Thursday, December 13, 2007

Women hunters and the pocketbook

We all know women are a minority among hunters: According to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service census, only 9 percent of hunters are women, and only 1 percent of U.S. women hunt.

That doesn't surprise me - all you have to do is look around at the wildlife refuges where I hunt to see that's true.

But here's what does surprise me: The latest Fish and Wildlife analysis of gender and race stats (which unfortunately dates back to 2001), shows women spend substantially less on hunting equipment than the average hunter - about 42 percent less, or $255 a year, compared with $442 for all hunters. (Click on the chart to enlarge it.)

Most of the stats don't worry me, but this one does, and here's why: Spending equals clout. The market bends to those who spend. How can we expect manufacturers to create more products suited to our special needs, such as clothes that actually fit, if we're proven spendthrifts?

There are all sorts of reasons why we see this spending gap. One I hear often is that women hunters are often mothers who are accustomed to squirreling away resources for family and home, rarely indulging in gifts to themselves. Fortunately, I do not suffer from this affliction. I've already spent more than the national average for all hunters this year - one game cart, one Game Ear, tons of ammo and bam! there's a big hole in my credit card.

And I admit this is pure speculation, but I suspect the other reason is many of us come to hunting by invitation of our boyfriends and husbands.

My new friend Dana - whom I met through this blog - has been hunting for 20 years, and she's been on a mission to get women to try hunting with her. She says it's almost impossible - they just won't do it. And I have to admit: If it had been a female friend who invited me to hunt instead of my boyfriend, whom I trust more than anyone else in the world, I'm not sure I would've been as quick to take it up. I don't know why; I just suspect that's the case.

Why is it relevant that our mates are the ones who bring us to hunting? Because by the time my boyfriend invites me to hunt, he's already invested thousands of dollars in the sport, much of it on equipment he can share with me. We don't need any more decoys just because there are two of us in the blind. We don't need another backpack. We don't need another knife. And if he upgrades, chances are I can use his old stuff - personally, I've already inherited three duck calls.

Obviously, it makes sense for new women hunters to get by on hand-me-downs and shared gear for a while. It's just not reasonable to spend thousands of dollars on the sport until you know you're going to love it.

But ladies, once you're in love with it, start spending like you love it. I know it's hard; much specialized clothing for women can be found only in catalogs, and we all know that most women, with our variety of body types, have to try things on to make sure they work for us.

But we need to do it. It's the only way the marketplace will ever come close to granting us true equality.

I know the manufacturers have more hunting gear for women than ever before - I'll give them that. But for me, equality means knowing I can find what I need at my local sporting goods store as often and as easily as my boyfriend can. And I'm not talking about camo underwear.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Phillip said...

Dang, Holly... should've put the underwear photo at the top! Talk about an eye-catching graphic! (I would insert silly emoticons here if I had them).

Anyway, I think you're onto something here. I don't believe there are really that many women hunters out there like Dana who are so self-reliant (although she's got a hunting hubby too). Many, as you said, come into hunting with significant others who already have the base gear that's needed... often even providing the guns and/or bows.

Also, since there's not a lot of gear available specifically to women, it's a pretty easy guess to figure out why they're not spending as much as the guys. There's not as much to buy.

It's a catch 22 when you talk to the equipment manufacturers. They need a market large enough to justify the expense of making gender-specific gear, but since there's nothing to buy, the female consumer isn't really providing the market. This is why the small companies out there can capitalize on the niche, but since they're small, their prices are usually higher.

I still think there's an opportunity out there for the manufacturers, but someone just needs to figure out the most effective way to capture it.

Anonymous said...

First of all, great post. I agree with everything you said.

Second, regarding the camo underwear. Check out the latest post I made in the women's forum on JHO. I'm guessing you'll feel as I did.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Phillip - You're right on the Catch-22. The other issue for me is what the stores stock - they don't want to stock something that doesn't get bought. My local Sportsmans Warehouse - our area's only hunting megastore - has a women's section, but it's heavy on the camo undies and PJs and light on actual hunting gear. My local independent shop, Wild Sports, has nothing for women, though they have a great attitude toward me whenever I go in there.

Kristine - I replied to that post, and you were correct! The "Hunting Gifts for Women" website you referred to - - did a fine job in reinforcing the nation's stereotypes of hunters as guffawing misogynist pigs. Brilliant.

Windyridge said...

I agree with you. Good post and I love the underwear! LOL