There are only four registered not-for-profit women’s shooting clubs in the entire country and one of them is located in Castlegar. The West Kootenay Ladies Shooting Group (WKLSG) was formed in 2020 by local businesswoman Amber Berukoff to provide safe handling and shooting instruction in a non-competitive environment and to introduce the activity to other women. She says there are now close to 400 members, 137 of whom joined last year having never fired a gun before. “We could have had more people join and complete their PAL (Possession and Acquisition Licence) course but our numbers were limited because of Covid,” she says.
At first glance Amber Berukoff doesn’t strike you as a gun aficionado. With her stylish, oversized glasses, long hair, and arm tattoos, she could easily fit in at a chic restaurant in Yaletown, Vancouver. Instead, she prefers to spend her time at a range firing rounds of ammo into targets and balloons. Her vocation is also interesting because she’s a Doukhobor, a culture famous for its peace-loving traits. She grew up just south of Castlegar in the community of Fruitvale and says she is the only one of her entire extended family who owns a gun. She’s also the only one who owns a gun store.
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Four years ago Berukoff took a job at Cantac Firearms on Columbia Avenue in the city and that’s when her interest in shooting was ignited. Two years later she purchased the store and her husband runs Cantac Machining next door, which is the only licensed gun smithing establishment in the area. During her time with Cantac she came to realize that, “For this area hunting and fishing is very common but it’s been more of a male dominated sport. A lot of women, especially of Doukhobor or Portugese background in the area were told, ‘Guns are bad, guns are bad.’ So I think there was an era of fear around it,” says says. “But ever since I started doing this, more and more women are joining and it’s fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to go out and blast off a 100 rounds and get the stress out?”
That is why she decided to found the WKLSG and keep safety at the forefront. “I pump safety hard so women get comfortable with that first,” she says. “I also teach that guns aren’t weapons, they’re tools.” Berukoff has her range user certificate, a gunsmithing licence, and she’s a registered range safety officer. When a new person comes to her who’s interested in learning about shooting, she takes them through a series of lessons that includes how to safely hold and handle a gun and how to sight. Those who don’t have their PAL can still partake as Berukoff will match them with someone who does and then the actual shooting happens. “I start everyone off on .22s because they’re lighter, easier to handle and there’s no recoil,” she says. “We do a minimum of two shoots with those and then work our way up.”