If there is any gentle words of advice I can give to men that encounter a woman hunting in the upland is take them seriously.
1. “So, who trained your dog?”
I had a bright smile and innocent thoughts about the conversation until that gem came out. He, like others before him, had just asked a frank question to a woman hunting, without thinking. I felt my expression dim and brow furrow in the split second it took to process the question. “I did”. I didn’t pay someone and no… like others have asked before this guy, 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. Assumptions about a woman’s ability as a dog trainer, handler, hunter, and shooter are perhaps some of the biggest annoyances ladies face in the upland culture. I think these assumptions supersede those experienced while hunting big game and while fishing; for some reason a dog and shotgun are an extra level of expertise that come across as a man’s. Assumptions, whether blatantly or subtly stated, can be discouraging to even the most seasoned woman in the field.
2. “Where’s your boyfriend?”
When I was in college I once had a particularly noteworthy encounter deer hunting 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 and had two guys stop their pickup just above me on the road. They asked where my boyfriend or husband was and whether he needed help dragging a deer out. I was confused at first (maybe they heard a gunshot? That is a nice gesture…) but grew increasingly disgruntled with their persistence. Eventually they insisted I was lying and covering up for the imaginary “man friend” and I had to defend being alone. The conversation ended when they finally drove away.
I climbed the rest of the way out with more weight on my shoulders. It was discouraging to have been accused of lying about woman hunting alone. Why was it so unbelievable that it drove them to persecution? One of the other big challenges a woman in the upland faces is countering the assumption (made by both sexes) that you are out there because you are with a man or have some other reason than just hunting. I am in the field because I want to be and I hunt because I am passionate about it. It is a fundamental part of who I am. I feel like I am a positive example of an outdoor woman and take confidence in the fact that I am a role model for others, including the generation of girls that will come after me. After all, those girls will play an increasingly important role in the future of hunting. Their motivation shouldn’t be questioned and their presence should be welcomed.
3. “Here, let me do that.”
If there is any gentle words of advice I can give to men that encounter a woman hunting in the field is take them seriously. There are a range of possibilities as to why a woman is there. She may be new to hunting and seeking a mentor (such as yourself). Or, perhaps she is much 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 hunting 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 hunting they know nothing about. 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 are hunters. If we expect to perpetuate the opportunities and experiences we love we need face these challenges together regardless of our differences.
Watch the author in the 2017 Project Upland Film- The Opportunity