Female hunter numbers on the rise; state offers education

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

For thousands of women in North Carolina, the hot color this season is camo. Over the past seven years the number of registered female hunters in the state has jumped from 12,777 to 22,726. Fisherwomen, too, are on the rise.
And so naturally it was a full class at the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission’s all-female hunter education course at Bass Pro Shops in Concord last weekend.
Class participants ranged in age from 11 to 56 years old and had numerous reasons for signing up, everything from mothers and daughters wanting to learn together to wives interested in hunting with their husbands. “We have a wide variety,” said Michael Nye, hunter education specialist.
Christie Ray of Belmont was among the hunter education students. “My husband and two sons hunt, and I’ve been going with them as an observer for the past year. I thought I’d join in.”
Nye attributes some of the increase in female hunters to N.C. Wildlife’s efforts to reach out to its untapped resources. But there are also cultural influences at work.
“North Carolina is by no means getting more rural, but we’ve got the Green Movement taking place. People want to know, ‘Where’s my food coming from?’” said Nye. “And that’s a whole other side to hunting that we’re just beginning to explore.”
Female hunting is becoming more mainstream in the media as well. “You’re seeing more women in hunting shows, showing that ladies can do it too,” said Nye.
Stroll through any outdoors retailer and you’ll see that camouflage clothing, firearms and other hunting merchandise for women is now abundant. “The demographic for hunting was once just your typical man,” said Nye. “Those clothes don’t fit us. Those firearms are too long.”
Despite the growing enthusiasm, women still make up only 8 percent of North Carolina’s hunting participants. “I don’t really check a lot of females in the woods, but hopefully that’ll change,” said Wildlife Enforcement Officer Kristine Koch.
To provide the best learning environment possible, N.C. Wildlife offers all-female hunter education courses. “Women learn best from women,” said Nye. “Ladies feel a little safer to ask questions and put themselves out there.”
Cat Honeycutt of Salisbury is a great example of this. “I was going to make my husband take the class with me. When I learned about the all-women’s class I knew I could take the class and feel comfortable,” said Honeycutt.
The hunter education course covers everything from firearm safety to conservation to survival skills. After a nine-hour day, the class culminates with a formal written test. “The class can be daunting and I think that’s been a barrier in the past,” said Nye. “We’re taking that barrier away and equipping our next generation of hunters.”
Nye began hunting at the age of 13 in her home town of Orrum, in southeastern North Carolina. She worked in wildlife in Montana for 12 years doing everything from scientific research — studying the biology of ecosystems and performing population surveys — to teaching, and as of this past December, Nye has returned to her home state in a hunter education role for N.C. Wildlife.
Of course, Nye loves to hunt. “When I lived in Montana I hunted everything that would sit still long enough, or not. That was 90 percent of my diet, and whatever I grew in my garden.”
In addition to the gastronomic perks of hunting, the sport provides intense excitement. “This past season was the first time I shot a deer,” said Koch. “It was an adrenaline rush. Now I’m hooked.”
And, for young hunters or parents looking for a healthy outdoors activity for their families, hunting provides a natural, distraction-free experience. “It’s good quality time with my sons, where I have their full attention,” said Sherie Haymore of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “When you see something together there’s that thrill that you share. You just have to be present.”
Haymore’s career with the Wild Turkey Federation began when she and her disabled 14-year-old son were invited to a turkey hunt through the organization’s Wheelin’ Sportsmen program. “We went on one hunt and I was sold.”
For women interested in the full outdoor experience, N.C. Wildlife offers a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program. “Participants have a grand time,” said Nye. “We have repeat customers every year.” Program activities include archery, outdoor cooking, target shooting, hunter safety and fishing. See www.ncwildlife.org for more information.
For a rapidly increasing number of women, camo is more than a fashion statement. It’s the color of passion and a fulfilling outdoor experience.
“The women love it. They love the camaraderie. They learn, make friends,” said Nye. “They just can’t wait to get out there.”