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The Only Girl in Camp

Female hunters chime in on what it's like being the only girl at camp and offer some solutions to make every hunt an enjoyable one. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Mallory

When Stephanie Mallory, a professional outdoor communicator, was invited on a turkey hunt, she never dreamed the morning would begin with her guide unzipping his pants to urinate in front of her. Being a good sport, she decided to not immediately assume he was a total barbarian. She even cut him some slack when he burped in her face and then tricked her into stepping chest deep into a creek. But when he made a pass at her, all bets were off. Mallory is a woman who is slow to anger, but this man had managed to offend and embarrass her.

Very few hunt camps are that horrific, which is good news for the more than 1.5 million women hunters in this country. But when you’re the only woman at hunt camp, there can be some awkward moments. It’s bad enough that we have to drop trou when nature calls, but if it’s that time of the month; a male-dominated hunt camp can leave you feeling ill at ease. That’s not the only rough terrain we have to negotiate. Even your sleeping arrangements can be a source of potential embarrassment.

I’m Bunking with Whom?
Laurie Lee Dovey, executive director of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and successful outdoor writer, was looking forward to a hunting trip in the back country of Canada — until she discovered she was assigned to share a two-person tent with a man she didn’t know. In a matter of moments, Dovey’s mind ran through a host of scenarios: What if I talk in my sleep? Or pass gas? Or he does? Worse, what if this stranger is not a gentleman? Dovey was able to make a switch and bunk with a man she knew, but the situation was far from ideal. While this hunt occurred more than 20 years ago, the memory hasn’t faded.

Not every thorny situation arises from where you’ll pee or sleep. There’s also the matter of how men and women at camp relate to one another. When my husband and I joined a new hunt club, I was excited about meeting new people and tried to be one of the gang. However, I quickly realized the welcome mat wasn’t out. The guys made almost no effort to speak to me and even eye contact was a rarity. Maybe I cramped their style or they thought I was boring, I don’t know. But, I can take a hint. Being invisible isn’t the worst thing in the world, but I do miss the camaraderie.

Then there are the hunt camps where there is no mistaking that the men consider themselves vastly superior to their female counterparts. Many mature women didn’t learn to hunt until they were adults. They’re proud of the skills they’ve developed, and find it irksome to be treated like they don’t know the difference between a scrape and a rub. The flip side of that, though, is if someone is providing valuable advice; don’t be too proud to take it.

Men Who Love Helping Too Much
What could go wrong at a hunt camp where the men love having women be a part of their tribe? Sounds perfect, unless the guys dig it so much they become your helicopter hunting partner. While the deer camp diva may think it’s great to have someone tote her gun, many women have little patience for a steady stream of friendly yet pushy advice about where, when and how to hunt. If you’re a woman who enjoys the self-esteem boost from successfully doing your own thing, how do you get Mr. Helicopter Helpful to back off without seeming like a dragon?

Diane Humphrey Lueck, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point instructor and former director of the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, found a way to deal with one of the most difficult types of men: the overly accommodating husband. (You can substitute the word boyfriend here, too.)

Lueck’s husband introduced her to hunting 34 years ago, and today she’s an accomplished hunter in her own right. However, the one thing her husband could not abandon was his self-proclaimed role as man-who-field-dresses-deer. According to Lueck, he’s always been an equal opportunity kind of a guy, assuming his services were needed by the men and women at their hunt camp. That was of small comfort to Lueck, who wanted the satisfaction of doing the job on her own.

Lueck got that chance early in her hunting career when she bagged a deer before her ride was scheduled to arrive. She used the extra time to field dress the deer herself. Lacking the ability to hang the deer, she had to improvise by tying its leg to a tree. Plus, she had to do the job quickly before her husband showed up. But Lueck proved she was more than capable of handling this task. Today, she lends a hand to those at hunt camp who are new to field dressing deer, and she teaches this skill at Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshops, too.

Women Hunters at Hunt Camp Today
In the nearly 30 years since Dovey first began hunting, she’s seen a lot of changes. In the beginning, she said being a woman at hunt camp was more of an oddity, and she had to go overboard to fit in. Dovey enjoyed the fellowship but at times had to overlook rogue behavior and randy jokes.

Women are more common at hunt camp today, and in general, men work to make them feel welcome. Dovey credits these positive changes to the women before her that opened doors to the freedoms we enjoy today—leaders such as Shirley Grenoble, Sheila Link, Betty Lou Fegely, Brenda Valentine, Sherry Crumley, Kathy Etling and many more.

Mallory, Dovey and Lueck agree that sharing a hunt camp with men can be a great experience. So, if you get an invitation, don’t send your regrets. But do move forward with your eyes wide open and your antenna up. Plus, know where your boundaries are. Some women are comfortable playing poker and joining in on the naughty jokes. Others prefer tamer stories being told around a campfire. By joining a group that’s right for you and then being a good citizen at hunt camp, you just may have the time of your life.
Secrets of a Successful Hunt Camp Experience
Make the most of your hunt with the following tips:

Lueck’s Tips
1. Be open and ready to laugh at yourself. If you’re a new hunter, you’ll probably do something silly. Just enjoy the experience and be ready to ask questions.
2. Don’t be too quick to get upset if you’re getting teased. Instead, step back and see what’s happening. What you might find is the men are making fun of the other men and themselves, too. They might be treating you like one of the gang.

Mallory’s Tips
1. If it’s your first time to go to a mostly male hunt camp, go with people you know and are comfortable with. Having a friend along for the ride can make it a lot less bumpy.
2. Don’t hog the bathroom, especially if you’re sharing those quarters. Spending 45 minutes blow drying your hair won’t win you friends at hunt camp. Be ready to pitch in with hunt camp chores, too.

Dovey’s Tips
1. Fine tune your radar to be aware of situations you want to avoid with the opposite sex.
2. Vet the hunt camp situation carefully before you go. Talk to the lodge owner, guide, outfitter or hunt camp coordinator. Ask questions about the sleeping arrangements, who will be on the hunt, what you should bring, and what duties you’ll be expected to handle.

Parting Advice
All three women agreed that if you are uncomfortable with the language or behavior of the men at your hunt camp, speak up, especially if you feel that your safety is being threatened. If things don’t change, it’s time to talk to the person who is in charge of the hunt or find a new group to hunt with.

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4 Responses to The Only Girl in Camp

MJ wrote:
October 01, 2013

I have learned to let the 'guys' know as we are meeting for the first time that if mother nature calls, to just tell me to look the other way and then walk off to take care of business. And then I do the same thing for them. I have NEVER been in an uncomfortable hunting situation as described by several. But I hunt with my husband in these 'camps', so they'd also have to deal with him!! So it is two of us that would set them straight, not just one of us. It has been great fun to be in 'camp' with other women. Thanks for the tips!!!!

T. Patterson wrote:
September 27, 2013

I guess I've been blessed with a great group to hunt with: my husband is one of the three guys who let me tag along. I don't expect perfectly clean conversations, but they aren't overly crude. They don't expect me to cook and clean for them, and I don't expect them to tote my gun or deer for me. If you're new at camp, just remind yourself that you may take some getting used to: how would you like it if one of your friend's husbands showed up at a GNO? Weird, huh? The guys might just need some time to get used to you. Happy hunting, girls! I'm glad I'm not the only one out there that has to camp with a bunch of guys to do something that you love!

MK from Kansas wrote:
September 17, 2013

I found out the hard way that women aren't welcome OR wanted. One guide I contacted sent me photos of his penis, another wanted naked photos of me before giving his rates. If you're 'hot' then you're just a toy to be ogled, if not, well...you won't get anyone to even speak to you. I've never been to a deer camp (or any other kind of hunting camp) and will likely never go. Needless to say, I've given up on it altogether. Way to recruit and retain female hunters, fellas.

Darlene Ostrosky wrote:
September 17, 2013

I have found the guys I have hunted with to be ok. Sometimes it seemed they were going out of their way to not swear and to treat me like a princess. I told them I am here like you to enjoy myself, relax and hopefully have a successful hunt. Everything worked out fine.