PEORIA, Ill. -- Statistics show gun ownership has shot up among women in recent years. Whether the reason is self-defense or recreation, more women are learning how to use guns and are carrying them.
Debbie Cook is practicing her marksmanship.
Cook first picked up a gun 14 years ago when she was talked into joining her husband and her son shoot at targets on their rural property. But it was another event that convinced Debbie she needed to have her own gun and learn how to use it.
"One night I was home alone, we lived in the country and someone tried to break into the house. We lived about 30 minutes from the sheriff," explained gun owner Debbie Cook. "I did not have a gun. It was a terrifying experience and it made me realize if something were to happen, what would I do?"
Cook decided she didn't want to wind up a victim. It's one of the primary reasons women are among the fastest growing groups of gun owners. Now, she doesn't just own her Walther P22, she owns several guns and every month, she frequently makes the 40 minute drive from her home in Lacon to practice at an indoor shooting range in Peoria.
What makes the facility unique is that its owned by a woman.
"It grew by word of mouth as much as anything else. We've been extremely successful as far as I'm concerned," said American Firearms & Ammo Supply Owner Meloday Zang.
Melody Zang opened American Firearms and Ammo two and a half years ago. She started with about 50 regular customers, but that's since grown to over 500. And, she says about one-fifth of them are women.
"Some women are more comfortable learning from another woman. We have trained NRA instructors here, I am one of them, and try to get in there one on one and just get her feeling very, very comfortable with it, shooting a caliber that's not a high caliber so that the experience is just the most enjoyable experience she can have the first time," said Zang.
According to a Gallup Poll conducted late last year, 43 percent of women report household gun ownership. That's up a third from 2009. The poll also found that 23 percent of women, almost one-quarter, personally own a firearm.
When several women get together at the range, this serious business that was originally triggered by concerns about self-defense often turns into a social activity.
"It's fun to meet other people who are interested in what you're doing. Just seeing what they're shooting and what they're experiences are you can learn a lot," said Cook.
"Very often when you're in the range you'll hear one woman say, 'this is the gun that I have, would you like to try it?'" said Zang.
Zang also knows many women are still afraid of picking up a gun. She says they shouldn't be.
"It's less dangerous than getting behind the wheel of a car. If you learn the safety elements the danger is taken out of it," remarked Zang.
And it appears from recent trends that a growing number of women agree.