By: Abigail Helsdon /Jeff Helsdon
Not that many years ago, the idea of a woman hunting was unique. Much has changed since then, and now, females are one of the largest and fastest-growing demographics in hunting.
Change has come quickly, and it has not occurred evenly across Canada and the United States. Even when I was a young hunter a decade ago, the idea of a woman hunting was novel. I am still the only female hunter in our deer hunting group in Southern Ontario. While we run into several groups during the week, no other group contains another woman. There were no other female hunters my age in my high school, either, although there were many teenage boys who were hunters at that time.
But things are changing. Manufacturers are making guns fitted for womens’ proportions. The options in hunt- ing clothing have increased drastically, too, and there are now hunting television shows with female hosts.
REASONS FOR HUNTING
A recent survey by Responsive Management ,“Explor- ing the R3 Needs and Opportunities of Female Hunters, Sport Shooters and Archers,” examined the reasons why women hunt. Being in nature was first, followed closely by the food value. Being with family was third.
Author K.J. Houtman, in her award-winning book, “Why Women Hunt,” tells the stories of 17 different women who are hunters.
“One interesting discovery was that it really takes a mentor to help a new hunter along in taking up the sport,” she says. “Hiking is a passive way to enjoy the outdoors—but hunting is engaging and con- sumptive. There’s a complication to it due to fire- arms or bows; there’s some hardship with the el- ements and some danger. And, of course, there’s success or failure, though failure to put meat in the freezer does not make a hunt a failure.”
Houtman was a grandmother when she start- ed to hunt. Her first taste of it was attempting to spear sturgeon through the ice. That was followed by a guided turkey hunt. For others like myself, we grew up with our dads taking us out on hunt- ing adventures and guiding us through our hunt- ing experiences from the time we were young.
Houtman writes of another interesting finding. “The biggest discovery for me in the women’s sto- ries was how much each grew in confidence and self-awareness as they challenged themselves to do things that were new and hard and to learn and grow in self-awareness in the process,” she reports.
Another change is the emergence of more female role models is the visibility of hunting television shows.
Amanda Lynn Mayhew of “That Hunting Girl,” a show that appears on the Sportsman’s Chan- nel, started hunting as a child with her father in Northern Ontario.
As she grew up, her interest grew, too. “So, hunting became natural, and I just assumed that everyone obtained their meat that way. My mom was an avid angler, so together as a family we would go fishing quite often, as well.”
Eventually, her passion became her career. “I hunt because it is my life. I #justhunt. It is what I do, it is normal to me, to my children and to my family. I like self-sustainability. I provide mentor- ship towards our younger generation to extend heritage in our outdoors and I have a passion for the outdoors and animals and how they behave.”
Unlike Mayhew and me, Vanessa Harrop, co-host of the Sportsman’s Channel’s Outdoor Quest. She didn’t begin hunting until later in life, when she met her part- ner, TJ Schwanky, who introduced her to it. “I had always enjoyed the outdoors, but never had an opportunity to hunt before, as I knew no one who hunted,” she says.
Once she started, she was hooked, and she found there were many things that she loved about hunting. “I love being in the outdoors and connecting with nature, challenging my body, mind and soul, planning a stalk and being able to get in as close as possible without be- ing detected. I love the adventure of experiencing some- thing absolutely new and exciting, traveling the world and learning all about the different species, cultures and foods, the camaraderie with fellow hunters and celebrat- ing the accomplishments of the day.”
One thing Harrop mentions is the negativity a lot of hunters face from those who are opposed to hunting. “It’s not necessarily as a woman hunter but just as a hunter. Sadly, there will always be anti-hunters and peo- ple who don’t want to be educated.”
The common part of all my interviews and research was the answer to why women hunt or what they enjoy about hunting. It’s being in the outdoors, the chase of the hunt and the reward of having a freezer full of fresh meat. My favorite answer came from Harrop though: “I love the adventure of each and every hunt. The planning, the preparation and then the hunt itself. It refreshes and recharges the mind, body and soul.” I think that state- ment ties everything together, and I think it’s why the majority of people come back to hunt every year.
Social media also has a big impact on women and hunting. Being a younger female who is on many social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, I notice there is a rise in the number of younger women who hunt and share their hunting content to the internet. These people are gaining followers like myself, who are interested and excited to see women my age, with the same interests, and who are inspiring more women to become involved in the sport.
I am sure, as women who hunt, we have all have had issues with men’s hunting clothing that just doesn’t fit quite right. I know I have run into this issue many times until I started buying clothing that was designed for women, so that it fit properly and was practical. Harrop said this was also one of her challenges.
Kristie Pike, founder of women’s hunting clothing company Prois, had a similar experience when she was looking for clothing for a hunting trip. She explains: “I went to a big box store to stock up and they literally had nothing for women short of camo capri pants and baby doll t-shirts,” she said. “My husband and I were joking that we could do a line of women’s gear that was per- formance driven. Then we really started digging into the process, and Prois was born! Here we are 14 years later.”
The company continues to grow each year. “We continue to outperform year-on-year and we continue to grow the line to be the one-stop shop for female hunters. We work hard to ensure our fabrics are state of the art, our fit works for all women, of all shapes and all sizes and all levels of hunting expertise.”
When conservation groups started seeing the num- ber of hunters decreasing about two decades ago, they recognized something had to be done. A variety of pro- grams aimed at youth were launched. My personal expe- rience at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ “Get Outdoors” taught me about conservation. It also let me see other females had an interest sim- ilar to mine and taught me more about shooting, archery, fishing and other hands-on activities. For me, it started an interest in archery.
Organizers of these types of events started see- ing other potential areas to expand hunter num- bers. Female-only programs were launched. From the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors, to Safari Club International’s Sables program to programs at the state, provincial and lo- cal levels, there is a wide variety of interest groups to choose.
Prois also organizes women’s-only hunts. “It is so much fun to bring ladies together who share the same passions for the outdoors,” says Pike. “They bond immediately and become lifelong friends.
They are genuinely happy with each other’s success, whether it’s a huge buck, a turkey or pheasants. For some women, it is life-changing. Some women may not have spouses or friends to hunt with, so finding their sisterhood is so important.”
One of the initial focuses to encourage women to hunt was due to decreasing hunter numbers. Howev- er, Pike notes that female hunter numbers are con- tinuing to grow.
I know I look forward to the day when I see more deer gangs with more females.
-Abigail Helsdon /Jeff Helsdon