Several years ago, Connie Bender of Spencer County, IN, was one the first women to shoot a NWTF world slam. This tome was taken in Mexico.
What do Eva Shockey, Melissa Bachman, Katniss Everdeen, and 1.5 million women in the United States have in common?
A news release from Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources says the difference is, “They’re hunters.”
Shockey and Bachman are hosts of TV hunting shows, and Everdeen is the main character in the “Hunger Games” movie franchise.
They represent a wave of female hunters, whose numbers 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 – those under age 18 – skyrocketed 114 percent from 2006 to 2014.
As an outdoor writer, I’ve been fortunate to write about a number of excellent and enthusiastic female hunters. Many come to mind, but in particular I recall Connie Bender of Spencer County who was one of only a handful of women to shoot a wild turkey world slam, (I’ve long sensed the numbers of women hunters and shooter has been increasing, but now research data confirms it.)
“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 this 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, a professor and director of religious studies at Skidmore College in Pennsylvania, 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 DNR 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 that offers 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, which is by design. DNR Hunt, Fish, Eat workshops and National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women In The Outdoors (WITO) programs are additional examples of low-pressure events that help 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:
-- 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.
The DNR is reaching out to those 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 that accommodate 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.”