The Women’s Intro to Wingshooting is a new RGS & AWS program designed to introduce women into upland hunting with the pilot program currently ongoing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Take a moment and think about why you hunt and who introduced you to hunting. What sex are you? I bet there’s a good chance you’re male. When I think about why and who, I think about my dad, a man that “only” had daughters. Although the participation of women and girls in hunting is increasing, there are still very large roadblocks including deeply ingrained cultural associations. I still hear some of my most open-minded and supportive male friends make statements similar to, “He finally got his baby boy after all those girls. He got a hunting buddy.” I’m generally quick to point out what was just said, and they’re often surprised by themselves.
The truth is the assumptions that little girls and women don’t belong in the field, are not capable or will not be interested still exist. I was fortunate that my father didn’t think girls shouldn’t hunt, and my sister and I have loved it from a very early age. For one reason or another, many little girls don’t have a hunting mentor. Those little girls may grow up to be women that are interested but missed out on hunting. Women and girls are the fastest growing demographic in the hunting community, and a target group for recruiting and retaining new hunters in efforts to sustain the future of the sport.
The Ruffed Grouse Society/American Woodcock Society has developed a program designed to introduce women to upland hunting, the Women’s Intro to Wingshooting (WIW) program. The pilot year of WIW is taking place in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in summer 2016. So far, the program has been well received, the participating ladies are incredibly enthusiastic, and we are looking forward to expanding the program to new areas beginning in 2017. This year, we have 15 students enrolled with a range of experiences with shotguns and the outdoors. For a fair number of the ladies, the first day on the trap range was the first time they fired a gun! A big goal of the course is for the ladies to build confidence and skills with shotguns.
So far, the volunteer instructors have seen the ladies improve in leaps and bounds during the first few shooting sessions. In addition, ladies are learning about a broad range of topics associated with upland game hunting including the North American Model of Wildlife Management, shotgun safety, cleaning and use, gun dog breeds, training and use and the game birds of North America.
Although the pilot year is still underway as I write this, we have identified some necessary adjustments for future iterations including condensing the course schedule. The first shoot was held in April and the beginning shooters found themselves in a wind and snow storm that tested everyone’s endurance and patience. Despite the bad weather, everyone was smiling and having a great time. There is, of course, a better chance for warmer weather in the summer months. In addition, we are absolutely certain that the success of the WIW program hinges on dedicated volunteers that are good with new shooters. One of the goals for WIW is to provide a comfortable environment for women to learn new skills. Beyond the ability of instructors to teach new shooters is the important skill of giving confidence to the new shooters and maintaining an even keel. With the incredible effort of volunteer instructors, many ladies have gone from shooting their first clay target to consistently hitting double digits on the trap range.
The course will culminate in September 2016 with a guided pheasant hunt on preserve in Blackberry, Minnesota. The ladies will get to hunt pheasants with a volunteer guide and their bird dogs. This hunt will be the opportunity for course participants to put all of their learned skills together to successfully harvest birds over dogs and hopefully bring home some meat to enjoy with friends and family. With every course, the ladies grow more excited about this excellent chance to put their new skills to use. ~ RGS & AWS Regional Biologist Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen