Sunday, September 27, 2009

These women want to hunt. Can you help?

Hey hunters, there are women around you right now who would like to hunt. What are you doing to help them? Do you even know who they are?

This thought popped into my head this afternoon at the end of an amazing California Waterfowl event at Birds Landing Hunting Preserve & Sporting Clays: Sixteen women paid $150 apiece to take shooting lessons, take their hunter safety course, get their hunting license and upland stamp, and go on a pheasant hunt, all in the space of 30 hours.

Pure brilliance. It was a chance to try out hunting for minimal investment of time and money, because the host provided loaner shotguns for anyone who needed one.

And the stories that some of these women told made me realize there are future hunters all around us whom we are not helping. Read more...

One woman said she and her husband have done some upland hunting but really want to try duck hunting. They volunteered to work at waterfowl fundraising dinners hoping to make connections who could help them get into it, but no luck - everyone was so proprietary about their precious "spots" that they wouldn't help.

Another woman said she worked for a waterfowl organization for a while and no one there ever took her hunting.

A woman I met last week had a different story: Her husband and others in her family hunt, and she often goes along. When I asked her, "Do you want to hunt?" she looked at me quizzically for a second, then said brightly, "Yes!" It was as if it was the first time anyone had extended the invitation. She couldn't make it to this weekend's event because of a conflict, but she really wanted to go.

And a reader emailed me a couple weeks ago asking for advice and mentorship. She's been dying to hunt waterfowl, and has even gone to the trouble of getting her gun and license. But while the hunters in her life promise to take her out, they never come through.

My point is this: There are non-hunters everywhere who are interested in what hunting has to offer - the connection to nature, the source of better meat, the sense of self-reliance. Many of them are like my friend Hellen, a PhD who had ZERO connection to hunters or hunting until the day I told her I'm a duck hunter. With a little bit of guidance, she became a licensed hunter and shot her first duck one year later.

And then, of course, there's me. I never even thought of hunting until my boyfriend took it up, and kept inviting me to join him. In time, I began to envision myself hunting too. I can't emphasize enough the importance of this point: Many of us do not see ourselves as potential hunters until we see that other people like ourselves hunt.

Thank God Hellen and I had mentors who wanted to help us. But there are many women and men who don't.

So, hunters, what can you do about this? Here are some thoughts:

* Talk to the non-hunters around you about the fact that you hunt, and why you hunt. We run around assuming that everyone is hostile to what we do, when in fact only one in five Americans does not approve of hunting. The other four are open to hearing about it, and hearing why you hunt may be enough to tickle their interest.

* If you see someone around you who wants to hunt, help. Explain what you have to do. Offer to take him or her hunting with you. We spend so much time recruiting kids into this passion of ours - kids who probably come from hunting families anyway - that we forget about adults, and let me tell you, adults need our help as much as kids, men and women alike. Hunting is a complex endeavor: You need shooting skills, licensing, practice and the skill to navigate hunting public or private lands. It's too much to ask anyone to do this on her (or his) own.

* Support an event like the one Cal Waterfowl did this weekend. Do you know a group like Cal Waterfowl that can organize it? Are you in a club that could host it? Can you volunteer time to teach shooting skills? Do you have a dog you'd be willing to take on a hunt with a bunch of newbies? Barring all that, do you have money to contribute to pay for the event? It cost Cal Waterfowl more than $150 per person to do this weekend's event. A big sponsorship grant - maybe just a few thousand bucks - would've been a huge help.

As for me, I've got a growing list sitting up to the right of the computer screen I'm looking at right now: "People to take hunting." It's already a dangerously large list - I worry about making more commitments than I can meet. But with some help from all my hunter friends, I'm thinking we can get more people into the field and teach them enough to get them on their own two feet.

If we invest just a little time in helping them, they, too, will become ambassadors of the possible to people (like me) who just need an invitation.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


sportingdays said...

I'm really glad to learn about the Birds Landing program. I think licensed gamebird clubs really play an important role in California in terms of educating, recruiting and offering opportunity (in a controlled and safe environment) to new hunters. These hunting preserves sometimes get maligned for the experiences they provide yet all the California preserves I know of offer special programs for women, kids, disabled hunters, and others new to hunting.

In my own personal experience, I've offered dozens of non-hunting friends and acquaintances invitations to join me afield. Almost none have taken me up on it. The sticking point seems to be the hunter's safety class. They are all gung-ho until they learn they have to give up a day, perhaps a weekend, to get a hunter's safety certificate. A few eager folks joined me for a clays shoot, another came as a spectator on a guided goose hunt. But they all just seemed too busy or disinterested when it actually came time to sign up for a hunter's safety course. The "instant gratification" offered by the Birds Landing program seems like a goode model for adults.

Shewee woman said...

Last year I attended a Becoming an Outdoor Woman program for goose hunting in Maryland. It was a fantastic program and all fifteen woman took their limit. We learned everything from the environmental stuff to goose calling (they even gave us our own goose call) to shooting techniques and the hunt with a guide, over "stuffers" no less. After that, I was hooked, I came back to PA and decided to try and find someone to mentor me so I could take it to the next level. I have to admit it's been tough. My husband is an avid golfer and has no interest in hunting except for maybe the first day of buck season. (Ugh!) So my son (who is 15 now) and I are trying to learn. Last week, we went out for youth duck day, and thanks to a friend and his son, they shared their favorite spot and my son got his first two ducks.
Yesterday, we went to the fall outing of the Susquehanna Waterfowlers. I thought I might be able to make some contacts. But I felt all I got was stares, being a woman with a camo shirt on and coming to a seemingly male dominated sport. I went to the booth and asked if there was anyone who would be able to mentor us..... I have a boat, and equipment, but need to know where to go and how to set up decoys, etc. They suggested signing up for a $400 guided trip. Ouch! that's $800 for my son and me.
So I agree, we need more guys to step up and help us, either that or I will just have to be content to shoot sporting clays all year, but then you can't eat them.

Holly Heyser said...

Sportingdays, it's awesome that you make so many offers to help. I have another one who may need your help soon - but we can talk offline about that.

It's interesting that you're hearing the hunter safety is the obstacle. For me - and many women I've come across - we want to be sure this is something we really want to do before we drop $500-$1,000 or more on a shotgun. I'm actually a little troubled by the fact that people want a license to take animal lives with a lethal weapon and they think 10 hours of learning about safety, conservation and good sportsmanship is too much. Personally, I really enjoyed hunter safety - I learned a lot.

Shewee woman, it makes me positively distraught to hear about your experience. Probably 95 percent of my experiences around men have been super positive - they've been very helpful. But, it's also been mostly friends or acquaintances who've taken me out, not strangers.

I have three suggestions for you:

1. Save for a guided hunt, but see if someone will guide you on public land so what you learn is useful to you. Sounds like you need to learn some territory.

2. Talk to your game agency (DNR, Fish & Game, whatever). I have found in particular that the staff at hunter check stations in public hunt areas have been super helpful, telling me where to go, giving me tips how to set up, etc.

3. Just go out and do it. Find out how public hunt areas work, figure out what you have to do to get in on hunt days and just try. You will make a ton of mistakes. That's OK. You'll learn from them.

And hey, what about that friend who took your son out? Could you say, "Hey, I need to learn about this as much as my son does - could you take me out a time or two so I can get on my own two feet?"

SimplyOutdoors said...

I've done my share to get what people I can involved in hunting. But I completely no what you mean. I'm sure, even though I think I've been pretty diligent about getting new people involved, that I've probably missed a few people who really wanted to go.

I can understand some hunters predicaments, though. I have one property I hunt that the property owner really only wants my family, and my brother's family to hunt on. It becomes a little more challenging to get new people involved with restrictions like that.

We do what we can, though. And this post gives some great ideas for getting newbies involved.

Great post, Holly.

Holly Heyser said...

Doing it personally is a big commitment, and I know what you mean about not being able to take people to places you're allowed to hunt. I get invited to lots of nice hunts too, but it doesn't give me the right to bring other people along when I'm a guest myself.

That's why I think this Cal Waterfowl program was fantastic - it was a great start. But probably every single one of these women will need help to keep it going.

I'm also not surprised that readers here would be the kind of people who would want to help novice hunters. I kinda want to get the message out to the broader hunting public.

Anonymous said...

It was great to meet you yesterday Holly. I am fortunate that I have become onvolved with my local Weimaraner and NAVHDA clubs and have met many people who are offering to take me out... we shall see if any of those offers actually pan out.

I also hope to try to keep in touch with the women I met this weekend and hope that we all can try to get togehter again for a women's hunt.

Also, with the success of this event, I hope that other clubs and organizations choose to put on this kind of event. Whether it be for beginners or more experienced women.

Phillip said...

"I kinda want to get the message out to the broader hunting public."

You probably know this already, but you're building the platform to do just that...particularly all your hard work with CWA.

A thought... think about how things like BOW got started, set a program in place to take that to the next step, and take it on the road! I know there were some intelligent and creative minds at that Wooden Valley Winery shindig the other day... there must be some way to connect more experienced hunters with the newbies (particularly women and kids) and make it beneficial for both parties. I dunno, something like the SHARE program, or even in conjunction... wanna hunt private land? You have to sign on to take a new hunter with you.

There has to be some way. Recruiting new folks to try hunting is one thing, but I definitely agree that getting them into the field is a different challenge altogether.

Holly Heyser said...

Renee, great to meet you too! Don't let up on the friends who've offered to take you with them. Sometimes you have to be persistent. And honestly, they should love it too - it's really fun working with someone new and watching her discover all the things that were once new to you too.

And Phillip, I LOVE the idea of hunt private land, take a new hunter with you.

I've actually already emailed the head of another NorCal organization this morning and we're talking about a mentored pheasant hunt for new hunters. If something comes of that, of course, you know you'll read details here.

I'd love to do something for duck hunting, too, but that's harder to organize - more gear is required, and access to duck clubs is a little more restricted than access to pheasant clubs, which often allow non-members to hunt. Most of my duck mentoring this year will be one-on-one hunts, as opportunities arise. If only I belonged to a club. But dang, those fees don't go well with furloughs.

The hard part about this outreach is that whether it's a mentored hunt or the "whole enchilada" that Cal Waterfowl offered this weekend, by definition we're trying to reach people who aren't hooked into the network of hunters yet. That's why it takes all of us paying attention to the people around us who may be more interested than we realize.

Anonymous said...

I've actually already started networking and have asked a friend of mine to lead a few of the women from this weekend on a hunt soon. I also asked him to mention it to one of his DU buddies to nudge them into doing something or having one of the clubs put on a women's hunt. If you organize it, we will come!

One thing he mentioned that I dont think has been mentioned as a possible reason for the men not wanting to get involved (aside from the "good 'ole boys club" mentality) but the wives may not appreciate them taking out a woman or two. It's a valid point. I say invite your wives!! They might see how much fun we are having and want to do it too!

Holly Heyser said...

Great point, Renee. I run around hunting with whoever and not even thinking about jealousy issues - I don't get them from Boyfriend, and it just never occurs to me that my male hunting partners would get grief from their wives, because I just want ducks, not their men. But it can certainly be a consideration!

gary said...

I read this and almost feel guilty with the problems others are running into. In rural Idaho finding a place to hunt is not a problem. Private land is, but there is enough land that isn't private that there is no reason not to hunt.

I agree, the time and money spent for 'Hunters Safety' is an investment and opens a lot of doors, so don't let the attitude of instant gratification stand in the way. Get in, get it done and learn from it. It'll serve you well the rest of your life.

I got Sue into hunting a couple years ago, I may still be the bread winner, but she brings home the meat.

Albert A Rasch said...

This is a point that I have touched upon several time while writing about high fence hunting. Everyone has to make an effort to take people with them, coach them, mentor them, and just flat out help them become hunters.

Many just want to hold on to what they have, their lease, their "connection", their "in", with the only thought being, "It's mine, I worked for it, what if they get the buck," etc etc.

Unless we make access and availability a priority, you can kiss hunting goodbye, especially on the East and West coasts.

People can cry the blues about High Fenced, or private managed hunting, but that's where there are opportunities.

By golly, it's true though that everyone offers, but rarely come through. Don't be one of those people.

I'll have to write about this too...

Best regards,
Instincts and Hunting
Real Men (and Women Too!) Hunt

Holly Heyser said...

Interesting that you bring up high fence, Albert. High fence is exactly the kind of opportunity beginners really need. Planted pheasants, while not fenced, offer similar benefits: You know the new hunter is highly likely to get opportunity. And in the case of high-fence, that opportunity comes with a professional guide.

ntrenis said...

Thanks for this post! Found you through NPR's story on women hunters this a.m. I grew up in hunting family, but never was invited along w/the boys and men. Now, at 48, I'm learning from my 50-year-old brother who has been hunting for as long as he can remember. I want to put good, healthy food on the table and learn some skills.

Holly Heyser said...

It's never too late! Though I do find myself a bit wistful that I didn't get to hunt in my extremely energetic 20s and 30s.

I'm glad your brother's taking you hunting now, Neva. It's such a joy!

Cat said...

i am SO fortunate to have a husband who loves to deer hunt, and loves even more to teach me. he spends hours and hours, setting up my stands, cutting shooting lanes, and ensure i'll be in a safe area to hunt. we've been married over 25 years, but i've only been hunting the last 10; when i finally had time to spend on a new hobby.

and, he's been a patient teacher - making sure i was comfortable with my weapon (i'm bow hunting for the first time this year), with the new calls i've bought, or whatever else i have question about.

what i find truly unfortunate, are the other men on the lease where we hunt that show jealousy when i harvest a nicer buck, or don't mind driving near my stand... even when they know i'm hunting. i just don't get why they don't want to share this wonderful sport with others, including the women in their lives.

regarding others? i talk about hunting to anyone who will listen. most are tolerant, while others just don't want to know about it. but, they always enjoy the venison jerky i bring to the office, or the other treats i make with my harvested game.

i'm so glad i found hunting, and that i have a wonderful teacher. i truly feel fortunate -- and after reading your blog entry today, even more so.

Holly Heyser said...

That is unfortunate about how some other men act around you. I know they're out there; I've been very lucky not to encounter any of them personally (or if I have, they've kept it to themselves).

I, too, feel lucky to be a hunter. It took a cascade of events to make this happen - there were not guarantees.

Blessed said...

Renee does have a very valid point... I've been the victim of wife jealousy and I'm married and have only gone with all the guys when my hubby is going too... it's just one of those things some women have a problem with. I'm thankful that jealousy is not something Hubby & I struggle with.

One of the best places we found for meeting people who were willing to teach us how to hunt was the local retriever club. We bought a retriever and started training with people during the off season, developing relationships and etc... and then when hunting season came around it just worked out that some of our dog training buddies were willing and able to take us out with them.

I have also seen a lot of the problem that Simply Outdoors mentions - we have permission to hunt places that we aren't allowed to take anyone else too, it makes it difficult to include others who we know are interested in hunting.

Unknown said...

I've been very blessed that my husband always welcomes me on his hunts. When I first became interesting in hunting, my husband was %100 committed to teaching me what I needed to know and told me that I was always welcome to come on his hunting adventures. Unfortunately, I don't think all men think this way.

There are those times I think that hunting provides great guy bonding opportunities and I don't want to take away from that. For example, when we have a son someday I know that I'll encourage that father - son bonding time of hunting together. But... I will also want my mother - son bonding time too. And now that I know how to hunt, it may be Mom and son that bring home the meat for the freezer. :)