The other day my wife and I got news that our new baby, due this December, is a girl. As we lay in bed that night, my wife expressed her desire that I teach our daughter to hunt with the same enthusiasm that I use with our 2-year-old son. After assuring her that I would, I got to wondering how I’d go about fulfilling my promise.
It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of female representation in the hunting world. Women comprise some 52% of the American population yet account for only about 9% of the approximate 12.5 million licensed hunters in the country.
This discrepancy can be partially explained through human history. Our deep ancestors almost certainly lived as hunter-gatherers in small family-based clans. From what we’ve deduced from contemporary hunter-gatherer clans, the adult males probably focused on hunting while females and children stayed closer to home and concentrated their efforts on processing meat and hides and collecting plant-based resources. This division seems to have had spiritual foundations as much as practical. In The Last Gentleman Explorer, a published account of Edward Beauclerk Maurice’s experiences among the Inuit in the 1930s, he tells the story of being in a boat with a group of men and one woman when they inadvertently run into a whale. When the men decide to chase the whale down, the woman solemnly turns her back to the action and seems to mentally withdraw from the situation at hand.
Of course, we’re no longer bound to these ancient traditions and gender roles. I do all the wild game processing in my home, plus all of the gardening and cooking and a good portion of the cleaning. But in some cases, old habits still die hard. While almost every man in my immediate family hunts, none of the women do. My sister doesn’t hunt, my mother doesn’t hunt, my wife doesn’t hunt. There is something in many women, be it cultural or genetic, that tends to resist the lifestyle. My father always liked to tell the story of taking my mom with him bowhunting and having her implore him not to shoot a doe that passed beneath his tree. In my own life, I’ve taken seven different girlfriends on their first hunt and each has cried when they saw an animal get killed. Meanwhile, I’ve taken over a dozen men on their first hunts and not one has cried yet. I know this is very anecdotal, but I think it speaks to a profound difference between contemporary men and women.
The good news is that other guys are having completely different sets of experiences with the women in their families. My brother Danny’s wife has done a fair bit of hunting, including the kill of a mountain goat when she was six months pregnant. My buddy Ronny has raised three daughters who are proficient with a shotgun and enjoy chasing upland birds. (Ronny claims that he taught them to hunt so that they’d land better sons-in-laws for him to hang out with; he’s only half joking.) When I consider Ronny’s success with his daughters, I can’t help but consider the fact that he never had a son. That is, he never had a more traditional protégé. He wasn’t able to leave the girl at home to play with her dolls while he took the boy hunting. To make hunting a family affair, he took them along and treated them with the respect that many men reserve for their boys. They responded in kind.
If you watch hunting shows and visit hunting websites, you’re probably aware of the sex-pot huntress trend: fake tans, constantly changing hair styles, hunting in bikini tops. The reaction on a guy’s part is supposed to be, “Wow, the perfect woman! She’s hot and she likes to hunt.” But if you look deeply, you often find something that’s even faker than the counterfeit breasts and heavily applied makeup. If you asked them about this, I’m sure they’d give you some answer about how they’re making hunting “exciting” and “fun” for women. The problem is, most women who do hunt are far more interested in hunting than how they look to men while doing it. Hunters need to find it in themselves to invite women into the wild not as some obligation to their wives or daughters, but rather as a sacred engagement with their equals. The women in our lives need to be our hunting partners, our buddies. And we need more female hunting role models that young women can admire for things beyond style. We need to show future generations of women that the thrill of hunting for meat in the wild is an equal opportunity experience. That is the approach I plan on taking with my own daughter, who will be born this December. I’ll let you know how it goes.