In January, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation discussed the findings of a new report, "Women Gun Owners: Purchasing, Perceptions and Participation." More than half (55.6 percent) of the female participants in the survey said they intended to purchase at least one firearm during the next 12 months.

With that in mind, women new to the shotgun sports should be aware of some challenges and nuances when purchasing a shotgun and learning to use it.

First, find a shotgun with a comfortable and safe fit. Shotguns at your neighborhood retailer are designed for a man who is 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, with a 33-inch arm length who wears size 40 regular — and they are simply too big for most women. Pull the trigger, and that shotgun will punch you hard. No fun!

There are five points where the shotgun meets your body: recoil pad against shoulder, cheek against stock, trigger hand on grip, trigger finger on trigger blade and left hand (for righties) on fore-end. Once these contact points are the correct dimensions, the shotgun is comfortable to shoot, swings easily, provides an unobstructed view down the rib and has nominal recoil.

A recoil pad like this one can be fine-tuned for both pitch and toe angles. You can also see the adjustable comb cut into the stock.

Unfortunately, the most common approach in fitting a shotgun to a woman is to cut a few inches from the butt-end of the stock (shortening the length of pull) while at the same time leaving the pitch of the stock untouched. The pitch is the angle of the stock butt. Women generally need "positive pitch" to avoid having the stock dig into you after a shot.

Likewise, women want a toe-out fit of the recoil pad. Make sure the stock doesn't rest on your bra strap. Ultimately, the recoil pad should sit in the "pocket" between your shoulder and chest.

Look for a so-called Monte Carlo stock that's bumped up to accommodate women's longer necks. Some shotgun stocks feature an adjustable comb that moves horizontally and vertically to tweak eye alignment down the rib. When the stock is the proper size, your finger should easily reach the trigger blade, and you should have clear view of the target.

This woman shows excellent form. Her cheek is firmly against the stock, and the recoil pad rests in the "pocket."

If you still have problems finding a well-fitting shotgun, explore the possibility of a shotgun specifically designed for upland bird hunting. Those shotguns could be up to one-half inch shorter (or more) than their clays-shooting counterpart, because field guns are expected to be used with bulky fall and winter clothing while clays shooting is generally for spring, summer and fall where you can get by with a thin shooting vest. The overall smaller dimensions just may work for you.

The woman shooting here demonstrates the "nose over toes" position essential to successful wing and clays outcomes.

When the shotgun fits correctly, you'll easily slip into the ideal shooting position, which is "nose over toes." For a right-handed shooter, you'll bend your left knee a bit and lean forward enough so that your nose pretty much aligns over your left toes. That helps ensure a proper gun mount to minimize recoil and maximize your gun swing.

Now that you're ready to shoot, you may find yourself the beneficiary of free advice from the guys. Most of them have good intentions, with no qualms about approaching you uninvited and telling you why you're missing a target. When it comes to taking guidance on shotgunning, only listen to people you trust and who know your strengths and liabilities. Otherwise, you'll lapse into a tailspin of confusion.

Confidence is a big part of successful wing and clays shooting and often eludes new wing and clays shooters. Believing you can actually hit the target plays a deciding role in the outcome.

With that in mind, one of the best ways for any new shooter to boost her confidence is with her call. You should call "pull" for a clay target with conviction. Don't call "pull" like you're asking permission. Your call doesn't have to be loud, but it should be authoritative to get you in the right mindset.

Not all women wear jewelry, but those who do should leave dangling earrings and loose bracelets at home. Larger items of jewelry can scratch the wood on your shotgun or inhibit your shooting.

And remember, always follow the fundamentals of gun safety and the rules of your local shooting club.