SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The sound of a gunshot crackled through miles of soon-to-be combined land, bringing one pheasant to the ground in a single plop.
Carol Bothe and her crew spent the opening day of pheasant season pushing through fields, waiting for the perfect shot.
Bothe, of Brandon, is part of a growing female segment of small game hunting license holders.
The number of women obtaining pheasant hunting licenses in South Dakota has almost doubled in the last 10 years, reflecting a shift in culture and the success of hunting education programs, the Argus Leader reported.
“In my generation, women stayed in the kitchen; men did the hunting,” said Maggie Lindsey, education services coordinator with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “Now it’s way more acceptable for women to go out and hunt. The fathers or whoever is doing the hunting in the family aren’t just taking their sons; they’re taking their daughters.”
In 2015, one in 10 residential hunting licenses was purchased by women. That’s twice what it was a decade ago. The overall numbers in 2015, including out-of-state hunters, women represented about one in 15, also doubled from the previous decade. More women are traveling to the state to hunt. Just over 1,000 women came from out of state to hunt in 2005. That number jumped to almost 4,000 in 2015.
Lindsey, an instructor with Game, Fish and Park’s program Becoming an Outdoor Woman, has a mixture of women in their 20s to women in their 50s take the class. The older women are often heard saying, “my dad would take my brother but he wouldn’t take me,” Lindsey said. Where younger women are often coming out because they’re curious or want to learn to shoot a gun and end up loving the sport of hunting, she said.
Keith Wintersteen started a Women’s Hunting 101 class with Game, Fish and Parks three years ago with the idea of getting people in the 18 to 30-year-old range interested in hunting. He teaches the class the basics of hunting: how to handle a gun safely and accurately, where to hunt, what to do with the kill and what to wear and how to act.
“My sense is women are no longer going to put up with, ‘It’s a guy thing,’” Wintersteen said. “No it’s not; it’s for anybody who wants to be outside.”
Jason Kool with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, said women make up a segment of license holders helping support the overall sales of small game hunting licenses.
“Women are certainly keeping pheasant hunting alive,” Kool said.
Sandra Comer, 45, of Rapid City, learned how to hunt last year. She joined Wintersteen’s Hunting 101 class so she could learn the sport to pass along to her son.
She was most nervous about the act of actually shooting the gun and killing a living thing, aspects Wintersteen said the classmates are usually the most fearful of.
A patient coach and a lot of practice at the range helped Comer move past her fears. Now, she says she itches to get back outside.
“I just love it,” Comer said. “Now I can’t wait for hunting season to begin.”
Having an all-female class removes some of the stresses of learning the sport, Comer said.
Lindsey agreed, saying women often take the sport as another outdoor hobby to do with a group.
“A lot of women make (hunting) a bit more social,” Lindsey said. “They really need that social support. Many won’t go (hunting) alone.”
That’s not the only difference between male and female hunters. Wintersteen said he notices women tend to be more cautious when pulling the trigger, making sure they know they have a kill before they shoot.
“When they pull the trigger, something is going to hit the ground,” Wintersteen.
Heather Johnson, who right now lives in Colorado, but regularly travels to South Dakota for work, hunted big game when she was younger, but dropped the sport when she went to college. She got back into hunting about six years ago when she met Lindsey, who at the time was her neighbor.
“I love the connection with the outdoors,” Johnson said.
When Johnson hunted growing up, she was usually the only girl in the fields, she said. She attributes the increase to females participating in part to increased education.
“People are starting to teach more and more about nature and parents are starting to see it isn’t just a boy’s sport. Young women are feeling more empowered,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to return to South Dakota again this year to hunt pheasants.
Julie Sasker, president of Outdoor Women of South Dakota, said introducing women to other outdoor activities can lead them to a passion in hunting. She joined Outdoor Women of South Dakota eight years ago, when the organization was geared more toward hiking and kayaking, looking for women to go hunting with. She found more women who were looking for the same thing, and now has booming all-women’s classes that fill up quickly after registrations open.
Another common question female hunters have is what to wear on the hunt, Sasker said. More companies are providing hunting apparel for women, making it a bit more comfortable to get out there, she said.
She and Kool collaborate on how to provide more opportunities for women who want to learn more. Now, she said, Outdoor Women of South Dakota provides more advanced classes for those who took Becoming an Outdoor Woman.
“I thoroughly believe that there is a place in the outdoors for women,” Sasker said. “Even though it is a male dominated world, there’s still a place for us out there.”
The future looks bright, Lindsey said, especially when women have daughters to whom they want to pass along the tradition.
“I think more and more women will get involved,” she said. “Our women’s programs are hugely popular and they fill up right away. We always have a demand for more, so that tells me that there’s a population that’s hungry to learn this. They want to do this.”