Young women are the fastest growing demographic of outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t believe it?
Research from a 2016 report by the Outdoor Foundation shows that among all age groups, 18- to 24-year-olds showed the most significant increase in participation of outdoor recreational activities. And within that 18- to 24-year-old demographic, the participation rate among females was 16 percent higher than their male counterparts.
Rosie the Riveter would take pride in seeing modern women break through age-old stereotypes, moving into the forefront of the typically male-dominated culture of hunting and gathering. Just in the state of Oregon, the Statesman Journal reported that the number of female hunters increased 16 percent within a decade, in spite of the purchases of hunting and fishing licenses being on a steady, historical decline.
Michelle Bodenheimer is one of those Oregonians, and the draw of the hunt transitioned her from living a vegetarian lifestyle to eventually becoming the regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. She believes that it’s becoming more socially acceptable for women to become hunters because society as a whole is tearing down conventional stereotypes.
“The outdoor sports help women gain confidence and a sense of purpose,” Bodenheimer said. She explains each milestone as a snowball effect that makes women want to do and conquer more feats as hunters. She also credits leaders in the outdoor industry for recognizing the growing number of female participants, and providing the resources to encourage that growth.
“Female participation continues to rise due to accessibility,” she said. “More and more companies are making clothing and gear specifically for women, making their pursuits easier. Organizations are offering classes and clinics to help women and strengthen their skills, which helps build confidence, to get them outdoors.”
Hunter Asha Aiello (below) explains the appeal of hunting not just as an experience, but also an offering of something tangible. “Women want to know where their food comes from,” she said. “We want to be able to participate in the process, and there’s no better way to access organic meat. You can push yourself to limits you never knew you had, and beyond, walking away with not only a stable of memories, but food for your family, too.”
As a marketing manager at Cabela’s, Aiello’s business is understanding what makes new hunters tick, and what experienced hunters want. She points to growing educational opportunities in the outdoor industry such as Ladies Hunting Camp as a great resource for introducing new hunters to the sport, as well as strengthening the skillsets of experienced hunters. Such programs offer a venue for women to network and access environments where they can develop the opportunities to mentor and learn from each other.
“I will never judge anyone if it’s pink camo or a purple handgun that gets them outdoors,” Aiello said. “If you like to wear sparkly stuff because it makes you feel cute when you shoot, then go for it.”
However, she recognizes that kind of marketing will take things only so far. “I once had a knife maker tell me that for years the outdoor industry thought all it had to do to grab women’s interest was pink it and shrink it.” While those initial impulse purchases might still have their place, she’s had to respond to the demand of providing high-quality gear that is specifically designed for women. “Women need pants that fit properly so we can move quietly in the field, boots that fit our feet, and knives that we can comfortably hold in our hands.” While several companies have taken feedback to create lines for women, she says that, “The challenge is that many companies have simply assumed what women want, when in truth, they’ve never been out in the field with a woman to see what challenges we face, and/or what opportunities there are.”
Female consumers are often an untapped demographic in the outdoor industry, in spite of making up nearly 20 percent of all hunters in the United States, increasing 85 percent from 2001 to 2013 from 1.8 to 3.3 million hunters according to the NRA.
The increase of female hunters also means that they are taking on multiple roles in the outdoor industry. In 2015, the Outdoor Industry Association named Amy Roberts as its executive director, who also serves on the boards of The Conservation Alliance, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
A recent story in USA Today highlighted several women that are changing the face of the outdoors, including Jennifer Drake, Michigan’s first and only female hunting guide, and Angie Reisch, the first female game warden in the state of Kansas. Both women mention the challenges of working in an outdoor industry that is primarily dominated by men. However, the growing number of women not only participating, but stepping into leadership roles in the outdoor industry, has led to organized, collaborative conservation efforts.
Jessi Johnson began volunteering with organizations to preserve public land opportunities, which eventually led to creating Artemis, a conservation group named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, geared toward the purpose of conserving resources and preserving public lands, while building leadership among sportswomen to give them a collective voice when lobbying public officials. While the organization is still in its infancy, it has already been well received at public events, with lines forming by women interested in signing up to participate in a conservation group that respects and amplifies their voices. The group also recently received a grant to further develop membership engagement, and has plans for a National Sportswomen’s Summit in the Spring of 2018.
It is easy to see how the outdoor industry faces its own challenges in keeping pace with the growing number of female hunters, but with women participating on multiple levels, their voice is one to be heard as both consumers and leaders by companies and public officials.
Top image of @taybrad12 with her Idaho bull elk courtesy of Cabela's Facebook