Women Hunters: Just Call Them Hunters

Women Hunters: Just Call Them Hunters

You can call Rachel VandeVoort lots of things, but don't call her a woman hunter. And definitely don't call her a huntress. She is the daughter of a Montana outfitter, and hunting was simply what she and her family did.


She killed her first deer, a spike whitetail, when she was 12, and some of her earliest memories are of accompanying her father and grandfather as they hunted small and big game throughout northwest Montana. She's a competitive shooter, a bow hunter, a former fly fishing guide, and a mother — all labels she gladly wears.

A woman hunter?

"I've never really given it much thought," says VandeVoort, trade relations manager for Kimber. "I've always just considered myself a hunter. I think the vast majority of women who hunt just want to be hunters without being placed in some sort of category or given a cute name."

Women who happen to be hunters (or hunters who happen to be women) are becoming an increasingly common sight in the woods. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they made up about 11 percent of all hunters in 2011. According to a report by the National Sporting Goods Association, that number jumped to 19 percent, or 3.34 million, in 2013. The growth of women hunters in recent years has actually outpaced the rate of male hunters new to the sport.

The reasons for the spike vary, but there's no question part of it can be credited to the introduction of women's-only hunting and outdoors immersion programs. Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) was the first geared specifically for women. It was founded in 1991 by Christine Thomas, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor, and gained a huge national following. At least 150,000 women have participated. Thirty-eight states and six Canadian provinces now have some sort of BOW-inspired program that teaches a variety of activities, including hunting, shooting, and game cleaning and preparation.

Despite the program's overwhelming success and popularity, the number of women who have taken to the field didn't surge until the last decade or so. BOW National Director Peggy Farrell isn't sure why it took so long, but she wonders if the recent "locavore" movement may be partly responsible.

"I've never really given it much thought," says VandeVoort, trade relations manager for Kimber. "I've always just considered myself a hunter. I think the vast majority of women who hunt just want to be hunters without being placed in some sort of category or given a cute name."

Consumers are more interested in eating natural foods free of hormones and antibiotics and raised close to their homes. Wild game fits the definition perfectly. The rise in the number of locavore hunters has been highlighted in the New York Times, Slate, and a host of other left-leaning media outlets. Hunting clearly isn't just for rural, white males anymore.

"I think it's just become more vogue," says Kirstie Pike, founder of Prois, a women's hunting apparel company. "It seems like it is also sort of feeding off itself. As more women hunt, more women want to try it, and they realize how satisfying the entire experience really is once they try it."

The recent increase in the availability of woman-specific gear and guns has certainly helped fuel the growth, although gun and equipment manufacturers were slow to embrace the concept a decade ago. Those that did adopted what Pike calls a "shrink and pink" business model. They simply downsized men's gear and added a little pink to the color scheme to appeal to women. It's not uncommon to see women wearing camouflage embedded with some pink, but many women refuse to wear it.

"That's terribly insulting," says Farrell. "I don't want a youth-model shotgun, and I don't want pink on everything I wear or carry when I hunt."

Neither does Pike, who started her business after struggling to find clothing that fit her body properly and didn't have some pink in it. It's been wildly successful, and other clothing and equipment manufacturers are taking notice. Many are dumping the pink-infused camo patterns and pink-stocked guns and treating women as adults who want the same thing men want: quality gear that fits. At least one gun manufacturer recently started making shotguns specifically designed for a woman's body.


Finding quality clothing that fit was about the only hardship Farrell and Missoula, Montana, resident Katie McKalip experienced when they started hunting. It has always been a male-dominated sport, but neither experienced any discrimination or sexism.

"Many of the men I worked with were hunters, and they were all more than willing to take me and show me the ropes," says McKalip, who started hunting 15 years ago. "They were all unfailingly generous and welcoming. I also started hanging out with my future husband and all of his friends. They hunt, and they were very supportive. I don't recall ever feeling uncomfortable around men hunters."

Farrell says men were more apt to offer to help when she started hunting 18 years ago, but she doesn't know if that was because of her sex or if they were simply trying to help a new hunter.

"I actually think it's a million times easier for a woman to break into the sport than it is for a man," says VandeVoort. "For some reason, men seem to be more willing to help a woman than they are another man. Maybe it's some sort of paternal instinct or maybe because men are less threatened by a woman. Whatever it is, I had nothing but encouragement from all the men I've been around. I see the same with other women new to the sport."

That's not to say women haven't faced some challenges. Indeed, for reasons that no one can seem to explain, women who share their hunting success on social media are attacked, or at least scorned, far more than men. Television host and hunting personality Melissa Bachman was kicked off the cast of National Geographic Channel's Ultimate Survival Alaska before filming began in 2012 as a result of an online petition that amassed thousands of signatures from anti-hunters. She also received countless hate-filled messages and threats on her Facebook page after posting a photo of a lion she killed in Africa. Others have been subjected to similar attacks. Surprisingly, much of the hate comes from other women. Farrell doesn't put too much stock in those attacks, but she agrees that women appear to be targeted more often than men.

"It may go back to our traditional roles as men and women," she says. "Men went out and hunted and women stayed home. The people who attack women hunters may find something wrong with changes in those roles."

They had better get used to it. Women who hunt are no longer a sideshow and they aren't women hunters or huntresses anymore. Like VandeVoort, they are mainstream Americans from all walks of life who simply love to hunt and who happen to be mothers and wives and daughters.

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