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Can Women Save Hunting?

Since 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has found women holding steady at 9 percent of the hunting population-about 1.2 million hunters.


Last summer, several media outlets trumpeted a rise in the number of women hunters. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, for example, noted that, "While hunting license sales in Pennsylvania continue to drop, the fastest-growing segment of hunters in the state is women." "Women Flocking To Hunt" read a September 2010 headline in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A Wisconsin television station reported that more women than ever were going out for the state's deer archery opener. Meanwhile, a report issued by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) found: "While total hunters in the U.S. decreased slightly (.05 percent) between 2008 and 2009, the number of female hunters increased by 5.4 percent, netting 163,000 new participants. Growth areas for women included muzzleloading (up 134.6 percent), bowhunting (up 30.7 percent) and hunting with firearms (up 3.5 percent)."

Here's where the numbers get really interesting.

Since 1996, five-year surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have found women holding steady at 9 percent of the hunting population-about 1.2 million hunters. The last survey was released in 2006 and new numbers from the USFWS won't be available until sometime in 2011. The NSGA tallies up hunting participation numbers annually. For 2009, it estimated that there now are 2.5 million female hunters over the age of 18; also, in the 7 to 17 year age range, the NSGA counted another 447,000 young female hunters.

"For our reports, a participant is defined as a person age 7 or older who takes part in a sport or activity more than once in a calendar year," says Larry Weindruch, the NSGA's director of communications. "The one-time participants are not included."

Who's right? It could be both. As Weindruch notes, the NSGA and the USFWS numbers have been within several percentage points most years. The USFWS uses 16 as the cutoff age, while the NSGA surveys from 7 years old and older. If the NSGA's numbers are accurate, we have nearly 3 million female hunters in this country. By the NSGA's estimates, that would mean the number of female hunters has essentially doubled in the last 20 years, with most of the gains seen in the last decade.

Is such a thing really possible?

Anginette Jorrey thinks so. Jorrey grew up in what she calls a "traditional Texas hunting family." While the females in her family hunted on occasion, hunting was pretty much a "guy thing." After college, Jorrey's career (she's a loan officer and mortgage consultant) took her away from the Dallas area where she grew up. Then, about a dozen years ago, she moved back and began looking for some new non-work activities.

"I'd had enough of golf and tennis," she says.

She decided to try hunting. She soon found she needed some mentoring and guidance. She found it with a group of women who met informally at a local shooting range. That group would eventually become DIVA Women Outdoors Worldwide (DIVA WOW).

"I'm a bird girl," Jorrey says proudly. "Upland and waterfowl are my favorite things to hunt, though I have my own deer blind, too."

Today, Jorrey's the president of DIVA WOW. Based in Dallas, Texas, and with chapters in 14 other states, DIVA WOW has introduced over 3,000 women to hunting, the shooting sports and the outdoors in the last decade. Jorrey says, "Women very much want to be a part of hunting.  But they need role models to show them that women can be hunters."

The NRA's Women On Target program has seen similar growth and interest. The Women On Target program puts together hunts, shooting clinics and more. Women On Target, and the NRA's newest women's program, Field Hunting Coordinators, are important, says Ann Marie Foster, the NRA's National Women's Hunting Programs Coordinator. Foster says, "Field hunting coordinators help reach out to ladies who want to try hunting. They will host Women On Target hunts in or near their home states and will offer hunts for first-time hunters."

In large part, it's up to women to teach each other, though today they are getting some significant help. The flagship of this movement is the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program. Founded in 1991, BOW has introduced 250,000 women to outdoor pursuits. Currently, BOW workshops are held in over 40 states.

Many conservation organizations are also on board. Delta Waterfowl, for instance, recently launched its "First Hunt" initiative to introduce women and youth to waterfowl hunting. While participation in big-game hunting has remained fairly stable, waterfowling lost 27 percent of its hunters nationwide between 2001 and 2006, notes Scott Terning, Delta's director of recruitment and education.

"We're looking down a scary shotgun barrel," says Terning, "a conservation crisis in the making."
While youth are very important to hunting's future, "with adult women, you can have an immediate impact," says Terning. "They have the money and the time to hunt. What they need is the mentoring to show them how."

Research by Southwick and Associates notes that hunting is essentially a social activity: a way for friends and family to bond. Not surprisingly, women want to share their hunting with other women; as a result, it is important that programs such as Women On Target continue to grow; for example, a recent report on hunting trends, done by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, found that over a five-year period only 15 percent of women bought a hunting license each year, while 37 percent of men did. 

That difference, notes Southwick, makes a lot of sense. Men have been involved in hunting over the course of generations, with strong social frameworks established. The same frameworks are only now being built for women.

Men have begun to extend the social invitation to women. Jorey says, "When I was growing up, dads didn't take their daughters hunting. Now it's becoming more and more acceptable, and I think the numbers will continue to grow."

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