For most women, hunting is personal. We learn to do it to feed our families, participate in a close relationship with nature, have personal time outdoors to ourselves, and contribute to wildlife management. However, this means the barriers we face when learning to hunt can feel harder to jump over, too. It's easy to become discouraged by a multitude of factors when learning how to hunt wild game. Many of us hunters know that you never stop learning; your hunting journey is never really over. As new hunters progress and gain more experience, the barriers they encounter will change, too. In the beginning, it's common to jump hurdles like a lack of confidence, lack of access to skills and knowledge, and even financial barriers. As one gains years of experience, barriers may shift to the internal battles you fight within yourself like self-doubt and being overly critical. Women in particular experience a set of barriers that differ from the average hunter. Here's a list of things I've run into along my hunting journey, both in the beginning and four years into my journey.
1. Lack of Access to Outdoor Skills
In recent history, hunting knowledge has traditionally been passed down from father to son. Hearing stories and even country songs about grandpas teaching fathers teaching sons is commonplace. Hunting camps generally consist of intergenerational men, too. Women have been excluded from these knowledge bases for decades now. Just 10% of hunters identify as women.
Learning how to hunt is a barrier all new hunters face. For women, though, it can be a bit more difficult. Thankfully there is a multitude of hunting mentorship initiatives available these days that women are able to find other women to learn from. Outfitters like Uncharted Outdoorswomen even host classes to teach women hunting skills, too.
Although the times are changing, finding safe access to ethical hunting knowledge will likely be the first hurdle new female hunters face.
2. Odd-Fitting Hunting Clothes
"Shrink it and pink it" is a phrase coined to describe the camouflage clothing regularly available to women. These days, quite a few companies like Sitka Gear make high-quality women's camo, but it is expensive and not easily accessible to all. Too often women's camo is too small, ill-fitting, or straight up pink. You'd think camo manufacturers would know that turkeys, waterfowl, quail, pheasants, and all other birds can vividly see colors; why would they make our camo so bright?
It's important to keep trying on camo until you find a brand that fits you well. If your camo is too baggy, too tight, or otherwise unsatisfactory, you won't be excited to wear it in the field. This makes the hunting experience that much less enjoyable.
3. Cost of Learning to Hunt, Obtaining Gear, and Purchasing Licenses
As I previously mentioned, buying camo is expensive. So is purchasing firearms, scopes, binoculars, tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots, range finders, and resident and nonresident hunting licenses; the list of expenditures goes on.
It's a privilege to be able to afford all the hunting gear you need. When I was starting my hunting journey, I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had to borrow camo, shotguns, ammo, turkey calls, and knives from my friends because I couldn't afford to buy them myself. This was a good option for me at the time, but all the gear I had access to was a men's size medium, a size much too large for me. I couldn't practice shooting the shotgun beforehand because it wasn't mine. I also didn't know that practice shotgun shells and turkey shotgun shells are two totally different products.
You reach a point in your journey where it's more productive to have your own gear, but starting this gear collection is a huge financial barrier.
4. Discomfort Around Firearms
Understandably so, many women feel uncomfortable around firearms. I used to fall into this category myself. Given what the media proliferates about firearms these days, it's easy to feel fear when discussing, learning about, or shooting firearms.
However, all of my fear disappeared after I learned the fundamentals of owning, handling, and shooting guns. During hunter safety and on my own time, I reviewed how guns work from when you pull the trigger to when the bullet shoots out the end of the barrel. I also spent hours at the gun range learning how to handle, aim, and shoot my firearms safely and ethically. Today, I feel very confident when using guns, especially my own .270 and .22 rifles, because I'm so familiar with them.
I encourage any woman on their hunting journey to learn about firearm fundamentals and practice shooting their own firearms as much as possible. You'll only feel more comfortable as time goes on both on the range and in the field.
5. Lack of Confidence and Self Doubt
Truthfully, I'm not sure if this barrier ever disappears. Even as a hunting guide, I sometimes doubt my skills, ability, and expertise. However, as I alluded to above, the more I've practiced my hunting and shooting skills, the more confident I feel.
Another huge element to shrinking this barrier is finding community. It was a whole lot harder to doubt myself when I finally found a group of like-minded women who truly believe in me and my abilities. Any time I outwardly doubt myself, I'm met with strong disagreement. Personally, I think it's essential to seek this supportive mindset from your hunting partner and the broader hunting community.
6. Judgment From Other Women
To me, this barrier is the most annoying one female hunters face. One would think that with just 10% of the hunting community identifying as female, we'd always support one another. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Competition and ego can get in the way of any productive relationship with another human, female hunters included. To help fight this barrier, I practice inclusivity, cooperation, and teamwork every chance I get.
7. Unsolicited Attention From Non-Gentlemen
If you've ever posted on Instagram, you've likely already experienced this. Unfortunately, this occurrence can become more frequent if and when you start posting grip 'n grins, selfies in camo or holding firearms, or group photos of you and your lady friends at your all-female hunting camp. It's annoying, disturbing, and no one asks for it, but creepy comments should by no means hold you back from chasing your hunting dreams.
I pride myself on being unafraid to delete comments. You can always block people who choose to harass you in your DMs, too, or even report them. If someone you don't know shares your post with an unappealing caption, see if they'll take it down or if you can at least un-tag yourself. This has happened to me and several women I know.
8. Blatant Sexism
This barrier is one all women are familiar with. Sadly, sexism is unpleasantly common in the hunting world.
Last September, I had a negative encounter with a mountain lion that was only 14 yards away. I purchased a handgun and learned to shoot it with confidence as a result. This February, I decided being a pistol safety instructor would be worth my time, too. I enrolled in that pistol course so I could offer handgun training through my job at Uncharted Outdoorswomen, and lo and behold, I was the only woman in the class.
During the certification training, a student in my class interrupted the instructor to ask me how much I weighed. I ignored him. He proceeded to explain how he could take me in a fight and how I probably weighed 100 pounds. Not only was he 25 pounds off, but he was distracting to me, the instructor, and the class. It made me feel like I wasn't being taken seriously as a peer. This man also bragged about his "hot Mexican wife," too, and leaving said wife at home to raise their four children while he's deployed.
While I didn't let that man or that situation hold me back, he sure made my hunting journey a whole lot more uncomfortable that day. Although this example is by no means extreme, sexism is arguably the worst barrier women face as they learn to hunt.
Suffice to say, all female hunters will run into gender-specific barriers along their hunting journey. To me, it's important to frame these instances as learning opportunities. Experiencing a moment of self-doubt? Reinforce your knowledge by building confidence and doing the activities you love more often. Would you prefer a female hunting mentor? All kinds of organizations, state game agencies included, are working hard to make sure women feel more included in the outdoors.
Above all else, don't allow these barriers to hold you back as you continue your hunting journey.
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