Earlier this month, I visited The Whitetail Summit 2009 hosted at the Sports Dome in Queensbury. Although attendance levels were lower than expected, the event offered numerous high quality exhibits and a wide range of interesting seminars. It was a good start toward building a quality show that will hopefully grow into an annual event.
I stuck around to attend The Whitetail Summit dinner sponsored by Trijicon and watch as Vermont deer hunting legend, Larry Benoit, was inducted into the newly created, Whitetail Hall of Fame, as its first member. Benoit's sons, Lanny and Shane, accepted the award on their father's behalf.
Among the camo clad crew, one enthusiast stood out. Karen Turner, aka the Vermont Huntress was notable for one simple reason. She was a female and she represents the fastest growing constituency among an ever diminishing breed of outdoor enthusiasts, hunters.
Whitetail deer are a hunter's equivalent of bass. And like bass, whitetail deer are widely distributed across most of the country. Relatively easily accessible, whitetails are the most commonly hunted big game animal in North America. They are a blue collar animal, the prey of Joe Sixpack.
Despite the fact that whitetail deer are pursued predominantly by rural, white males, women constitute the fastest growing segment of the hunting fraternity today.
Over the past decade, an interesting and important trend has quietly taken place across the wild lands of North America. Women are taking to the woods in ever increasing numbers. They possess more effective outdoor skills and a greater level of confidence than ever before.
Hunting, fishing adventures are no longer the exclusive domain of the male of the species. Nor, in reality, were they ever!
Women were the original campers, from the earliest days, in almost all corners of the earth. Aboriginal people relied on women to prepare shelters, to make clothes, gather the water, cook the meals and tend to the necessities essential to insure survival of their people.
Women made the decisions of when to move and where to camp. Meanwhile, the men hunted and went to war. It's not surprising that many Native American nations were matriarchal societies.
As 'civilized' society grew and matured, it evolved to the point where a women's place was considered to be the home, while the men were expected to roam. The wilderness was considered a hostile environment to be tamed. It was not a place fit for a lady.
Although numerous examples remain of pioneer women taking to the woods, the American society came to accept the fact that woodland travel and wilderness adventures were primarily a male dominated environment.
The massive Brandreth Park, with over 30,000 acres stretching from Raquette Lake to Long Lake, is considered the largest, single family owned parcel in the Adirondacks.
From the turn of the century and well into the 1900's, a local hunter by the name of Paul Brandreth hunted these lands. Paul was an internationally recognized expert on hunting whitetail deer and wrote of his adventures in Forest and Stream, Woods and Waters and other national publications. He even published a book on hunting whitetails. It is still considered one of the finest ever written on the subject.
However, despite being one of the foremost authorities on the topic, Paul never attended the fabled New York Sportsman Show. He never set foot in the Explorers Club nor shared a cigar with Teddy Roosevelt while recounting tales of the hunt.
The reason Paul Brandreth never shared in any of the common delights for a man of the hunt, was because he was a she. Pauline Brandreth wrote under the pen name Paul. It was the only way she could be published, for at the time, no one would believe that a woman knew anything about hunting whitetail deer.
Luckily, for both genders, this attitude is rapidly slipping into oblivion. Today, there are female forest rangers, EnCon officers and fire jumpers. Women now rate highly as hunting and fishing guides, two pursuits considered the bastions of traditional guided adventures.
Women are also leading trips for whitewater rafting, ski touring, backpacking, rock climbing and ice climbing. They form the core of wilderness education programs and represent nearly 72 percent of the membership of the National Association of Interpreters, a professional organization of certified naturalists. Women now constitute the majority of instructors teaching the next generation about the out of doors.
Women have more opportunities today to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for wilderness adventures. At the same time they are acquiring these tools, they are also empowering themselves to better utilize this training, often while teaching others.
Additionally, as women began to take advantage of the opportunities to enjoy wilderness adventures, the outdoor industry took notice.
In 1984, Kelty, Inc., a premier manufacturer of backpacks, introduced the Kelty Woman, a backpack specifically designed for the female frame. Kelty was one of the first in the outdoor industry to recognize the potential for manufacturing and marketing products specifically for women. Previously, women had to use smaller sized men's equipment or products made for children. However, this equipment didn't fit, feel or look right.
How quickly the tide turned. Today, equipment technology features lighter, stronger materials that are easier to use and carry. These products are more accessible than ever since they are often designed, manufactured and marketed by women for women.
Companies such as Browning, Marlin and Rugar now produce firearms specifically designed and sized for women. So does Orvis, LL Bean and a host of outdoor equipment and apparel manufacturers.
Furthermore, the advent of gender specific gear has made skill sets and technique more important than brute strength. Materials such as kevlar have dramatically reduced product weight, while graphite has improved performance. Today, there are more women paddling remote regions and casting a flyrod than ever before.
Removing the 'macho' element from the outdoor experience has opened new horizons of adventure travel to a segment of the population that is appreciative, considerate of the environment and in many cases, 'just fun to be with.'
Gentlemen be advised! The next time you encounter someone you thought was just a "Babe in the Woods," keep an eye on her. You may learn a thing or two!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org