Women drive ascending popularity of waterfowl hunting

The number of female hunters in the country exploded by nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2011

State wildlife agencies are diversifying interest in the lucrative sport of hunting by turning their sights to a once-overlooked audience: women and children.

Ducks, geese and other winged prey better watch their feathered backs.

Applications for waterfowl hunting have experienced a steady increase over the past decade in California, ringing in at a peak 1.34 million license items last year. Here in Sacramento County, 67 percent of the hunting license items issued to locals were for waterfowl-related items.

The ascending interest could be attributed to the popularity of a certain reality show featuring hirsute duck-yodelers, or to a social shift in which local, wild meats are encouraged over factory-farmed fowl.

“For me, it was an opportunity to engage in that real environment and also obtain food in a sustainable way,” said Christine Cunningham, a hunting-education instructor and author. “We know food tastes better the more involved we are with it and the closer to the source it is.”

Whatever the case, numerous organizations, including the federal Bureau of Land Management, are spending more time cultivating new fowl hunters through programs for youth, women and mobility-impaired hunters.

It’s working. The number of female hunters in the country exploded by nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—the biggest jump in 20 years of available data. Overall, women now make up 11 percent of all hunters.

Cunningham, a member of the Women Hunters board of directors, came to hunting as an adult, which she said is the trend for today’s distaff set. “We as a culture are becoming sensitive to the fact that animals aren’t being treated well in mass meat production,” she told SN&R.

She added that meat-eaters today prefer the idea that wild animals had “happy lives” before they wind up on dinner plates.

And while Cunningham noted that men’s hunting programs tend to focus on the shooting aspect of the sport, women’s hunting concentrates on incorporating the family and educating children about where their food comes from.

Overall, general hunting numbers have remained “pretty flat” over the past decade, said Brad Burkholder, a senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Yearly sales of hunting license applications in the state have dropped about 9 percent since 2000, according to department data.

But more and more game bird hunters are heeding the proverbial quail call. Applications to shoot birds have increased by nearly 42 percent since 2000—27 percent in the past four years alone.

Fish and Wildlife has a financial stake in getting these families to hunt, as it’s a good source of revenue for the state agency. The department reported $5.4 million in game bird hunting revenues last year. Big hunting licenses and deer tags, as well as wild pig, bear and other game tags and drawings brought in an additional $19 million. That’s $24.4 million in hunting-related sales on public lands for 2013.