Miss Kansas Theresa Vail is an accomplished hunter who hopes to empower girls to join her in the field.
There has been a distinct change taking place out in the woods over the past few years — the same transformation we have witnessed in recent decades in the boardrooms, the military ranks, the executive offices, and in the halls of Congress.
Significantly more women are now members of the unofficial club we call hunters. In the short span from 2005 to 2011, the number of female hunters jumped some 25 percent.
National Geographic recently cited statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau which confirmed that by 2011, women made up 11 percent of all hunters. Those figures came as no surprise to the folks who work in outdoors-related retail, such as Amanda Hertzfeld of Bass Pro Shops.
"We’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of women getting involved in hunting, and especially in archery,” said Hertzfeld, the special events coordinator at the Rossford Bass Pro store. “From younger girls in their teens, to older women who are taking up the sport later in their lives, they are not shying away from the challenge that hunting presents.”
Figures from the research firm Responsive Management indicate that the trend toward more women being involved in hunting has been taking place since the 1980s. More recently, there were more that 3 million women hunters polled in that group’s 2005 study, a big jump from the 1.2 million counted in 2001.
“You could see the market shifting that way for some time now,” Hertzfeld said. “There were bows and guns coming out that were specifically designed for women. That was certainly a reaction to an increased demand for equipment made for women.”
The National Sporting Goods Association has compiled data that lay out the major impact women have had on the growth of hunting and shooting sports, but the trend is evident on a pass down the aisles at any of the outdoors retailers. A larger chunk of the some $30 billion Americans spend annually on hunting items is being spent by women.
“Women are here shopping for themselves, and we see new lines for women coming out all of the time,” Hertzfeld said. “Just walking through the store, it’s pretty easy to tell there has been a large increase in the number of women hunting. There are not as many options for women as there are for men, but it’s getting there.”
The trend has been equally pronounced in the membership in conservation groups, wildlife agencies, and hunting and shooting clubs. Hertzfeld said a number of women regularly use the archery range at Bass Pro.
“There are more special events and classes taking place that are designed for women, to introduce them to archery, to hunting, and to sport shooting,” Hertzfeld said.
Ohio and Michigan both take part in a national program designed to introduce women to the outdoors in a relaxed setting with a comfortable learning curve. “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman” uses a three-day session to teach women the basics of many outdoors activities, including hunting, fishing, backpacking, whitewater rafting, shooting sports, canoeing, cross-country skiing, fly tying, ice fishing, dog sledding, wilderness survival, and even how to make a walking stick.
The programs are designed for the novice, and the nominal workshop fee for the three-day event includes all instruction, program materials, use of equipment and facilities, meals, lodging, and take-home items.
The role of women in hunting got some high-profile publicity during the most recent Miss American competition when it was revealed that Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, intended to demonstrate her archery skills in the talent portion of the event.
The Miss America organization refused to allow Vail to shoot, citing the default liability/legal risk/insurance reasons, but Vail’s skills as a hunter quickly made her a prominent topic of conversation.
The American public quickly learned that Vail, a blonde who certainly met the beauty criteria of the pageant, is a skilled shot with a rifle, an expert in the use of the bow and arrow, and an accomplished hunter. She is also a sergeant in the U.S. Army, an expert marksman with an M-16 at her shoulder, and she can skin a deer as well as any guy can.
Vail said recently that she wants to “promote the involvement of women in the great outdoor activities of hunting.” She has coordinated and conducted all-girls archery clinics. “I hope to empower and encourage women to join into these male dominated sports, encourage their independence from men while boosting their confidence and inner strength,” Vail said.
Female involvement in archery, hunting, and shooting sports has also received a boost from The Hunger Games series of books and movies in which the main character is a young woman whose skill at hunting and survival allows her to prevail in a dark, gladiator-style battle that takes place in a postapocalyptic world.
“The Hunger Games has definitely been another factor in opening up archery and hunting to more women,” Bass Pro’s Hertzfeld said. “It’s had a huge impact in moving more women toward archery, and from there many of them get involved in hunting.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.