How women can help change the dwindling participation numbers in hunting
Growth rates show interest, but there’s work to be done.
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Alexandria’s Lauren Krebs patiently sat in her elevated stand during a cool Nov. 3 morning in 2018 looking over the brushy tree cover and cattails in the swamp on her family’s hunting property in Douglas County.
Three hours had come and gone on opening day of Minnesota’s firearms deer season when Krebs spotted movement heading toward her through the swamp. She had shot deer before this season as a young hunter along with her dad, Dean Krebs, but she was hoping this would be the year she could tag a bigger buck on her own for the first time.
This deer certainly fit everything she hoped for. Krebs noticed the wide rack of a big 8-pointer moving over the tops of the brush as she slowly grabbed her gun and rested it on the ledge of her stand. She pointed it toward an opening in the cover that would provide her a clean shot.
“He got closer and my heart pounded more and more,” Krebs said. “Finally, after what seemed like forever, he stepped into the opening, stopped, and looked around. I took a breath to calm my shaking, excited body, aimed, and squeezed the trigger.”
The shot rang out and the buck whirled around and ran back the way he came from. She waited a while before getting down to look. Her dad and uncle soon arrived to help take up the track, and it wasn’t long before they found him.
“That opening morning was amazing as I saw around 10 bucks chasing does around my stand before 10 a.m.,” Krebs said.
Krebs, 17 years old now, has fallen in love with hunting just like her two younger brothers, Wyatt and Hunter. From the time she was 7, she was sitting in a deer blind with her dad and walking along on pheasant hunts at the age of 5.
Krebs has hunted turkeys, ducks, deer and pheasants in Minnesota, along with out-of-state trips for pheasants in South Dakota and antelope in Wyoming. She will go on her first elk and mule deer hunt in Montana this fall.
“I enjoy the challenge of hunting,” Krebs said. “I also like being outdoors, seeing things in nature that other people don’t get a chance to see. Knowing where my food comes from and that I provided it makes me a very proud hunter.”
Fighting a trend
Krebs is an example of how girls and women of all ages, if given the proper introduction and pathway into hunting, can become passionate about it for the same reasons so many men take to the fields, marshes and woods each fall.
Across the country, data has shown that women for more than a decade have been a fast-growing segment of outdoor users, including in hunting, but they still find themselves in the large minority in terms of hunting and fishing.
"I enjoy the challenge of hunting. I also like being outdoors, seeing things in nature that other people don’t get a chance to see. Knowing where my food comes from and that I provided it makes me a very proud hunter.”
- Lauren Krebs
A 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey found that of the 35.8 million anglers who fished in the United States, 27% of them were female. Of the 11.5 million participants who hunted in 2016, 90% (10.3 million) were male and 10% (1.1 million) were female.
James Burnham, the recruit, retain, and reactivate (R3) coordinator for the Minnesota DNR, is currently gathering all the 2019 and 2020 hunting participation data for Minnesota, but the DNR has numbers ranging from 2000 through 2018.
“Between 2005-2016, we saw increases in participation by women, the only place we saw growth in hunting participation,” Burnham said. “In 2017 and 2018, we saw annual declines in women participating, but it’s not clear if that pattern held in 2019 and 2020 just yet.”
Women can help grow hunter participation numbers, but there is also work to be done to really move the needle in terms of halting what has been dwindling license sales for hunting in the state and other parts of the country.
Minnesota did see an uptick in resident firearms deer license sales during the pandemic in 2020 (354,023). That is still the second fewest since 2010 (379,866) and far from the 10-year high of 391,967 resident firearms deer licenses sold in 2013.
“I just think we need more opportunities at varying levels for women to get involved, but also then feel more welcomed,” Dayna Adams of St. Paul said. “We have intro classes, but we need more classes for people to grow in it. Some people don't have those influences in their life through brothers, sisters, mentors who will guide them and lead them through that. If we want people to stay in the hunting and fishing field, there needs to be more opportunities for all skill levels. They need to be cost effective and they need to be building on top of each other.”
Adding adult first-time hunters
Adams is on the leadership team of the R3 Council in Minnesota that strategizes ways to recruit and engage more hunters, anglers and outdoor recreational users in the state. She is also a board member of the nonprofit Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons organization.
Their group works to introduce women to the hunting and fishing field through events they host and by connecting them to other organizations and resources that can help women stay involved in the outdoors.
Adams, 37, is like a lot of women her age who grew up around hunting but never really felt a part of it herself. Fishing was more her thing. She was in her early 30s when she shot her dad’s bow for the first time. Almost immediately, she fell in love with archery.
“I jumped right into women’s-only target indoor shooting,” Adams said. “It just spiraled beyond that and it is now my fifth season hunting exclusively with a bow...I knew ultimately my goal was to get into the field and to harvest an animal from field to table.”
Adams said it’s important for women to feel connected to other women in the outdoors, but she was quick to say that they encourage any of their participants at events to invite the male figures in their lives as well if they want to.
“I learned so much from my brother,” Adams said. “He was my mentor and my supporter first, but then when I grew from that, I wanted to help other women because I’ve had women reach out to me on that.”
Samantha Prahl can relate to the importance of seeing more women in the hunting space.
Prahl, who now lives in the northwest metro area near the Twin Cities, grew up near Hinckley. Her dad and brother did a little bit of hunting, but she and her sister never did.
“It was definitely kind of the guys’ thing to do,” Prahl said. “The guys’ time alone.”
Prahl met her husband, Garrett Prahl who runs the DIY Sportsman YouTube channel , in 2014. Garrett offers viewers of his channel do-it-yourself videos related to gear and hunting strategies, predominantly for turkeys and whitetail deer.
"The cultural shift has to be an invitation from men seeing women and girls being a part of that"
- Dayna Adams, board member of the Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons organization in Minnesota.
“I didn’t start hunting right after I met Garrett,” Prahl said. “I knew it was something he was really passionate about, but between 2014 and 2019 I didn’t hunt.”
The two were listening to a hunting podcast in the vehicle together where popular female hunting and outdoor personality Rihana Cary was a guest.
“I was like, ‘What?’ A girl that hunts? I started looking her up,” Prahl said. “It was mostly through social media. Their style of hunting is very different, but that was what I first saw of some women who hunted. Then at one point I thought I wanted to try it.”
Prahl got her first bow in 2019. She went through Minnesota’s hunter safety course online and had her first hunt in October of that year at age 30.
She overcame some initial hesitancy of being on camera for Garrett’s hunting videos. His message to her was that many people could learn through her process of getting into hunting. The Prahls promote a style of hunting anyone could do by going on public land. During the 2020 archery season in North Dakota, Samantha made a good shot on a big doe at less than 15 yards with her bow for her first deer.
“I was super excited and happy because I had had hunts with Garrett before where I had an opportunity and just did not connect,” Prahl said. “So that very first time I had an opportunity and wasn’t able to shoot it, I felt discouraged. Kind of like, ‘What am I doing? Maybe this isn’t for me.’ Beyond hunting for us, we don’t really buy meat from the store. I just felt super proud to be providing for Garrett and me.”
For the food and more
That food aspect of the hunt is often an important part of what draws newcomers into the field.
The Field to Fork program is a recruitment tool that the National Deer Association has seen a lot of success with in getting adults from non-hunting backgrounds to try hunting for the first time.
“That’s definitely something that is a major driver. It’s very important,” Prahl said of food being the reason she hunts. “But there’s other things about hunting I like. Getting outside. You have that time to reflect and some quiet time. In groups of Garrett’s friends, this is such a tight group of people. Everyone is super nice to be around, helpful, more than willing to go out of their way to help you have a good experience.”
Both Prahl and Adams love the strategizing and work that goes into hunting. It pushes them, and the end reward is multifaceted -- pride and health benefits of harvesting one’s own food, and mental and physical rewards that stem from hunting.
“I feel like I’m still learning a lot,” Prahl said. “I’ve gone on some solo hunts, but I’d like to get to the point where I’m comfortable and able to break down, process my deer. Know how to get it out myself. Have a plan in place for all those things. There’s definitely some women who do all that, and those are women who have impressed me a lot.”
Changing the culture
Prahl and Adams would love to see women continue to grow with hunting opportunities.
Both have jumped right into becoming serious about archery hunting, but involvement in hunting can be done at whatever level one is comfortable with, from small game to big game.
There are many local and national organizations ready to help out. The Minnesota DNR, at a state level, offers classes on the basics of getting into hunting and fishing for newcomers.
“But the DNR is part of a government system,” Adams said. “They only have so much money. They only have so many people, and they can only do so much. A lack of people and resources is what keeps this from growing too. It’s trying to find the resources or someone dedicated who wants to continue to support someone. But the other challenge is mentors burn out.”
That’s why continuing to shift a culture that for many years cultivated the idea that hunting is for the boys will likely play a big role in the extent to which women continue to grow in the hunting field. That starts at the family level.
“One thing I think would be cool is if you do shoot a deer (as a father), bringing (your daughters) in to see the deer,” Prahl said. “Not the whole process of sitting there for hours, but bringing them in to see the deer that was shot and being a part of that process. It’s just exposing them more, and then leaving that open door.”
It won’t happen fast, Adams said, but it’s a growing population. The more women can feel welcomed into the hunting and fishing world by those already in it, the more potential there is for even greater growth.
“We have a cultural norm where men are viewed as the ones who should be out in the field and providing for their family. The cultural shift has to be an invitation from men seeing women and girls being a part of that,” Adams said. “Whatever level that is. If it’s just the wives, daughters or nieces sitting out in the tree stand, they’re still a part of it. When that happens, they see how they enjoy it. They think that’s something they could do in their life. Just the invitation is incredibly important. I think growing together will help this grow for women, but it will help grow the hunting and fishing industry too.”