It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, if you want to hunt, the forests and fields of this great country are open for you to do so. Sadly, though, hunting isn’t always viewed that way. It’s frequently pigeonholed as an exclusively masculine sport—one in which men venture into the forests with rifle in hand to bring home meat, reveling in their masculinity while the women sit idly by waiting to cook their trophies. Nothing could be further from the truth, but old stereotypes endure. The fact is, women have always held their own in the sport and now more than ever are showing that they belong right alongside the men in the hunting world.
Today there are more female hunters than every before, with more than 3.3 million women taking to the field annually. This is massive increase from a mere decade ago, when surveys found that only 1.2 million women were venturing into the hunting woods, making up roughly 10 percent of the hunting population. Female hunting celebrities like Eva Shockey and Tiffany Lakosky are paving the way as hunting television hosts, and politicians and celebrities like Sarah Palin, Eva Longoria, and supermodel Rosie Huntington are all openly showing their enthusiasm for hunting and the outdoors. Suddenly there are women’s hunting clinics and education courses popping up all over the country, and entire publications dedicated to women and hunting are hitting newsstands everywhere.
This rather dramatic increase in female hunting participation can been attributed to many things, but it’s most likely born of the simple fact that humanity in general has become more enlightened and accepting. Suddenly it seems that fathers are taking their daughters to the woods with them and teaching them as readily as they do their sons. This trend has numerous hunting companies throwing out elaborate marketing campaigns and creating products exclusively for women. And while this is fantastic and great for the sport, the idea of “the emerging female hunter” is outdated. The fact is women have been hunters from the very beginning.
The notion that we evolved from a hunter/gatherer society, in which the men hunted and the women gathered, is a complete falsehood. During the Paleolithic period, before weapons like bows and even spears had come about, ancient humans hunted using a more hand-to-hand combat style. Recent studies of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon remains show broken bones and skeletal damage consistent with the injuries inflicted upon predators as they pull their prey to the earth. Interestingly, these types of hunting injuries were found on the ancient remains of both men AND women, proving that, back in the caveman days, women were just as willing and able to run down and beat an antelope to death as the men.
Throughout human history, women have been seen as hunters, perhaps even more so than men. The ancient Egyptians worshipped Neath, goddess of the war and the hunt. The Greeks prayed to Artemis, their goddess of the hunt, and the Romans to Diana before sending their daughters to the field to hunt wild sheep and stags.
In the late 1800s Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane came to prominence, two women who carved their own niche as shooters and hunters and shouldered their way up to the bar alongside the cowboys and mountain men of their time. In England during the early 1900s, noblewomen took up hunting as an aristocratic sport that reconnected them with nature and got them away from the great manors and populous cities in which they lived. Lady Catherine Minna Jenkins and Agnes Elsie Diana Herbert became quite famous for writing about their hunting adventures that ranged from chasing tigers in India to hunting a variety of big game in Africa and Alaska.
In 1940, a bestselling novel titled “I Married Adventure” was flying off bookshelves. This book was the autobiography of the great African big-game hunter Osa Johnson (shown above), which is still a favorite read among outdoor enthusiasts today. And when speaking of female hunters in history it is impossible to ignore Eleanor Bradford Barry, the wife of the great big-game hunter Jack O’Connor, who shared in her husband’s adventures and took her own great trophies right alongside him. All this just goes to show that there has always been a proud tradition of women in the hunting world.
In society today the old labels of masculinity and femininity assigned throughout certain sports and activities are finally being blurred and even completely erased. In hunting, and perhaps all other things, they never should have existed in the first place. The distinct divide between the sexes was put into place in ancient times when the male of the species simply took over, ruling on brute strength and physicality alone, and like so many things of the past it was blatantly wrong. Women have always been capable and deserving of equality.
Women bring to the hunting world an emotionally raw and pure perspective that, for men, is so often veiled behind a wall of machismo that a patriarchal society has forced them to construct. Quite simply, women who hunt are the very embodiment of the rugged beauty of Nature herself. We should be grateful and honored that we are able to share the field with them.
Featured image of Osa Johnson and gun, 1928, courtesy of the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum.