Shoot Like a Girl
They say it’s a man’s world. They say that a woman’s place is in the house. They say the gun range is no place for a lady. Of course, they say none of this to Jessie Duff. Or at the very least, they don’t say it to her face. Because she’s not just one of the world’s greatest shooters who just happens to be a lady. She’s a lady who just happens to be one of the world’s greatest shooters.
There’s a famous song from the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” in which famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley spars with Frank Butler about their respective shooting skills, called “Anything You Can Do.”
It’s an anthem of female empowerment the world over, a testament to the fact that women can do anything men can do, especially shooting a gun.
One of the most accomplished shooters in the world, perhaps even more handy with the steel than the legendary Oakley, Jessie Duff has never sang that song. She just isn’t the type to rub her accomplishments in anyone’s face or belt out to a song to the boys that she can do anything they can, only better.
Instead, she just lets the pistols do the singing. And over and over again they’ve proved that point: Anything you can do, I can do better.
And if you think the traditionally male-dominated sport of competitive shooting had any reservations about a woman proving herself as one of the foremost figureheads of the sport, well you haven’t met enough gentlemanly Southern boys.
“Everyone has always been supportive, and that’s simply because I can put up the numbers,” said Duff. “I’m never one to brag or anything in anyone’s face… I let my shooting do the talking and I think they respect that.”
"Once I shot my first match, I was hooked."
Her shooting has told quite a story so far. The first woman to achieve the rank of Grand Master from the United States Practical Shooting Association, Duff has more championship titles at every level of competition that any other woman in the world. You name a title, a cup or an accolade to be earned in the sport and you’ll find it somewhere on her mantle.
It’s a skillset and a passion she comes by naturally – her father, Clyde Harrison, was also a champion shooter. As far back as she can remember, Duff was following him to competitions and practice, weaving the rituals and traditions of shooting into her bedrock. “He won the USPSA and Georgia State Championships the year my brother and I were born,” she said. “So I always say we were good luck.”
“My first memory of shooting on a range, I was around 6 or 7 years old,” she said. Her dad was shooting NRA Black Powder Competition Shooting at the time, and Jessie was allowed to help load the rifle, pouring in the powder, and ramming down the ball. Eventually, she was even allowed to fire off the old-fashioned muzzle loader. “I’d have to crawl up on his lap because I wasn’t tall enough to see over the table.”
With her dad lining up the sights, Duff was able to take out a few targets and a love affair with shooting began.
“(My dad) never really pushed it on us,” she said. “But I would shoot some and never felt the urge to compete until I was about 15.”
“Once I shot my first match, I was hooked,” she said.
Her skill with a gun was matched only by her ambition, as Duff began a career in the sport that would see her eventually called “one of the best shooters in the world,” by USPSA Executive Director Kim Williams. While racking up wins across the country (“I haven’t actually counted the number of days I’ve spent in a hotel because I’m afraid to know the number,” she joked.), Duff also began finding
herself more and more in the spotlight. Especially when she made the leap from the range to the television studio as co-host of “Friends of NRA” on the Outdoor Channel
“I met my husband on that show,” said Duff. “We met the first day of filming.” The obvious chemistry between Jessie and now-husband Matt not only led to a happy marriage, but a successful TV show. The pair traveled all over the country, highlighting some of the Friends of NRA’s success stories and showing how the organization helped fund grants to shooting ranges and teams to advance the sport.
And while the TV show led to greater exposure, Duff still found the most joy in getting out on the road and sending a few rounds downrange. Originally spreading herself out to five different disciplines, Duff has in recent years narrowed her focus to the three where she exceeds: Steel Challenge, NRA World Action and USPSA. “From March until October or November, I’m on the road half the month each month.”