Ginger Whisenant loves the solitude of autumn mornings and spends quite a few of them in her favorite deer stand.
“My brother has always been an avid hunter, and where we live, we have a little property,” the Trenton, S.C., woman said.
About three years ago she became interested enough to start hunting with her brother, Robbie Sullivan, and husband Mike Whisenant.
“They put up a two-seater stand, and one of them would sit with me,” she said. “I loved it, and last year even started hunting with a bow.”
Archery, which requires more patience and skill than rifle hunting, also appealed to Evans resident Alayna Robertson, who considers herself fortunate to have been born into an outdoors family.
“I started hunting when I was 10 and got into shooting a bow when I was about 14,” she said.
Her skills were further refined during high school as a participant and competitor in 4-H and other archery programs.
Today, as a nurse who works long hours at Doctors Hospital, she hunts as often as she can.
“I just like being outdoors,” she said. “It’s peaceful, and it gives me time to relax.”
Although few pastimes are more monumentally male than hunting, Robertson, Whisenant and other women who hunt are part of a movement that is narrowing the gender gap.
“What we have seen from 2002 to 2009 is a big jump in the number of hunters and participants that are ladies,” said Kip Adams, the northern education and outreach director for the Quality Deer Management Association. “From every standpoint, it’s good that we’re seeing more ladies taking up the sport.”
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s 2011 industry report, women accounted for about 13 percent, or 2.3 million, of the nation’s firearms hunters in 2002, rising to 16 percent, or 2.9 million, by 2009, Adams said.
The statistics also show that women hunting with archery and primitive weapons made the greatest strides.
“The biggest overall jump is muzzleloading,” Adams said.
The 270,000 female participants in 2002 grew to 563,000 by 2009, the most recent year for which complete license data is available.
ANOTHER FACET OF female hunters that the median age of women afield tends to be getting younger, while the average male hunter has been aging steadily for almost two decades.
“Seeing women hunters getting younger is a very encouraging trend,” Adams said.
Retailers are also following the changes and working to capture part of the female hunting market.
“For quite a while now, you’ve been seeing specific lady product lines coming out – the SHE Safari apparel line,” for example.
Major outfitters like Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas are also carrying more items oriented toward women who hunt.
“You might see pink grunt calls and turkey calls, lots of things that appeal to girls,” Adams said.
Although there are plenty of Southern women who hunt, the Southeast still lags behind other regions, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which estimated – in calculations slightly different from those compiled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – that only 7 percent of license buyers in the Southeast are women, compared to 13 percent in the West and 9 percent nationwide.
The study also noted that male hunters hunt more often and are much more likely to purchase a hunting license than women, who might hunt less frequently.
It is difficult to identify gender trends among Georgia’s hunters because of fluctuations in license sales and changes in the way hunter numbers are calculated, said Michael Spencer, the supervisor of the Wildlife Resources Division’s license and boat registration unit.
Available figures indicate women comprise 7 percent to about 11 percent in various years studied between 1985 and 2006, but the numbers remain relatively low, he said.
Georgia residents who bought hunting licenses in 2006, the most recent year studied, included 38,000 women, down from 41,000 in 2001, he said. A new study will be conducted in 2012.
Spencer said there does appear to be a shift toward younger women taking up hunting, which might compute to rising numbers of licensed women hunters in future years.
“The thing to look for will be to see if these young hunters grow into 16-year-olds who will be part of the group that buys licenses.”
Hunters such as Whisenant simply enjoy the outdoors – and the spoils of successful hunts as well. This season, she already has a trophy-class buck at the taxidermist and venison in the freezer.
“We all love the cubed steak,” she said. “And the other night we had smoked hind quarter on Mike’s Green Egg grill.”