by Jack Spaulding
What do Eva Shockey, Melissa Bachman, Katniss Everdeen, and 1.5 million other women in the United States have in common?
Shockey and Bachman are hosts of TV hunting shows, and Everdeen is the main character in the “Hunger Games” book and movie franchise.
They represent a wave of female hunters, whose numbers have increased by 85 percent from 2001 to 2013, according to the National Sporting Goods Association’s annual participation survey.
In Indiana, the number of hunting licenses sold to women increased by 93 percent from 2006 to 2014, and female youth hunters under age 18 skyrocketed 114 percent from 2006 to 2014.
“Two major reasons come to mind,” said Mary Zeiss Stange, author of “Woman the Hunter,” a study of women’s cultural and historical relationship to hunting. “One is that women have gained sufficient ground socially and economically and have disposable income comparable to men’s.
“And very importantly, among younger women — the ‘millennials’ and whatever the next upcoming generation will be called — there is very little patience with the idea that an activity like hunting is ‘unfeminine.’ Indeed, they thrive on the idea of adventure,” Stange continued.
Stange, a professor and director of religious studies at Skidmore College in New York, also said, “It’s reasonable to assume that women’s growing participation in hunting mirrors our increased participation in the entire array of social and cultural activities that were formerly masculine territory. That’s the ‘scholarly’ answer. The practical reason, of course, is that hunting is fun and deeply rewarding.”
Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources has played an active role in opening the door with events specifically geared to women:
• Becoming an Outdoors Woman, an annual weekend workshop near Lafayette offering training in a variety of outdoor activities including game cleaning, bowhunting, and introduction to deer, turkey and small game hunting;
• Women’s days at DNR-managed shooting ranges;
• Women’s special hunts at DNR-managed fish and wildlife areas.
The DNR’s online video series “CookIN Gone Wild: Field to Table” has a female host, Michelle Cain. DNR Hunt, Fish, Eat workshops and National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women In The Outdoors (WITO) programs are additional examples of low-pressure events helping get women into the field.
Outdoor events for women appear to gain in popularity when the instructors are women, according to Responsive Management, a Virginia-based research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues.
Responsive Management also seems to have discovered a difference between male and female hunters. In a nationwide survey, researchers asked hunters if their primary reason for hunting was for the meat, to be with friends and family, for the sport or recreation, or to be close to nature. The researchers found significant differences between men and women in every category:
• Hunt for meat — females 47 percent, males 22 percent;
• To be with friends and family — females 27 percent, males 11 percent;
• For sport or recreation — females 20 percent, males 45 percent;
• To be close to nature — females 7 percent, males 22 percent.
Female firearms ownership also is rising. From 2012 to 2014, gun permits issued to women in Indiana increased by 42 percent. A National Shooting Sports Foundation study released earlier in 2015 reported more than one-third of the women participating in an NSSF-commissioned study said they purchased their first firearm within the last three years. Nearly all of them (95 percent) have tried target shooting, more than half (58 percent) have hunted and 73 percent said they have taken at least one training class.
The DNR is reaching out to everyone wanting to learn firearms safety and shooting techniques. The shooting ranges at Atterbury, J. E. Roush, and Kingsbury fish and wildlife areas offer onsite instruction at events through the spring and summer accommodating women and families in a safe, friendly environment.
“Our motto is that if you want to hunt, we want to help,” said Amanda Wuestefeld, assistant director of the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. “As Hoosier hunters, if we are going to keep the tradition of hunting strong in Indiana, it looks like female hunters may very well play a key role in our success.”
Jack Spaulding is a state outdoors writer and a consumer of RushShelby Energy living along the Flatrock River in Moscow. Readers with questions or comments can write to him in care of Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224; or email email@example.com.