This past decade, the firearms industry has seen significant growth in one demographic in particular: women. There’s been a 77 percent leap in female gun owners, meaning 30 percent of firearms owners are women.
Hunting has experienced a surge as well, with 25 percent more women hunting today than in 2005. Even so, of the nearly-14 million hunters in the United States, only 11 percent are women. Women may be hunting with greater frequency…but we’re still outnumbered.
If you’re one of those 11 percent, you’ll almost certainly be hunting with men. The odds aren’t just good, they’re phenomenal. I’ve been a hunter for almost two decades, and have gone after everything from deer to hogs to gators, and I’ve been the only woman on more hunts than I can count. Being the one woman among ten men is an interesting situation, especially when many of those men are entirely unused to having a female around who isn’t staffing the lodge’s kitchen.
It’s impossible to cover every eventuality, but here’s your crash course in being the lone female on a hunt:
1. Be yourself This is the most crucial piece of advice. Much of the initial discomfort many guys experience around a female hunter stems from they’re not knowing you. And if you’re busily presenting yourself as someone you’re not, you’re complicating matters. Bottom line: Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Be yourself from the moment your boots hit the ground.
2. Cursing is up to you It’s rare to find a guy in hunting camp who can’t curse an impressive blue streak. Many guys hesitate to swear around women, so make your comfort level clear early on. If you enjoy a good string of swear words now and then, go for it. But if you do not curse, don’t start just to fit in. Here I refer you back to point one: be yourself.
That said, don’t reprimand the guys who swear. As long as they’re not being unnecessarily crass or vile, they’re not doing any harm. Do not impose a Miss Manners-like aura over the hunting lodge. Hunting is supposed to be fun, and forcing those around you to constantly bite their tongues or apologize could easily ruin the hunt for them. Bottom line: If you don’t want to curse, don’t. And if the guys curse, ignore it. Let them be themselves.
3. Be clear about bathroom breaks One of the greatest advantages men have over women while hunting is the ease with which they can relieve a full bladder. They can go almost anywhere by simply turning their back for at least the pretense of privacy. Not so for women. The mechanics of a bathroom break are far more complicated, especially when a woman is out with a male guide or a group of male hunters. However, that doesn’t mean a big production is necessary. Simply let the guys know it’s your turn to hit the bushes and go find said bush to use as a visual barrier. Everyone goes. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
4. If you want to take an animal and know you can make the shot, take it While some situations do call for a guide to let you know which animal to shoot, the choice is typically yours. Yours. It seems many guides or simply male hunters who are present feel the need — for whatever reason—to control a woman’s shot. Only you know your skill level, so only you know if a shot is too far or at the wrong angle (or if you can see anything at dusk through your scope). Sometimes it comes down to instinct or experience. Your guide or fellow hunter may feel the animal is going to reappear in a more advantageous location, and direct you to wait for that reason. Regardless of their reason for directing you to shoot or not to shoot, the decision is ultimately yours.
However, don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll end up kicking yourself for weeks because you failed to take a shot you wish you had. Know your abilities, operate within those parameters, and make your own choices. It’s your finger on the trigger, not theirs.
5. Drink responsibly Nearly every hunting camp and lodge in the country has a well-stocked liquor cabinet. Some have more than others, but it’s always there, and sometimes ends up being the star of each evening, featuring drunk hunters and guides.
Whether or not you drink with the guys is up to you, and may be influenced by how much they intend to drink. Always remember, though, that alcohol and guns do not mix. As long as the guns are stowed, hitting the booze is fine. But if you decide to drink, do not overdo it. You’re risking not only delaying an early morning hunt because of an epic hangover, but also your reputation. Either is more than enough to destroy the reason you’re there: hunting.
Bottom line: You’re there to hunt, not party like it’s 1999. Act accordingly, and if others are drinking, be responsible for your own safety.
6. Leave the beauty products behind You may enjoy applying makeup and styling your hair, but hunting camp isn’t the place for it. Some game animals don’t have a fantastic sense of smell, but most do. The scent of makeup, styling crème, and hand lotion is more than enough to make you and your fellow hunters lose out. You might see a deer wind you and bolt, or you may never know you missed out because they turned tail out of sight. Either way, you lose.
And just because that tube of lipstick doesn’t smell “too bad” to you doesn’t mean your local deer population won’t smell you coming. You have 5 million scent receptors, but deer have 297 million. Not hunting deer? Bears can scent a carcass from a distance of 20 miles, feral hogs can smell food buried 25 feet underground (and smell you from 7 miles away aboveground), and wolves have a sense of smell 100 times greater than yours. My curls might be limp and frizzy, but by golly I’ll have a hog on the ground.
7. Be a good sport When guys hunt together and someone doesn’t succeed, they rarely comfort their buddy by saying they’ll do better next time. Guys won’t pass up an opportunity to let other guys know what terrible screw-ups they are, how they must be blind to have missed that shot, or that it must be their first time holding a gun. If the guys you’re with include you in such remarks, don’t be insulted. Take teasing comments in stride and be glad you’re included as one of the guys, which leads to the next point:
8. Don’t be afraid to dish it out If sarcasm is in your nature, have at it. When you make it clear you’re not only capable of arming yourself verbally but that you’re good at it as well, many guys become more comfortable around you. If they sling an insult your way, return the favor. Of course, if you’re not comfortable doing verbal combat with the guys, don’t pretend you are. You’ll only end up with hurt feelings and confused men trying to figure out why you’re upset.
Eighteenth-century lawyer James Boswell wrote, “He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.” This cannot be said enough: Be yourself, and if that self is sarcastic, don’t be afraid to return the favor when the insults fly.
9. Know the mean plan beforehand Most outfitters include meals, and they are usually of the meat-and-potatoes variety. You can certainly talk to the camp cook, but expecting them to make one meal for ten people and then craft a specific, single-plate special for you is selfish. If you’re deathly allergic to peanuts or shellfish, that’s information you should pass on. If you have special dietary needs, bring your own food.
At a bring-your-own-food hunting camp, you’ll take turns cooking. Don’t subject the guys to salad and call it a meal. If you’re simply trying to drop a size, you’re on your own. Exercise portion control and resume your diet when you get home.
10. Bring you own gear It’s better to bring along tools, Thermacell refills, and that “should I/shouldn’t I” set of glove liners than to need them and not have them. Your outfitter isn’t a general store and the guys you’re hunting with aren’t your keepers. Make sure you know what you need in advance and account for the various “what if” scenarios. There’s nothing wrong with asking to borrow something if you find yourself in a bind, but don’t arrive with the expectation of being supplied with gear.
11. Practice and prepare The day of the hunt is not the time to learn to shoot. It’s also not the time to try out your boyfriend’s .30-06 for the first time when you’ve only used a .22. Train accordingly in advance, and do not hunt until you’re confident in your abilities to deliver a clean kill. You must know where to shoot, because vital organs are found in different spots on various animals. It also means you should prepare for the sight of a dying animal. A first kill can be a surprising experience, especially when you haven’t thought about it in advance. Muscles contract and nerves fire for several minutes after death, and lungs emptying of air might make it appear as though the animal is still breathing. Don’t panic. As long as you made a good shot, the final movements are normal.
13. Take care of your gun Specifically, your gun is your responsibility. Don’t leave it behind in your guide’s truck, or drop a loaded rifle on the table in the common area of the lodge. Follow the four golden rules of gun safety, and add a fifth: know where your hunting rifle is at all times. Do not entrust its use or safekeeping to anyone who isn’t unequivocally worthy of such trust.
14. Be aware of the “sweetheart factor” In the South it’s a way of life for men to refer to women as “honey,” “darlin’,” or “sweetheart.” If you’re from another area it might be off-putting, but those guys aren’t hitting on you. They’re simply talking like everyone else in the region.
15. Don’t put up with improper behavior However, improper behavior does sometimes occur on hunts. And sometimes that behavior is more than improper—it constitutes sexual harassment. This is a delicate issue, so let’s keep this simple: If someone crosses the line, don’t ignore it. Handle it. Even if it means frustration and stress down the road, you must take care of it. If you ignore this behavior, you’re both letting the offender think his behavior is all right and setting up women down the road to be similarly mishandled – or worse.
Harassment is never okay, regardless of gender. However, it’s important not to overreact. Remember that there are regional differences, and a little lighthearted flirting is not harassment. If you’re uncomfortable, speak up. If someone truly crosses the line, report it to the camp owner, ranch manager, or whoever is in charge of the hunt.
16. Above all, enjoy yourself Hunting is a fantastic sport, requiring patience, perseverance, and passion. The thrill of filling your tag is indescribable, and is valuable because it’s the culmination of countless other moments. Pre-season scouting, watching the rising sun color the hills, and seeing your chosen animal responding to your call are just a few. Camo up and hit the woods. You’ll be glad you did.