Female hunters gather to sharpen skills

Study: Women are the fastest growing segment of hunting community

Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2004

Honey, I'm going hunting!" Since the first cave man slung a club over his shoulder, that refrain has marked a hunter's departure for a day in pursuit of game.

But increasingly, it's the lady of the household in that hunter-gatherer role.

More and more hunting families are including just as many hunting women as men. A national study of hunters and hunting found that women make up the fastest growing segment of the hunting community.

Last weekend in Juneau, a group of female hunters gathered to sharpen their skills and knowledge.

"We think it might be the first all-woman hunter ed class in Alaska," instructor Rhonda Paasquan said. "We know it's the first in Juneau."

All the instructors were also experienced outdoorswomen.

Rhonda Pasquan is a Juneau insurance agent and a volunteer instructor for Alaska Fish and Game. Linda Coate, another of the instructors, is a communications specialist for the state of Alaska. And instructor Malin Babcock, whose 10-year-old granddaughter Malin Murray was the youngest student in the class, is a retired state fisheries biologist.

Why a women-only course?

It's easier for women to learn in a setting with other women, Paasquan said, instead of the traditional male instructors, because the women feel more comfortable asking questions.

"A man, even if they are trying not to, comes across as knowing all the answers."

Men can be intimidating instructors, Coate added.

"We're not afraid to admit we might be scared in the woods," Coate said. "That's not something a man would do."

On Saturday, there was a palpable, easy camaraderie among students and teachers, each celebrating the others' successes and new knowledge.

The class ranged from youngsters to grandmothers.

Every student passed the course and most had perfect scores, which are almost unheard of, Pasquan said.

They were enthusiastic, even boisterous, in their enthusiasm for what they'd learned and why they'd come.

"I wanted to learn to hunt," one said.

"I wanted to hunt with my husband," a second chimed in.

"I'm hunting for a husband," a third shouted from the back of the classroom, to a chorus of laughter.

Susan George brought her three daughters to the course with her.

Twyla and Tushyne, 16, and Shelby Eyre, 12, are carrying on a family tradition, from their father.

Their dad died, and they've inherited his guns.

The girls were enthusiastic about hunting over the Thanksgiving holiday.

These instructors don't just teach. They also hunt on their own.

Linda had just returned from a caribou hunt up north and Rhonda was fresh from packing out the bull moose she'd tagged a few weeks ago.

The 12-hour course is spread over three days and includes detailed instruction on key areas, including: firearms and firearms safety; wildlife conservation and management; hunting history, heritage and respect for wildlife; survival and first aid; water safety and hypothermia; and caring for game after it's harvested.

While most of the study was inside the classroom in the new state facility at the Juneau Gun Club, it also includes live fire shooting practice, with the ladies trying their hand at .22 rimfire rifles. But instead of just lobbing slugs downrange, these gals were drilling the heart out of targets with groups of closely-place bullet holes you could cover with a quarter (or a dime).

Some singled out the survival or first aid training as important.

"I really enjoyed the shoot-no shoot part," one student said, referring to a portion of the class that takes the students through real hunting scenarios, to help decide when they should and should not take a shot.

They also got a literal taste of the rewards of the hunt, with a wild game lunch on the final class day, including caribou, moose and venison.

While hunters education is not required statewide, in many parts of Alaska hunters under age 16 or born after January 1, 1986 must have passed the course, or be hunting with someone who has.

Nationwide, hunter education has been hugely successful in reducing hunting accidents and raising the overall knowledge of hunters.

Each graduate of the course also left with a blaze orange hunting vest, which they received after signing a pledge to wear the "hunter orange" whenever hunting. Nationwide use of the brilliant color in hunting clothing, which makes hunters both visible and instantly identifiable, has dramatically reduced the number of "mistaken identity" hunting accidents over the past decade.

The next all-woman class is tentatively scheduled for the third weekend of September 2005. There's also a couples hunter education course tentatively planned for February, Coate said.

• Lee Leschper can be reached at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.



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