One of the biggest barriers to entry for female hunters is access to mentors and girlfriends that hunt. By organizing a female-friendly deer camp, like GearJunkie editor Nicole Qualtieri did, you can create your own space for observers, new hunters, and traditional hunters alike to come together and learn.
I organized my first women’s hunting camp last fall, and it was really by accident. In an Instagram post, I simply asked if any other women wanted to do a small deer camp together. My expectations were minimal, but I was curious about how hunting with women might present a different opportunity for growth.
To my surprise, more than 50 women reached out. I realized that there wasn’t much space for women to simply hunt with each other. With a little knowledge and a lot of apprehensions, I set out to create one. We ended up having 18 hunters from five states come together in a camp high in the Crazy Mountains of Montana, and it went off without a hitch.
This is Article 3 in our “Women of Hunt” series made possible by Leatherman. Additional articles in this series can be found here.
On one hand, it’s pretty easy to organize a regular old huntin’ camp. You call some friends, work things out, and head into the woods together. Generally, everyone knows the drill.
But, on the other hand, organizing a space to bring strangers of all backgrounds together for a singular experience is a bit of a different haul. Here are the tools my camp used to put together an inclusive and fun space for any woman curious about the experience.
A Hunting Camp for All Women: How It Works
Open Your Doors
The key component to the success of our camp wasn’t being picky about who came to camp — it was really the exact opposite. I opened the doors to everyone who wanted in: first-time observers, brand-new hunters, and veteran hunters alike. I wanted women to feel welcome in a hunt-specific space where they could ask a ton of questions and be surrounded by peers directing them toward answers.
One of the biggest notes I took back from camp is that beginners can often feel intimidated to ask expert hunters what they might think is a stupid question. And this is often a female-male dynamic for many women getting started — it’s simply an issue of demographics.
With nearly nine men for every woman, most of our hunting partners tend to be fellas. But, on the flip side, there can be a definitive sense of comfort when hanging out with people similar to you. And the wide variety of conversation, questions, and answers reflected that deeply for the women involved.
When you’ve got a sense of who is coming, ask a few other women with different skill sets to jump in and help organize. We have a team of three that does a lot of the leg work before camp, and it works great.
Keep It Casual
A lot of the women-specific spaces that I see market toward educating women, which is awesome. But it’s difficult to find spaces for women to just come and hunt.
At our camp, there are no seminars or guest speakers. There are no brand sponsorships or employees on the clock. It’s a casual, collaborative effort to fill tags and hunt with one another. That’s really our only goal. And it’s an easy goal for anyone to fulfill. By taking away the pressure of obligatory education, people can learn by doing.
A few of our observers have gone on to learn archery, take their hunter education course, and get out in the field themselves. And I credit that to the fun of getting out on a hunt with a supportive community and no other obligations.
Make It Affordable
Two things go into charging a small fee: (1) making sure some communal needs are covered and (2) creating an upfront investment in showing up.
It’s simply easier to decide not to do something when you haven’t put anything into it. We charge $50 per hunter. This covers a commemorative item, some communal stuff, and snacks. Last year, we did T-shirts. This year, we’re doing mugs with our logo. We’ll also cover extra toilet paper, some propane, and the initial welcome dinner for everyone coming to camp the first night.
As there’s no staff to pay, there isn’t a ton of overhead. It is really fun to put together a logo and something to take home for our crew, but that in itself is certainly not a necessity.
We also did our due diligence to figure out affordable non-resident hunting tag opportunities for our crew. With a lot of research and a little bit of direction from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, we were able to find two deer tags that were less than $100 for out-of-staters. This minimized the upfront investment for our fellow hunters, as non-resident tags can be wildly expensive. This year, we’ll have women hunting whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, and pronghorn.
Use Online Tools
As it’s grown, organizing a larger camp collaboratively has become a bit of a process. I first started by creating a Facebook group and event to begin keeping people abreast of new developments. We created a Google Form for every prospective hunter, in which she fills out her name, contact info, emergency contact info, and then answers a series of questions that can help us to help her.
With so many newbies involved, it’s up to more experienced hunters to help the newcomers prepare for camp. If someone doesn’t have a warm sleeping bag, we jump into the community to find one. If someone would like to hunt with a more experienced mentor, we pair them up.
We also organize a wild game potluck, and we’re able to do that using both Google Docs and our Facebook group. One of our organizers creates a seriously beautiful Google Doc that breaks down who’s who, where we’re hunting, our schedule for the 5-day camp, food, and a full packing list. It has proven vital to providing answers for a curious and excited hunting crew.
Before camp, I use onX Hunt to determine possible hunting locations, and I use that list to coordinate where hunters go and when. I suggest that all hunters use it, download the maps, and keep track of waypoint info both before and during the hunt. It’s a bit of a lifesaver when working out spacial logistics for so many hunters at one time.
Create Community at Camp
The majority of the women that came to camp didn’t know each other. Some drove from the Midwest to meet a group of strangers in the woods. It’s a pretty big haul, and it takes some cojones to put yourself in that position.
With 18 women, we worked to be precise about where people hunted. We sent people out in teams to defined locations, and each day, groups changed up and different people hunted together. At the end of each day, we circled up around the woodstove for a breakdown of how things went.
Although camp remained largely unstructured, every woman had the opportunity to talk about her day and what she learned. A lot of women expressed their anxiety in coming to camp, then went on to talk about how transformative it was.
It’s a little kumbaya, I know, but putting each hunter in the spotlight brought all of us together in our effort, especially because we didn’t know each other well. From those conversations, we knew where to support each other and were able to help everyone through the process.
Start Your Own Hunting Camp: Final Thoughts
In less than 2 weeks, our second-annual Deer Camp will be underway in eastern Montana. So far, we have 21 women confirmed. Some are veterans, some are new to the experience, others still are brand new to hunting. Many are strangers to each other.
What started as a quiet effort to simply commune with my fellow women hunters blossomed into an all-encompassing space for all kinds of gals to come and experience hunting among their own.
And I’d be remiss to not mention that there are all factions of demographics which could use this sort of inclusive space to learn more about the practice of hunting. As hunters continue to diversify, I hope that similar opportunities develop for all sorts of folks. For now, I’m doing what I can do with who I am and what I know, and this camp has been a boon in that regard.
On the professional side, there is also a ton of structural support for women and other folks curious about hunting, which is great! Ongoing efforts from companies like Leatherman and nonprofit organizations like Artemis Sportswomen and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers continue to open up doors for hunters across the board.
But you can also dig in and create space on your own time and your own terms. And with a little luck and a little effort, you’ll make some lifelong hunting partners along the way.
This article is sponsored by Leatherman.