Reversing the Trends
Marissa Jensen put it simply: “Women currently are the fastest growing segment in the hunting population, and we know it is essential to find a support system for those interested in getting involved.” Marissa is the education and outreach program manager for Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever (PF/QF). Her counterpart at the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS), Mark Fouts, vice president of member relations, summed it up as well when he said, “Hunters are the original conservationists, and women are the fastest growing demographic in the hunting tradition.”
To put the importance of these comments in a working context, consider some scary stats: Baby boomers, the largest population sector of hunters, are predicted to only have about 15 years of hunting-license purchases left in them. At that point, the number of hunters in this country will drop about 30 percent. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reported that we already lost 2.2 million hunters between 2011 and 2016.
Hunting and shooting sports provide 80 percent of the funding for habitat and wildlife conservation in this country through licenses and excise taxes on hunting and shooting gear. Fewer hunters and shooters means fewer license and merchandise purchases. In turn, that reduces the dollars going to state and federal conservation programs—fewer hunters, fewer dollars, and less conservation.
Nationally, the R3 movement (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) is taking an energized approach to finding new hunters, and women above all have the potential to be the greatest R3 success story. Between 2001 and 2013, the number of women hunters increased 85 percent. In 2011, 2.7 million hunters were women. In 2017, that number rose to 3.9 million. These numbers continue to grow, and therein lies a key to reversing downward trends in hunters and conservation funding.
Recognizing the enormous impact that engaging more women in conservation can have on the future of habitat and wildlife, several conservation organizations have developed programs not just to get more women into hunting but to transform them into conservationists as well.
Pheasants Forever’s Women on the Wing initiative includes Women on the Wing chapters; Women, Wine, and Wild Game social events; wingshooting clinics; and Learn to Hunt events. “We look to provide an opportunity to grow these hunter-conservationists and provide social support, so those just starting out have access to the information and education they need to become self-sufficient hunters,” Marissa explained. To date, Women on the Wing has run 56 events totaling 1,073 participants.
Women on the Wing also connects women landowners, farmers, and ranchers with conservation education and resources. Explaining the landowner pathway, Marissa said, “According to the Women’s Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN), there are approximately one million female farmers in the United States, owning of all farmland. An additional 87 million acres are owned by non-operating women landowners. Helping women landowners and operators engage in habitat conservation is a huge opportunity for our mission.” In partnership with WFAN, the Women Caring for the Land program brings women landowners together on host farms for conservation workshops.
Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever’s commitment to increasing the number of women in conservation is evident in a broader picture. “We want to normalize women in the field through all of our content and images. Equality is important to the organization and industry, and we want that to show in our content.” With partners ranging from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and state agencies to Walton’s Everything but the Meat, Women on the Wing provides support for women to find their own path leading to a passion that ties back to habitat conservation.
The Ruffed Grouse Society’s Women’s Intro to Wingshooting course runs classes twice a month for three months followed by a mentored hunt. Unlike typical “one and done” classes, the RGS program allows for more shooting practice along with education on game cooking, hunting dogs, gear, and the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Some of the courses are run by RGS chapters, while some are run in partnership with other organizations and clubs.
As with most recruitment programs, there are challenges. “I am finding the hardest part of the whole R3 movement is having adults give up their time to help educate, teach, and mentor others,” Mark said. “If volunteers only understood the reward in teaching someone new to the sport and helping them understand conservation, the line would be long.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) hosts its popular Women in the Outdoors programs, which includes one-day or weekend “round robin” of various classes. According to Teresa Carroll, NWTF’s Hunting Heritage Programs coordinator, conservation education is woven in. “The conservation message is most strongly shared at hunting clinics and mentored hunts where we explain why hunting is important to conservation,” she added.
Another facet of NWTF’s initiative is teaching women on their staff about conservation and hunting. “We came to the realization that there were some women who weren’t aware of the conservation model on our own staff,” said Teresa. “We began to do more to educate them so they, in turn, could help educate others.”
The NWTF works with their chapters to offer follow-up events as well as information about programs run by nearby conservation organizations. “The more they learn and are engaged—whether through NWTF, PF/QF, RMEF (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation), or others—the more likely they will become advocates for conservation and our cherished hunting heritage,” Teresa added.
Artemis, a program of the National Wildlife Federation, was founded three years ago to empower sportswomen conservationists. Artemis currently focuses much of its work in the Western half of the country but plans to expand nationally over the next year. The 50 to 60 events run annually and include educational and legislative workshops along with outdoor activities. Artemis’ Program Manager Marcia Brownlee described the scope of their work: “We balance those events with on-the-ground work parties and citizen-science research. We also do a lot of organizing work to help sportswomen publish op-eds, participate in D.C. fly-ins, and connect with state affiliates for legislative work.”
Like Mark Fouts, Marcia sees volunteers as the greatest asset for these programs. “People do things for people. By fostering personal relationships or support in the field, on the water, and in conservation, we encourage deep, meaningful, and sustainable connections to our heritage, our community, and our future,” Marcia said.
Asked what she thought was PF/QF’s biggest asset in bringing women into these programs, Marissa’s answer targets the passions that motivate us all: “The biggest asset we have within Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever for increasing our women’s audience is no different than what draws us all to the uplands. Whether that’s training and following a beloved bird dog, the health benefits of exercising and time spent outdoors, approachable meals, or the beautifully diverse scenery that comes along with this, it’s about creating habitat to enjoy and the ability to experience the uplands in a way that is unique to you.”
Originally published in Volume 8, Number 5 (August-September 2020) of Covey Rise.
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