Although the overall number of licensed hunters in the United State has been on a steady decline, from over 14.1 million participants in 1996 to less than 12.5 million today, there has been one promising trend with the potential to save the shooting sports industry.
Currently, the fastest growing demographic in the industry are women, who currently account for about 15 percent of the shooting, hunting, and firearms marketplace.
According to a survey conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), women’s participation in hunting has increased by over 75 percent is just the last five years. It is estimated 3 million women currently hunt, and as many as 5 million regularly shoot. Hunting and shooting are not gender specific sports, and it appears Barbie may soon replace Bubba in the both field, and at the range.
As the overall number of licensed hunters in the United States has dropped steadily, from 14.1 million in 1996 to 12.5 million today, women have become the fastest growing demographic in the industry. Overall women’s hunting has jumped by 75 percent.
According to researchers, there are 72 percent more women hunting with firearms today than just five years ago. Additionally, there are 50 percent more women regularly participating in target shooting, up from 1.8 million to 3.6 million during the same time span.
Data also indicates women outpace men among net newcomers to target shooting with a rifle, where female participation has grown by 4.1 percent. However hunting with a rifle remains primarily a male pursuit, where men still outnumber women 9 to 1.
In 2011, a Gallup Poll revealed that nearly one quarter of all current gun owners are female. Women now account for nearly 15 percent of the shooting, hunting, and firearms marketplace. Female participation in target shooting increased about 50 percent or from 3.3 million to 5 million nationally from 2001 to 2011, and female participation in hunting increased from 1.8 million to 2.6 million during the same time span.
Growth areas for women included muzzleloading (up 134.6 percent), bowhunting (up 30.7 percent) and hunting with firearms (up 3.5 percent). According to Corey Cogdell, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in trap shooting, and a lifelong hunter, "Shooting is one of the most fun and empowering things you can teach a young girl or a grown woman.”
he dramatic increase in female participation can be attributed to numerous programs intended to introduce women to hunting, such Becoming An Outdoors Woman program, Doe Camp and as well as more manufacturers producing clothing and gear designed for women.
From 2001 to 2010, the number of women participating in target shooting competitions went up 46.5 percent. The success of the USA Womens Shooting Team, which captured at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, is likely to generate even greater interest in shooting sports.
The team was lead by Kimberly Rhode, the first American to achieve individual medals in five straight Olympics, with a record-setting, near perfect performance.
Rhode began her Olympic career as a teenager in 1996 while taking the gold in double trap at Atlanta, and she took bronze in the same event four years later at Sydney. She earned the gold in trap at Athens in 2004 and won the silver in skeet at Beijing in 2008. She won the women's skeet shooting with a world record performance in London, while setting an Olympic mark by missing only once in 100 shots.
My first experience with a female shooter came over twenty years ago. It occurred while I was hosting an afternoon of skeet shooting for a private group at a local resort.
I had set up two clay pigeon throwers, one of which sent targets on a crossing pattern from left to right, and another which sent targets straight away from the shooters. The straightaway station provided a much easier shot.
The gentlemen, all in their late fifty’s and early sixties, took a few practice rounds and soon the wagering began. As the competitions continued, the commodities wagered changed from cash, to hand rolled cigars, to bottles of fine scotch whiskey.
As the event was winding down, a young lady arrived at the compound. She had come over from Burlington, where she was attending college. Her father, who had arranged the event, asked her, “Would you like to shoot a round or two?”
“Oh no, I simply can’t”, she explained, “I’d be embarrassed, I haven’t shot in years!”
Immediately, the old gents began to chide her, “Awww! come on little lady, let’s see what you’ve got! We’ll go easy on you, Honey. Hell! you can’t be any worse than your Dad!”
She attempted to beg off from the event, explaining, “I’m just over for the afternoon, I have to get back to college today.”
Following some good hearted, needling from the assembly, she finally relented and parked her car in the lot. As she walked up to the range, she apologized for not wanting to wager. However, as she began to stuff shot shells into a beautiful, old Purdey shotgun, the wagering began anew.
Her father spotted her some cash, and on the first round she knocked down five out of the six clays. It turned out to be her only miss of the afternoon.
One at a time, she continued to unabashedly shoot the pants off all of the old gents, despite their various attempts to rattle her. Best of all, she did it while sporting a wide smile.
After the competitions ended, she asked me to help her carry the winnings back to her car. I expect she was the most popular girl on campus, returning with boxes of hand rolled cigars, bottles of Chivas Regal and Crown Royal and a wad of cash that would choke a horse.
It was a valuable lesson learned. I’ve never bet against a female shooter since.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.