Over the last decade, the number of women target shooters has surged nearly 50 percent and women hunters nearly 40 percent, according to the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers.
Nicotera said she, like many women, had been afraid of guns and did not want to touch one even after taking a three-hour introductory class. After the first shot, she said, "it felt amazing. ... I haven't put a gun down since."
Though they'd met only minutes earlier, the women were already sharing inside jokes and knowing nods.
"For Christmas, [my husband] bought me eyes and ears," Nicotera said, using gun-range lingo for protective glasses and earplugs. "It's like getting a vacuum cleaner, but I was excited."
Abby Lutz, 25, said her boyfriend also does his gift-shopping at the gun store. "He has never bought me a piece of jewelry for my birthday. Guns are nice, but I'm like, 'It's enough.' "
Most of the women had initially started shooting at the behest of their husbands, boyfriends, brothers, or fathers. And then, like Nicotera, they "fell in love."
Lori Wicen, who owns Wicen's shooting range in Furlong with her husband, said that although shooting can be a great couples activity, women and men don't always learn or teach the same way.
"Did you ever have a man try to teach you anything? We think so differently than they do," she said, observing that some women like to delve deeper into technical details before they begin shooting.
And there can be logistical differences - smaller hand grips, lower fences and targets, shorter rifles. Manufacturers in recent years have been trying to capitalize on these qualities, marketing pink grips, vests, and gloves, small-frame safety glasses, and stylish handbags with gun pockets.
But the main reason for the club isn't to gush over gun fashion, they said. It's to socialize and practice in a more comfortable environment.
"The men are getting more accepting of women on the ranges," said Nicotera.
But they still tend to treat the ranges "like their own comfort zone, like a gentlemen's club," said Cyndi Boccuti of Ardsley. "Or like there are unspoken rules that you don't know about."
"When women learn from their husband or significant other, there's that level of wanting to impress them, to do well. It's a lot of pressure," said Christy Snow of Wilmington, who teaches at Wicen's range.
Beth Heebner of North Wales said that pressure wass exactly the reason she jumped at the chance to join A Girl and a Gun. "When I go with my husband and my son, it's not even fun anymore. They're always correcting you," said Heebner, whose ex-Marine son now teaches at a gun range in Chalfont.
The group accepts women of all ages and skill levels, Nicotera said. In addition to monthly events like Girl's Night Out, she plans to organize classes and eventually get into competitions.
Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.