Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nationwide and locally, more women are going fishing and hunting

After years of target practice, 24-year-old Kelly Hancock finally decided that it was time to go hunting.

Last summer, the Indiana County woman and her 18-year-old sister, Andrea, bought themselves deer rifles - each bought a .243 Savage - and joined the family tradition, going "red tag" hunting for destructive deer with their father on family farms outside Clarksburg.
Hancock hunted with her boyfriend last fall, too, and although she hasn't harvested any deer yet she's looking forward to returning to hunting with her sister and other family members.

"We walked a lot, we sat a lot," she said with a laugh, between checking out exhibits with her boyfriend last week at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show at the Monroeville Convention Center, which runs through today. "Mostly we liked just being out in the woods."
Like Hancock and her sister, an increasing number of women are taking to the state's - and nation's - fields, forests and streams to enjoy hunting and angling opportunities once embraced almost entirely by men.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife data, collected in part by Florida research firm Southwick Associates, shows that in 2001, 26.1 percent of freshwater anglers and 9.2 percent of hunters were female. In 2011, women comprised nearly 27 percent of all inland anglers and 11 percent of hunters.

While the increase seems incremental on a national scale, it signals a significant rise in the actual numbers of female hunters and anglers, according to researchers. In Pennsylvania, the number of hunting licenses for women and girls increased from 67,165 in the entire 2009-10 season to 90,778 for the first half of the 2014-15 hunting season that began last June, with more expected to be issued in the remainder of the season, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Among anglers, a decrease of more than 25,300 fishing licenses issued to men between 2010 and 2014 was almost exactly offset by an increase of more than 25,500 fishing licenses issued to women in the same period, according to data from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Fish and Boat educator and longtime fly fishing angler Amidea Daniel said she has seen a steady and enthusiastic response among women to the private fly fishing classes for women that she offers through Trout Unlimited, including one at 2 p.m. today at the Cabin Fever fly fishing expo at Four Points by Sheraton Pittsburgh North in Cranberry.

Many women learning to fish welcome a chance to try the basics of taking apart a reel, selecting a fly and casting without worrying about being judged by men whom they feel are more skilled or experienced, Daniel said. They also get a chance to familiarize themselves with gear and the technical aspects of fishing that can seem intimidating to beginners, regardless of gender.

Once those barriers are pulled down, she said, most new female anglers she teaches no longer fear making mistakes, and often find endless opportunities to connect to the outdoors, to find camaraderie with each other, and to share good times with the men in their lives who love to fish.

 A fund-raiser for Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited, Cabin Fever runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. today at Four Points by Sheraton Pittsburgh North, Cranberry, 724-776-6900.
10 a.m. Jon Hooper, Fly Fishing Tailwaters
11 a.m. Mike Schmidt, Tying and Fishing for Apex Predators Noon Fly casting demonstration
1 p.m. George Daniel, Streamer Fishing: Tools, Tactics and Techniques
2 p.m. Amedia Daniel, Fly Fishing for Women
3 p.m. Fly casting demonstration All day raffles, fly fishing flea market, fly tying, exhibitors.
"You can fish any time of day, any time of year, any place in the world, for any kind of fish," said Daniel. "It can take you to any place in the world, but you can also do it on your own level."

It doesn't hurt women's interest in fishing, she said, that gear and clothing manufacturers such as Orvis and Patagonia have begun designing more clothing for them. Waders and boots for women are more fitted to the female frame, and some also include an "escape hatch" with a snap in the back of the waders so that women don't have to reveal all in order to relieve themselves in the field, Daniel said.

Some female hunters such as Hancock say they struggle to find functional gloves and coats that fit, and resort to wearing small sizes of men's clothing or extra-large sizes of youth clothing. Other female hunters - especially young ones - might find the pink camo that has become commonplace at sporting goods stores to at least look more attractive, eliminating another potential barrier to joining the hunt, several exhibitors said.

The growing interest among women in hunting trips has made itself felt at Downeast Hunts, a hunting camp, outfitter and sports show exhibitor from Orrington, Maine, said saleswoman Diane Jordan. Although the company hasn't compiled any statistics on the number of its female clients, Jordan said she has noticed a definite trend toward couples coming to hunt, and away from the all-male "buddy trips" of old.

"If they find a woman that likes to do that, it makes sense to bring her," she said. "It's increasing all the time."

At the Wildlife Leadership Academy in Union County, about a quarter of the teenagers who attend the program's week-long summer camps to study conservation of whitetail deer, brook trout, ruffed grouse and black bears are female, said Michele Kittell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education and a sports show exhibitor.

Of those 15 to 20 girls, about half are "passionate" about hunting, said Kittell, who learned to hunt from her father beginning at age 13.

"It's not about harvesting a deer, per se," said Kittell, who grew up in Cambria County and remembers sitting with her father in the woods, watching the sun rise and waiting for a deer to cross their path. "It's about spending time in the woods, first and foremost, and it molds you for the rest of your life."

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith:

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