When I was a kid growing up in northern Minnesota during the 1970s, most of my friends hunted and fished, and many trapped, but my outdoors social circles during those elementary and early middle school years were boys’ clubs. It was rare to encounter a girl who hunted, although, there were surely many about. In recent years, though, women are a bright spot in the general downward hunting-numbers trend.
Women are spending more time in tree stands and duck blinds — and putting fresh meat on the table. Although men still account for the vast majority of the 13.7 million U.S. hunters, the number of women actively hunting is on the rise. The total number of women hunters surged by 25 percent between 2006 and 2011, after holding steady for a decade, according to Census Bureau statistics. At last count, 11 percent of all U.S. hunters were women, compared to 9 percent in 2006.
“During the 1980s, we saw a pretty good increase in women hunting, which flattened out in the 1990s,” said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a research firm specializing in outdoor recreation trends. “And now there seems to be an increase in the past three or four years.”
Here in Colorado, women like Melinda Miller are on the cutting edge of this trend.
Miller was raised in a military/Air Force family and was born at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs. Today, she’s the chief of curriculum for the USAFA’s Center for Character & Leadership Development. Although new to hunting and angling, Miller has owned firearms for several years and is excited about the opportunity to test her skills in the field. “I have been a gun owner since 2008,” said Miller. Now I’m looking forward to gaining experience as a hunter. I’m also interested in bow hunting, but will begin with rifle hunting.”
To get started, Miller joined Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) in Jan. 2014, attended the BHA North American Rendezvous in Denver during March and attended a variety of other BHA events in both Colorado and Minnesota. And in September, she completed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Hunter Education Course — a requirement for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1949.
When I took hunter’s safety in the 1970s, it was in a traditional classroom setting. But these days courses are offered in alternative formats, including home-study and Internet-based curriculums. There are also courses specifically designed for women and youth. Miller opted for the Internet-based hunter education course, which, as explained by CPW, is “designed to meet unusual schedules and different learning styles.” The online course materials cover a portion of the information you would receive in a classroom setting. A final day of skills training is then required to complete the hunter education course and to receive a Colorado-certified hunter education card.
Many state departments of natural resources have also started hosting Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshops that offer skills training in archery, shotgun and rifle shooting. “There is definitely a high demand,” said Patricia Handy, information and education program manager at the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland. “We have over 3,000 women on our mailing list, and workshops fill up quickly.”
As explained by Holly Endersby, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, “While hunter numbers continue to drop among men, women hunter numbers are rising. Women’s influence over the next generation of hunters is profound. A mother who hunts influences 64 percent of her sons and 50 percent of her daughters to hunt as well, compared to 45 percent of sons and 13 percent of daughters who will hunt as adults if they are only taken hunting by their dad.”
In her book “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner,” Lily Raff McCaulou writes: “Interestingly, many experts believe that women are the key to reviving hunting and fishing in the United States. The idea is that if the mother of households hunts, her children are more likely to embrace the sport. Most states now offer Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshops … The effort seems to be working. One in ten American hunters are female — our gender’s highest participation rate in history — and we are the only demographic of hunters currently on the rise.”
And as I’ve heard hunter education instructors mention, “Women and girls all do better. They listen and learn.” Miller was no exception: she scored 100 percent on her final CPW hunter education exam. And this fall she’ll start hunting small game (pheasant) and likely waterfowl, and eventually “graduate” to big game. With more women like Miller giving hunting a shot, the future of hunting has a good shot at reversing the downward trend we’ve seen over recent decades.
This story was written by David Lien. Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He’s the author of “Age-Old Quests: Hunting, Climbing & Trekking,” and was recently recognized by Field & Stream magazine as a “Hero of Conservation.”