ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Lori Monson was as excited as a kid at Christmas. The shotgun she brought to Grouse Ridge Shooting Grounds was the gift she got from her husband Dec. 25. But Monson hadn't had a chance to use it.
The recent Alaska Ladies Charity Classic, a ''sporting clays'' shoot to benefit the Mat-Su chapter of the American Cancer Society, was her big chance. So she packed up her Remington 12-gauge 870 Express Magnum and headed to Grouse Ridge. There she met 14 other women who also were packing heat.
''This is perfect,'' said Monson, 40. ''I want to shoot clay targets so bad.''
What made it perfect was that she'd be getting advice from experienced shooters who happened to be women. Monson had been on her high school riflery team, but she'd never handled a shotgun before.
Before she even had the chance to introduce herself, a couple of women complimented her Remington. Monson asked for shooting tips, and within minutes they were chatting like old friends.
Most were in their 30s and 40s, and Amy Ditton, the woman who would win that day's shoot, was 25 and 6 1/2 months pregnant.
Occupations varied, including photographer, commercial pilot, hospital administrator, veterinary technician, computer specialist and mayor of Wasilla. But they shared one trait: the desire to blast White Flyer Sporting Clay Specials to powder.
More than a quarter of the Grouse Ridge members are female, according to Arlene Brunnhoelzl, whose family owns Grouse Ridge, off Wasilla Fishhook Road.
''It's social, it's stress-relieving,'' she said. ''And we dig the game.''
Plenty of women dig it. Shotguns are increasing in popularity among American women -- faster than any other kind of firearm, said Shari LeGate with the Women's Shooting Sports Foundation.
Between 1989 and 1997, the number of female shotgun shooters increased by 23 percent. That compares to a 19 percent increase in handgun shooting and a 6 percent increase in rifle shooting.
Currently, 5 million American women use shotguns.
''The sport is just exploding for women,'' said LeGate, executive director of the Colorado-based group.
She thinks women are going to shotguns for the same reason they're playing hockey or basketball: to try their hands at a traditionally male-oriented sport. But they don't need physical prowess to excel at sport shooting.
''Shooting is not about brute strength. It's not about muscling your way down to the other end of the court,'' LeGate said. ''It's about style, finesse and technique.''
Age is no limitation, either.
Carol Barner, an elegant, silver-haired woman, took up shooting three months ago to spend more time with her husband. What began as wifely devotion, however, quickly became a desire to win.
''Darned right I want to be competitive,'' said Barner, whose biggest passion used to be handcrafts.
''I told my kids, 'I'm putting my glue gun away and the other gun's coming down'.''
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