Let's Talk Turkey; Women Hunters Take to the Wilderness, Guns Cocked and Bows Nocked

By Begley, Sharon | Newsweek, October 30, 1995 | Go to article overview

Let's Talk Turkey; Women Hunters Take to the Wilderness, Guns Cocked and Bows Nocked


Begley, Sharon, Newsweek


The sun was just starting to drop behind Colorado's remote San Juan Mountains as Suzy Smith and Lynn Boquet prepared for the hunt. Decked out in camouflage, from skintight Lycra pants to face nets in which they could pass as Hamas guerrillas, the pair poured elk urine over their boots to mask the human scent. ("It's not Giorgio," shrugs smith, "but it does the job.") They struck out for an 11,000-foot mesa where they had heard elk calls that morning. Along the way, Smith pointed to flattened grass where elk had bedded down ... the mud wallow where a bull had lolled ... spoor that told her she was getting closer. Then she went through her repertoire of elk calls: the forlorn moan of a lonely cow, the sharp call of a feisty teenage male, the testosterone-fueled blast of a bull seeking to expand his harem. From across a clearing, a bull answered. "You're communicating with them in their own language," Smith whispered, as she and Boquet hunkered down behind a spruce. "See that big brown butt sticking out from behind that tree?" Silently, the women nocked their arrows. Boquet circled around to line up a shot - just as the bull crashed away. "That to me was a successful hunt," said Smith, 35. "That's why they call it hunting rather than killing."

Once there were hunters and there were gatherers, and to be the former you needed a Y chromosome. But now hunters wear eyeliner and earrings, are retrofitting their rifles to accommodate their shorter arms and are demanding - and getting - "camo" designed for their plumbing. (Before the recent advent of drop-seat pants, women had to either burst their bladders during a long stalk in the woods or risk hypothermia.) You can disparage them as Iron Janes, or as women who used to Run With the Wolves and are now shooting them. But none of the easy stereotypes fits these wilderness women. They are grandmothers and boomers and teens, mall developers and poets and nurses. Some hunted with their daddies; others got shooed to the kitchen when Daddy and junior lit out after white tail. Some wax rhapsodic about their "reverence for nature" and spend hours with their dead prey "thinking about why it was there, where it lived, what it was doing - it's a spiritual thing," explains hunter and outdoors writer Laurie Lee Dovey, 42, of Alpharetta, Ga. Others delight in matching wits with nature and overcoming squeamishness. "When the moment comes," says Elizabeth Hickoff, who shot her first wild turkey last week, "you wonder, can you snap its neck?"

More and more women not only can, but want to. Counts of women hunters are as imprecise as a bird census in a fog, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that in 1991 there were 1.1 million (compared with 13 million men) and 9.9 million female anglers (compared with 25.7 million men). By now, both numbers may have doubled. The $14 billion hunting industry is fretting over its very survival in the face of urbanization and a growing animal-rights movement: one study suggests that if participation keeps declining at the current rate of 5 percent per decade, hunting will disappear within 50 years. So it's little wonder that the scent of new blood has hunting suppliers on point. One sponsor of training workshops for women, the Federal Cartridge Co., deals out free bullets, buying into the notion that killing is more acceptable if the finger that pulls the trigger wears nail polish. State wildlife departments, which get the bulk of their revenues from hunting and fishing licenses, view this new clientele as a way to refill coffers. For agencies used to dealing with only half of humanity, this means no small culture shift: when turkey hunter Hickoff got her hunting license from New York, in the box for "sex" she found a big fat "M." This year the Browning Corp., which makes 12 kinds of sporting shotguns, began selling a lighter, shorter version designed specifically for the smaller arms and hands of women. And Smith, who designs camo for women, finds that her special pee-in-the-woods pants are moving like rabbits in heat. …

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