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The Dawn of the Huntress
by Matt Makowski & photos by Turner Photography
The Cultural Rise of Women in the Wilderness
That person sitting in a tree stand or deer blind is becoming increasingly likely to be female. In just the past nine years, the number of hunters who are women has surged more than 25 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau for the US. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is a litany of possible reasons for this rise in popularity. We tracked down some women who have nearly 70 years of combined hunting experience to discuss their thoughts on what makes the sport so appealing to them, how they started, and why they think women have become so much more likely to head out into the woods to come home with dinner.
The hunters we talked to are Kaitlyn Price who has been hunting since she was 10 years old; Belinda Stahl who has 22 years of experience; Christy Martin who started in 1996; and Casey Smith who began hunting when she was 18. Their answers show a very special connection to the land and their food supply, and reveal that the “thrill of the hunt” is only a small fraction of why they enjoy the sport. There has been a philosophical shift within the last generation, and now fathers are much more willing to teach their daughters how to hunt. Now, a new generation of mothers are beginning to teach their children how to hunt.
Christy Martin co-owns and operates a full-service taxidermy studio with her husband, Tim. She got into hunting when she was 26, which is kind of late by typical standards. The Boonsboro resident grew up hearing hunting stories from family members, but never really thought about trying it. Somewhat on a lark, she asked an old boyfriend if she could tag along with him on a hunting trip to see what the big deal was all about. That trip triggered something in Christy, and there was no turning back.
Q: Can you describe that first time you went out on a hunt with your old boyfriend?
A: I had no hunting clothes or even a gun. I wore his camo clothing, which didn’t fit very well, not-very-warm boots and armed with just a camera. We walked into the woods in the dark and he stuck me up in a tree by myself because he was afraid I would make too much noise and spook the deer. Slowly, the sky began to get a bit lighter and I could just barely make out images in the woods. The woods and all of its creatures were beginning to wake up. None of these animals knew I was there so they went about there business. As the sun rose up above the skyline, I began to understand why men hunt. The peaceful feeling of being in the woods during all of this — it made sense. Then I heard what sounded like someone walking up behind me in the leaves. I very slowly turned to look and there it was, a huge racked beautiful buck standing only 20 yards from me. He stood there grunting, and stomping the ground at a fresh buck scrape. It was just like what I had seen watching those hunting shows, except I was getting to see this firsthand. I was so taken by him that I froze. I couldn’t even bring my camera up to take a picture. I just wanted to take in the moment. To my surprise, my first thought was, “If I had a rifle, I could shoot this buck and it would be mine.” My heart was pounding in my chest and the adrenaline I was feeling was like nothing I had ever felt. My boyfriend must have seen the deer standing there and made a grunt with his call. The deer instantly looked up, his ears went full forward alert. He snorted and ran in the direction of the call. A few seconds went by and I heard a gun shot. I could not wait to get down to see this buck. It was at that moment that I really understood why so many men went hunting. It was all very clear to me then. I was hooked after that.
Q: Aside from the adrenaline rush, what is it about hunting season that gets you to suit up and brave the elements year after year?
A: There is a satisfaction to sitting down to a meal that you know either you or your spouse harvested. Maybe it's a providing for myself and family type of thing. Also, many people don’t realize the money we spend on our license, stamps, and some hunting gear goes towards the conservation of these animals and to preserving land for them to flourish. Another reason I enjoy hunting is the friendships I have made. Spending time with hunting buddies and family in a duck blind or deer camp is time well spent and makes for lasting bonds and memories. I not only enjoy the rush I get when I see the animal I am after, but also the solitude and peace of sitting in the woods. Some hunters call it “gone thinking” instead of hunting.
Q: What changes have you seen in the sport since you began hunting?
A: Back then, not many girls/women hunted. I didn't always tell people that I hunted because I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. Also, there wasn’t much for the female hunter to buy in the way of clothes and gear. One jacket, one type of coveralls and I think one type of boot. If you wanted a shirt or pants, you had to order a boy’s size…like that would really fit well. Now there are so many clothes, boots, hats, and gloves — you name it, it's available. Even guns and bows made to fit the size and style of the female hunter.
Q: To what do you attribute the rise of women’s interest in hunting?
A: Several things. One, retailers realize us women will spend money for gear that fits. That is a big deal. If you don’t have the right clothes and proper fitting bow or gun, you may not be comfortable or make a good shot. Also, outfitters are realizing that husbands are bringing their wives and daughters on hunting trips now, so many lodges are offering private rooms for couples, or a private room for a daughter to stay. Not every female wants to bunk in a large room with eight men — especially if she doesn’t know them. Hunting TV shows also have played a big part.