When you think of a hunter, odds are you think of a grizzled, burly man perched in a stand, his rifle at the ready, dressed in camouflage and sporting a thick, warm beard. Or perhaps you might summon the image of a younger man, still little more than a boy, creeping through the tall grass, a bright orange vest slung over his shoulders, his loyal dog at his side while they search for a flock of ducks or a wild turkey.
The one image that isn’t likely to spring to mind is that of a woman in these exact positions. Yet the world of hunting is opening up to women, to whom it had once been largely closed.
An in-depth report by Women in the Outdoors in 2012 on female participation in outdoor recreation, including such conceptually ‘masculine’ activities as hunting and fishing, revealed that women make up the fastest growing segment in the hunting and shooting communities. Nearly eleven percent of all hunters today are women, and nearly twenty-five percent of all anglers.
In spite of the significant growth in female hunters, the vast majority favor fishing over hunting. Those who do hunt favor bird hunting, likely because both of these sports allow for easier entry for women than their big game counterparts.
The reason for this growing trend is likely born of the same progressive attitudes that are paving the way for women in the workforce and, likewise, for men in the domestic arena. There had always been women in hunting but, in the past, it was viewed as unusual. There was less chance that a woman would be able to find a mentor, gear suited to her physical build, or even acceptance among her peers.
Now, however, women are a definable demographic among hunters. As formerly rigid gender roles loosen, sporting goods stores have suddenly begun to stock apparel designed for women (much of it in hot pink camo, though it goes without saying that this is more a fashion statement, and not to be worn in any situation actually calling for camouflage). Women-only hunting groups and training sessions have formed, allowing for more women to join in on the fun.
Many women who take up hunting do so as the result of their more experienced male counterparts. Be they boyfriends, fathers, or grandfathers, women and girls of all ages have begun to not only find they are allowed to participate, but actively want to. The desire itself, of course, stems from the same place that entices men; the love of the stillness, the thrill of sighting game, and the rush of pure excitement that comes from taking it down.
But something must also be said for the decrease in the stigma toward hunting. Once viewed as an activity exclusively targeted towards men raised in rural environments, hunting was not popularly viewed as an accessible sport to someone not raised in it. The success of a wide variety of hunting and fishing television shows might be one of many ways people are able to discover that these outdoor sports are in fact sophisticated, requiring as much skill and patience as any other, with the means of learning and training available to even those whose families haven’t been hunting for generations.
It is likely we are on the cusp of a new age of hunting, one in which the image that comes to mind is as likely to be a young, suburban woman as a grizzled old man. If the current trend continues, that may very well be the case.