The first time in my life I’ve held a shotgun is also the first time I’ve hunted. On a cold and clear morning in November, I joined thirteen other women for a Women Afield pheasant hunt organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The number of hunting licenses sold to women has grown slowly but steadily over the past few years in Colorado, according to CPW data. In 2015, 9.4 percent of the total licenses sold were to female hunters, an increase from 7.8 percent in 2011. Recent articles in Denver’s 5280 Magazine and The Washington Times show interest among women in hunting, and CPW has identified a need for increased outreach to this population.
“Our main focus right now is getting youth and women into the field and trying to promote our hunting tradition,” said Crystal Chick, the statewide hunter outreach coordinator for CPW. “A lot of people don’t have a family member or friend who hunts and it’s really hard to get into hunting without that mentor.”
During hunts organized by CPW, huntsmen and huntmasters are paired up one-on-one to mentor participants. Huntsmen are screened and qualified CPW volunteers (apply here). The statewide hunter outreach program at CPW depends on about 125 of these men and women in Colorado.
My mentor is Jerry Rask, an experienced hunter who has been volunteering with CPW for more than a decade. We start with trap shooting. Jerry shows me how to use my borrowed 20 gauge pump-action shotgun and gives me a pep talk about the “magic moment” that happens when you pull the trigger. “You won’t notice the kickback,” he promises. (He’s right.)
I hit the clay pigeon with my first shot. After that, I miss everything I shoot at including the pheasants. But Jerry makes me feel accomplished anyway.
We divide into groups led by a guide provided by Stillroven Farm and Hunting Club, located near Mead and the oldest private upland hunting club in the state of Colorado. CPW and Stillroven cooperate on about four hunts per year for youth and women. The first CPW hunt for women at Stillroven was in 2003.
Jim Dill, the manager at Stillroven, said Stillroven specifically sought out the CPW female hunter program. “We realized if we don’t get more women and youth involved in hunting we’re going to lose the sport,” he said. He’s right. CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily (62 percent of the budget) on hunting and angling license sales to support Colorado’s fish and wildlife programs. Less hunting not only means fewer opportunities for those who do hunt, it will reduce funding for crucial conservation programs.
Spaniels run ahead of us, flushing birds out of the corn and milo fields. Over the course of about two hours, my group gets a shot at dozens of pheasants and chukars (additional gamebirds of the pheasant family). Jerry hands me shells and coaches me on my stance with every shot. By the end of the day, I am determined to improve enough that my next hunt will be more successful. On the ride back in the back of a truck, we discuss the various reasons people hunt. Jerry, the other huntsmen and my fellow female hunters provide advice on the best local target shooting and simple hunting locations.
I wasn’t raised around hunting so I needed some gentle prodding to end up in this knowledgeable company. I read a lot about sustainable meat sourcing and the community of sportsmen and women before I signed up for the Women Afield hunt. I own none of the equipment I used that day and was unlikely to invest in it without an opportunity to try hunting first. CPW provided a low entry barrier by organizing a safe and relatively low-commitment hunt that was friendly even to women like me with zero hunting experience. Now I think I might be hooked.
CPW organizes hunts for a wide range of participants on both state and regional levels. To locate an upcoming Women Afield hunt or a Ladies Night Out seminar, check the calendar available on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Written by Alicia Cohn. Cohn is a communications specialist for CPW and is an avid outdoorswoman.