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Sportswomen take to the field

By KIM FUNDINGSLAND, Staff Writer, [email protected]

If you think hunting is reserved for "men only," you might be surprised to learn that plenty of North Dakota women annually set foot in what is usually thought of as a man's domain.

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, some 8,000 women buy North Dakota hunting licenses every year.

"That number is fairly stable. In 1996 it was right at 8,000 and in 2006 it was 8,000," said Roger Rostvet, deputy director with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "We hit a sort of peak in 2000 with 9,000 female hunters."

The department recently received results of an extensive study in which one topic was hunter recruitment and retention. As it turns out, when it comes to females in the field, North Dakota fares better than most of the nation.

"We're actually retaining our lady hunters," Rostvet said. "Nationwide the number of women hunting is about 9 percent, but that number is dropping. Our interest level among female hunters has remained at a steady level and probably will remain that way in the foreseeable future. As long as access to land to hunt is good, those numbers will stay up there."

From pheasants to ducks to white-tailed deer, women are shouldering firearms and taking part in the fall hunting seasons. Many sportsmen's organizations, such as the Minot chapter of Delta Waterfowl, have sponsored introductory hunting and shooting programs for women. The results of such events are beginning to show up in the field as more and more women are enjoying a previously untapped activity.

"I really think that we're seeing a few more women out there," said Nancy Boldt, coordinator of the Game and Fish Becoming An Outdoors Woman program. "From the events we hold I'm seeing a lot more women interested in hunting. Take, for example, the Delta Waterfowl hunt in the Minot area. Those kinds of things are what we want to see, hunters introducing someone new to the activity."

According to Boldt, North Dakota women are clamoring for more opportunities to take part in outdoor learning experiences with the goal of carrying over what they've learned into the field.

"If they have a good experience, chances are they'll keep doing it," Boldt said. "At the Minot event I realized I had not been in a duck blind for 25 years. To watch dawn coming, to listen to the wings before you see the birds. I had to ask myself why I don't do this more often. I guess life gets busy and you put it off. The other ladies and I spend a long time just listening to nature."

Sometimes women are introduced to the outdoors when they marry into a hunting family. They suddenly find themselves lacking in outdoors experience but have a desire to learn. Many find hunting to be a surprisingly enjoyable activity.

"That way they can do something with their spouses and families," Boldt said. "They try it and then find out that they don't want the hunt to be over. They want to find a reason to be out there."

"There's some role reversal going on out there on the traditional view of hunting," Rostvet said. "Our study shows that hunting is more of a social event with women. They like hunting in larger groups and very seldom hunt alone."

A hunting tandem

Two women who know the joys of spending time in the field are Nadene Johnson of Minot and Joanne Getz of Pengilly, Minn. Getz taught school in Williston for 30 years before retiring to the northern Minnesota community. The women struck up a friendship though the sisterhood of coaching. Johnson coached girl's high school golf at Minot High and Getz at Williston. They also found something else in common they both love to hunt.

"I have hunted since I was about 14," Getz said. "I had two older brothers who hunted and begged my dad to take me hunting when I was young, both deer and partridge hunting in northern Minnesota. He decided to finally take me and I've been hooked since then. I've loved it. My mom just couldn't keep me in the kitchen."

While teaching in Williston, Getz made sure she put in her fair share of time in the field. She's taken turkeys, ducks, white-tailed deer, mule deer and upland game. Her favorite hunting challenge is pheasants. When she talks about hunting the colorful birds, she makes no effort to contain her enthusiasm.

"When hunting pheasants you can walk, enjoy the beautiful weather and watch the dog work," Getz said. "I'm hooked. It's just wonderful. The landscape is so beautiful in the fall. I just love it!"

Johnson also got her initiation to hunting in Minnesota. Several of her fellow teachers invited her on a duck hunt and she agreed. However, it wasn't until she became the owner of a labrador puppy that she completely embraced hunting.

"That got me hooked. I've had two of them," Johnson said. "I just like the fact of being out in the country. Most of the time I'm a fair weather hunter so the country is beautiful. Watching the dogs work is a big factor for me."

Johnson currently owns a 2-year-old Brittany, Cooper, her first pointing dog. Cooper is enthusiastic in the field and has added to the enjoyment of Johnson's time afield. She recently had a couple of successful days of pheasant hunting with Getz in the Williston area.

"I was going to take my video camera one day instead of the gun. It would have been just as fun and I'm a lousy shot anyway," Johnson said, laughing. "We saw quite a few birds and it was nice to get Cooper into those birds. He's holding points and retrieving and this year he kind of has an idea of what he was looking for."

Women in the field are discovering what men have enjoyed for years details of the hunt that have little to do with success judged by game taken. Scenery, friendships and socializing are all part of a successful hunt.

"When that sun comes up and when it goes down, I just love it," Getz said. "And when that pheasant comes up, you are startled and have to shoot before it's gone. I took my two daughters hunting with me, no guns, and they screamed a few times. It was a lot of fun. I've taken my son hunting too."

Getz lives in ruffed grouse country. She hunts them occasionally but greatly prefers pheasant hunting in open country. She says ruffed grouse flushed in the woods disappear a little too quickly. There's another thing, though a love of North Dakota.

"I tell other women they are missing out on exercise, fresh air and the overall feel when you are out there," Getz said. "It's everything. A lot of women are missing out on a great opportunity. I just love to walk in the outdoors."

"It's just fun," Johnson said. "If you like the outdoors, it's a great place to be. With friends it's a real nice social thing too, and for families that hunt, that's great."

Thanks again West Dakota Waterfowlers: Local Delta Waterfowl Chapter - Minot, ND
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