Although there has been much written and said recently about adult-onset hunting and the growing numbers of females joining the ranks of hunters and shooters, women have always been a significant hunting demographic in North America. For starters, they pursued wild game alongside men in preindustrial, tribal societies. A Native American family could not drive to the grocery store to buy steaks for dinner. Hunting was necessary for survival.
When Europeans began colonizing North America, many pioneer women also learned that in order to survive they had to master the art of hunting and shooting. But as North America gradually shifted from traditional hunting and gathering societies into a postindustrial model, where earning capital in exchange for goods became the primary way to provide for families, roles changed.
However, today a number of research groups and surveys (such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation; and the National Shooting Sports Foundation) have reported that women are the fastest-growing hunting demographic in the country. The number of women with gun permits in Indiana, for example, has jumped 42.6 percent since 2012. The National Rifle Association estimated that about 25 percent of 70,000 attendees at its 2014 Indianapolis convention were women.
The percentage of women who own a firearm nearly doubled from 2005-11, rising from 13 to 23 percent. Of the 13.7 million hunters in the U.S. in 2011, 11 percent were women — up from 9 percent in 2001. With female hunters and shooters on the rise, firearms companies are realizing that their arm spans are shorter, their frames are smaller and “shrink it and pink it” isn’t the only way to define a female-oriented firearm.
Women are also hosting big-game hunting television shows; outdoor retailers are marketing products and gear designed for women; and one of the nation’s most venerable hunting magazines, Field & Stream, recently put a female hunter on its cover. As the ranks of hunters are increasingly bolstered by women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the ladies you may be familiar with in Hollywood and on the Billboard Top 100 are hunters too.
Eva Longoria, Madonna, Eliza Dushku, Avril Lavigne, Jennifer Lawrence, Miranda Lambert and Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) hunt. Not to be outdone by the ladies, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry got a bit of grief from PETA a few years back when he publicly and vocally supported hunting in an interview with Outdoor Life. “I don’t shoot anything that I don’t eat. Hunters are conservationists and their heads are in the right place… (Hunting) really gives you a great opportunity to keep in touch with reality,” Perry told the magazine.
Colorado Springs resident, Melinda Miller, is part of the adult-onset hunting trend too, and during September 2014 she completed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) hunter education course. Although Melinda, like many new hunters, started out shooting a .22 rifle, she’s since become the owner of a 20-gauge shotgun and has fired a 12-gauge and .30-06, rapidly adapting to these heavier, more powerful firearms.
In Melinda’s words, “Tried out my new gun … at a small shooting range in the Comanche National Grasslands! Shooting a box of 25 shotgun shells seems a little like getting punched in the shoulder 25 times, but it was really fun! Got to try David’s 12 gauge and .30-06, too, just to make sure the bruises are as colorful as possible.” We may have a future Annie Oakley on our hands.
Another motivation for many women, and men, taking up hunting is perhaps the most basic and logical: putting meat on the table. A recent national study by the Responsive Management research group in Harrisburg, VA, revealed 35 percent of deer hunters said their primary motivation was “for the meat.” This represents a turnaround from recent decades, when most hunters said they were motivated by “sport and recreation” and “spending time with friends and family.”
Despite more of us hunting to put meat in the freezer, huge obstacles remain for new hunters. For example, in 1950 two-thirds of Americans lived in cities or suburbs. Now, more than four out of five Americans are packed into 366 metropolitan areas. Which is why programs that introduce women and kids to hunting are, by necessity, becoming commonplace in many states, including Colorado, where CPW offers a number of such programs.
Women and youth interested in learning how to hunt big or small game — including deer, elk, pronghorn, upland birds or waterfowl — should check out CPW’s Hunter Outreach programs. Applications for the “Women Afield” and “Youth Hunting Program” (among others) can be found at: www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/OutreachWomen.aspx.
The obvious hope of all hunter-conservationists and hunting organizations — like CPW, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, to name a few — is that today’s adult-onset hunters will ultimately (if they haven’t already) take one additional step toward wildlife habitat conservation, the heart and soul of our great public-lands hunting heritage.
Whether you favor elk or venison, ducks or geese, grouse or pheasant, the common denominator is public lands. And the future of hunting ultimately depends on protecting and perpetuating our nation’s wild public-lands heritage and keeping public lands in public hands. For additional information see:
Article and photos by David Lien. Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers . He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream magazine as a “Hero of Conservation.”