One of my first posts on this blog was on a news story about the growing number of women hunters. The relevant part of the story:
A 2005 five-year survey by the National Sporting Goods Association painted a rosier picture of female hunting participation, claiming a 72 percent increase nationwide.But later, I blogged on detailed stats from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that report 1 percent of women hunt. Twenty-year huntress Dana contacted me and said, "I was looking at your stats on how many women versus men hunt. We are still at only 1%?"
I hadn't thought about that, but when I read through the Fish and Wildlife reports and saw us hovering at 1 percent since 1991, I realized I needed more detail - like a couple decimal places - to see what was really happening with women. I got it yesterday, and sorry Dana, you're gonna be depressed about this:
Both the number of women hunters and the percentage of women who hunt have declined steadily since 1996.
You can click on the images to see the exact numbers enlarged, but you probably get the idea.
Seeing these numbers, I'm now on a mission to find out what's going on. The most important question is what happened to make the 1996 numbers spike like that? I wasn't hunting then, but I have a pretty good guess: Becoming an Outdoorswoman started in 1991, and the program reports that 20,000 women participate in it every year.
If I'm right, this is really important, because it shows that a concerted effort will work, and if we want more women to hunt, we need to support these efforts.
But what's also noteworthy here is the slippage. We still have more women hunting than before BOW started, but it's clear many women who tried it didn't stick with it. As it is with many sports, recruitment is only half the battle; retention is the rest.Why does any of this matter? Well, as with animal species in general and human subgroups in particular, we're all biologically driven to perpetuate ourselves and ensure the survival of our kind.
But I think the role of women in hunting is more important than that: I think we're a crucial political force. Every hunter who pays any attention to politics knows that declining numbers of hunters means increasing danger of losing our right to hunt. As long as hunters are a fringe group, it's easy for mainstream politics to marginalize us.
But if hunters are a healthy and diverse group representing many facets of our society, we have clout. And if you don't think women are an important part of the electorate, check out all the jockeying in the Democratic presidential primary these days.
I'd love to hear from other hunters out there about other potential reasons for the 1996 spike, and your thoughts on the subsequent decline.
Meanwhile, I'm still working with Fish and Wildlife to get more detailed stats - including updated numbers on women's hunting expenditures. And I definitely want to find out why the National Sporting Goods Association numbers paint a picture so different from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife numbers. I'll keep you posted.
© Holly A. Heyser 2007