My wife is the queen of one-liners. Her most recent exploded instantaneously after she fired off her first over-under shotgun round and the sporting clay that she was tracking burst into shards.
"God I love the smell of gun powder!" Apparently many other women these days agree.
Despite the massive purple contusion unknowingly forming on her upper right bicep because she didn't have the gunstock properly tucked into her shoulder, the thrill on her face was unforgettable—especially since she was also wearing fox fur earmuffs and Prada sunglasses at the time. Her one-liner also pricelessly captured a transformation happening to both luxury travel and politics in America from the lens of a small Maryland Eastern Shore town that is ranked #5 in millionaires per capita in the U.S. and one of the most popular places in the country for waterfowl hunting and shooting sports. Depending on the time of year, you're more likely to hear the Bang! Bang! of a shotgun from our backyard than a honking horn.
The intersection of guns and travel—and luxury travel in particular—in the U.S. has always been a disconnected place. Most Americans wouldn't even think that they have anything in common in the first place. But ask anyone who works at sporting clay range or duck hunting outfit on Maryland's Eastern Shore, whose lives depend on the ever-increasing interest in shooting sports across all demographics, and they'll wonder why you never noticed. The convergence between the Second Amendment, travel, and women in particular is a year-round gun shop topic in Maryland, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, and numerous other states. Savvy businesses and politicos are now realizing its relevance to consumer spending and voting as well.
After college I also inherited my grandfather's 1973 Holland And Holland shotgun which is a vintage British, hand-made piece of firearms artistry and engineering. When you tuck the stock and pull the trigger it's experientially akin to driving a classic Bugatti or putting a Patek Philippe tuxedo watch on your wrist. The finest bespoke shotgun and rifle makers remaining in the world like Holland And Holland, Purdey, and Fabbri aren't just making guns. They're forging legacy works of art out of walnut and steel.
Shake all of these ingredients up and is it any wonder that independent-minded, competitive women who appreciate the beauty and luxury of other goods like Gucci handbags and Jimmy Choos are the fastest growing market for shotguns in America? While the NRA reports a 77% increase in the number of women who own firearms between 2004 and 2011 overall, it isn't just for personal protection. According to a recent study called "Girl Power" by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the number of women hunters increased 84% from 2001 to 2013. Say goodbye to the good old boy days of chiggers, marsh slogging, and freezing in a duck blind. The Pinot Grigio, golf-cart era of shooting sports has officially arrived.
These women also vote. So instead of the typical "soccer mom" issues of the past few decades more female voters of many demographics and political persuasions are now beginning to care about their right to bear arms—and more importantly to thoroughly enjoy the right to do so while fashionably dressed toting a fine piece of gunsmithing over their shoulder.
Nowhere is this demographic, travel, and political shift more vividly on display on Maryland's Eastern Shore than in an unassuming gun shop in the small town of Easton called Albright's, which has been owned by Larry Albright for more than 32 years. In terms of old school authenticity, Albright's is to Dick's Sporting Goods what an old school soda fountain drug store is to a modern day Walgreens. The original sign saying "Gun Shop" still hangs outside, and on any given day you'll walk in to find 3-4 guys hanging around inside taking bets on when the geese are arriving and talking about who was just in last week.
Larry Albright has Dick Cheney's cell phone number on speed dial. Many of the store's other discrete, loyal clientele are a who's who of the Forbes 400 who appreciate Easton and Maryland's Eastern Shore for exactly what it's not—pretentious or over the top. Except maybe for the airport. When a client tells Larry that they're "flying into Easton" instead of Baltimore or Washington, D.C., that's code for "I have a private jet". Larry's recent client from Boston had to cancel his trip because both of his jets were down for maintenance.
Since early 2000 Larry estimates his female customer base has gone up by 400%. Michael Strannahan, one of Albright's crack guides and professional shooting instructors, cites similar trends about the number of females taking lessons or organizing skeet shooting vacations. On any given weekend, Michael is just as likely to be taking a group of men dove hunting as he is a group of women sporting clay shooting for a corporate event. In many areas of the country in addition to Maryland's Eastern Shore like Virginia, Georgia, and Texas, women-only shooting groups and events are cropping up with apropos names like the GRITS (Girls Really Into Shooting). Take that Good Ole' Boys club.
The soccer mom-cum-Second Amendment rights transformation is nowhere more capitalistically evident than at shotgun manufacturer Caesar Guerini right down Route 50 from Albright's. Anyone who drives up to Guerini's US headquarters in Cambridge, Maryland would coast right by it and hit the Choptank River in the back of a roofing contractor's warehouse. That's exactly the way Caesar Guerini's co-founder and CEO Wes Lang likes it. "Urban camouflage" he calls it. There are no signs, and not a single ostentation that would tell you that some of the finest Italian-made shotguns sold in America are sitting inside. Many of which these days are sold to women.
Caesar Guerini has earned a reputation throughout the US for putting the old world Italian artistry back into the modern age of production guns. For those with $150,000 burning a hole in their shooting vest, there will always be the Holland & Hollands, Purdeys, and Fabbris. What Guerini has mastered in the sixteen years since its founding is taking the vast middle ground between a Holland & Holland and a Chinese-made shotgun on the sales rack at Dick's Sporting Goods. For the shotgun un-bespoke (myself humbly included) I wouldn't notice the difference between a vintage Holland & Holland and Guerini's elite new Invictus V sporting gun right in front of me despite the fact that the former is made and engraved by hand the way it has been for over 150 years. The Invictus V comes off a surgically maintained production line engraved by high-tech CNC machines.
Caesar Guerini's business brilliance was to be the first major shotgun manufacturer in America to recognize that the next titanic wave of hunting and shooting sports enthusiasts was going to be women (and not just those with their own private jets). More specifically they recognized that women wanted a gun that was beautiful—no different than a Cartier watch or a Tiffany bangle. Guerini launched their Syren shotgun brand designed by women for women four years ago while most other major shotgun manufacturers were still painting kids' guns pink and giving them a Barbie marketing spin. Smart, discerning women getting into the sport knew the difference as surely and quickly as they can spot a fake Birkin bag.
Syren sales have exploded, which in turn has increased the number of women embracing shooting clays, skeet, trap, and hunting. For years men enticed their wives to go on hunting and shooting sport vacations with them by touting the boutiques and restaurants nearby so the women could shop and drink while the boys went Bang! Bang! Now it's increasingly the other way around. Every business (and politician) in America that has a vested interest in hunting and shooting sports, and the things that go into them, would be wise to take notice.
In the meantime, Easton will be quietly awaiting the next private jet to discretely touch down. Dove season is right around the corner in September. The places below will be sure to please even the most discerning hunter or sporting clay traveler. Of both genders.
Where To Stay: Inn At Perry Cabin by Belmond
The Inn At Perry Cabin is one of the most posh destinations of the Eastern Shore and also where scenes from "The Wedding Crashers" were shot.
Where To Shoot Sporting Clays: The Point at Pintail
There are few more bespoke and comfortable places to shoot sporting clays on the East Coast than here. Your personal "trapper" (a.k.a. caddy) will take you from station to station in your own golf cart.
Where To Eat: The Bartlett Pear
Chef Jordan Lloyd is the Eastern Shore's resident gourmet master of "dirt to table". He might just agree to dress the duck you shot in the morning into a your own same-day dinner time confit.
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