Women wanting to go hunting. Even five years ago, a woman on a hunt was seen as a rare (and beautiful?) thing. Nowadays it’s seen as much more usual. And as kiwis – and hunters – we need to promote and support our women in hunting.
To me, it’s no different than a man hunting. I’m a staunch feminist, in that I am passionate about equal rights for women and men. I strive to encourage a world where women have just as much opportunity to learn about hunting as men. But what we don’t know, we can be afraid of. I hope I can shed some light for those who are wanting to bring a female counterpart along, but might be a bit hesitant due to the mystery factor and also give some tips to the budding female huntress who might not know where to start.
FOR THE MEN
So you want to assist a female into the sport you already know and love. But how? Women are mysterious, fragile, small creatures. With feelings and pink fingernails and stuff. How do you transform her to the expert bush woman you know she can be?
Women beginners are just like any other beginner. We don’t need to be coddled or spoken down to or ‘sheltered’ by what you may think we consider gross. But we do need support, just like anyone else who is learning a new skill. If you have a female friend who is interested to find out about this whole hunting gig, consider a few things when planning the first excursion. Is the country steep, thick, or challenging? Is the weather forecast poor and is our gear unsuitable? Setting us up for a difficult first experience is a sure way to confirm that we will never go along with you ever again and you may just be on the couch tonight. Be fair and remember when you were new. Heading into the outdoors may just be the scariest thing we do this week – and we don’t need to be tired, soaked and sore while experiencing it. We require a challenge but making things too difficult and not fun is not the goal here.
Women aren’t as precious as you think they are. Have you ever seen a baby being born? Yeah. Pretty horrendous, eh? Gutting a rabbit is one million times easier and less-gross. Women are built to be hard core. We can make people. Don’t forget that. Also, uncomfortable and yucky stuff happens to us every month. Walking up a small hill and having to see some blood isn’t going to ruin us. Don’t shelter the women who are keen, just because they are women. You might just find that they are way better butchers than you. You’ll never find out if a female can do something unless you give her a chance. Take steps and judge her reaction. If she leaves the room every time you talk about essential target areas to kill an animal, maybe it’s not a good idea to ask her to stick the next pig you both catch. But if she’s showing interest in what cuts of venison are good for the frying pan and what needs to be minced, proceed further.
Rifle choice is important. Being safe is paramount and I am a firm believer that when an individual is in a state of fear, they are dangerous. Noisy, hard-recoiling guns will scare a female as much as any other beginner, as well as a rifle they haven’t shot. We ladies have great imaginations and who would know that rifle won’t punch us in the eye if we haven’t shot it before? Range practice ties in well with this. If you are given the awful task of helping someone pick their first rifle (if you’ve had this job before, you will understand my pain – rifle selection is a real personal choice but often the buyer is incredibly indecisive!) please be gentle. There is no such thing as a “girl’s gun” – just horses for courses. If your lady friend has shooting experience, sure, pass over the .270 or shotgun. But women take first impressions very seriously and if you promise it won’t hurt and set her behind a 300WinMag with no hearing protection and a big dirty muzzle brake, be prepared to lose some teeth at the hands of a very attractive, yet angry bear. There is so much to learn when you first pick up a rifle and we don’t need to be worried about recoil or pain. Offering time behind a .22, .223, .243 etc is worth its weight in gold. The end product will be a woman who is confident with a firearm, not scared to be hurt; and a woman who has solid, safe habits.
Hunting and shooting are two different skills but the latter is included in the first. Take your companion to a suitable shooting spot and don’t under estimate the value in dry firing and double hearing protection. A lot of perceived pain is through hearing so show your friend how to wear ear plugs properly and then add ear muffs over the top. This way with the reduced noise, a smooth and jerkless trigger movement can be achieved even with a big noisy rifle. You may surprise yourself too; teaching can be a great way to learn. Teach skills separately – position (I recommend prone to start with as the rifle’s direction is much less moveable and more predictable, also it is comfortable and sustainable for the new shooter over some time), the states of the rifle (unloaded, loaded, action, instant), trigger control (dry fire in the aim to your heart’s content!) and of course, how to bring the weapon into the aim and look through the sights correctly. The use of a sandbag at the rear and bipod at the front will impact the new lady shooter’s performance greatly. And who wants to do something they aren’t good at?! Do as much as you can to ensure the shooter will succeed. If that means the first target at 25yards – so be it.
Give women a chance to do it themselves. I’m not saying chuck the lady a gun and push her out into the unknown, but give her a chance to try things without your undivided assistance. I used to be guilty of not piping up enough when it comes time to gutting and prepping deer for carry when I hunt with men, and I’ve worked on this accordingly. I’m confident to stand up for myself and stop a person from their uninvited “help” (read: mansplaining). Be aware that your female company might be too polite to butt in, so offer. Be kind though. We want to be good and don’t want to slow you up so don’t make that an issue. Don’t be vocal about the fading light – it is what it is and you should have brought two head torches anyway! Praise effective skill and improvement and offer advice on how to make our not-so-good actions better. Set up situations where we can venture forward on our own for a little bit and don’t put so much emphasis on the kill. It took me years to shoot my first deer and I beat myself up enough about it on my own, thanks very much. Women don’t need their male companions also on their case.
Reflect and improve. In my experience, I’ve found that ladies partake in mulling over things a lot more than men seem to. Take the drive home or the cleaning of rifles together as an opportunity to do some self-reflection on the day’s activities. Offer feedback on both her performance as well as your own. There’s nothing more humble about a mentor who can identify weakness in his own ability and develop a plan to improve himself. These little de-brief chats will have your lady friend excited for the next adventure, armed with enthusiasm and a keenness to better her last hunt.
FOR THE WOMEN
You’re keen on the outdoors. You like eating meat. You’re a conservationist, a fitness guru, a hands-on individual who wants to experience everything and anything. You’re all or one of these things are have decided that hunting is the new adventure for you. But where to now?
Find a mentor. Not just ‘cos you’re a girl, but because you’re new to this whole thing. Watching subject matter experts and learning from them is an essential part of gaining a new skill and hunting is no different. Guess what though, things are going to be tougher for you, just ‘cos you’re a girl! I wish I could do something to change this, but I can’t. All I can do is hopefully prepare you for what’s ahead. Finding a mentor can be tough but spell it out to them, you are searching for someone to mentor your hunting, nothing else. Having another person to learn with you can really take the pressure off you to perform beyond your experience and also adds an element of safety, especially if your mentor is someone you don’t know. I’m not saying all men (or women) are predators, but being real here, just don’t put yourself in a situation that could go south quick. Meet up with a friend or friend of a friend and always make sure someone at home knows where you are/who you’re with and bring someone else along too if you can. I did once put up an add in my local hunting shop at the naive age of 17, describing “male hunting mentor wanted” and outlining my status as a young, green, female hunter wanting a mentor. Luckily I came to my senses and never actually met up alone with anyone who answered the ad! I’ve had mostly positive experiences but think I’ve also been pretty good at setting myself up to be safe and transparent with my intentions. If somebody says something that rubs you up the wrong way or something just doesn’t feel right, scarpa. Honestly there are a hundred other people who will do you right for that one weirdo who thinks it is okay to say or do something to upset you. Move on, find a new mentor and continue with your hunting.
Don’t be afraid to ask. If you want to do something, ask! For the most part, I’ve had only surprised reactions from my male companions as they haven’t been offering to let me do something because they genuinely didn’t think I’d want to. Doing something yourself is the best way to learn. And nobody will know you want to do it unless you ask. Put your hand to everything you can – loading the truck, backing the trailer, putting the suppressor and sling on the rifle, carry the rifle, shoot the animal, gut the animal.. Experience is your friend. And if you have good mentors, they will support you in your experience. So pipe up.
Conduct your own research. Being immersed in something you’re interested in, but don’t know much about can be hard. And guess what, men are going to assume that you don’t know anything. Get online, go to the library, keep following The Bloke and Dougie – Hunter, Writer, Artist! Be in charge of your own research and learn at your own pace. This will help you see through a lot of bullcrap stories/advice/potential mentors from earlier on. Pass your knowledge on – teaching can be a great way to learn.
Believe in yourself. Women are fantastic at hating on themselves. I know from experience. I know I know, but I still do it! Try to kill the “I can’t” because guess what, you can. Try and try again. Challenge yourself with a solo hunt, even just for a few hours. Time yourself at your range practice, giving five seconds per round down range. Check out blogs and articles about other women hunters and pick up tips. You can be a hunter. There’s nothing stopping you but yourself.