Women And Bow Hunting

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Women represent the fastest growing demographic among North America’s bow hunters – make room guys, the fairer sex is joining ranks

Answering the phone, it was Heather on the other end. The excitement in her voice told me she had let an arrow fly. It wasn’t her first deer with archery tackle, but with each successive harvest, her enthusiasm seems to grow.

“I just shot one!” she whispered excitedly. “How fast can you get here?”

I had to work that afternoon, but everything is put on the backburner as soon as one of us shoots a deer. Fortunately, she was only a half hour away. I immediately dropped what I was doing, changed into my hunting clothes and went to join her.

Hunting the second rut, she had called in a great buck to 17 yards. I didn’t play any role at all in her success that day. She had put up her own tree stand overlooking a primary scrape, hunted on her own and called in a buck. Furthermore, she made a perfect kill shot. This was her accomplishment alone.

“Is he down?” I asked.

“Not sure,” she replied, “but I definitely let the air out of him. He can’t be far.”

I arrived less than an hour later and as I walked in on the trail, I bumped into Heather standing over her fine trophy.

 

Not just for guys

I thrive on doing guy stuff, but I have to say I am one proud husband. It has been a blast watching my wife evolve and succeed as a bow hunter. Before marriage, I would spend much of each fall bouncing from hunt to hunt, going out with my buddies and immersing myself in the quasi-macho hunting experience. When I first took up bow hunting, those pursuits advanced to a whole new level. I took great pride in being a guy bow hunter. I’ve been married for 20 years now, and I have to chuckle when I think of my own paradigm shift. If you know Heather, and many of you do, you probably know what I’m going to say next. Yep, you guessed it: as soon as she slipped a ring on my finger, she no longer wanted to be an observer. If I were going to make this merger work, she would indeed become a full-fledged bow huntress. No ifs, ands or buts; she wanted to get a bow and she wanted to hunt with it.

At first I thought, “Ok, let’s see how this will play out.” To be honest, I figured it might be a short-lived curiosity. Man, was I wrong! One of the reasons I married Heather is because she is driven. When she sets a goal, she achieves it. There is no waffling; she simply gets it done. That said, never in a million years did I dream she would take it to the level she has. Today, my wife is an accomplished archer and bow hunter with many species and Pope and Young animals to her credit. My point? Many women want to become archers and, yes, even hunt with a bow. Unfortunately, in most instances, they just don’t know how, or where, to begin.

 

Overcoming barriers

Stigmas can be a powerful force. Bow hunting has traditionally been a male-dominated activity. Any time an activity is predominantly overrun by one demographic, others face real or perceived challenges if they want to get involved. Aside from the social barriers, there are physical and practical limitations as well.

When I spoke with Western Sportsman’s assistant editor, Michaela Ludwig, about what she thought were the most imminent barriers that women have to overcome, she said, “I believe the biggest obstacle would be thinking that you’re alone. It’s hard for most adults to jump feet-first into a new endeavor, but when you’re a woman, surrounded by men in what is clearly a male-dominated sport, it becomes even harder. You just have to put your head down and trudge ahead. There are many people in the archery world that want to see more people pick up a bow, men and women alike, and they will help you.”

Michaela is what most people would politely refer to as stubborn. Like Heather, she is driven. She went on to say, “My bow is a PSE Chaos. After I picked it up, I headed to Trophy Book Archery in Spruce Grove, west of Edmonton, and made use of their indoor lanes. I kept returning until I knew the staff and some of the archers a bit better, and then things got a lot easier. No matter how independent you think you are, it’s always nice to tackle a new sport if you’re surrounded by friendly faces. I signed up for six weeks of lessons, so I could learn proper technique, and even joined my newfound friends in a few 3D competitions.”

You need a healthy dose of humility when starting a new sport. The fact is, you’re not going to be proficient at it right away, and no one is ever perfect.

“When I first started, I was frustrated that I couldn’t pull as much weight as the guys,” Michaela said. “It felt like I’d never get to the 40 pounds you need to be able to hunt. But I did. It just takes time and consistent practice to build up your muscles.”

Women face obvious physical limitations when it comes to archery. They rarely pull over 50 pounds, their draw lengths tend to be shorter and their bows tend to be shorter axle-to-axle as well.

“Most archery companies, like other companies that cater to the hunting crowd, have more products geared towards men than they do women. But do not let this discourage you,” Michaela emphasized. “Although there may not be as many bows marketed specifically for women, if you are a woman and you want to get into archery and bow hunting, rest assured there is a bow that can work for you. Once you know your draw length, the draw weight you can handle and the length of the bow that works best for you, use this as your shopping guide.”

 

Introducing newcomers

Over the past two decades I have learned a lot about women and bow hunting; some of it by watching my wife, and perhaps even more by observing friends and trends in the industry. With Heather’s skill and passion, not to mention my own circumstances, we have had the privilege of introducing many young girls and women to the great sport of archery and, ultimately, bow hunting.

Michaela is a classic example of a woman who recently picked up a bow and has now claims a mild addiction. When I asked Michaela how she was first introduced to archery, here’s what she had to say:

“Archery has always piqued my interest, in a sort of ‘that looks cool’ kind of way,” Michaela said. “My family is full of hunters, but shotguns and rifles are their tools of choice. My first, official introduction to archery was at the Edmonton Boat and Sportsmen’s Show in 2013. I had a bit of a bumbling start, but once I had the mechanics figured out and fired that first arrow, I was hooked. I had to have one.”

As she and I sat down over lunch, I was taken with her apparent passion for archery and her sincere interest in learning to bow hunt.

“I have a hard time being idle,” she said. “I don’t play sports for the fun of it; I play to win. I don’t leisurely ride horses; I ride and practice to compete. I knew archery would be the same. I wanted to take up bow hunting and compete in archery competitions so I could stay focused on my goal to become a better archer.”

 

Gearing up

One need only take a look at the rapidly increasing number of bow, accessory and hunting apparel manufacturers that cater specifically to women. No longer can women bow hunters be ignored; their numbers are growing, and in turn so is the demand for gear.

Today’s hunting bows, not to mention apparel, are specialized. Most guys are pulling draw weights between 55 and 75 pounds, but these weights are unrealistic for most women to pull. In Alberta, a hunting bow must have a minimum draw weight of 40 pounds. With practice, women can pull that weight. Heather pulls and hunts with a 47-pound draw weight.

Recognizing strength limitations, many of today’s manufacturers make bows specifically for women. Heather has learned to use top-end equipment and now shoots a PSE DNA, which can be turned down to accommodate her draw weight. Not that long ago, we had to order custom limbs if she wanted to shoot a high-end bow. Companies like Easton are designing arrows like the Carbon Hexx, or the Hot Pursuit arrows by Carbon Express, which are well-suited to a woman’s bow – lighter poundage and shorter draw length. Likewise, companies like Scott make releases specifically for women, fitting a smaller hand.

As far as clothing is concerned, according to my wife, it used to be one of her pet peeves. Not that long ago, SHE Apparel and Prois Apparel came onto the scene, literally revolutionizing the industry. Responding to a growing segment of the hunting marketplace, these companies, and now several others, including Scentblocker through their Sola line, are making form-fitting hunting clothes for the female form. Finally now, instead of having to wear uncomfortable jackets, shirts and pants, women can finally wear stuff that fits. And, as we all know, if it is comfortable, it makes archery that much more enjoyable and practical for bow hunting.

 

Opportunity abounds

With traditional barriers fading, there is a world of opportunity for women. Organizations like Alberta’s Hunting for Tomorrow Foundation offer mentor programs for youth and women, in particular. The nice thing about these mentor programs is the opportunity to learn how to shoot and bow hunt properly, in other words safely, ethically and in a manner that will increase odds for success in the field. Accredited bow hunter education programs will help teach skills from shot placement to strategies, game care and more.

There are many archery clubs throughout western Canada and their indoor or outdoor lanes are open to all archers. Archery competitions are another great way to practice with your bow and learn new skills for the field.

“If you don’t have a significant other to teach you, or the resources to participate in a mentor program, don’t be afraid to jump in there by yourself,” Michaela said. “It can be daunting, but the archery community is full of people that want you to learn and be successful.”

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