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Breaking down barriers: women in hunting

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An increasing number of women are taking up hunting in New Zealand. Photo: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen | Unsplash

Any chauvinistic male hunters better hunker down. Women are taking up hunting and entering the once macho-male world of hunting in increasing numbers.

The latest of issue of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association’s magazine New Zealand Hunting and Wildlife features several articles by women hunters. One was Courtney Pellow telling of three women on an alpine hunt for tahr and chamois in the Mt Cook area of the Southern Alps.

Guided by hunting guide Snow Hewetson and NZDA CEO Gwyn Thurlow, Courtney’s photo with a chamois trophy was on the cover of the magazine.

“We have more female hunters in New Zealand and the NZDA than ever before,” she says.

And it’s not just in New Zealand. The number of registered female hunters in the US has grown over the last couple of decades. Today, around 20% of women in the US are hunters.

Courtney says women need encouraging into the sport of hunting and suggests women hunters are a niche NZDA encourages.

In the same issue of NZDA’s magazine, Kate Aynsley told of a hunt for wild pigs. It was a successful hunt but importantly, the intangibles were of high value.

“I may not always get an animal when we are out hunting, but I always enjoy what I have around me,”
she says.

“It’s so easy to pass the hours as you sit there taking in the views, the chatter of the birds in the bush, and the sound from the creek below running over rocks. This is what I love about hunting.”

The cover of the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association’s magazine testifies to the growing participation by women in big-game hunting. Photo: Supplied

While there is certainly an increase in women hunters in recent times, there were some notable women hunters in the last century, such as Ethne Herrick, wife of legendary deerstalker Major Eddie Herrick. Around the 1930s, Eddie was prominent in Fiordland taking two bull moose from a herd that was never numerically strong. Ethne successfully hunted in Fiordland and shot a bull wapiti. She also stalked the Otago deer herds and selectively shot some big red deer stags.

Going further back, contrary to popular thought, women may have occupied a prominent place as hunters. The University of Calgary Canada says new evidence suggests that contrary to long-held beliefs, women were also big-game hunters.

In an article in The Conversation, Vivek Venkataraman, Faculty of Arts, said archaeological evidence from Peru has revealed that some ancient big-game hunters were, in fact, women, challenging what science
writer James Gorman wrote was “one of the most widely held tenets about ancient hunters and gatherers – that males hunted and females gathered.”

In 2004, a book titled The Thrill of the Hunt published in the US by Safari Press featured some 40 chapters by individual women hunters talking about their hunting. Co-author Susan Campbell Reneau wrote that for her “hunting is not about killing but about absorbing the total experience of nature. When I hunt, I become one with the world and the ebb and flow of life and death.”

Family considerations figure highly in the motivation for women to hunt. A quick scan of the many different Facebook groups dedicated to women in hunting shows that while some women do hunt simply “for the fun of it”, most hunt to provide good-quality organic meat for their families or because they want to spend time with family and friends.

The entry of increasing numbers of women into hunting is reflected in hunting apparel and equipment with clothing designed especially for the woman hunter.

Some years ago, I interviewed Lisa Pearce of Marlborough who was a pig hunter. She told me of a pig hunt one March when she and her dogs got a big boar that weighed 190lb (84kg) – the biggest that Lisa and her team of dogs have ever got.

Lisa was probably born to hunt. After all, her father was a keen and active hunter and her mother is keen on the outdoors too.

Lisa has no hang-ups about a woman getting into a sport such as hunting. She urges other women, if they like hunting, to get out in the mountains. Sure, the hunt and getting a pig or a deer makes it a really good trip but it’s not necessary to kill an animal to enjoy the hunt.

“I just enjoyed getting out and doddling around,” she said.

Lisa admitted to having to contend with strange looks about her pig hunting and from male hunters who did not know of her. In pig hunting competitions, other hunters may be startled by her presence especially when she hauled in a good boar.

“Oh well that’s their problem,” she said to me. “I just enjoyed myself mooching around the hills and bush with my canine buddies.”

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