Written by blogger Kristen Schmitt
The nearly year-old coyote pup, fresh from the spring litter, zigzagged through the tall brush, following a path that runs beneath my tree stand. Blue jays splintered in all directions, sounding the alarm and alerting everything that might be in the coyote’s path.
Sixteen feet up the tree, I’m above the small predator’s radar. I watch the coyote hesitate before skirting the path that leads to my house (and dog). Instead, it climbs the rocky mountain that takes it the opposite direction.
The end of Vermont’s archery-only deer season is near, and it’s my turn to hunt. A mile away, my husband prepares dinner while helping our daughter with her homework. Our house in October is filled with the promise of bow season, even as it intertwines with the regular chaos of a busy household, working parents, school-age children and rural life. Yet, this scene is increasingly common in households nationwide as more women take their turn in tree stands in hopes of harvesting meat for their families.
Women’s increased interest in bowhunting – and hunting in general – is more than just talk. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show the total number of female hunters increased the past 10 years and currently accounts for 11 percent of all U.S. hunters. Women are also increasingly interested in archery and bowhunting. According to scientific studies commissioned by the Archery Trade Association, 4 million women were participating in archery this year, either as target archers or as bowhunters. The studies also indicate that number will continue growing.
In recent years I’ve had the privilege to talk with many female bowhunters to learn how and why they picked up a bow and headed for the woods. As they shared their personal anecdotes, they gave many similar reasons, including empowerment, skill, food and family. All these reasons illustrate how different passions can pave the way to this unique sport.
For instance, I came to bowhunting through food. I consider where my family’s daily food comes from. Is it local? Is it organic? Is it non-GMO? Do I know the farmer? Did I grow it myself? Is it in season?
We raise chickens and ducks, and we grew an incredibly successful garden this year. Our packed freezers and pantry shelves show it. We also buy beef from a friend who raises heritage cattle. The beef rounds out what we acquire through hunting and fishing. Food has fueled my writing, graduate studies and much of who I am.
So it makes sense that foods of local origin are the primary catalyst behind my desire to learn bowhunting. Many people don’t associate local food with wild meat. Hunting makes that link, a component that mainstream society mostly overlooks because wild meat doesn’t fall into the tidy, familiar categories of beef and chicken.
Yet learning how to bowhunt has also snowballed into feelings of self-empowerment and renewed confidence. Further, I’ve applied those feelings to other areas of life. Starting to bowhunt as an adult isn’t as seamless as it is for children, but archery and bowhunting have become passions I’m proud to discuss and participate in.
Even better, I’m not alone. Women of all ages are learning to bowhunt, and that trend is broadening acceptance and creating an incredible community of women like me. Those forces broaden the range of role models for women, and create a host of social media networking opportunities for women interested in the sport. The support harnessed through these networks fuels a fire for those who want to learn and continue this lifelong pursuit.
I sit in my tree stand until dark, watching the forest go black. I then carefully descend the metal rungs. In the darkness, I’m now a figure walking carefully past brambles, blackberry bushes, pine trees and dense brush until light from our kitchen window shines in the distance.
Opening the door, I stash my bow on its hook, smile at my husband preparing dinner, and listen as my daughter peppers me with questions. “Did you see anything? Did you?” Stripping off my layers of camo clothing and pulling my feet from my knee-high rubber boots, I smile, hug her and say, “Not yet.”