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The 11%: Women in Hunting

Hunting has traditionally been a male-dominated activity. According to most recent National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation in 2011, women constitute only 11% of the U.S.’s hunting population. With less exposure for this minority group and fewer experienced women to mentor new women, barriers for participation and entry remain high.

One by one, state wildlife agencies have been creating new hunter recruitment programs which are more inclusive or specifically aimed at minority groups, including women, youth and new adult hunters. Many of these programs offer new motivations for hunting and changing the perception behind the hunter and the hunt. They are bringing the concept of hunting for food and empowering hunters to provide sustainable food to their families and communities to the forefront. This approach, along with emphasizing camaraderie and self-confidence built in hunting, is the heart of a new chapter in hunting.

Women are challenging hunting as a male-dominated activity with the help of their families and mentors, and new recruitment programs. We tracked down Service employees with various levels of hunting experience to ask how they became involved in hunting and why they stay engaged. Meet five women who are part of the 11%:

Alisha Haken duck hunting with poodle-boy. Photo by Randy Haken.
Alisha Haken duck hunting with poodle-boy. Photo by Randy Haken.

1) Alisha Haken, Wildlife Refuge Specialist - MN Valley Wetland Management District

Years as a hunter: 17

Main motivation for hunting: Camaraderie of family, friends and four-legged companions

What hunting means for me: Hunting is an avenue for me to gallivant in nature to enjoy every sound, sight and smell it has to offer. Hunting does not require that you take an animal. I have been on many successful hunts where all I have taken home with me are the empty tags and vivid memories of something wild in its natural element.

Every walk in the woods, every stroll on the prairie, and every hike through a valley has something different to offer. I love watching all of the critters carry on as if I was never even there. If you are quiet, still and patient enough, you become immersed in a whole world that functions on its own. I have had the opportunity to hunt in different parts of the Midwest in search of turkeys, bear, deer, elk, grouse, ducks and geese. Each hunt has taken me to a place with its own uniqueness. I get a thrill out of doing and seeing something for the first time. To me, hunting is about creating memories that last for a lifetime.

Hunting is more than filling the tag or bag limit. It’s about the camaraderie with loved ones and dear friends, trying something new and challenging, the attempt to be invisible and motionless, and the anticipation and hope that you may get to see something spectacular and unique. I know I can garner these types of experiences and memories without a weapon in hand; however there is something wholesome about consuming wild game and having to truly work for your own meal.

My family hunted. So as soon as I was able to take my firearm safety course and get in the stand it meant more meat for the freezer. It was then that I also learned how to process my own deer as I had to play a role in the family task of cutting and packaging the harvested deer. To this day, processing wild game with my family is one of my favorite things about hunting. I hope to someday continue this culture and instill an appreciation of hunting in my children and other youth.

Anna Sidie-Slettedahl duck hunting with a friend. Photo courtesy of Anna Sidie-Slettedahl.
Anna Sidie-Slettedahl duck hunting with a friend. Photo courtesy of Anna Sidie-Slettedahl.

2) Anna Sidie-Slettedahl, Wildlife Biologist - Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program

Years as a hunter: 1

Main motivation for hunting: To challenge and empower myself, and prove to myself that I’m capable.

What hunting means to me: I am a new hunter. Although I have been exposed to hunting culture my whole life, and have built my career out of a love for wildlife and the outdoors, I have never actually taken up the sport of hunting until recently. A few reasons for this come to mind. Simply, I was not confident in myself. I didn't think I was strong enough to pull a bow string back, I was afraid of firearms, and I was basically afraid of failure in this “man’s” sport. Another reason is because I never had any female role model hunters.

Since starting my position with WSFR about 2 years ago, my curiosity in hunting has been sparked again. I have reexamined the importance of hunting and fishing in conservation. I have been exposed to programs that I didn't know existed; programs to help educate me on the culture of hunting and trapping, to help educate me on firearm safety and to improve my shooting skills, and to introduce me to hunting for food, and to women who hunt and fish that are willing to take me under their wing.

Just recently, I went on a mentored pheasant hunt and harvested my first bird. It was an emotional moment for me, and life changing. It was terrifying, but exhilarating, and it planted a seed of confidence. I am now getting out my bow that I have had put away for so many years, and practicing again. I am building relationships with these women mentors, and am learning all I can from my friends who are hunters. I am building that confidence that I thought would never exist. I am now planning turkey, squirrel, and archery deer hunts, and could not be more excited (and nervous!).

Anna Sidie-Slettedahl duck hunting with a friend. Photo courtesy of Anna Sidie-Slettedahl.
Kristin Fritz after a successful goose hunt. Photo by Brian Simon.

3) Kristin Fritz, Assistant Refuge and District Manager - Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

Years as a hunter: 19

Main motivation for hunting: Feeling peace and happiness from reconnecting with Mother Nature and being outdoors.

What hunting means to me: Hunting, for me, isn't just a hobby or something to pass the time. Hunting is my outlet to feel connected to the world. When I’m sitting in my stand or blind, I feel alive and inspired by the mix of simple serenity and extensive complexity, of the interactions going on. We live in such an amazing area where we have endless opportunities to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Hunting isn't about “the kill”. Hunting for me is about the experience of engaging all of my senses and being completely immersed in all the experiences the outdoors offer. My passion for hunting is ignited by the feelings, tastes, sights, sounds and smells. Hunting offers new experiences for igniting personal passion, strengthening friendships and creating family traditions and annual hunting outingsā€¦ hunting, for me, is happiness and a way to reconnect.

I owe all of my experiences to the one person that has taught me more than just hunting skills; my father. He has instilled in me how to be a passionate, caring and driven person. My father has given me the opportunity to experience the world in a way one can only dream about. At an early age, my father spent countless hours involving me in hunting and including me in all the opportunities the outdoors has available. He has opened up my world to endless possibilities.

Katie Steiger-Meister after successfully harvesting a pheasant on a mentored hunt. Photo courtesy of Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow.
Katie Steiger-Meister after successfully harvesting a pheasant on a mentored hunt. Photo courtesy of Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow.

4) Katie Steiger-Meister, Public Affairs Specialist - External Affairs

Years as a hunter: 5

Main motivation for hunting: Camaraderie

What hunting means to me: When I think about what hunting means to me, I think about the sight of my German shorthair pointer tracking a scent through a field.  She is a joyful blur of brown fur leaping through tall grasses. The first time I fired a 20 gauge shotgun, I didn't like it. The second and third time I fired it, I still didn't like it. But I enjoy upland birding because I love watching my dog, the one I raised from a wiggly pup, lock onto a bird and go on point. When it comes to pheasants, grouse and woodcock, I don't have to be holding a gun to enjoy the hunt.

I prefer my compound bow to any hook or bullet, but no matter what gear I’m using I am the sort of hunter who doesn't have to kill something to feel like the day was a success. I engage with hunting for the camaraderie. In our house, even before I learned to draw my bow, we approached hunting as a way to put healthy and sustainable food on the table.

The facts are that hunters feed people and help conservation efforts. In the 2012 through 2013 hunting season Hunters Against Hunger donated more than 12,000 pounds of meat in Minnesota alone. That same year the Hunters for the Hungry program supplied more than 8.8 million meals nationwide. Hunting is also an important wildlife management tool; one that pays for wildlife conservation efforts through the sale of licenses, tags and stamps.

Maria Fosado after a successful deer hunt. Photo courtesy of Maria Fosado/USFWS.
Maria Fosado after a successful deer hunt. Photo courtesy of Maria Fosado/USFWS.

5) Maria Fosado, Wildlife Refuge Specialist - Fergus Falls Wetland Management District

Years as a hunter: 18

Main motivation for Hunting: Love of the outdoors

What hunting means to me: For me, hunting began as a family deer hunting tradition. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and my mom would go to "deer camp" and leave the kids behind because we were young. We grew up listening to their hunting stories and seeing pictures of their great memories. Eventually, deer camp included my brother and cousin. Being one of the younger grandchildren was torture for me. For the next two years, I had to stay home while my brother had the chance to partake in all of the excitement and adventure. I begged and begged to go, but the answer was always the same "only deer hunters are allowed at deer camp".

My opportunity finally came and I was hooked! It wasn't because we harvested trophy deer or filled our tags, it was because at the end of each day we were together celebrating a shared passion. To me, is an experience and meaning I cannot put into words. It has brought generations of family together time and again, and has turned strangers into friends. It has taught me great respect and appreciation for the natural resources and for the animals we harvest.

There have been many hunts where I have come back empty-handed, but I would re-live any of them again in a heartbeat. Many years have passed since that first deer hunting season; years that have given me the chance to branch out and chase other critters. No matter whether I’m hunting alone, with my dog Ruger, or with my family and friends, the experience is irreplaceable.

Whether hunting means keeping in touch with the natural world, eating sustainable food, sharing experiences with friends and family, connecting with wildlife or overcoming obstacles and stereotypes, each of these women has something in common: respect for wildlife and prioritizing conservation in their daily lives. Special thanks to the women who shared their experience and passion for hunting. If you would like to share your story about outdoor recreation, whether its about hunting, fishing, photography or wildlife watching, please contact joanna_gilkeson@fws.gov.

By Joanna Gilkeson
Regional Office -- External Affairs

Last updated: December 16, 2014