FARGO - The first rays of sun begin to creep into the inky night sky. Off in the distance, a figure emerges, crunching its way through the early morning frost that covers the ground of an untouched field. The magnificent creature lifts its head, displaying a rack that almost blocks out the peaceful morning sunrise.
A gun is settled into place and long, slow, smoky breaths are released. The hunter takes one final exhale as the crosshairs find their mark. With one squeeze of the trigger, the beast falls to the ground. The hunter whips off her hat, wiping a bead of sweat away from her brow after the excitement of landing the monster buck.
Notice who was whipping off their hat and wiping their brow? A woman.
Growing up in northern Minnesota, hunting has been a part of my life since the moment I could legally carry a gun - sitting in the stand with my dad, just waiting for the big buck to walk into view. But female hunters are a relatively unknown or misunderstood concept in a lot of areas. They may still be a small group, but the group is growing larger each year.
Start ‘em early
For many huntresses, the love of the sport begins early in life.
Nicole Stone, a Fargo resident and avid hunter and fisherwoman, says her love of hunting began before she was able to carry a firearm.
“I come from a farm in central Minnesota,” Stone says. “My mom and dad both hunted and fished, so by the time I was 10 years old, I was out hunting and in the deer stand. I started hunting deer myself when I was 12.”
She says starting young with family or a mentor is the best way to ensure the sport stays alive with a new generation. And outdoors clubs agree.
Cass County Wildlife Club President Jason Dettler says the group has a few women who participate, but early introduction is key.
“Girls are better shooters (than boys), but if they aren’t introduced to it, they aren’t going to know it,” Dettler says. “Introduction to the sport is a big thing. If their parents aren’t into it, then they’re not going to get into it.”Actually...
Because a lack of introduction to hunting is so prevalent among young women, Dettler says the sport has the possibility of dying off.
However, when looking at the big picture, both the Minnesota and North Dakota Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) would disagree.
Jenifer Wical, Minnesota DNR's fish and wildlife marketing coordinator, says there's been an increase in the number of women applying for licenses for both firearms deer hunters and small game hunters.
Citing a recent research paper for projected changes to the number of deer hunters in Minnesota between 2015 and 2030, Wical says, “Overall, female hunting rose by almost 49.7 percent between 2000 and 2015 and is expected to rise 25.5 percent between 2015 and 2030.”
In 2015, the number of female deer firearm-licensed hunters 16 and older in the state sat at around 55,700, compared to about 349,000 male hunters. But with programs like the Becoming an Outdoor Woman being offered to women and families by the Minnesota DNR, the number of licensed female hunters could increase.
North Dakota isn’t much different. Even though getting a general game and habitat license is slightly more difficult, that didn’t stop women from applying for them. Between 2009 and 2017, the overall number of licenses obtained by women increased about 109 percent - thanks, in part, to women between the ages of 17 and 19, who increased their applications by 46 percent during that time, according to the North Dakota DNR’s Game and Fish Department.Girl power
While introduction to the sport is key to the long-term survival of hunting, watching other women succeed in a male-dominated world certainly helps.
Stone says social media is a big player in that effort, too.
“I think there is definitely a movement - especially with social media now - where women can see other women doing it and that makes them feel empowered to do it themselves,” she says.
“Maybe if they had been thinking about doing it their whole life but maybe their parents aren't into (hunting), social media gives them people they can reach out to, people they can follow and people they can learn from so they can go out and do it on their own," Stone adds. "It also makes hunting and fishing seem very fun, entertaining and attractive, and I think that's pushing women and it's making it more inclusive to women and gets them more excited about being in it.”