Few activities are as universally practiced across cultures and age groups as hunting, and perhaps big game hunting especially. This is true whether in South America, Africa, Europe, Asia — or Minnesota, where, long before statehood, youth joined their elders to pursue elk, woodland caribou, moose and deer.
So it remains today, with an asterisk that draws attention to what is believed to be an increasing interest in hunting among women.
This is important, as is greater participation in hunting among minorities, because the hunting population is dominated by baby boomers who are aging out of the pastime. If their numbers aren’t replaced, the thinking goes, by the traditional hunter cohort — white males — in addition to greater numbers of women and minorities, hunting and the funding it provides for conservation are doomed to further diminishment.
A review of current Minnesota deer license sales underscores that girls show a strong interest in hunting relative to boys. But the data also indicate that something happens as girls age that causes some of them to drop out of hunting.
Some young men in their 20s and 30s beset by family and career obligations also put hunting (and other activities) on a back burner for a while. But many men return to hunting, while many women seemingly don’t — a conundrum that state, federal and nonprofit hunting-recruitment experts must address if the percentage of women among hunters is going to stabilize at higher levels.
Sales of resident Minnesota firearms deer licenses — the largest license type — this fall to adult males numbered 292,481, while adult females purchased 48,319 licenses, or about 16% of those bought by men.
Youth firearms (no fee) license sales, meanwhile, tell a more upbeat story about interest in deer hunting among girls: 12,452 of these licenses were issued to boys, while 5,160 were issued to girls, or about 41% of the number issued to boys.
Resident youth deer-license sales also indicate girls represent a significant percentage of Minnesota kids interested in deer hunting: 28,686 of these licenses were sold to boys, while 10,807 were issued to girls — or 38% of the number sold to boys.
Further evidence that girls are not somehow preternaturally biased against guns, the shooting sports and perhaps, by implication, hunting can be found among Minnesota State High School Clay Target League participants, whose boy-girl percentages are fairly equal.
Indeed, when girls and women are exposed to hunting, many share the same passion for it that boys and men do, as snapshots of three Minnesota deer hunters who were afield this fall attest:
• Taylor Menke, 12, of Big Lake, hunting near Motley with her dad, Matt:
“This was my first year of hunting after sitting on a stand with my dad and seeing no deer shot for two seasons. I hunted with a .410. A couple of my girlfriends also hunted and one got a deer.
“It was the Thursday of the youth season. That morning my dad and I had seen deer that had been spooked toward us by a car that drove by on a road. I took a shot, but I missed and was disappointed. When my dad and I went in for lunch, we talked about it and about what we could do different if we saw another deer.
“That afternoon — it was late — we saw deer again. They were coming toward us and my dad helped me get ready for a shot. I lined up one of the deer in my sights that was 50 or 60 yards away. I pulled the trigger and the doe dropped. ‘Oh my gosh, I hit it!’ I said.
“The experience was fun and exciting. I want to do it again next year.”
• Jordan Schilling, 27, of Waverly, hunting near Litchfield with her boyfriend, Aaron Solbrack:
“I took my hunter safety class and started hunting in a stand with Aaron in 2017. That first year we did see a nice buck that might have been shootable. But I thought it was too far away. Plus, I was shaking so much I don’t think I could have shot, anyway!
“This year, on opening morning, hunting on my parents’ farm, we watched three does come out to the left of us, then shortly after, from the right, came a buck. He was so locked on those does he walked right in front of our stand. I have never seen anything like it!
“I had 30 seconds to decide whether to shoot. The buck was walking fast. I heard Aaron say, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot!’ A second or two after that, I shot. The does ran away and the buck ran past us. But we heard him go down. We waited for what felt like two hours, but it was only 45 minutes. Turns out, I made a perfect shot.
“I played sports in high school and barrel raced. But until I met Aaron, I hadn’t hunted. I love being outdoors and seeing all the wildlife. I also like knowing where my food comes from and acquiring it myself. Next year I hope to experience the excitement all over again.”
• Jim Thompson, 95, Alexandria, hunting north of Wadena with his son Michael, 66; grandson, James, 36, and a friend, Tom Hedine:
“I grew up in Hancock, Minn., and entered the Navy Air Corps at age 17. I attended several aerial gunner schools and was assigned to a PV-1 Ventura bomber flying out of the state of Washington to Alaska and out to the island of Attu. Our job was to chase the Japanese off that island and then bomb islands that were 650 miles further from it. I wouldn’t climb into the turret until we were 100 miles from our targets.
“I’ve killed 70-some deer in my life, including the buck I got this year. I owned 160 acres that I bought 10 acres at a time for about $10 an acre. Now my grandson owns it and manages it. All I have to do is show up and hunt.
“We have 12 stands on the property and I still climb into a stand by myself. By tradition our supper on the Friday of the first weekend is meatloaf. Joan, my wife, always made it for us, but I lost her about a year and a half ago. Now my daughter-in-law, Nancy Thompson, makes it. Another tradition is that on the second weekend we have ribs and chicken and steak. At night we also play cards.
“The only deer seasons I’ve missed since I started hunting when I was 15 was while I was in the service. When I was a kid we couldn’t afford guns, so my dad and three brothers and I borrowed them from the American Legion. Now I hunt with a .30-06. I love everything about deer hunting, especially the camaraderie. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”