More Women Are Hunting Than Ever Before
As a new and uncertain huntress, I wasn’t alone. Women are the fastest growing demographic group in the American hunting world: from 2003 to 2013, there was a 43.5% increase in female hunters. Like many of these women, I am a woman hunter with no history of hunting on either side of my family.
Four Reasons Women Hunt
For men, hunting is a part of their cultural heritage, a traditionally male rite of passage. When women learn to hunt, they are transgressing gender roles rather than claiming their place in a recognized tradition. Here are a few common reasons I have heard from my students:
1. Healthy Food: Colleen is in charge of food decisions for her family. She cares if their food is organic, she cares if it is local, and she cares if it is fresh. A little research quickly showed her that the freshest, healthiest, most local meat she can get is hunted meat. As for many of my students, this idea was compelling enough to inspire her to take up hunting.
2. Food Ethics: Like many womn, Melissa cares deeply about how her meat was treated during its life. Like many of my students, she is a former vegan. When harvesting wild meat, Melissa herself is fully responsible for how cleanly the animal dies, and she can minimize its suffering through skillful shot placement. Taking full responsibility for the process of killing her meat allows Melissa to make peace with this necessity.
3. Empowerment: Women also hunt as an act of personal empowerment. Like many of the women I work with, Leonore is inspired by archetypes such as the Greek huntress deity Artemis, the concept of “Women Who Run With The Wolves,” and the powerful and independent Norse goddess of hunting, Skadi. It is interesting to note that in ancient European cultures, the primary deities of the hunt are invariably female, implying that women hunters are part of an ancient trend as well as a modern one. While many women today are content to let these fierce and competent goddess figures inspire their own lives in a metaphorical way, women like Leonore sense that these ancient stories point us toward hunting as a sort of spiritual mystery school through which they can gain courage, conviction, and insight. The initiation of shooting her first buck has truly served that function in Leonore’s life, often in ways I she never anticipated when she took up a rifle for the first time.
4. Connection: Our modern, indoor, computer-tethered lives leave many people hungering for a sense of connection to the land. Marie is one of the women who showed up at my class telling me that she wanted to use hunting as a way to become a part of the land she lives on. What she learned in my class helps her see the land with new eyes. Deer don’t care about property boundaries, and reading the land as a hunter helps us understand how the acres we live on fit into the larger ecosystem. The best hunters observe and scout their hunting grounds in all seasons, which becomes a meditative practice in awareness and connection. Suddenly we have a place in nature again: the naturalist observes, but the huntress participates.
New Values, New Mentors
All of these reasons arise from educated, feminist, spiritual values – not usually the first values most people associate with the traditional camouflage-clad male hunter in America. Therefore, women are creating new spaces in which to learn their hunting skills, where they can openly discuss their values and find supportive community that takes them and their priorities seriously. Programs have sprung up in many states offering a women-only environment for learning shooting sports, hunting, and fishing.
When I teach hunting skills at these events, I talk to many women who are hungry for more in-depth opportunities to learn these skills with and from other women. Contrary to the popular belief that women learn to hunt from their husbands, these women usually tell me they DON’T want to learn these skills from their significant other. When they try to, the whole weight of our culture’s assumptions about hunting competence and gender come to bear on the situation and it usually ends in frustration and resentment. Some of my other students are queer women whose female partners face the same gendered barriers to hunting as they do. My classes also attract transgender women who want to learn hunting in women’s community that affirms their female perspective on the subject.
As more and more women take up hunting, my hope is that they will stay true to the unique values that draw them to this tradition. When one is struggling to be taken seriously as a female hunter, it is all too easy to change one’s behavior and approach to match the dominant cultural paradigm. My hope is that we can create new traditions that will integrate with the old ones over time, creating cultural shifts that will make hunting synonymous with ethical treatment of animals, ecological balance, and empowerment for all genders. Women’s perspectives have an incredible richness to bring to the hunting world.
Mary Murphy is a deer hunter and the founder of Mountainsong Expeditions in Worcester, Vermont. Her mission is to create places where women can learn to hunt in a supportive environment that resonates with their own values and goals. She offers weekend intensives in deer hunting skills, all-women hunting expeditions, and a nine-month hunting skills apprenticeship called The Way of the Huntress. Learn more at www.mountainsongexpeditions.com