by Sarah Smith Barnum - Monday, April 6, 2015
More and more women are taking up hunting or recreational shooting. According to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in 2004 women made up 13 percent of the total population of hunters in America. By 2013, the 3.344 million women in the field comprised 19.4 percent of all hunters. That’s a lot of new folks leaving their tread marks in the dirt.
But even given recent trends, women take a back seat in a pastime dominated by men. For instance, women bought only 14,825 of the 174,885 hunting tags sold in Alabama in 2014. Why isn’t the number of female hunters growing more? “Shoot Like A Girl has recognized that one in four women who shoot with us want to hunt, but don’t know how,” says Karen Butler, the group’s president.
Butler and her trained staff teach around 3,000 women annually how to safely shoot a bow or firearm. That’s fine for starters, but as Butler notes above, the next step is a bigger one. After beginners are bitten by the bug, she says, Shoot Like A Girl encourages women seeking more experience to attend local conservation-group banquets, to go to a range or take a hunter safety course. “Go on a bird hunt,” she says. “You can normally find an inexpensive preserve, take some friends and go have a blast. Or just ask any hunter at your local range whom you trust. Most people love to share the experience of hunting.”
Women also should understand that if they lack land to hunt, a spouse or friends to guide them or money to afford an outfitter, they still have options. The process is not cheap, however.
It’s important to note beginning hunters, male or female, must overcome similar obstacles. However, women should realize they have gender-specific options. Companies geared toward creating and bringing together outdoorswomen—locally and nationally—pop up every day.
On an Alabama hog hunt sponsored by Outdoor Women Unlimited (OWU) and Alabama Black Belt Adventures (ALBBA), 10 female hunters of all skill levels gathered to hunt and enjoy camaraderie women can only experience in a group of their own. The hunt was one of many that OWU—an organization devoted to creating an educated community of outdoorswomen—has sponsored to provide women a place to gather and hunt. As a testament to the group’s success, ALBBA, a nonprofit committed to introducing hunters to top-notch hunting destinations throughout the Black Belt region of Alabama, notes that it saw the number of female hunters entering its Big Buck Photo Contest triple in 2014.
I joined them on the Alabama hunt with my good friend Hilary Dyer of Grandview Outdoors and her daughter Maggie. I learned to spot hog sign, which was plentiful over the entire tract of Great Southern Outdoors. But in three days, I didn’t see a single hog during shooting light. Some might consider this disappointing, but I learned so much about the flora and fauna of Union Springs, Ala., while spending quality time with a terrific group of women that I’d call the trip a huge success.
“The novice/beginner finds her niche while making connections with instructors, members and the OWU executive team both on and off the field,” says OWU founder Becky Wood. “Sharing each other’s interests opens many opportunities for further outdoor fun and fellowship.” Wood notes another positive outcome of the Alabama hog hunt was a connection made between two OWU members. One hunter from Alabama and another from Mississippi have gone on two deer hunts together in the last few months.
“New women hunters need to get connected with other women hunters,” says Prima Outdoors president Kelsie Burford. “There are so many wonderful women out there who are willing to help, but the issue has always been, ‘How do we connect all these women?’ Prima was created to help solve this issue. Prima’s online community was designed for women to create profiles and interact with other women. They can openly ask questions, seek advice and get support from each other. Whether they’re wondering what gear to buy, how to plan and prepare for a hunting adventure or they need help finding other women in their area, Prima has something to offer everyone.”
“I’d recommend that she approach her local NRA, Rocky Mountain Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Whitetail/Blacktail Deer, Ducks Unlimited, Quail Forever, Pheasants Forever, gun club and other organizations,” says Gunsite instructor and former hunting guide Il Ling New. “They often have women’s events or sub-clubs, and even if not, their members are always happy to help new hunters, and often have access or know of ways to gain it. In addition, if they don’t already have or host one, these groups would welcome an initiative starting a women’s hunting chapter/club/event. Networking is key.”
“Becoming a member of Safari Club International would be a great place to start,” says Lisa McNamee, past president of SCI Orange County and founder of High Desert Hunt Club. “Over 15 years ago, I became a member of SCI. In the past I had always hunted with my dad and family. But I was interested in exploring hunts outside my state and outside North America. So I was looking for people to join me on my future hunts. I became a member and attended chapter meetings and events to get to know new hunters. I was able to hear firsthand from other hunters places I should go and outfitters I should or should not employ. Today, some of my best hunts and friendships are with hunters I met at those SCI functions.”
To address any skill deficits, women should note something tailored specifically for them: the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program, where outstanding instructors teach skills to women so they can enter the field. Most states offer a BOW program, or something similar. New Hampshire even offers scholarships for women who lack the means to attend on their own.
“Because of the contacts I made during my first BOW event and beyond, I was encouraged to try new things and finally to become the longest-serving woman on the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission (12 years), and the first woman to chair the commission of 11 members,” says retired BOW coordinator and New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission chair Sharon Guaraldi. “Other women share stories of a new hunting or fishing challenge, the courage to tell a spouse, ‘I’d like to go with you. I can do it.’ Some have become so successful in their skills they are teaching others—women, men and children.”
It all comes down to passion and commitment. A mentor or friend may take out a beginner a few times a year, but if women are going to play on the same level as men it will take more than that.
“Going on one hunt does not make a hunter,” says Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hunter education coordinator Marisa Lee Futral. “Confidence only comes with experience. A woman interested in hunting must seek out a mentor (or two) to take her enough times that she will feel confident enough to do these activities on her own. Only then will she have the confidence to seek out a place to hunt on her own.”
If women want to be seen as equals, and garner more female hunters along the way, we must start by doing what those before us have done. That means knocking on doors to ask for hunting permission, learning to read maps, scouting land … generally going it alone. It all adds up to leaving one’s comfort zone, all the while learning as you stumble through mistakes. Remember, all avid hunters, male or female, were once novices.
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