Sight Lines: Women, the outdoors, and gender bias
Editor's Note: When author Cindy Stites and I discussed a piece about women’s experiences in the hunting and fishing world, I was sure it would be interesting. What I didn’t expect was the often troubling portrait her frank essay paints. We talked long and hard about how to honestly present her findings and experience. Finally, we agreed the simplest solution was best: A personal, transparent account of her exploration of this often divisive, and perennially important, issue.
This is the first in the Sight Lines series exploring outdoor culture from multiple perspectives. Thanks for reading. – Ben Shadley
There is a quote by Brene Brown that says, “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I contributed more than I criticized”. I have put a lot of thought into this over the last few weeks.
Criticizing is easy, but in the end, it doesn’t truly fix anything. Tackling a subject that is as personal as this one is to me, has been tough. I really set out with the intention to be direct and call it like I see it, but at the same time, I didn’t want to pigeonhole an entire group of humans, as common jerks. I want to contribute to making a situation better, not just criticize how bad it already is.
As a woman who is a hunter, I think there are a lot of experiences or encounters in the field that I have had that I could share with other women hunters, and many of them would say, “Yep, that’s happened to me, too.” That’s not to say that maybe a similar experience doesn’t happen to men, but for right now, I want to talk about our experiences, as women, in the outdoors.
As I have talked to many women around the country, both hunters and anglers, I hear the same stories and the same struggles. I am going to share those stories as a way to bring light to something that is often just not talked about, but is definitely in need of a discussion.
Gender bias is nothing new. It isn’t specific to one activity, or career, or industry. It is commonplace across the board and unfortunately, though I don’t believe it’s going to go away any time soon, we can certainly strive to do better. I think it is prevalent in the outdoor space, but I also know that there are many men in the hunting and angling communities who go above and beyond to make the environment open and safe for everyone. There are many men who run programs specifically to mentor women in hunting and angling, and those men should be applauded.
This isn’t about the guys that are getting it right. If you are a guy, and you’re reading this to have your ego stroked, you will be disappointed. This is about those who still haven’t come to terms with the women who are not only actively participating, but literally kicking ass, in what are thought of as traditionally men’s outdoor activities.
In my experience, most of the instances that have left me shaking my head come from two sources, or groups. One is what some call the “bro culture.” A select group of guys, somewhere between late 20’s and mid 40’s, who live life like it’s one big frat party and consistently prove by their off-color commentary, that they have yet to gain any real social awareness.
The other group is the “old guard,” or what I have heard referred to as the “stale, pale & male,” which I’m told, is the over 60 crowd. They don’t see a problem with anything and they also don’t want to see anything change. They attend meetings where everyone looks exactly like them and they are pretty damn happy to keep it that way.
That’s going to sting for some people. Reading that will either piss you off because it’s true and you feel those words to your core, or it’s going to cause you to pause and consider where you stand. I realize it’s not every man in those age groups, or those circles, but you can’t deny that they are out there, and they are making the rest of you look bad. And for the record, I didn’t come up with the terms, “bro culture” or “stale, pale & male,” I’ve simply heard them explained a lot over the last few years.
So, if you are a guy who has done any of the things mentioned in the stories I am about to share, or you fall into the groups I mentioned above, then I hope you are left feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed, after you read this. Assuming you make it to the end. If you DO make it to the end, I hope you feel the desire to do better, because I know you have it in you
Ladies, What Say You?
I asked the people who follow my social media pages if they had any experiences they would like to share, as hunters, that they felt reflected gender bias in the outdoor community, or that they thought men didn’t have to deal with in the hunting space. I expected a few people to respond, maybe with stories about trouble finding hunting clothes for women or the condescending guy behind the gun counter that always shows us the pink camo pistol. What I didn’t expect were long emails, private messages, and phone calls from complete strangers, including a few men.
As I mentioned, the examples I share don’t represent females exclusively, but I feel extremely confident that they happen to women at an exponentially higher rate than they happen to men. In any case, they certainly reflect the experiences of these women and deserve to be valued and heard.
These stories need to be shared, you need to read them, process them, and reflect on what it means that this stuff is still happening. There is now scientific evidence that women have been hunting for over 9,000 years. I’m left wondering, when did it become a gender specific activity? How were women suddenly no longer skilled enough, or savvy enough to go procure the same food they have been procuring for thousands of years? If you know the answer, I’m all ears. However, I expect the answer has more to do with modern social values than anything biological.
But for now, there are several women who have something to say, and I applaud their courage to embrace the vulnerability in speaking up, because believe me when I say, this is not easy. I wish I could have included every story from every woman, but this would have quickly turned into a short novel, rather than the extremely long essay that it already is.
In Her Words
“For all the pseudo-progressivism, women and especially women of color are not welcomed in the hunt/fish community here. I have been humiliated by guides who will berate me for not taking a shot I felt was unethical and not within my capabilities. I have had store employees tell me they knew better than me, what I should buy. They have sold me the wrong ammo (in CA some stores will not even allow you to touch/visually confirm ammo purchase and there are no returns) and then blamed it on me. I have been shot by other hunters on public lands in free roam, who thought it was ok to shoot at birds committed to my decoys, right in front of me. I have overheard men make comments about “gooks killing everything” when lining up at the public launch ramp. An elderly man once backcast on a party boat, hooked me in the neck and then proclaimed, “this one’s a keeper!” And never even paused to check if I was unharmed (I wasn’t and I was pissed). I had a “mentor” assigned to me who wouldn’t let me load my own gun, and said out loud, that women shouldn’t be allowed to hunt. I could go on. I have only been hunting since 2017. I’ve been fishing and spearing since I was a teen and always kept to myself because it was safer that way.” ~ Vy, California
“I’ve been hunting since I was a kid in some circles - like with work colleagues - I’m well respected as a hunter and am always invited on lifetime hunts (like a buddy’s sheep tag, or as part of a group of all guys, and me applying for a competitive depredation hunt). My dog is invited on every bird hunt (it’s a group joke that he’s more popular than me). Shopping, being at the range, or random men is a totally different scenario. I get asked where my husband is (I’m not married), given “tips” before I even start shooting (side note, my father was a federal firearms instructor - I can outshoot most men), or asked who trained my dog (I did). I often get told of other hunting areas if I’m in a spot where a man wants to hunt. Some of the discrepancy is likely related to my work environment, where I’m an engineer who leads multimillion dollar programs and works closely with these awesome colleagues. Outside of that environment, I’m just some young-looking woman who is a bit of an oddity.” ~ Sherry, Colorado
“When I encounter other people in the field, especially duck hunting, I believe the automatic assumption is I’m only here for the Instagram likes. I think as women, we have helped create the narrative that we are not serious hunters. The big hair, the caked-on makeup, and the itching need to take glam shots with game, has created a false narrative for serious female hunters. If you can rock the dolled-up look while hunting, I envy you. With my lack of gracefulness in the marsh, it would just get washed off. Women are already sexualized. It’s human nature. However, using the sexualization aspect of hunting, is what hurts women in the sport as a whole. I’m not saying we have to be manly or can’t wear makeup, or any of that. It’s the boobs out, biting the finger, not knowing how to harvest an animal, or the steps involved, makes the guys not take us seriously. ~Kaleigh, Maryland
“Besides asking people to teach me how to hunt and getting straight up laughed at... the other big challenge is at the store, where I feel completely invisible. I have gone into bow and gun shops where I am ignored and avoided, and the problem is only made worse when I am accompanied by a male counterpart who I brought to assist me. Probably the biggest obstacle for me is just feeling comfortable getting the gear that I need. I’m smart enough to figure this out on my own, but I have avoided purchasing anything, simply because I feel so uncomfortable in the retail space. ~ Maggie, Vermont
“It's extremely frustrating that products are still being marketed as if "unisex" isn't code for "acting like women are needy or crazy when things built off male-only R&D don't work for them." I see virtually zero women's specific packs, let alone packs that really comfortably fit me, and very few ultra rugged boots in my size. The message there to me is small, femme bodies aren't important or welcome, and the entire industry is so concerned with profit they won't take ANY risks for "fringe" products for bodies other than very masculine men.” ~ Liz, Wyoming
“Making friends as a grownup can be difficult. With our jobs, obligations, families, ect...it can be hard to find the time and energy to foster new relationships with other women interested in hunting and fishing. So last spring, when a mutual friend introduced me to Cassie, we were excited to plan our first fly fishing trip together; no kids, no men, just us girls.
We were at the local brewery and planning a day trip to a difficult (but increasingly popular) spot when an acquaintance of mine approached. He is a local fly-fishing guide. He asked us where we were planning to go, and Cassie told him. He gasped and said, "You can't go there."
"Why not?" She asked. "It's closed," he replied, looking nervous.
"What do you mean it's closed? Its public land," I said.
"It's uuuhhhhh washed out. The road is closed. You can't fish there right now."
I was starting to get suspicious of his answers. Cassie looked absolutely crushed to have our first fishing excursion already off to a rough start. A moment later, the guide's buddy came over and started talking about how they were planning to go to the same spot as Cassie and I were, the next day! I narrowed my eyes at the guide.
"Did you just tell us the road was closed because you wanted that spot to yourself tomorrow?" I asked the guide. His look told me everything, shame, resignation, fear.
"Listen here, sir, I work for the BLM. I manage those lands and I was out there just yesterday for work. You do not have exclusive access to that fishery and if I catch you trying to dissuade the public from recreating on their land again, I'll revoke your Special Recreational Use permit!" I was angry. Public access is difficult enough out here, let alone "professional" sportsmen trying to keep us off of it! The men skulked off in shame, my substantial threats ringing in their ears.”
“Cassie and I enjoyed the next day catching beautiful fish on the first dry-fly day of the year! She said she would have believed the guides and gone somewhere else if I hadn't stood up to them. And it's true...I work for the BLM, but I don't work in recreation and I definitely don't have the authority to pull someone's SRP! But they don't know that, and it doesn't excuse their selfish behavior. ~ McKay, Wyoming
“I discovered BHA 7 years ago and was thrilled...at first. BHA! People interested in the same things I'm interested in! Public land! Hunting! Crass humor! Food! Hooray! However, when I started attending meetings I was sorely disappointed. I have a lot to offer and was eager to pick people's brains and share...no one was necessarily outright disparaging...but I immediately felt like I was seen as just another number to pay dues and a nuisance outside that. At first, I thought it was because I'm a woman..but I quickly realized after observing the other women there it was more nuanced than that.
A couple other women who, appearance-wise, could be categorized with me, also were pretty much simultaneously tolerated and ignored. The conventionally pretty ones, however, the fit and healthy ones...were NOT ignored. They were treated like "one of the guys". Women who share that narrow (and fleeting) set of physical characteristics ARE granted at least feigned respect from the men there. I'm not a woman who fits the physical set of requirements for being seen as valid/valuable/worth time. Anyhow, I stuck with BHA for five years or so and then gave up. I was always on the periphery and never felt valued.
They were happy to utilize my volunteer labor and membership dues but didn't really see me as worth much outside that. A shame. I'm a sociologist with a background in organizing/activism AND I hunt. Their loss.”
“Within certain conservation orgs., appearance doesn't matter if you are a man. It matters a LOT if you are a woman. That mentality is only reinforced when I see journalists (female, even, who should KNOW better) write articles about female hunters and spend the majority of the article on a conventionally beautiful woman who hunts... fixating on her appearance and less on anything remotely about hunting. Or, when I watch Rinella's "Stars in the Sky" and see a half-assed reference to one woman in the entire 2-hr documentary? Here's a token gender bone, honey. Now go away and let the menfolk tell our stories.
Thought I would add a couple more things. Because of the weirdness we experience as women who hunt because we are women who hunt it's important that we have our own group for support; a "safe space" if you will (I hate that term). But I cringe every time I see "women who hunt" labelled as such. It implies we're an exception or special snowflakes or unicorns. It does the opposite of normalizing the phenomenon. And I think normalizing it is key to equality. I wish no one batted an eye when they learned a woman hunts. I also wish no one automatically assumed a man was the gatekeeper who introduced us...or we don't hunt unless we are chaperoned by Dad, or a brother, or a husband, or boyfriend. Sure, that's the case often, and there's nothing wrong with it, but again, it contributes to us not being viewed as legitimate of our own right and sanctioned as a competent hunter only through a man.”
“I spoke with one woman from Artemis, in Missoula about this, and she agreed they struggle with that as an organization; at the end of the day, we organize because we ARE women who hunt...they need to advertise that because that is the entire purpose...yet using that terminology is counter-intuitive despite our good intentions. It implies exceptionalism. So, we will always be seen (and treated) as "different". And the problem is that exceptionalism is also useful for some women, unfortunately.
There are definitely some women I observe who seem to capitalize off that "hashtag" who appear to use it as gatekeeping and for attention (like the carefully curated & airbrushed Instagram ones with makeup and perfect hair), but I think most of us (who would pursue groups like Artemis in the first place) don't need or want to be seen as unicorns, aren't trying to get attention and just want to be on an equal footing with the men.”
“My former boss and her husband were RMEF members and she would comment about the unspoken gendered roles enforced by the organization; men did "men things" together and women members did "women things" together. Men were the "deciders"; their wives played the wifey roles; organizing events, food, etc. This was probably in the mid-90s. Not sure if it has changed. ”
“Just once, I want to see a woman who looks like her on the front cover of Field and Stream, not a woman who fits the conventional standards of youth and beauty. But, that wouldn't sell a magazine to their target audience: the people who perpetuate this standard to begin with.” ~ Stella, Montana
“I'm 27 years old living in a very rural part of Southwestern PA called Fayette County. I have been hunting since I was 12 years old with my father. I hunt the normal whitetail, squirrel, turkey, rabbits, and pheasants. My mother used to hunt when she was younger and my older sister only hunted for a few years. I am the only female hunter in my family currently. Hunting consumes the majority of my free time when I am not at work (I work as a Registered Nurse). I live for the outdoors and love every aspect of hunting, start to finish. With that being said let me provide you some feedback, comments, and stories I have gathered over the years. Most of these comments come from men when I am buying hunting gear/guns.”
“When going to the sporting store I always get asked the infamous question by the salesMAN "have you held a shotgun before?" or I have had comments made such as "wow I've never seen a girl know what to do with a pistol", "are you looking for a self-defense gun? (not that it's a bad thing but women use guns for things other than self-defense), and my personal favorite "are you buying this for your boyfriend"? I understand that women may not buy guns and all the accessories as much as men but we shouldn't be greeted by a male assuming we as women have no prior knowledge of guns. This turns me sour instantly and I can guarantee I will not be buying my gun from that salesman.”
“In the media, I feel that women who hunt are misrepresented. When I see posts of women who hunt on social media, it's the typical "hair is done, face paint is on point" kind of women. I'm not bashing on these women but I feel like we are missing a whole other breed of women who hunt. I'd love to see photos of the woman who drug a doe through 6 inches of snow and is sweating her ass off, or the woman who is butchering her own deer, drinking a beer and smoking a cigar, posted on media sites. To me, that is more realistic and relatable. I am someone who could care less what I look like when I go hunting.
I feel that if the media can capture some of the raw female hunters it could open spark interest in women or girls like me. A lot of us use mismatched camo, our dad's toboggans from 1960, and hammy down thermals, especially where I'm from, and I'm sure in other parts of the county.” ~Emmy, Pennsylvania
“A friend and I went to Atterbury Shooting Complex to skeet/trap shoot with a couple new guns we had purchased. I hadn't met the gentleman at the check in before, and he was floored that two (younger) women walked in without male escorts and wanted to shoot. Put us in a trap shooting lane directly in front of the station so he could watch us and would not leave us alone. It was the most awkward experience, and we ended up talking to another guy working and he put us in a different lane so we could shoot skeet instead and also just be in a different area in general. We finally loosened up some and here comes the other guy. Still trying to talk to us and be a little condescending as if we needed help just loading our guns. I remember him saying, "I just can't believe this is happening. We've never had two females walk in here before."
Lo and behold, at the exact same time that conversation was happening, it was Ladies Day at the gun range just 100 yards over.”
“However, that's only one bad experience there. I absolutely love Atterbury and proactively duck hunt and deer hunt every year. My husband and I recently duck hunted and chose to share a space with another couple guys, and they could not have been any sweeter. So outstanding and didn't hesitate to share knowledge and stories. I wish I could duck hunt with them every time!”
“All in all, I've had good experiences more than bad, but I just wish there was a time where I or any other women had to worry about bad experiences. Why is that still a stigma? It's a sport, and women have been involved since the early ages. So beyond frustrating but I hope for our sake it gets better.” ~ Caity, Indian
“So much to say regarding women in the Hunting world. I have been hunting now for about 10 years. I started out wearing kids hunting clothes because they didn't have much for women that actually fit and were made for actual hunting and not just looking "cute" while walking in the field. I had a pair of regular hiking boots because again there wasn't much out there for the ladies. I could NOT find a pack to fit me for the life of me because you guessed it.... I was a Woman in a Man's world. I used an old under armor backpack just to be able to carry the essentials. Products have come a long way and are improving every year and for that I am grateful, but I think we still have a good way to go. Looking at the hunting section availability for Men compared to the women’s section and I still feel like we are not taken seriously as hunters. We need the functional clothing, shoes, packs etc. just as much as they do. Don't even get me started on trying to shop for a rifle and having some dude behind the counter hand me a pink one just because I am a woman, doesn't mean I want a pink rifle! I am not hunting flamingos!” ~ Jenn, Montana
“Here are a few points/experiences –
1. Women's upland pants. THEY DO NOT EXIST. Especially not for a cold weather (North Dakota) climate, and like many other gear/clothing there is not a range of quality/prices. I believe in and am avid enough that I now invest in First Lite gear but that's not a reasonable or inclusive space for everyone.
2. I'm 5' 2" - I have been very excited about the increase in women's gear but I find myself thoroughly disappointed time and time again when a company took the initiative to create a women's product and then it doesn't come in a variety of sizes or lengths, and still does not have a feminine fit. Petite options would be incredible, but even just a quality selection of sizes.
3. Not being respected or even acknowledged when I walk into a store, send an email to a retailer, or run into people afield is very much the norm. My husband must hear about this all the time, and I realize he just cannot notice those instances or understand how it feels. Retailers don't make eye contact or talk to ME. A non-industry example that is just fresh in my mind from last week was we had a house appraisal and I let the appraisers in and after a few minutes of looking around our house the appraiser said: "Does your husband hunt?" - there are just so many assumptions packed into that question I can't even begin to address it (marriage, gender, orientation, etc. etc.) I just said "yep."
4. Overall - I've heard it before, but we need to get to a place of normalization. All shapes, sizes, price ranges, hair and makeup application abilities and desires, etc. Clothing and gear need to be made for and marketed to average women already actively participating or interested in participating and therefore should probably seek those women's inputs. And when I go to purchase, ask questions about, or utilize that gear I don't need to be seen as "knowledgeable for a woman" or somehow seen as cooler than my husband because I am a woman that hunts, I just want to be seen and valued as a hunter.” ~ Cayla, North Dakota
I talked to a handful of people on the phone, and frantically took notes as we waded through the issues they have faced, as a woman hunter or angler.
One woman, who is a professional angler from the pacific northwest, who wants to remain anonymous, due to fear of losing her sponsors, told me that she wanted a custom boat built and she couldn’t find a company that would take her seriously. She said that once she found a company that would take it on, they proceeded to call and ask for her husband, every time they had questions during the build. This angler also told me that male anglers consistently try to push her from her spot on the water, and she has had to go as far as calling the police on men who were harassing her. She now has a concealed carry permit and carries a handgun, for her safety.
She said that in her opinion, there is a lot of hate on social media for women who have found success in the fishing community.
But she also was very clear that she doesn’t have time for the women who are scantily dressed and portray themselves as serious anglers on social media. I mentioned the notion that there is a belief by many, that just because we are women, we should support ALL women in the outdoor communities, regardless of their content or behavior. She disagreed, and told me that she refuses to lift someone up who is keeping her down, or making women in fishing look dumbed down, for any reason.
She said her other struggle is being a tall woman and finding any gear to fit her body, which echoed the sentiments I heard from women on the hunting side.
And can we just go back for a second to this woman being “afraid of losing sponsors” for speaking out publicly about the struggles she has faced as a woman angler? That in itself should sound an alarm on many levels.
Another woman who works for a national non-profit, and wished to remain anonymous, said that women’s gear simply does not meet the same quality as men’s gear, even when made by the same manufacturer. She added, there is also no good middle-of-the-road priced gear for women. It’s either expensive, or it’s crap.
She also made some really good points that I hadn’t thought about. One example, she said that she thinks that in some cases, when men act surprised or off put, when they see a woman out hunting alone, or shopping for a rifle on her own, they are reacting to something that is “different” vs “just being an asshole”. I believe that there is definitely something to that, for sure.
That being said, she pointed out that she is a pretty accomplished trap shooter and even when she shoots a perfect score at the range, men will STILL walk over and tell her what she needs to do differently.
My best friend Sarah also gave me some feedback. She said that typically, when they go to the gun counter, the salesman behind the counter will only talk to her husband. However, just this week, Sarah went shopping for a handgun with her husband, and while the primary salesman that helped her was fantastic, the secondary salesman, who was also the owner of the store, was not.
He asked if she was shopping for a handgun, and when she confirmed, he immediately grabbed the pink camo pistol and laid it on the counter in front of her. He followed by saying that he figured that this might be exactly what she wanted. I cannot put into print what she said back to him, but I will say, he promptly put the gun back in the case and walked away without saying a word.
Sarah is also extremely frustrated with the fact that hunting clothes are non-existent for bigger girls. She added, sizing is not true for most companies. The coat can fit perfect, but the pants are three sizes too small, even when they were ordered according to the size chart.
Lastly, a girlfriend of mine who is very active in conservation groups in Montana, recently voiced her thoughts through a post and comments on social media. Mind you, she has travelled to Washington DC to visit with representatives and senators, regarding conservation in the past, so believe me when I say, she is informed. Here is the text from two screen grabs of the private messages, poor grammar, spelling and all, that she received after commenting on a recent legislative bill that was being considered in her state.
“Women like you are why I’m single. Put your (expletive) opinion where it doesn’t belong and you don’t know (expletive). Mouthy (expletive) women like you make me real pissed off. Your what’s wrong with the equity arguemrnt. Totally lesser. No chance your dumb opinion should have as much weight as a mans tgar knows what he’s talking about. Just cuz your a women were gonna listen. No. Your post today makes that point. Go make a sanwich and shut the (expletive) up.” ~Male author who she kept anonymous
“I read what you wrote about the bills and the responses. My problem is I feel like you’re just a mouthpiece. You don’t actually know that information. It’s fed to you by guys who know what’s going ok. You’re just taking the credit. Not only that, but the men feeding you the information are just using you and you are too (expletive) dumb to see it. So not only are you a dumb little girl, you are being used and pretending not to be. Know your worth, it's minimal.” ~Second male author who she kept anonymous.
Sadly, she receives this vitriol on a regular basis, because she is an attractive woman, who is popular, strong willed, and unapologetically speaks up on the issues surrounding conservation. Hunters and anglers disagree on a myriad of topics, this is true. However, men are not verbally destroying other men’s viewpoints, or personally attacking each other JUST for being men. So why is this behavior toward women BY men accepted?
Guys, You’re Up
I wanted to be fair when I sat down to write this, so after the women had a chance to respond, I asked for men in the hunting and angling space to reach out with their own experiences or perspectives. I didn’t get nearly the amount of responses, which I expected, but I want to give a run down of what I did hear.
I posed some questions to warm them up, so to speak, hoping they would elaborate, but most, if not all, just answered the question exactly as they were asked. Due to that, I can’t present them all the same way I did the women’s experiences. The few that I can present in a similar way, reached out to me when I put the original inquiry out on social media to women, so they didn’t have any questions to go off of, focused specifically on men. After these two responses, I will give you the overview from the thirteen other men who responded to the second inquiry, directed at just men.
In His Words
“I know you are asking for women to share experiences, but I had one the other day that was quite insulting to my girlfriend. We had just got back from duck hunting and a guy in the parking lot started chatting with us. He only talked to me, even though my girlfriend was right next to me. He was friendly enough, but he was talking around her the entire time, like, ‘how did your girlfriend enjoy the hunt’?”
“Half his statements were about making the hunt more “comfortable” for the ladies….by suggesting not dragging her three miles in, which we’d already done several times. …..Honestly, I think it is going to take all kinds to get the narrative to shift. You’ll need some firebrands that don’t care if they get hate mail and tick people off, you’ll need some more logical and moderated content, and you’ll need people just putting boots on the ground and changing perception from the bottom up”. ~ Matthew, Oregon
“As a cisgender heterosexual man, I don't think I have anything compelling or necessary to contribute to your survey, other than to say I don't know what others have shared with you, but I believe them. I recognize that men (particularly but not exclusively cishet white dudes like myself) are responsible for most if not all the incidents you're probably hearing about. I'm committed to doing what I can to help female, BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other new or under-represented hunters find success, and I want to help hold hunters and the hunting community accountable.” ~ Zachary, Colorado
“I can think of distinct times when I have gone into a local archery shop and have seen two things from some of the male staff. One thing I saw constantly was them sexualizing archery and the women shooting. Now, my partner is an absolutely beautiful woman, so anything she does, she looks beautiful. But the comments from the men there about how "sexy" it was that she was shooting a bow were not why she wanted to shoot a bow. She was training to hunt. The second thing I would see at times is men addressing me when she was the one asking questions or wanting information. They didn't do this deliberately, but this is sometimes the point. They also didn't deliberately not do it; they weren't conscious of ensuring they addressed her as a legitimate bowhunter and customer.”
“There is not a doubt in my mind that hunting is not full of sexism. It's indisputable. To the men out there who claim it doesn't exist or that those of us who talk about it are looking to divide hunters, you are either wilfully and cowardly putting your heads in the sand, or you are deliberately doing your best to uphold a status quo that you know benefits and privileges you. To the men who simply haven't noticed, I ask you to pay more attention, to observe and listen. To all of you, I ask you to be better men. We all need to be better. Remember, ignoring something doesn't make you strong.” ~Paul, Canada
As far as those who simply responded to my questions, here are their compiled responses:
When asked what their first thoughts were when they see a woman hunting or fishing solo? All of them said they applauded it, or thought the women were badasses. Although one guy half jokingly said his first thought would be either, “is she single or did she just hide a body”.
When asked if they have ever asked a woman to leave a hunting or fishing spot, they were all appalled at the premise of the question. But the reason I asked it was because as you read above, it happens, and more than you would think.
When asked if these men have ever witnessed a salesman being condescending or over selling to a woman, most had said they hadn’t witnessed it personally, but have heard accounts from others of it happening.
I posed the question; Do you feel like hunting and fishing are activities that belong to men, and are the last “sanctuary” that men have to hold onto? I want to explain why I put this one out there. The idea came from a man, who is a friend of mine, who said he believes that many men feel like they have had to give up a lot of activities or clubs that were exclusively for men, because of people filing lawsuits to get women allowed.
He gave the examples of a woman now playing in the NFL, and girls now being allowed in Boy Scouts. He said he didn’t personally feel that way about women in hunting, but he DID feel that way just in general.
The men who answered the question I posed, without the examples I just mentioned, collectively disagreed. They all stated in various ways, that they didn’t understand the premise, and they felt that activities in the outdoors should have nothing to do with gender/sex/race.
I asked if anyone thought there was a general lack of respect for women hunters, due to social media. The responses were all over the board on this one. There is a feeling that there is a perception issue caused by the Instagram accounts held by women who pose in short shorts shooting a bow, or pose topless in a boat while holding fish over their breasts.
I wondered if men thought women should lead conservation organizations or freely speak out about conservation issues without ridicule? Everyone answered that it shouldn’t matter if they are a woman, that conservation concerns all of us. If a woman is the best person to lead, then she should.
Other guys who responded feel that a lot of the blame should be placed on the industry itself, by promoting similar sexualized images to sell their products. Some guys even landed on the thought that we are our own worst enemies and if we feed into the attention seekers, rather than the serious women hunters and anglers, then the lack of respect is an internal problem.
Lastly, I asked if any of the men had ever heard a friend or hunting buddy treat or speak of women hunters and anglers in a disrespectful manner. Every last person who answered said that they don’t surround themselves with those sorts of people and it would not be tolerated in their circles.
A special ‘thank you’ to Tom, Geoffrey, Paul, Seth, Linden, Aaron, Leo, Josh, Jared, DJ, Coleman, Travis, Zac, Joshua and Phil for responding, I appreciate it so much.
Finally, From My Perspective
You’ve read the words of the women who want to see change. Change in the gear industry, change in attitudes from fellow hunters, and change in some conservation circles who may value appearances, over real dialogue and sweat equity.
These are a few of my experiences, and as you probably guessed, they fall right in line with the stories you have already read.
This past November I was drawn for a State Park Reduction hunt here in Indiana. While scouting for a spot to hunt, I encountered two men who first asked me, in a surprised tone, if I was alone. They then asked me if I was going to hunt the spot the three of us were standing in. I told them I hadn’t decided yet.
After one of them gave me inaccurate, although very comical information regarding deer sign and how the rut works, they politely encouraged me to hunt a different location. They said that since I was hunting alone, there was a spot that would be “easier” for me, and that there would probably be “more deer in that area”, too.
So many things came to mind, as a response, such as asking the two of them why they weren’t hunting the other spot, if there were more deer over there? But I am tired of proving myself, especially to folks who clearly know less than I do about something. I told them good luck on the upcoming hunt, and moved on.
While hunting public land in Wyoming last October, I noticed that there was another hunter walking parallel with me in the same direction. I decided to walk straight to him and ask where he was headed, so I could go the other way. When I approached, I said, “how’s it going?”
He gave me the strangest look and said ,“fine”. I asked him a few questions and explained that I didn’t want to mess up his hunt. He looked at me and said, “are you out here all by yourself?” I told him I was, but my boyfriend was a few miles away, as the crow flies. He looked dumbfounded. We went our separate ways, but that guy proceeded to walk into the area I was hunting five different times after he knew where I was glassing from.
When going to buy my shotgun a few years ago, I had to go to three different stores before I could get the salesman behind the gun counter to listen to me. I dealt with five different men and only one even gave me the shotgun I wanted, to shoulder and see how it felt. The others kept giving me precisely what I told them I didn’t want. I specifically told each one of them that I wanted a 20 gauge, and preferably a youth model. I am 5’3” and that specific gun fit me. They told me I would struggle to kill a turkey with a 20 gauge, and that I would have a difficult time killing any dove or pheasant with it, also.
I ended up getting the shotgun I wanted, but like so many times before, I had to go above and beyond in explaining myself, just to get a man to trust that I knew what I was talking about. I should mention, I also got my turkey, and some dove, and some pheasant, that same year, with that 20 gauge, that no one thought I needed.
Stick with Me, We’re Almost There
I have spent my life in male dominated activities and jobs. This was my choice; I wasn’t forced into that place, I genuinely enjoyed the sports, I enjoyed my career of twenty-five years, and now, I enjoy being a hunter. I work in the hunting space now, I write for an outdoor publication writing about hunting and I am a successful hunting mentor.
None of this has been easy. It has seemingly been an uphill battle my entire life -constantly explaining my credentials, having to work twice as hard for less pay, putting up with sexist remarks and innuendo, and the like. I’m tired of the constant struggle, and I think many other women are as well.
When that pours over into something I love as much as hunting and the outdoors, I feel I can stay silent no more. If not for my sake, for the sake of all of us, as women, who are tired of fighting the status quo. And more importantly, for the young girls and women who will follow in our footsteps.
So, if the fifteen men who responded to my questions aren’t the guys giving us ladies all of the grief, who is? Where are these guys at? Obviously they are out there and they are all over the country. How do we reach them and change the mentality, or shift the narrative, to make women in the hunting space not the exception, but the rule?
Do we lean on the podcast hosts, the magazines, the industry executives, the marketing firms, and the content creators? Will they be willing to do what’s right, ruffle some feathers, and risk upsetting their base? Many think they won’t; I have a glimmer of hope that they will. This is where we must come together and make change happen. But it’s going to take all of us.
If you are a hunter or an angler, you know you have to put in the hard work, spend the time preparing and make adjustments along the way if you are going to find success. So let’s ask the hard questions, let’s spend time finding solutions, and let’s make this a community not of men and women, but a community of hunters and anglers, working toward the same goals, and enjoying the lifestyle we all love so much
I’ll leave you with another quote from Brene Brown, and I don’t think I need to explain this one.
“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their own lives, but will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those of us trying to dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear-mongering. If you're criticizing from a place where you're not also putting yourself on the line, I'm not interested in your feedback.”