As the DNR reaches out to women hunters, veterans of the hunt are mentoring others and launching their own recruiting effort.
As a kid, Katrina Wood never got a chance to go hunting.
"My dad quit hunting when I was born, so he never took me," said the 25-year-old Duluth woman.
But her passion for the outdoors bubbled to the surface recently, she took a series of archery courses through the Department of Natural Resources' Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) program, and she's now an avid bow hunter, bagging four deer and a turkey in the past seven months.
"It's been awesome," she said. "I'm so fortunate -- I've had incredible mentors."
The added treat: Her dad has resumed hunting, with her.
Wood reflects the successes of a BOW program that has grown from about 150 participants in 2004 to 800 last year.
That's great, says Betty Wilkens, 70, of rural Mora, a lifelong hunter and angler. But women make up 50 percent of the population, yet still represent only 10 percent of Minnesota hunters and about 35 percent of anglers.
Wilkens is one of the leaders of a new group of female hunters and anglers that hopes to build on the success of the BOW program and other hunter and angler recruitment efforts by creating a statewide social network where women and girls can learn more about hunting and fishing -- and how to find people to get them started.
"We want other women to experience all the fun, enjoyment and satisfaction we have experienced" hunting and fishing, said Wilkens.
Wilkens said getting more women into the outdoors also will bring more kids outside.
"If you bring in women, you often bring children in, too," she said. "I think you'll see a snowball effect."
The new group, Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons, recently launched a website, www.womenhfs.org, that they hope will foster that social network. Besides contacts and other information, eventually it will include a video library showing women how to do everything from stream fishing to archery hunting for turkeys.
The group's goal is ambitious: to double the number of Minnesota's female hunters and increase the percentage of female anglers by 50 percent by 2021. That would mean adding some 62,000 female hunters and 200,000 female anglers.
"We know some of the barriers women are experiencing, and one is social networking," said Wilkens, who has helped with the BOW program for years.
Her group hopes to tie together recruitment efforts of conservation groups, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, both of which offer women's hunting opportunities, with the recruitment efforts of communities and governments, including the DNR.
"We can't do this alone," said Erika Rivers, an assistant DNR commissioner and hunter who recently took up bow hunting. And while offering individual courses is helpful, it will take the efforts of many to significantly boost female hunter and angler numbers.
Though the total number of hunters and anglers nationwide has fallen, their ranks have remained fairly stable in Minnesota. But officials have long been concerned that young people aren't filling the gaps left behind as older hunters and anglers drop out.
The agency has tried to fight the trend with youth fishing and hunting programs, and programs for women. The DNR has a hunter recruitment and retention coordinator, Jay Johnson. To aid that effort, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr recently formed a Commissioner's Council on Recruitment and Retention.
"We want them to take stock of where we've been and how to move forward," Rivers said. The group is to make recommendations by early summer.
Meanwhile, Wilkens examined numerous DNR publications last year and concluded that women were far underrepresented in agency photographs.
The DNR agreed, and as a result, the 2012 hunting and trapping regulation booklet included a photo of a family of hunters on the cover and two women archery hunters on the back. Photos of more female role models will be forthcoming, Rivers said.
"As a business, if you want to appeal to a customer, why wouldn't you picture them so they can relate to you?" Wilkens asked.
Changing a culture takes time, Wilkens and Rivers agree. But they've seen more acceptance of women in deer camps, duck sloughs and fishing boats. Their goal is to push that trend harder.
Wood said her first attempt deer hunting was discouraging.
"I didn't have a tree stand or blind, I just went out and sat in the woods," she said.
Taking the BOW archery program not only taught her the basics, it also gave her contacts. A mentor invited her to turkey hunt last May, when she made her first-ever kill.
"Without BOW, I would have never met someone who would take me on my first turkey hunt," she said.
She hopes that she, too, can mentor other women.
"I can't wait to share my enthusiasm and my success with another hunter," Wood said.
Kara Wattunen of New Brighton, 23, did that recently, with, of all people, her mother.
Kara has been hunting since she was a youngster. To encourage her mom to learn to bird hunt, they signed up for a mentored waterfowl hunt last fall near Fergus Falls.
"Stereotypes are hard to break," Wattunen said. "It's incredibly important that we focus on getting women in the outdoors."
Besides, she said: "Women can shoot just as well as men can."
Doug Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
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