As more women and girls take an interest in hunting, blaze pink has become more widely accepted as a legal alternative to blaze orange. Though more states are legalizing this substitute, hunters are sharing mixed reactions.

When Washington recently became the tenth state to add blaze pink, the bill unanimously sailed into law with the fish and wildlife department’s support. It probably helped that the hunter who introduced the bill, Sen. Lynda Wilson, has a compelling personal reason for wearing pink, and avoided much of the rhetoric that irritates hunters in other states.

Wilson is undergoing breast cancer treatment and every Wednesday her family dons pink to support her and other survivors. One week, her husband went hunting with a bright pink sweatshirt under his blaze orange. “He noticed how much brighter he looked compared to other guys out there,” Wilson said. The argument was enough to make hot pink a legal alternative.

Wisconsin became the first state to allow blaze pink in 2016. Proponents framed it as a way to encourage more hunting participation among women. That idea raised the ire of hunters who thought that linking fashion with female hunter participation undermined true gender equality in the outdoors. For instance, the Women’s Hunting and Sporting Association in Wisconsin objected to the bill, calling it “demeaning.”

As we’ve seen in these debates, our society tends to load colors with meaning. Orange has strong and clear associations with hunting and safety. What exactly hunter pink signifies remains murky, and its value as a safety color is uncertain.

“Personally, I feel the conversations around pink and are similar to the conversations around ‘huntress’ versus ‘hunter,’” said Marcia Brownlee, program manager of the National Wildlife Federation’s Artemis initiative, which aims to elevate sportswomen in conservation. As an organization, Artemis doesn’t support using one word—or color—over the other.

“They’re important conversations to have,” Brownlee said. “They are not important things to get hung up on, because I feel like they are really not the main conversation we need to be having when it comes to getting women in the field.”

Mixed Reactions
The way hunters discuss hot pink bills in each state seems to be an important factor in the color’s perception.

What I think becomes more problematic, and it certainly did for me, is the way blaze pink was advertised to women,” said Mary Zeiss Strange, a professor emeritus of women’s studies at Skidmore College and author of “Woman the Hunter.” “Nobody in their right mind really thinks that you’re going to see a pink shooting vest and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go shooting so I can wear that vest.’”

For instance, when Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder introduced a bill allowing blaze pink, citing the color’s visibility and attractiveness to women and some men, the effort quickly stalled.

Wayde Cooperider, who leads Montana’s hunter education program and represents the International Hunter Education Association, polled volunteer hunter safety instructors (a male dominated group) before the bill’s hearing. Only seven out of 209 responding instructors supported colors other than orange. He received comments like, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” “Pink would divide camaraderie between men and women,” and “More studies are needed.”

Maryland’s hot pink law was actually introduced by a demographic that hunter recruitment efforts are eager to reach. There, two young sisters lobbied a state senator to help them pass a pro-pink bill in 2018.

“We support more women getting in the field regardless of how that happens,” Brownlee said. “That said, we’d want to make sure that the legislation is based on the science of the color in the field and the reaction animals have to it.”

The New Orange?
As Brownlee pointed out, the main conversation around pink should be whether it performs as well as orange. Hunter safety should be the biggest concern.

While florescent pink is gaining state support, scientific evidence supporting its superior visibility is promising, but thin. This lack of widely accepted research around alternative safety colors is why the IHEA continues supporting only orange.

There’s an additional wrinkle to regulating, manufacturing and wearing blaze pink. It’s much harder to standardize. Unlike pink, orange occupies a specific place on the visible light spectrum, so blaze orange can be measured and standardized in units of nanometers (595-605 nanometers, to be exact).

Pink can’t be quantified in the same way since it’s red diluted with other colors. That leaves state agencies reminding blaze consumers and sellers that they simply need to choose a pink that is florescent enough to be safe.

What little research has been done on hot pink suggests that it works. A study by a University of Wisconsin textile scientist found that pink provides better contrast against the orange tones of fall foliage. In visibility tests, blaze pink also performed as well as some blaze orange hats, and better than a some. The researcher called these results “preliminary,” but “significant.”

What about evidence for the idea that blaze pink could help recruit women or young people? According to the IHSA, there’s no scientific research backing it up. And consumer demand for pink seems weak where it is already legal. The IHSA recommends that detectability and visibility be the sole standards for establishing hunter safety colors.

Hunter Recruitment
While less flashy than florescent pink, there are more meaningful and proven ways to support women in hunting and recruit new hunters of all genders.

“We need more female faces and voices represented in hunting and fishing, along with opportunities for hands-on experiences and peer mentoring,” Brownlee said.

In Cooperider’s opinion, legislatures can aid hunter recruitment efforts by supporting funding and personnel for the programs providing those experiences. Becoming an Outdoorswoman workshops, aimed at women interested in learning a variety of hunting, fishing and other outdoor skills, would be a great place to direct attention and resources.

Cooperider now sees youth hunter education classes that are roughly 50% female. As a self described “old white guy,” who has been teaching hunter education for 30 years, he says it would also be helpful if more women would fill the instructor ranks.

From one perspective, blaze pink may be a signifier of how far we have to go to achieve true representation of women in hunting. From another, it can mark how far we’ve come.

The Becoming an Outdoorswoman program was just starting when Strange researched “Woman the Hunter” in the 1990s. She attended one of the first events in Oregon, where the fish and wildlife department gave participants hot pink hats.

“Your initial reaction is to think, are they trying to be cute with us?” Strange said.

As she recalls it, Oregon was testing hot pink in the wild because some color experts argued that it’s the best hue for fall outdoors visibility. The hats were leftover from a field test that the agency couldn’t get off the ground.

“The reason they couldn’t gain support was that macho male hunters would rather be dead than seen in pink,” Strange said.

She wore her leftover pink test hat for years until it fell apart, “because it was kind of cool.”

Feature image via Captured Creative.