There was a little flurry of excitement last week when USA Today, followed by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, touted an increase in the number of women hunters in the U.S.
Having been down that road before only to find some bizarre flaw in the data, I was skeptical. The best data available - U.S. Fish & Wildlife's survey - show that the number of women hunters is indeed greater now than it was in 1991. But it's been dropping slowly and steadily since 1996, both in numbers and as a percentage of the total U.S. female population.
But USA Today's Marty Roney uncovered a nugget from the Fish & Wildlife data that is truly cause for celebration: The number of young female hunters - ages 6 to 15 - is increasing, nearly doubling since 1991. I checked it out with Fish & Wildlife; it's for real.
First of all, cheers to all the moms and dads who have taken their girls out hunting. And based on what I've seen out in the field - and the trend of dads getting more involved with their children in general - I have to say hats off to dads, especially.
If you look closely at the data, these girls have real potential to bolster the numbers of women hunters, and hunters in general. Check this out - and click on it if you want to see all the little numbers clearly:
That group of girls in the 1991 survey? Theoretically, they grew up to become part of the women's numbers for the 2001 survey. Imagine what will happen to our numbers 10 years from now if the group of girls in 2006 stick with it.
Why does any of this matter? For starters, the more of a minority hunters become, the easier it is for us to lose our clout in the state legislatures that directly or indirectly affect our hunting rights.
But I believe there's another important component to this trend.
It's easy for the non-hunting public to write off hunters if they think we're all a bunch of drunken shoot-em-up poachers, a ragtag army of Larry the Cable Guys. Don't get me wrong - I love Larry the Cable Guy. I just don't think he's the best ambassador for hunters.
But women hunters are different. Rightly or wrongly, the non-hunting public isn't as quick to stereotype us because we are supposed to be the gentler sex. And because we defy stereotypes, I believe the non-hunting public is more inclined to listen to what we have to say about hunting. Well, if she does it, there must be something interesting going on here that I just don't understand...
So, good news all around. It's confirmation that steps we've taken to include women and girls may be making a huge difference after all. Time to redouble our efforts and solidify our gains.
© Holly A. Heyser 2008