If I could offer any gentle advice to men who encounter women hunting in the upland, it would be this: take them seriously. Here’s three things to say that show you don’t.
1. “So, who trained your dog?”
I had a bright smile and innocent thoughts about the conversation until that gem came out. Like others before him, he had just asked a frank question without thinking to a woman hunting. I felt my expression dim and brow furrow in the split second it took to process the question.
I didn’t pay someone. And no, like others have asked before, these are not my male counterpart’s dogs. These manly looking bearded beasts are mine. I trained and tested them through the German system. They are what they are in part due to the months that followed their 8th week. In my first years in the German system, many of the established members assumed I did not train my own dogs and that I had sent them off to someone.
This assumption continues to pop up as I meet new people in my job and in the field. People assume things about a woman’s ability as a dog trainer, handler, hunter, and shooter. It is perhaps the biggest annoyance ladies in the upland culture face. These assumptions often supersede those experienced while hunting big game and fishing. For some reason, people tend to think that a dog and shotgun are extra levels of expertise that belong to men only. But whether assumptions are blatant or subtle, they are discouraging to even the most seasoned woman afield.
2. “Where’s your boyfriend?”
When I was in college, I had a particularly noteworthy encounter hunting deer in California. I was up on South Fork Mountain, taking some precious time to do something I really loved: hunting blacktails. I was crawling out of a steep canyon after a short hunt when two guys stopped their pickup on the road above me. They asked where my boyfriend was and whether he needed help dragging a deer out. I was confused at first (maybe they heard a gunshot?), but I grew increasingly disgruntled with their persistence. Eventually they insisted I was lying and covering up for the imaginary “man friend.” They had me defend being alone. The conversation ended and they drove away.
I climbed the rest of the way out with more weight on my shoulders. The weight of discouragement. It was demoralizing to be accused of lying about being a woman hunting alone. Why is it so unbelievable? And why did they feel the need to persecute me? Both sexes assume you are out there, because you are with a man or have some ulterior motive. Surely, you can’t love hunting itself.
But I am in the field, because I want to be. I am passionate about hunting—it’s a fundamental part of who I am. To be an outdoors woman is to be a positive example. You can take confidence in the fact that you are a role model for everyone, including the next generation of girls. And those girls will play an important role in the future of hunting. We should welcome their presence. There is no need to question their motivation.
3. “Here, let me do that.”
There are a range of possibilities as to why a woman is in the field. She may be new to hunting and seeking a mentor such as yourself. Or maybe she is way better at the game than you. Don’t assume she is one or the other. Acknowledge her as a potential equal and take a moment to think. Feel the conversation out.
One of my colleagues tells a story about a beautiful blonde woman he came across many years ago in a covert. She had two setters, a double barrel, and a hefty field vest. He was caught off guard and barely spoke to her. I have heard him tell this story more than once and I know he will live the rest of his life wishing he would have talked to her. Just to know more.
I love men, but sometimes they need to think a little before they say something or nothing to a woman they don’t know out hunting. The way you treat someone may help form their opinion on a circumstance they are new to or give them permission to let their guard down a little. We are all on the same team, we hunters. If we expect to perpetuate the opportunities and experiences we love, then we need face these challenges together regardless of our differences.
Watch the author in the 2017 Project Upland Film, The Opportunity.
Last modified: May 25, 2018