5 Famous Sharpshooting Ladies of Years Past

History is littered with the contributions women have made to the shooting sports and guns in general. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re going to take a look at five impressive ladies and their shooting skills.

1. Mary Fields

Mary Field with rifle

Often misidentified as an image of Harriet Tubman, this is Mary Fields, better known as “Stagecoach Mary.” Nice TD on that Winchester musket. (Photo: Public Domain)

Dubbed “Stagecoach Mary,” Mary Fields was a star route mail carrier and the first African-American woman to earn that position. Born into slavery in 1832, she was freed after the Civil War. Migrating to the midwest, she was well-known for her drinking, smoking and gun-toting ways.

She eventually went to work delivering the mail as a star route mail carrier and earned her nickname due to her speedy delivery of parcel and mail. She was a tough, fierce woman rumored to have bravely faced off against stagecoach thieves and even a pack of wolves with her trusty rifle in hand. Fields passed away in 1914.

2.Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary

A cabinet portrait of Calamity Jane, Gen. Crook's scout taken in Deadwood SD 1895 Winchester rifle SW revolver LOC

Calamity Jane was known for her adventurous side and her tall tales, carrying the legend of being one of Gen. Crook’s scouts for most of her life. The above cabinet photo, complete with Winchester lever gun, was taken in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1895, an infamous Old West waystation Jane haunted off and on for more than 20 years. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Born as Martha Jane Canary in 1852, “Calamity Jane” proved to be an adventurous woman in the Old West. A frontierswoman and scout, she was a friend of Wild Bill Hickok and toured around the globe with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

Earning her name fighting against Native Americans, she was known as one of the most daring riders and best shots in the West. She was long-rumored to have been a uniformed army scout for Gen. George Crook and others, though no official records exist to support the claim. Often pictured with a rifle by her side and a six-shooter on her hip, she was a notorious story-teller and performer entrancing audiences with her tales. Canary died in 1903 as a result of alcoholism.

3. Annie Oakley

sharpshooter Annie Oakley, full-length portrait 1898 LOC

Annie Oakley was named “Little Sure Shot” by Chief Sitting Bull, and the above 1898 portrait has her showing off the medals to back that up. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Known as “The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West,” Phoebe Ann Moses, or Annie Oakley as she’s most commonly known, was one of the best sharpshooters of her time. Born in 1860, Oakley rose to prominence around the age of 15 competing and winning a shooting contest against Irish trap shooter Frank Butler. She eventually married Butler and the two joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Touring the country, and even performing for Queen Victoria, Oakley impressed crowds with her trick shots and sharpshooting well into her 60s despite being partially paralyzed due to an accident. Oakley died in 1926.

Oakley shot everything from rifles to shotguns. According to the NRA Museum, one of her favorite shotguns was a Parker Brothers double barrel while her go-to trick shot rifle was a Stevens Tip-Up.

4. Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Lady Death

Lyudmila Pavlichenko in a trench. Pavlichenko was nicknamed “Lady Death” due to her 309 confirmed kills during WWII. (Photo: Public Domain)

Born in 1916, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was known simply as “Lady Death.” Credited with 309 confirmed kills as a Soviet sniper in World War II, she earned the title of the most successful female sniper in history. Pavlichenko ’s rifle of choice was a Mosin-Nagant 7.62mm rifle with a PE 4x scope– although she was often photographed for propaganda purposes with a seemingly more modern SVT rifle.

Serving in the Red Army she fought during the early stages of the Axis invasion but was injured by a mortar shell during battle. After recovering, she began training other Red Army snipers.

A well-known spokesperson for the Red Army, she traveled to the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor taking her on a tour of the States. Pavlichenko died in 1974 due to a stroke.

5. Margaret Murdock

Margaret Murdock

Margaret Thompson Murdock was the first woman to compete on Team USA’s Olympic Shooting Team. (Photo: USA Shooting)

Margaret Murdock, born in 1942, was a former U.S. Army officer and renowned for her shooting success in the competition field. Murdock was the first woman to be included on the U.S. Olympic shooting team for the 1976 Summer Olympics. There, she earned a silver medal — tying with U.S. Team Captain Lanny Bassham. Olympic rules would not allow a shoot-off, though Bassham requested it.

Aside from her Olympic achievements, she also became the first woman to win an individual open World Shooting Championship. A four-time World Champion, she was an expert at prone rifle and three-position rifle. She was inducted into five halls of fame including the USA Shooting Hall of Fame and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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