11 Ways to Welcome Women Into Deer Camp

June 29, 2022 By: Karli Gill

I’ve had the wonderful benefit of growing up in a family that considers hunting the main event. Not only are the men of our family hunting, but the women are strong and independent hunters themselves. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters all hunting together in our happy place: the great outdoors. Outside my family experiences, I’ve often looked around at my hunting environment and noticed I was one of the few women present, or the only one. This is something far too many have experienced in their hunting space. 

The female hunter demographic has grown in the last several years. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 10% of hunters are women, and that number is increasing. Seeing this number rise brings me pride as a hunter and as a woman. The increase in female hunters is promising, but we must continue to find ways to fuel this growth and share the world of hunting with all. From my personal experience and reaching out to colleagues and family members, I’ve compiled a list of why and how you can help welcome women into hunting traditions. Reap the benefits of sharing this experience with all who are interested. Whether it’s a daughter, sister, wife, or friend, someone in your circle may be just the thing to improve your hunting experience.   

Safety First, Physical and Mental!

Just like any new mentored hunter, women want to feel safe and secure while enjoying the outdoors. Abiding by and teaching her weapon, treestand and wilderness safety will go a long way toward enhancing her hunting experience. But safety doesn’t just stop at your treestand harness. Hunting needs to feel like a safe space physically and mentally. Maybe when there aren’t women in your hunting camp, crude comments get a chuckle. As ladies, we might laugh at these jokes in the duck blind, but there’s a fine line between funny and foul (see what I did there? ). Hunting is no longer, nor should it be, a man’s game. Men shoulder the responsibility to create an inclusive environment, so if you truly believe in hunter safety, as all hunters should, remember that safety includes an environment free of offensive or hurtful language.

The author with her grandfather and her first buck killed on a hunt by herself. She was 13 years old at the time and had been hunting with her family for many years.

Treat Women as Equals

Women often feel as though hunting is very much a “boys’ club.” Maybe it’s because many women have felt the side-eye or the assumption that they don’t know what they’re doing as they approach the rifle range. In Artemis Ambassador Kerry Swayne’s words, “Be open, welcoming and warm, and give us some credit!” Women deserve to feel welcomed and wanted. It’s simple, treat women in the hunting world as equals and with an open mind. 

Ask First, Ask Often

We’re going to get a bit deep here, but stick with me. Have you heard of a term called “mental load”? Mental load is a term for the invisible labor involved in managing a household and family, which typically falls on female shoulders. Recent psychology research has aimed to define and understand the mental load of women. Often referred to as “worry work,” the mental load is not about the physical tasks but also the supervising of those tasks. It’s being in charge of the never-ending list of to-do items constantly running in your head, anticipating what needs to get done and when, delegating each task to family members, and monitoring the progress of these to-do lists. If that sounds exhausting, that’s because it is.

Similarly to how you shouldn’t need to be asked to fold the laundry when you see it needs folding, you shouldn’t have to be asked to include the women in your life in your hunting pursuits. People often say, “Well, if you’d just asked…” and leave it at that. But she probably did ask, likely more than once. Ask her first, and ask her often. Make it part of your hunting routine. Check in with the women in your life and see if they have time and want to join you. If only one of you can go, make sure it’s a fair trade-off. This simple step of asking them will do wonders for both your relationship inside and outside of hunting. You both deserve to do what brings you joy, and there are enough wild spaces for all.

Don’t wait for the women in your life to ask to be included in the hunt. Be the first to ask if they’re interested, and ask often. Photo by Craig Watson.

Focus on the Journey

I asked my father, a lifelong hunter and outfitter, what he thought women brought to a hunting camp. Here’s what he said.

“Most women I’ve hunted with seem to really appreciate the process – the hunt itself. It’s not all about the final result to them and more about enjoying the actual journey. Often hunters think to be successful they have to have an animal on the ground, whereas for many women I’ve hunted with, just having the experience was success enough.”  

So the tip? Focus on the journey. Don’t put all the emphasis on the outcome. Respect the circle of life and your part in it. Many hunters enjoy the outdoors for the emotional and often spiritual connection they feel with nature. Women are no different. We feel the tug of the wild and the pull to participate in some of nature’s most sacred rituals. 

Have Patience

This may seem like an obvious one, but it can be the most important. Be patient, and don’t poke fun. Many new hunters feel nervous about their first hunts and need support. Sometimes support simply means letting them enjoy the learning experience without the pressure of going for a kill. Offering education first is a great way to build confidence.

By teaching and giving women the tools of the trade without a dependence on others, you empower them to occupy that space independently. This independence is a huge part of the draw for female hunters.

Kip Adams, NDA’s Chief Conservation Officer, said of his daughter Katie: “I will be totally fine if she chooses to not hunt, however I will be devastated if she doesn’t want to at least go to the woods with me”

Making the outdoors a priority is a great way to interest the women in your life in hunting! Having the patience to just be in the great outdoors and begin hunting with them on their own terms can go a long way. 

Comfort is Key  

When my sister and I were young, we were always bundled up with blankets, mittens and hand warmers in every pocket when we went along on the hunt. Sure, the blanket may have been Pocahontas-themed and not necessarily camouflaged, but our comfort helped cultivate our excitement to be outside and be part of an experience that was more important than the outcome of the hunt. As a grown woman, comfort is still key for me. But this time I would like my own hunting clothes designed to fit me and not an oversized sweatshirt that belonged to my dad. Read some of my ideas on how to find comfortable women’s hunting apparel. 

Make it Magical, Especially for the Young

No matter where or what we were hunting, my mom and dad always had a “bag of tricks” up their sleeve. Who says a four-year-old huntress can’t be fierce and also coloring in a coloring book while dad looks for deer? At young ages, bringing a child hunting is all about making them feel welcome, comfortable and happy in the hunting space. Snacks, nature stories, and toys are a great way to do this. 

Karli (right) with her sister Nicole when they were younger and on a family hunting trip. Making a hunt fun for children means adjusting your own expectations and focusing on their experience.

Ask. Don’t Assume.

Something I have always hated as a female hunter is condescending attitudes. A female friend who just began her hunting journey said, “I’m uncomfortable going hunting with a man who feels he is naturally better at or more inclined to do better at a task than I am, simply because he is a man.” 

Some men assume all women are new to hunting or only go along on a hunt to “help.” These assumptions can be easily avoided with communication. If you don’t already know a woman’s hunting background – ask! Has she been hunting before and where? That little question will give you a look into her experience level. This way you don’t underestimate your female hunting partner and you can both have a more enjoyable time! Just like anyone else, if your hunting partner needs something, she will ask.

Make it Social

Invite all who are interested in learning, and keep in mind that most women typically feel more comfortable among other women. I asked my grandmother when and why she made the change to start hunting alongside my grandfather. She told me a story of a trip with my grandfather, several other men, and their wives. 

“We were on a hunting trip, and the boys were all out hunting. The ladies were all in camp, and we talked about joining the hunt. I think myself and one of the other ladies simply said ‘I’ll do it if you do it!’ Then once I started, I couldn’t stop. The community aspect of it was wonderful. My success was more fun for Tom than when he hunted alone.”

Cultivate Independence

We should help all new hunters become self-sufficient and confident. Don’t merely lend women old hand-me-downs and ill-suited guns or bows. Give them the room to create their own space in the sport. All hunters need to know where materials and gear are located, how to access them, and how to use them. 

Cultivating independent hunters and huntresses can start at a young age. Kip Adams recalled scouting with his daughter. “At a very early age, I let her pick what she wanted to do with something. So for example if we were hanging trail-cameras, I always made it a point to let her pick where she wanted to hang one. I never wanted it to be something she had to do. I always wanted hunting to be something that was fun for her to do.”

By teaching and giving women the tools of the trade without a dependence on others, you empower them to occupy that space independently. This independence is a huge part of the draw for female hunters.

Karli and her dad with the results of a fishing trip.

Advice for the Huntress

My last bit of advice is for the woman who wants to hunt more or is interested in hunting: Ask! Seek other hunters and tell them you want to learn from them. Show interest and continue to show interest until you are heard, welcomed and valued. Send this article to a hunting buddy every time you want to participate in the great outdoors.

And if you’re a man reading this because a woman you know has sent it to you, this is your sign to plan hunting activities ASAP!

The hunting community will not be complete until it mirrors the global community: equally male and female, diverse, and growing. Every woman and girl, just like any other hunter, will have an entirely unique hunting journey and style. For example, I am a more determined hunter while my sister is more patient, and we often have different needs and goals for different hunts. As you grow with your hunting partner, you will both learn more about the type of hunters you already are and take steps to become the hunters you want to be. 

I’m hopeful some of these tips will help engage the women in your life to either pick up or continue hunting and enrich the experience for you both.

Contact Karli Gill with questions or comments about this article.

About Karli Gill:

Karli Gill is NDA's Deer Outreach Specialist in northern Missouri. A Missouri native and lifelong deer hunter, Karli comes to NDA from the Missouri Department of Conservation, where she served as the naturalist for the Runge Conservation Nature Center.

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