I know what I’m doing attitude’ you sometimes tend to see with men. With that being said, I would also add that women are inherently better shooters than men because of their attention to detail,” says Jason Palleta, an instructor with LMS Defense.

Women will typically ask questions, but if it’s a mixed class with males, they usually feel uncomfortable asking. In one precision shooting class, several women were asked why they didn’t ask any questions and the typical response was, “I didn’t want to be treated like a dumb little broad.”

Women consistently report that male instructors in a mixed gender class have a tendency to talk down to the women. However, Dan Flowers, owner of the Ballistic Edge, states, “What’s great about women is that if they’re not getting it — they will ask.”

Women’s Brains

  • The frontal lobes, the seat of executive control in the brain, are larger in women than in men.
  • Girls do better at tasks utilizing fine motor skills.
  • Women have a greater density of gray matter, or neurons, in the language areas of the brain.
  • Female brains have more space between neurons, which means more connections.
  • At rest, many women had increases in amygdala* activation.

* The amygdala plays a key role in memory, decision making, and emotional reactions.

battle-of-the-sexes-brain

Men’s Brains

  • Males tend to have larger brains than females.
  • On average, the region of the brain involved with spatial reasoning is larger in men.
  • Male brains are 8- to 10-percent bigger and more densely packed with neurons.

The Instructor’s Advice

Men

  • Before taking a precision rifle shooting class, check with the instructor to find out which rifle and optic will provide you with an optimal learning experience.
  • Don’t get caught up in the “mine is longer and more powerful than yours” mindset.
  • Ask questions if you’re unsure or don’t understand.
  • Allow your instructor to help you set appropriate goals.
  • Relax … take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and enjoy the experience

battle-of-the-sexes-seated-shooting

Women

  • Before taking a precision rifle shooting class, check with the instructor to find out which rifle and optic will provide you with an optimal learning experience.
  • Research the instructor. If you feel more comfortable with a woman, then do the legwork and find one. If you have trouble finding a female precision rifle instructor, contact me and I’ll help find one for you.
  • Relax and don’t view the class as a competition of men against women. Save that for when you get into competition shooting.

Resources
The best resource is a qualified instructor. Don’t be shy. Ask for their advice.

About the Author

battle-of-the-sexes-dr-neal-olshan

Dr. Neal H. Olshan is the developer of Evolution of Mindset and is a consulting psychologist for corporations and the sports industry for athletic improvement through the use of his Mindset program. He is also a pilot, an award-winning photographer, an author of both fiction and nonfiction books, and the chief combat psychologist for LMS Defense.

Ask Dr. O.

As I began the interview process, which involved talking to numerous male and female instructors from various parts of the United States, it became abundantly clear that in training, women appear to have a distinct advantage based upon the way their brain functions and how it controls the body. This doesn’t mean that women have the same advantage in situations that might involve taking someone’s life, such as a military sniper, a SWAT sniper, or competition shooter. This article solely focuses upon the training experience and outcomes of an individual just entering the arena of precision rifle shooting. I must admit that during the course of these interviews, I recognized some of my own behaviors and made mental notes. Surely there are some of you out there who will disagree with some of my statements and conclusions — and in particular circumstances you may be right. If you disagree or agree, please let me know and some of your feedback may be cited in a future column. And let me know if you want me to take the next step: Who is the better competitive shooter? Who is the better sniper, a man or woman? Send me your thoughts at mindsetdoc@gmail.com.

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