The Emerging Female Hunter
A demographic shift has been underway for a few years in the world of hunting. Today, more and more women are toting rifles and bows afield in pursuit of wild game. Females are the fastest-growing cohort in the hunting industry; they now account for as much as 15 percent of hunters nationwide, according to a study from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In Pennsylvania, female hunting participation grew more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
According to the market research firm Southwick Associates, increases in female deer hunters in recent years resulted in part from generational changes. Both Millennials and Generation Z present a culture change, one that’s more all-inclusive. This entails women participating in activities that traditionally were considered the domain of men.
Female hunters represent a trend, not a fad. And they’re far from new. Though perennially underrepresented, highly-skilled women have been around for a long time in the outdoors. Legendary hunter, shooter, and trapper Annie Oakley was getting it done in the 19th century. And there are scores of modern shooters with prominent followings and wide-ranging expertise, like Melissa Bachman. In 2010, the accomplished hunter founded her own production company called Deadly Passion Productions. Today, she’s one of several women at the forefront of hunting television with shows like “Winchester Deadly Passion” on the Sportsman Channel. Her hunting feats include taking the world record red stag for a female archer in New Zealand. Bachman shares the outdoor stage with many other hunting contemporaries who have continued to pave the way for women, like Eva Shockey, Kandi Kisky, and Nicole Reeve.
It’s not a question of whether women can handle themselves in the outdoors. Not by a long shot. Today, there is a newer wave of female hunters bagging trophy game and sharing hunting camps. You have to look no farther than the likes of Texas’ Carly Brasseux and Mississippian Lakeisha Woodard.
Brasseux took up hunting as an adult primarily as a result of her husband Will, an avid hunter. Today, the two often spend time together in the field. Now, Brasseux not only continues to hunt but regularly encourages and mentors other women in the outdoors.
“I’m a self-proclaimed city girl that got bitten by the hunting bug. Going along with Will, I learned to appreciate so much about hunting and the outdoors. It’s kind of cool to have a husband as a hunting partner. Plus, now I’m fortunate to also get to share the woods with other ladies,” she said.
Today, Brasseux is an ardent outdoorsman, and her brand Miss Pursuit celebrates hunting and the outdoors from a woman’s perspective. She’s in it for the long haul.
Likewise, Lakeisha Woodard was introduced to hunting by her husband, Henry. She started one day when Henry included her on a turkey hunt. Though she mainly helped film the hunt, the event was a defining moment for her. Like Brasseux, she’s gone on to take various game animals, including deer, turkeys, and hogs.
“I’ll never forget, Henry was calling for turkeys. Next thing I know, they answered the call and came in. Then boom! I couldn’t believe how fun it was. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Woodard said.
She also teams with Henry to maintain and grow the Halo Chronicles brand, showcasing the Woodard’s hunting adventures and lifestyle through videos and social media.
Indeed, if any group is stemming the tide of our declining hunter numbers, it’s the camo-clad women who have emerged over the last 15 years. These are true sportsmen learning, refining, and passing on their hunting and outdoor craft.
It’s All in a Name
So, what is a female hunter? First, let’s examine the correct way to refer to female hunters. In my experience, the lines are blurred here. Social media is strewn with terms and handles such as “huntress,” “chick,” and “babe.” While some women feel such names separate them as hunters, others feel like they are part of their outdoor identity. I didn’t say this was easy.
Perhaps, as long as the person hunts or is learning to hunt, the name or lack thereof is immaterial. No harm, no foul. In this case, taking too much of a stand falls firmly in the divisiveness category, the very sport of hunting already suffers from.
“Whatever women in the outdoors prefer to call themselves doesn’t matter. To me, it’s just a title. The point is to get out there and enjoy it – not get hung up on names,” Woodard said.
For me (and for purposes of this article), I will use the following terms when referring to our female partners in the hunting woods: female outdoorsman, female sportsman, women hunters, and sometimes, just sportsman. Here, the word man is intended to be gender-neutral.
Different and the Same
Like their male counterparts, female hunters arrive in trees stands, ground blinds, and shooting ranges from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Indeed, they are just a subset of the hunting demographic – like young hunters, disabled hunters, adult-onset hunters, new hunters, and male hunters.
“I think that it’s important to remember that, first and foremost, we’re individuals that hunt. The more we differentiate with various names and terms may actually separate us as hunters. I know it’s complicated, though,” said Brasseux.
Still, there is no escaping the fact that there are some core differences between men and women in the field. Differences that, if not addressed, can detract from the outdoor experience, if not create a barrier. For one, women are not built the same physically. There, I said it.
“When I started out hunting with my husband, I used one of his very heavy guns. Plus, I wore camo clothing that was uncomfortable – not well-fitted for a woman. I can remember walking through a field, and the rifle sling didn’t fit, the clothes didn’t fit. Honestly, it was miserable,” Brasseux said.
Though finding proper-fitting hunting clothing for women is still a struggle, she has acquired some, as well as a rifle well-suited for her.
Growing the Female Sportsman
There are barriers other than uncomfortable camo and gear. Perhaps the most lacking aspect for prospective women hunters is mentors – not just men who let women tag along, but ones who demonstrate patience and empathy – the same kind that a man shows his son when treating him to the deer blind or woodlot scouting session. When they do, they’ve gained a hunting partner and hopefully, a future fellow stakeholder regarding the outdoor pursuits and conservation.
“I think one of the biggest issues for the ladies is a lack of mentorship. I’m blessed to have an experienced hunter for a husband that not only includes me but patiently teaches me. Just like any other prospective hunter, sometimes we just need someone to put their arm around us and take us along,” Brasseux said.
And then there is the issue of the availability of hunting education suited for women. Sure, the internet is filled with tons of information, but it can be overwhelming. That’s largely why Brasseux created her e-book, “How to Hunt Like a Girl ” – to serve as a one-stop-shop for basic hunting terminology, facts, and even a gear and clothing section ideal for the female sportsman.
Retaining and Sustaining the Female Sportsman
As with the recruitment of any new hunters, one of the most overlooked barriers is hunter retention. What about the ladies who try hunting, only to subsequently give it up? Sure, some decide it’s not their thing. In most cases, however, it stems from the lack of reinforcement. If you have the means and opportunity, keep the hunting stimulus alive by facilitating subsequent hunting prospects through repeat trips, new game animals, and learning opportunities.
Studies show that, while women have the highest rate of growth in deer hunting, they also leave the hunting ranks at a greater clip. Like with any other subgroup, the idea is for men and women alike to help new female hunters keep up the momentum. Recruiting a hunter takes time. Mentors can truly help women become perennial license buyers by continuing to teach them the skills they need.
The emerging female hunter has become part of a much bigger topic in a hunting community that’s constantly assessing the effects of declining numbers. As we continue to study the reasons, women hunters aren’t going anywhere, and that’s a good thing. Remember, until our current model is expanded to include new funding sources, recruitment has never been more important for maintaining wildlife habitat and populations. And the upward trajectory of women in the outdoors is a reminder that during these times, we need to reach new audiences in general. Either way, female participation is already on the upswing and represents a silver lining to our hunting future concerns.
Finally, it’s worth reemphasizing that hunting has nothing to do with gender. Women have been hunting at a high level for ages. And Woodard has a message for women in the outdoors:
“You can do anything you put your mind to. Embrace your inner-strength and let your beauty become the beast”.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.