SHERIDAN — Over the past decade, women’s participation in hunting has increased by almost one-third, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. About 14% more women are fishing, while participation among men decreased by about 5% for both activities.
WGFD Hunter and Angler Participation Coordinator Kathryn Boswell said Wyoming women are beginning to see hunting as a more accessible activity to them. The sense of pride associated with bringing home a meal is something hunters can access through the sport regardless of gender, she said.
“The demographics are changing,” Boswell said in a press release. “Our baby boomers are getting older and at the same time, women are seeing hunting and fishing as options for their recreation and food choices.”
The WGFD touts outreach efforts for women in the outdoors and conservation as a contributing factor, including two Becoming an Outdoor Woman camps in 2019. Camp participants could learn about wildlife, plant life, outdoor sports, photography and map skills.
The Beyond BOW camp, “specialized in hunting ethics, firearms, archery, gun cleaning, optics and a simulated hunt with a mentor,” and 119 women participated in the camps.
Mentorship has been a focus for many hunting outreach programs in the state, including the Beyond BOW camps and the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt.
Ruth Martin signed up for the BOW camps as a way to meet like-minded women who enjoy the outdoors and to improve her gun skills.
Martin said for some women, the intimidation of entering a male-dominated sport like hunting can be eased by learning alongside other women. Practice is important for anyone looking to improve their skills, as well as finding the right equipment, she said.
Outdoor enthusiast Mandy Fabel said supportive mentorship is invaluable in many outdoor activities — beyond hunting and fishing.
What draws many people, regardless of gender, to Wyoming is the rugged landscape and opportunities to play in the outdoors, Fabel said.
In the outdoor activities she enjoys, she said it’s becoming just as normal for a woman to be a leader in her sport as a man.
“You see women who are diving into a sport out of their own interest, versus being introduced to it through a brother, a father or a husband or something along those lines,” Fabel said.
While her brother and father didn’t ban her from joining hunting trips as a child, she wasn’t necessarily invited to participate. In both hunting and snowmobiling, Fabel sought out mentors because of her own interest.
When women join together in an activity, there can be a stronger sense of inspiration, encouragement and willingness to take risks compared to being one woman in a group of men, Fabel said.
“I do think that an all-women’s environment just lowers the intimidation factor or the pressure to be a certain thing or achieve a certain standard,” Fabel said.
Still, some of Fabel’s most supportive mentors have been men who championed her success in a sport without stopping short of teaching the best skills and technique, she said.
Mentorship is an effective way to learn technique. Newcomers might be further encouraged by learning from someone to whom they can relate, Fabel said. In rock climbing and snowmobiling, Fabel’s approach as a small woman is different than a large man. Motivation goes a long way for anyone, Fabel said. Many of her mentors were excited to help a woman succeed in male-dominated sports without being patronizing. In her experience, all anyone has to prove is a willingness to put in the work and become competent.
It still surprises some people when Fabel is called on to lead a snowmobiling group or surpasses her husband in an activity, she said. But she isn’t intimidated by the sense that others are taken aback and rarely hears critique about a woman leading.
“When my husband and I go climbing, there’s not an assumption that he’ll be better than me,” Fabel said. “In the other sports that I do, I often sense that assumption being made — that he’s probably the better person — and in some of them I’m the better athlete and it sort of surprises people. In climbing, I don’t sense that at all…I hope that’s where other sports are headed as well.”
Fabel said her husband is supportive in her success and isn’t concerned with who is better. Fabel recommends against couples coaching each other about technique as certain situations can be emotionally loaded or tense and detract from the opportunity to improve.
In her rock climbing classes, Fabel said she witnessed a difference in willingness to take risks between male and female teenagers. In general, boys were overconfident in their skills and girls underestimated their ability. Fabel said she wanted her students to meet in the middle.
Taking a bit more risk speeds up the learning curve in a new sport, Fabel said. Participating in activities alongside other women can encourage risk-taking in a safe and supportive environment.
Some people who are new to climbing, including women, are afraid to fall, Fabel said. When mentoring a newcomer, teaching how to fall can be an inspiring way to approach the sport, she said. When she starts her next climb, a woman can push a little harder and know that it’s safe to fall.