One Saturday morning, Debra Robinson, 52, of Macomb Township, Mich., drove two hours to spend the day learning about and practicing shooting guns.
The married mother of two adult children admits that it was a little intimidating to point and shoot a gun at first. "It's a deadly weapon," she says. "I didn't grow up playing with guns. I'm a quilter."
But Robinson wants to learn to shoot -- for personal protection and for fun.
"Our home was burglarized once while we were at work. The kids are grown up and out of the house. So now I have the luxury of time and I want to learn while I can."
Robinson signed up for the six-hour class as soon as she saw a newspaper notice about it. It's a good thing she signed up quickly, because the women-only class reached its maximum of 25 students well before the deadline. There was a waiting list of women from all over Michigan, who wanted to learn more about guns.
The class is among several offered through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources project, BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman), that encourages women to do just that. The response was so great that organizers Tonya Sies, a member of the Linwood-Bay Sportsman's Club, and BOW coordinator Sue Tabor are already planning a second class in March.
The class popularity comes as no surprise to people working in the business who've seen growing interest in guns among women. Experts say women are taking more gun classes, buying and packing pistols and larger firearms, and having fun with guns at target ranges and sporting events.
"Since 2001, more than 57,000 women have attended our (Women on Target) clinics across the country," says Rachel Parsons of the National Rifle Association. "And we know anecdotally from our NRA-certified instructors that they're seeing more and more women enrolling in their classes. Gun clubs are now having Ladies Night Out at the range. And shops are carrying more products tailored to women."
When Michigan's law went into effect in 2001 allowing most adults who are not felons to carry a concealed firearm if they have a concealed pistol license, or CPL, which requires taking a gun education class and other stipulations, the vast majority of those taking classes through the Wayne County Sheriff's Office were men, said Sheriff Benny Napoleon.
"Now the typical class is 40 percent to 50 percent female," he says.
Mark Cortis, owner of Wild West Academy in Royal Oak, Mich., said, "There are still way more men coming in, but we have several women in almost every class now. It used to be husbands bringing their wives or guys are bringing their girlfriends. Now, we get quite a number of women coming in on their own."
Several factors are driving women to the gun range.
"The first and foremost reason is women no longer want to feel vulnerable," Parsons says. "They want to feel responsible for their own personal safety and the safety of their families. Just by their physical size, the perpetrator is going to be bigger and stronger. A firearm is the great equalizer."
Kathy Jackson, author of "The Cornered Cat" (White Feather Press, $20), a gun safety and information book for women, agrees.
"These days no one expects a knight in shining armor to swoop in and protect you. You have to protect yourself," says Jackson of Chehalis, Wash., who specializes in teaching shooting and safety clinics for women.
While safety may be the initial attraction, many women are finding they enjoy the challenge, power and immediate gratification that come from firing a weapon.
Lori Hardy, 47, of Chesterfield Township, Mich., got a concealed pistol license about three years ago. "It makes me feel safe," says Hardy. In addition to carrying a pistol for protection, she often plays sporting games at area ranges, something she wouldn't have imagined doing three years ago.
"I fell in love with the sport," says Hardy. "Owning a gun is not necessarily about hurting someone; it's an appreciation of the sport."