Archive for Sunday, December 29, 2002

Hunting continues to lure more women

Number of men has dropped 7 percent, but females are up 11 percent

December 29, 2002

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It was mid-September on the Canadian tundra, 200 miles below the Arctic Circle, the last night of hunting for the group of six women Janet Nyce had organized to go after caribou.

The others had already bagged nine animals. Nyce, who had really come to be with the other women, had held back, waiting for the perfect shot.

The huge bull, a mature "double shovel," dark with wide antlers, appeared in her binoculars. With her guide, she followed him. She steadied her custom-made .338 on a rock, loaded a shell and tracked him in her scope.

"I wanted to kill him through the heart, through the lungs," she said. "I don't like to wound an animal."

She squeezed the trigger at 375 yards. Then she hugged her guide.

After they'd scrambled over the spongy ground and across a marsh, she knelt beside her kill. "I stroked him and praised what a beautiful animal he was," Nyce said. "I gave thanks for my harvest. I always do."

Hunting is changing. Or, at least, hunters are.

During the last decade, as the nation's population grew nearly 12 percent, the number of hunters -- mainly men -- dropped more than 7 percent. But the number of women hunters increased by more than 11 percent.

Women are still a small part of the hunting population, which is 91 percent male, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

About 10 years ago, females made up 7.5 percent of all hunters; 40 years ago, less than 6 percent.

Virtually every other hunting demographic is on the decline, the result of long-time trends: Competition from longer work hours and more recreational choices leaves less free time.

Migration from cities to suburbs has also eaten up hunting lands, and the newcomers are more likely to post their properties for no hunting.

Some hunters see society as becoming more distant and alienated from nature, forgetting where meat comes from. From that perspective, hunting seems abnormal and cruel.

But as these changes work against hunting, powerful forces are luring women in.

The same women's movement that opened doors to male-dominated environments from medicine to basketball has allowed women to shoot.

During the last decade, retailers such as L.L. Bean began marketing outdoor gear through catalogs just for women; entire lines of women's long johns, jackets, and featherweight rifles and shotguns are now sold at Cabela's, the giant hunting store.

And as Americans raise questions about their food supply, many women say they want to ensure that their families are eating meat that is low in fat and free of antibiotics, hormones and genetic modifications and is from animals that both lived and died more humanely than they would at a factory farm -- basically, free-range, organic meat.

In the not-too-distant past, it didn't occur to many women that hunting was an option. In 1991, a natural-resources professor at the University of Wisconsin developed a workshop specifically aimed at increasing women's awareness. The response was overwhelming.

"Becoming an Outdoors-Woman" -- 2 1¼2 days of hands-on instruction with choices from riflery to outdoor photography -- is now offered by wildlife agencies in 46 states. Nearly 200,000 women have attended these sessions.

Invariably, instructors say they like to work with women.

"They listen," said Barry Taylor, the owner of Arctic Safaris in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, where Janet Nyce took her group to hunt caribou among the grizzlies. "No 'I think I know more than the guide' -- nothing like that."

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