I Wish She Would go Hunting with Me
I wish I had a dollar for every guy that has told me that he doesn't get to hunt as much as he'd like because his wife doesn't like him to be gone that much. Or that his marriage is in serious jeopardy because she thinks that he loves hunting more than he loves her. It would all be so much easier if she just shared his passion for hunting.
Having grown up in a family where Mom and Dad hunted together and then later, being blessed with a wife who loves to hunt, I have, over the course of 40 years, made a few observations that I think are generally valid when it comes to hunting and women. In the interest of social harmony and domestic tranquility, I offer the following for your consideration.
The best place to start is with her perspective. Pick a time and place with no stress and no distractions and find out what she really thinks about hunting. Let her do most of the talking and be open-minded and non-judgmental in your listening. Keep in mind that the biggest attraction to hunting, for her, is the chance to be alone with you and have your full and undivided attention. Right here is a good place to start.
For most women, hunting is perceived as macho and unfeminine. It is, for the most part, portrayed that way in the hunting magazines. In order for her to truly participate, she must be able to see herself as a hunter without having to completely change her self-image. Let her know that you fully support her and that you don't expect her to become "one of the guys".
This is also a good time for you to think about why you hunt. If you can present hunting to her as a total experience rather than just "going out in the woods with your buddies to kill something" she is more likely to want to share it with you.
When you first started hunting, you weren't a "trophy hunter," and she won't be either. Generally speaking, men are competitive and women are cooperative. In order for her to enjoy hunting, she must define it from her perspective. Learning to hunt in a non-competitive way will make it easier for you to swallow your pride when she shoots a bigger set of antlers than you, because someday she will.
Understand that men are goal oriented and focused and women are big picture, multi-taskers. In order for her to enjoy hunting she must be able to fit it in with all the other responsibilities she must manage. She can't just drop everything and go hunting for two weeks. Start out with day hunts, close to home, in which she can participate without disrupting the rest of her life. This will provide the groundwork for more involved experiences later.
Get her involved with off-season planning and scouting. Hiking in the summer where you hunt in the fall and shed-antler hunting in the spring are good ways to make the hunting experience more rounded. Learn to hunt with a camera. It takes exactly the same skills to get close enough for a shot, plus there are no license fees and you can do it year around. If you have young children, this is an excellent way to get them involved in a comfortable, low-stress way. Teaching them to identify animal tracks and sign as you walk through the woods will give them a good initiation into the world of hunting. It is also the best way to make sure that the whole family is on the same page when October comes around.
Let her make her first mistakes, like we all did, with just you as witness. Subjecting her to the teasing and ridicule, no matter how gently intended, of other hunters is not a good place to begin. You may have to endure some teasing and harassment yourself if you choose to hunt with her rather than with your buddies. Bear in mind that they're just jealous. If the harassment escalates to an "either her or us" level, pick her.
Buy her a light-kicking rifle that fits her frame, mounted with a quality scope with lots of eye relief. Something between .243 Winchester and 7x57 in terms of recoil. Make it her rifle. Not a hand me down or one of yours that you don't use anymore. Make target practice fun and non-competitive. Initially, the goal is to get her to feel comfortable shooting. Make sure she has maximum ear protection and a padded shoulder so that muzzle blast and recoil don't distract from the experience.
She probably could care less about the technical data associated with the cartridge she shoots. Find a general purpose load that her rifle shoots well and stick with it.
Let her load and unload her rifle until it is second nature. Let her decide when to progress from plinking to targets. Take along a .22 to provide shooting time without the big bang from her hunting rifle. If you are a big magnum fan, realize that men, and women, were killing every species of game on the North American continent for two hundred years before smokeless powder was invented.
Her primary concern will be to kill the game cleanly and humanely with one, well placed, shot. It should be your primary concern as well. No amount of magnum firepower will compensate for a hasty, ill-considered shot. My wife is way ahead of me in the one-shot-kill department, primarily because I tend to get in a hurry and not wait for the perfect opportunity. She would rather see a big set of antlers walk away than risk a less than perfect shot. Men could benefit from that perspective.
Be willing to be less successful, initially, than you were before. Women need to communicate all the time, especially in a new experience. You will spook game because she needs to talk at inopportune times. You will cover less ground because you are hunting together rather than separately. You will also make more noise moving. As she gets more comfortable you can hunt separately, but remember, her primary motivation for being out there is to be with you. Teach her how to use a two-way radio and a GPS. That way she can focus on hunting rather than worrying about getting lost.
Women are more concerned with their appearance than men. Let her buy hunting clothes that she feels good in. On the other hand, making sure she is comfortable, dry and warm, should be a top priority for you. If she can't see the need for loose fitting, quiet, water repellant clothing and pac boots at first, she will later. Make sure they are available. Don't say I told you so.
Women are generally more graceful, more patient, quieter in their movements and more observant than men, all qualities that have direct application to hunting. She already has the necessary skills; all she lacks is experience. As she gains experience, let her do it her way. She will make up for what she lacks in focus and determination with the ability to be "in the moment" and aware of everything that is going on around her. My mother often picks decorative greens for Christmas wreaths while she is hunting. More than once she has come back to camp with greens in one bag and a fresh elk heart in another. She lets Dad carry her rifle.
Let her decide at what level to share her hunting experiences with her non-hunting friends. Her participation in hunting will be met with curious interest by most people. This is the time to let her take center stage while you stay in the background. All of us men would do well to remember that women are half of the voting population and the future of hunting depends as much on them as it does on us. Many times a non-hunter can be prevented from becoming an anti-hunter by presenting hunting from a feminine perspective.
As she becomes more involved in the hunting experience, let her take responsibility for what she is naturally good at. My mother has been the hunting camp director for 40 years and still fully participates in that role at 72. Supporting her in whatever she is most comfortable doing will give her the freedom to assume a leadership role later on.
These suggestions are presented in no particular order and are obviously geared toward modern rifle hunting, but are obviously adaptable to bow hunting or muzzle loading as well. If you put forth the necessary effort to make her feel comfortable as a hunter, you will reap the reward of a lifetime of shared experiences and a depth in your relationship that is all too rare in our modern culture.
Copyright 2004 by Bruce Rutherford. All rights reserved.