4 Min Read
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Thirteen-year-old Anna Yu is the first member of her family to handle a rifle, which she recently used to take down a deer with a single shot in an adult-supervised hunt in Idaho.
Yu is among the growing number of American girls and women -- from teens to senior citizens -- who have taken up hunting, a sport traditionally associated with men and still dominated by them.
"I thought, 'I can do this,'" Yu said. "Hunting's not just for boys, it's for everybody."
As wildlife agencies across the nation track an overall decline in the ranks of hunters, some states are reporting a surge in the number of females enrolled in hunter education courses and issued permits to bag birds and big-game animals.
The trend is pronounced in the northern Rockies, where a wealth of wildlife, vast swaths of publicly accessible lands and an outdoors culture has historically made for a hunting mecca.
Faced with flagging license sales in some years, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have renewed efforts to recruit new hunters. Females are a prime target, with states offering ladies-only shooting instruction, hunting clinics and workshops on outdoor skills.
"Women are not just stuck in the kitchen these days, and hunting is no longer a gender-specific activity," said Kelton Hatch, conservation educator with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Females in 2010 made up 19.5 percent of all Idaho residents applying for hunting licenses, a 10-year high. In Montana last year, women accounted for 14 percent of hunters. That compared to a national average of 9 percent.
Those states and Wyoming report an uptick in young females completing the safety program required for most hunting.
Idaho hunting instructor Jim Toynbee said 40 years of teaching youths, aged 9 to 17, has convinced him that girls are surer shots.
"In almost every class, girls will outshoot the boys," he said.
Leaders of women-only workshops believe females benefit from not facing the pressure of having to prove themselves.
"Let's face it: we don't have to be macho," said Liz Lodman, coordinator in Montana of Becoming an Outdoors Woman, or BOW, which offers shooting and hunting classes and routinely attracts overflow crowds to its sessions.
That women now outpace men as new hunters has not been lost on retailers of outdoor apparel and gun makers, who aim to capture that niche market by promoting everything from a "SHE" line of camouflage clothing to pink rifles.
The growing number of women heading single-parent households also has led to more moms wanting to provide their families fresh game -- part of a trend that favors local and natural food -- as well as instill in their children a taste for hunting, officials said.
Women from all walks of life and ranging in age from 18 to 76 have gathered in Wyoming's back country every summer for an outdoors program, where instructors are selected according to their teaching style rather than gender, said Janet Milek, BOW coordinator with the state Game and Fish Department.
"We look for people who give women the confidence to say, 'Wow, it's OK to shoot a handgun. It's all right to use a big-game rifle,'" she said.
Gail Sheridan, 56, said she felt free to ask "all the questions that make you feel silly" at the women-only classes she attended this year in Wyoming.
"I would ask things like, 'Why do I need to put the bullet in this way?' Ask that question in front of a bunch of male hunters sitting around a fire, having a beer, and they're going to laugh at you," she said.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan