A demographic shift is underway in hunting and fishing as more adult women pick up rods, bows, guns, and licenses. Yet, as one friend puts it, ‘The struggle for sportswomen is real.’
And she’s right. Those of us involved in the hunting and fishing community are often reminded of our minority status by simple yet constant pointed fingers identifying us as women. Which, oddly enough, is something we’re well aware of.
This is mostly confined to the spaces where we’re not actually hunting and fishing. Be it trade shows, conferences, local gatherings for sporting types, podcasts, or other media-related opportunities. Rarely are these conversations mean-spirited or filled with malintent. But they come up so often that the themes are both common and loaded.
And after talking with fellow sportswomen and mining my own experiences, I’ve found there are five obvious conversations consistently undermining us as a demographic. It’s time we put a pin in these and move on to a more substantial conversation that recognizes women as full participants in the outdoors.
Behold the five conversations we should stop having in order to better the conversations we are having.
‘Do You Actually Hunt and Fish?’
This is a personal favorite of mine, especially upon introducing myself as the Hunt + Fish Editor here at GearJunkie. I answered this question dozens of times within a period of 3 weeks traveling through trade shows. I began by laughing it off, but then I felt behooved to substantiate that, yes, I was both a hunter and angler. Each time I heard the question, it burrowed deeper into my psyche. It was both demoralizing and demeaning.
I’ve never met a woman in the industry who is a token. Each one has worked their butt off both in the field and in the office, and a woman with a title in the sporting world reflective of her pursuits shouldn’t require a resume upon each introduction. Yes, I hunt and fish. It’s actually in my job title. For men, the burden of proof doesn’t exist as I’ve seen it. And yet, for women, it seems adversarial.
The other side of this is the number of conversations I’ve endured in which I’ve had to stand up for women I know for a fact are both hunters and anglers. But because they have a following or some traction in the industry, they’re accused of using hunting and fishing as a platform for getting attention.
No one hunts and fishes just for attention. It’s hard and often tedious. And, of course, it’s also fun. There are multitudes of reasons to hunt beyond “getting attention.” If a woman buys a tag and goes out in the world attempting to fill it, she’s met the dang baseline requirement. Simple as stone.
‘Why Do Women Cry When They Hunt?’
In our gendered landscape, it’s probably not a stretch to say that women have been given greater license to cry than men. Unfortunately for our male friends, they’ve endured a culture that stresses crying as a weakness. And thus, many men are made uncomfortable by tears.
We could have an entire conversation about emotional intelligence, and how men and women experience differences in that particular area, but that’s a conversation for another time, place, and profession.
Here’s what I’ll say about this. I cried when I killed my 2018 deer. I didn’t cry when I killed my 2017 deer. So, yes, women sometimes cry while hunting. But we don’t always cry when we kill something. Perhaps we should be discussing why men don’t cry upon taking a life and when they do cry in that same scenario.
This should not be a gendered conversation, and, my goodness, is it unfair. Hunting, as Tom McGuane says, is “goddamned serious.” There’s nothing wrong with treating it as such.
‘Shrink It and Pink It’
“What do you think about pink?” men often ask. And, internally, women say, “Hold on a minute while I die a little inside before I have to answer this question … again.”
I like pink. I also like blue, green, red, and even shades of brown. Really, I like colors! And actually, I enjoy being a woman. I can wear red lipstick and sequins one day, and camo and mud the next.
And speaking of camo, women’s gear has come a long way in the past decade. Pink does not adorn every offering — that ended a while back. Years, actually. We finally have a wide variety of offerings that fit our athletic, curvy, wildly different bods. Colors are not limiting for us anymore. And yet, this convo will not die. It needs to.
And the answer to your question is yes, I would wear all blaze pink in the field, for the same reason I wear all blaze orange: so another hunter doesn’t shoot me in the damn field. And you know what? It’s just more fun to have options. And studies are bearing out that blaze pink is less visible to deer and more visible to humans.
Montana, I hope you’re listening. Because my closet needs a hunting-worthy jumpsuit in blaze pink. I’m not even offended. Bring on the blaze pink wearers in droves. I hope they’re mostly men.
‘We Didn’t Include You and We’re Sorry/Not Sorry’
No man needs to apologize for doing what’s natural in a male-dominated pursuit. And he certainly doesn’t need to say that he doesn’t apologize. That’s just confusing. Listen: It’s okay to not always include women. We don’t always include men. I went to a hunting camp in Montana with 18 other women, and it ruled. We drank a ton of fine wine, ate wild game at every meal, hunted hard, and, in the end, managed to put some meat on the table. And many women got to lead their own hunt for the first time.
Women love making spaces for ourselves. And we have to put a gender label in some way or another on those spaces because it’s how we find each other in a world dominated by dudes. It’s how we understand that this is a space for us. Men do the same dang thing. They’re just not called out for it because it’s normalized to hang out with a bunch of dudes without pointing out the fact that, hey, they’re all dudes.
I’ve also spent plenty of time in amazing co-ed spaces that hold court for all of us. I’ll say this: It does often hurt to be left out and to think it’s because of what you are and not who you are. However, that’s a human condition, not one that’s strictly female.
Include women because you appreciate their perspective. Include women because they’re doing something badass in their space. And spend some time getting to know the women in your extended communities. They’re wonderful. They’re doing great things. And they’re often doing it quietly and simply out of the passion for those things. Don’t apologize or not apologize to us because, honestly, we get it. Is it frustrating? Yeah. It is. But in the timeless words of Tupac, “We ain’t mad at’cha.”
‘Huntress’ vs. ‘Hunter’
According to Merriam-Webster, a huntress is “a woman who hunts.” But this has become a loaded label in hunting circles, with a “huntress” being a woman who glams up to hunt. And, because of this, she’s accused of putting on a sporting facade for the attention of men. This is an invalid and unfair construct, and it’s one that puts sportswomen on trial for owning their experience of femininity in the field.
It’s also a question I’ve been asked repeatedly: “What’s your take on the word ‘huntress’?” I know many of us are split on this one. Will I call myself a huntress? No, I won’t. Will I make judgment calls about a woman who identifies herself within the hunting culture as a huntress? No, I won’t do that either.
“Huntress” doesn’t make sense on a personal level for me. But I’m grateful we live in a time where a woman can be who she is, as she is, wherever she is — however that looks for her. And, yes. Many women do wear makeup in the field, just like they wear makeup to work or other social events. It’s a point of comfort, and often, confidence.
In my opinion, there’s something refreshing about a woman who owns herself and who she is in the sporting world while managing to accomplish it with better hair than any of us could possibly ever have. Do you know how hard it is to have beautifully coifed hair in the humid, dank woods at sunrise? It’s really hard. And I, for one, would like to know her secrets.
Final Thoughts: ‘If You Don’t, Who Will?’
The biggest fight I have within myself on these topics is whether or not to bring them to light. I messaged Chelsea Cassens — my dear friend, fellow hunter and angler, and ambassador for Artemis Sportswomen — back and forth about this. In my opinion, our conversation is worthy of a share.
I asked Cassens, “Do I keep trying to be quiet and inclusive on my own terms? Do I call it out? And do I talk about the frustration? What is best for the community? And what’s best for women, and what doesn’t alienate men from this conversation?”
And she replied, “Some days I’d say you do you. Other days I’d say you have a strong platform, voice, and belief. Use them. If you don’t, who will? And will they say all the wrong things?”
I can’t know whether my position is wrong or right. I can’t speak for all sportswomen. And I absolutely don’t speak for all minorities. Additionally, I don’t want men to feel cornered into including women and other hunting minorities for the sake of it. It ends up making everyone uncomfortable and unsure of how to move forward. But the power still rests in the hands of the majority. It’s certainly a catch-22.
But, if we can move beyond the rote conversations, perhaps we can get into new, exploratory places.
What I do know is this: When I’m fixed on a deer through the scope of my rifle, when I’ve got a fish on and I’m working it to my net, when a pheasant bursts up in front of me in a flash of color, when an elk bugles 100 yards away — my gender is the last thing on my mind. Isn’t that the space we’re all leaning into, anyway?
We’re better off examining that space together. I’m sure of it. And I’m hopeful. I really am.