Hunt Like a Woman

Thus begins my first post, although very likely not the last, on the sometimes touchy topic of women and hunting.  I must admit that this is a topic that has always intrigued me and, as a man with no female hunters in my social circle, that I have no point of reference on at all.
I suppose I’ll just start off with the following disclaimer: I have a history of in no way being capable of understanding what motivates women.  I assure you that it is more a function of my personal inabilities than some innate character flaw afflicting all of womankind.  If everything I write here turns out to be flawed drivel, this statement is my proactive means of defense.
By extension, I in no way understand the challenges facing women that want to participate in hunting, primarily because the barriers to entry into the sport for a man are low.  What follows is simply myself, in a good-humoured fashion, attempting to shed some light on what I’ve observed in the male/female hunting dynamic.  Sadly my only exposure so far to this is in my parent’s marriage (where Dad hunted basically anytime he chose to), my own marriage (more of a mixed bag approach for geographical and financial reasons), the relationships of my friends who hunt (all male) and what I can glean through web-based research on the subject (since I have not yet mustered the courage to approach random women and politely ask them if they have ever been duck hunting).
What I can observe is the following.
When I go to the hunting section of Bass Pro Shops, the boots, jackets, waders, firearms, and various other items are designed to fit me, and frankly they take up most of the hunting section.  Certainly for the hunting man, there is an embarrassment of riches to be had in terms of selection and sizing.  My wife once brought to my attention that there seems to be a limited amount of women’s hunting apparel, although there appear to be no shortages of casual wear, t-shirts, and the like for women.  Despite this difference in marketed apparel and equipment there strangely is not often a gulf in the number of men versus the number of women I observe in the store.
Hmmmmm.  Are the women there in some sort of ‘support’ role for the men?  Are they just good-natured and tolerant of us fellas while we drool over our camouflage and blaze-orange bounty?  Do they really care about the differences between a short-reed style goose call and a flute-style goose call?  Are they there with a list to buy for a father, brother, uncle, or significant other?  These are all the stereotypical reasons I could think of.  The one scenario that runs counter to the stereotype is that the women are there to buy some gear, maybe try out some new equipment, and then get out in the field.  Since I (as I mentioned above) personally do not know a single woman who hunts I can only assume that they would do the same things I would do at Bass Pro Shops if similarly motivated.
When I go into the field to hunt it is always with men.  When I meet other hunters in diners or at gas stations, they are invariably men.  I can say with certainty, that at this moment in my life I have never been hunting with a woman who was actually participating, and I do not know personally any women that actively hunt (let alone maintain a license to hunt).  I have seen women hunting on television (more on that below), one of my father’s friends is married to woman who once hunted but does not anymore, and I have had my wife tag-along on a couple of trips with me, although she was merely a by-stander (also more below).  So it begs the question, why?  Are women apprehensive or in some way fearful of hunting?  I don’t think so.  Are they too sensitive to be able to take an animal’s life so that the animal can later be eaten?  Again, I think the answer is an emphatic no.
Could it simply be a matter of non-involvement?  Maybe women in hunting has become a growing demographic?
Take for example my younger sister.  While my brother and I were following our dad and uncles into the forest and fields since before were 10 years old, my sister never seemed that keen to come along, in fact I can count on my left hand all the times she has ever come hunting with us (and still not even need all the digits).  There was some peer pressure from her friends I’m sure, and it might not have seemed cool to hang out with your brothers and dad at one time.  There was even a brief period where I think she was ‘off’ meat (but that was a short-lived phase).  Likewise I remember Christmases and birthdays where almost all the gifts my brother and I received were focused on hunting (boots, jackets, compasses, books, magazines, etc).  My sister, not so much, but I think that was less of a focused attempt at gender roles on my parent’s behalf; more accurately it was really just tailoring gifts to what we kids showed the most interest in; between my brother and I the common thread was hunting.
But things have changed and now, and with us all into our twenties and beyond.  My sister sees how much fun we have when we hunt, she hears (sometimes ad nauseam) of the shared experiences gained from the field (even when we get skunked) and, lastly she sees how much we enjoy just being out in the wilderness.  And now that she has seen all the positives objectively, and not refracted through the lens of sibling rivalry and the schism of brothers vs. sisters, there is talk of her getting licensed and coming out to join in on some waterfowl hunts.  She’s welcome to join me anytime she wants.
Also a sign, or maybe a symptom, of the dearth of women in hunting comes in the form of mass media.  As far as I can observe, television shows about hunting only occasionally feature women afield; there are of course mainstays such as Vicki Cianciarulo, Brenda Valentine, Tiffany Lakosky, and other influential and successful women hunting on television, but still my ad hoc research has men outnumbering women in hunting shows by more than 2 to 1.  Then again, this segment of the demographic looks to be growing and will likely continue to grow…I’m just not sure.
What is most heartening, though is the progress in the environment where I have seen the most honest dialogue about the topic; on the Internet.  Blogs and sites devoted to women in the outdoors are all over the web; some of the more diverse and interesting I’ve found to date are the Women’s Hunting Journal, The WhiteTailed Doe, and Gordon Setter Crossing although my research has been far from exhaustive and I’m certain I’ll come across others as I continue to research the subject.
So where can men who, like me, do not know any female hunters have the greatest impact on developing an inclusive, (since for all the self-styled macho history of hunting, I think it is likely in the best long-term interests of the tradition to be inclusive of women, or anyone else for that matter) welcoming environment?
Primarily, and this is from my own experience, it is in being a good mentor and ambassador for hunting.  My forays at including my own lovely wife (and a very limited numbers of girlfriends before her) into hunting were fruitless, primarily because I was a bit of a jerk.  When I took my wife on a Thanksgiving weekend goose hunt in 2004, I was constantly reminding her to keep her face hidden and to sit still.  That compounded the fact that she did not really like being awake that early in the morning.  When we went snowshoe rabbit hunting for the first time, I spent as much time telling her to be quiet and to stay behind me (both points important for success and safety respectively) that the afternoon turned into a bit of a power struggle and in the end an argument, never mind that she almost openly wept when I did end up shooting a rabbit. 
The moral of these brief, self-deprecating anecdotes is that maybe my wife with her aversion to early mornings, sitting still, being quiet, and the all-important ‘killing’ part of hunting would not be a suitable long-term candidate for the sport; which is fine.  Hunting is not necessarily for everyone.  But perhaps if I had been less didactic, overbearing, and focused on my own success, and just a bit more accommodating and interested in her having a good, safe time (because one can never be too safe) than maybe I would have had a recruit, or at least an even more supportive partner in this integral part of my life.
Instead, my wife is still supportive of the important place that hunting has in my life, but she likewise has really no interest in even trying deer, turkey, or any other kind of hunting with me.  Despite the polite jokes I sometimes make about that, it is a bit of a loss for me.  After all, should she not get the same enjoyment out of hunting that I do?
And I think that is all my wife or any woman really wants when it comes to hunting, and that is not to be treated like a man, and not to receive any special treatment or lectures because she is a woman.
Maybe, and this time I’m pretty sure, they just want to be treated equally and with the same respect you give your buddies.
But I could be wrong, because again…I have a history of missing the point with these sorts of things.

Hope in a Hopeless Month

In the dregs of an Ontario February (a time that for those who have not had the privilege to experience it is arguably the bleakest, wintry, and most depressing period of the year) hunting can become a distant and dream-like memory.  Sure, in some parts of the province there are year-round opportunities for coyote hunting, and in other areas there are still pocketed opportunities for rabbit hunting, but generally hunting for everything else is closed.  The return of the big game hunting for deer, bears, and moose that sustained us through the fall and into December won’t be returning for the greater part of a year while the halcyon days of spring turkey hunting, while imminent, for now seem to be permanently buried under the grim pallor of ice and snow.  Here and there you may get a week of goose hunting in early March, but for many we won’t hear the braying, cackling, and murmuring of Canada Geese settling into decoys until September.  Ducks?  Around the same time, give or take a couple of weeks.  The only similar lull to these mid-winter blahs is the lazy, hazy days of mid-summer; even then the opportunity to get out and wander the woods and fields is an attractive diversion.  I know very few people who are motivated to go out hiking in the wilderness when the snowdrifts are a meter deep and it is 14 degrees below zero.  Snowmobiling?   Maybe, but certainly not hiking.  And I’m in southern Ontario, in a region deeper south than most of the rest of Canada.  In the northern parts of this country it is likely that they’ve been under this hunt-stifling deep-freeze, or an even more severe one, for far longer.
 
Even the prospect of Valentine’s Day (with the promise of candy and sundry other things) can’t seem to get me out this funk.  Yep, February is pretty depressing.
 
So what can one do?  Well, I started this blog so I could have an outlet for my pent up hunting needs.  I also endorse sitting around with friends reminiscing about past hunts, watching hunting shows on television and the Internet, and preparing to go hunting when the seasons re-open by cleaning and polishing (and then re-cleaning and re-polishing) your weapons, unpacking, organizing, and then re-packing your equipment, and practicing your calling constantly and at a volume so excessive that it lowers your property values.
 
For those of you with non-hunting spouses, these well-intentioned outlets of therapy may seem to your husband or wife as pointless puttering or in the case of practicing with your game calls, a sign of mental illness.  But really it is just a coping mechanism employed to help us survive the long winter of non-hunting inactivity.
 
But wait, in this self-pity there is an opportunity for perspective.  Think of the game animals that you respect and cherish so much; they are outside right now really surviving.  And not surviving so that you can hunt them when the next season opens, not surviving because they have nothing better to do, but surviving because they have to, surviving for the very definition of survival.
 
Because, after all survival is what they do best.  That is why they are a challenge to hunt.
 
Every turkey that you hunt in the spring survived the depths of winter.  All the moose and deer that are being hunted in the fall are being hunted by virtue of their (or their mother’s) survival through the previous winter.  Every animal that we in the hunting community pursue had to survive countless natural and man-made threats to their very existence, and it is through their survival and adaptation that they gain the skills necessary to thwart and beguile predators (human or otherwise) everywhere.  That challenge is an integral part of the appeal of hunting, at least for this particular hunter.  My father told me once at deer camp that it was a good exercise to take a step back from the thrill of hunting, especially in the euphoric moments after harvesting game and think quietly about the life that the animal had lived, how it had survived, and the harsh reality of that animal’s existence in the wilderness as a participant in the struggle between prey and predator.  I think introspection is more than just a good exercise, but an absolutely necessary part of the act of hunting.  Too often the game being pursued becomes a footnote in the hunt, and not the main character; regularly confronting the more unpleasant bits of survival and death are what make hunting what it is.
 
So I guess before I go feeling sorry for myself about not being able to get out and hunt much of anything right now, I should probably just be thankful that I’m not sleeping outside in a cedar swamp, or trying to avoid being eaten by coyotes, or starving.  I should also be grateful that by the virtue of their superb adaptations and incomprehensibly powerful will to live that wild game continues to thrive and provide opportunities for myself and others to pursue the hunting tradition.
 
And thinking all that I realize that wild turkey season is less than three months away here in Ontario.  Which is just about long enough, with nightly practicing of course, to get my pot call and strikers all tuned to perfection.

The Mission Statement

Welcome to Get Out & Go Hunting, a blog for the men, women, and young people who enjoy hunting North America’s big game, small game, waterfowl, and upland game birds.
I’m a talker and I’m a writer: for better or for worse I’m chatty, and sometimes I am provocative and opinionated.  Due to, or maybe as a consequence of this trait I have spoken to many other hunters (in the field and online forums) of their desire to have an agenda-free, non-commercial outlet for hunting stories, general hunting information, and entertaining discussions focusing on the outdoors.  This blog will be my modest attempt to provide some service in that respect.
A number of hunters I’ve spoken to are of the opinion (and I agree with them) that some of the hunting-centred print magazines, television shows, and blogs currently out there have been swayed by product marketers, interest-groups, and political agendas.  This may not in and of itself be a negative; after all everyone has to make a living.  When this does become problematic is when the end result is a decreased focus on the good stories that are out there that actually talk about hunting or when the focus shifts to an detrimental public representation of hunting and those who participate in it.  For the sake of moving this along, I won’t go into what forms of media (in my opinion) do and do not add value to the hunting landscape currently; I’ll leave that for future posts.  What I will go into is a bit about what I hope “Get Out & Go Hunting” will be at first, and what it will hopefully evolve into.
  1. First and foremost, my goal will be that Get Out & Go Hunting will not sacrifice the integrity of the hunting tradition and the positive public representation of the hunting community for personal, financial, or commercial reasons.  Pretty heady stuff, eh?
  2. I’d like for this blog to be about hunting and the outdoors.  That is to say I do not intend to preach about my views on gun control, wildlife management, or the current social/political/religious climate.  Why not, you ask?  Primarily because I do not consider myself expert enough to pontificate about such things.  I may float some ideas that I feel strongly about for discussion, but ultimately I’d like to focus on the experience in the outdoors.
  3. While this blog will be about hunting and the outdoors, I do not intend to frame myself as an expert on either topic.  I will not tell you how to hunt, where to go to hunt, what outfitter(s) to use, or what equipment to buy.  I might tell you how and where I hunt, what I use, why I use it, and how I think it works, but that in no way means that you ought to listen to me.  I’d rather just like to make this a nice, friendly place to hear some stories or news about hunting.
For over twenty years I’ve been chasing ducks, geese, rabbits, grouse, deer, and wild turkeys.  I am passionate about the conservation of wildlife and wild spaces, but I likewise do not believe that conservation and environmentalism stand in opposition to long-standing hunting traditions.
But most importantly I have a belief in the future of hunting and the next generation of hunters.  The ultimate goal is that this will be a forum to inspire, educate, entertain, and engage both current and future outdoor enthusiasts.
That’s the mission; I hope you’ll join me here often.
Good hunting,
Shawn

Hunting. Not Hype.