Sunday, January 22, 2012

Muzzleloader Hunting on the Rise Among Women Nationwide

By Shannon M. Nass, Special to the Post-Gazette

Powder, patch, ball, or it won't go off at all," said Linda Fulmer of Hamburg, Berks County.
This mantra may have coursed through the mind of frontiersman Daniel Boone each time he prepared to discharge his flintlock muzzleloader rifle hundreds of years ago. Fulmer offered it up as sound advice for a growing number of women who are participating in this age old sport.
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, female participation in muzzleloading jumped from about 300,000 in 2009 to 500,000 in 2010 -- a stunning increase of 150 percent nationwide, while hunting participation in general is in a 10-year slump.

Vickie Shaffer of New Castle fires her flintlock.
It's a trend, however, that has not been reflected in the sale of muzzleloader hunting licenses to women in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently reported a slight drop in those sales from 5,188 for the 2009-2010 season to 4,985 during the 2010-2011 season.
A special flintlock season is still running in Pennsylvania, with antlered and antlerless deer legal in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D through Saturday.

While female license sales have decreased across the state, Donald E. Blazier Jr., Region 2 coordinator for the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, said participation hasn't.
"There are a lot more women just participating ... even in office at muzzleloading organizations," he said. "Women are good for the sport, no doubt about it."
The driving force behind this increase, he said, is men.

"Most of the guys like to get their wives into the shooting competitions and into the sport," Blazier said. "It's like if you want to go fishing more often, then you take your wife with you. Get her to like fishing and you can go fish more."

Fulmer started shooting after watching her husband participate in competitions. She now target shoots, participates in re-enactments and serves on the board of directors for the NMLRA.
Her three children have taken up the sport as well, and together the family has attended various NMLRA-sponsored events, including re-enactments and Rendezvous -- events billed as living-history camping trips.

"It was like a camping adventure," said Fulmer. "It was a family affair and with muzzleloading."
Blazier described it as a unique fraternity that is all-encompassing.
"There's camping, there's shooting, there's just sitting around a campfire and talking," he said. "It's a family-oriented sport that's more user friendly than some of the other shooting sports."
Eleanor Flora of Danville, Pa., secretary of the Pennsylvania Federation of Black Powder Shooters Inc., also entered the sport after attending competitions with her husband. Like Fulmer, she said she enjoyed the family-friendly atmosphere, which she said is a draw for a lot of women.

"They seem to like that they can bring their kids and the kids can learn to do it, also," she said.
Fulmer said the camaraderie that is present at muzzleloading events spills over into the competitions as well.
"It's like a big family. Everybody helps out. They want to pass their craft along. They want you to get better," she said. "It is not cutthroat. It's competition, but it seems to be a friendly competition."

Blazier said he has seen a noticeable increase in the number of women competing in the state shooting competitions. Among them is Vickie Shaffer of New Castle, Lawrence County, who is a member of the Pennsylvania Company of Riflemen along with Blazier, who serves as captain of the team.
Shaffer began competing in 1983 and has won numerous state and national competitions. Most recently, she won high overall experienced shooter and high pistol at the 2011 NMLRA Women's Weekend, and was named to the Top 10 for the Pennsylvania Company of Riflemen flintlock team.

Like most of the women at the competitions, Shaffer said she prefers to shoot flintlocks as opposed to in-line muzzleloaders.
"The draw for me is that it's something that not just everybody can pick up and do," she said. "It's a challenge, and it's kind of neat to be able to say you can do it."

Shaffer also hunts with a flintlock and said she enjoys the challenge that it brings, as well.
"You can't just amble into something. You need to really be ready and on guard," she said. "You have to be more cautious, more quiet, more still because [the deer are] within 50 yards of you."
Flora, her husband and four daughters have all hunted with flintlock muzzleloader rifles, and she said the challenge is just one attraction.

"One of the things we like about the black-powder hunting is there's hardly anybody out there," she said. "You have the woods to yourself and your family."
Whether it's for solitude, camaraderie, challenge or competition, more women are getting back to basics and embracing a rich part of their history.
"It's our heritage," said Fulmer.

To encourage women to participate in the sport, the NMLRA holds yearly women's weekends at which instructors are on hand and firearms are available for loan. The sixth annual National Women's Weekend will take place April 20-22 on the NMLRA's grounds in Friendship, Ind.

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