LINCOLN, Neb. — How do you get 20 women who have never hunted, or even shot a gun, to do it again? You invite them to do it the first time.
That’s the biggest take-away from last week’s first-ever Powderhook Women’s Hunt, in which participants learned about gun safety, dog handling, the basics of conservation and wildlife management. Then they hunted roosters. For most, it was the first time they had been exposed to guns and hunting, but even more importantly, it was the first time they had been coached and joined in the field by fellow women.
The participants, most of whom hail from in and around Powderhook’s hometown of Lincoln, Neb., represented a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, but they had this in common: none had previously been asked to hunt.
“Every woman I asked to join us on this hunt was happy to go,” says Stephanie Dinger, organizer of the event. “They might have been willing to go years earlier, but they had just never been asked. I think that’s the lesson here. There is so much interest in hunting and in outdoor activities, especially among women, but they’ve never been invited to participate. We aim to change that.”
Dinger, who hosted the event with help from Powderhook colleagues, Beede Outdoors, Nebraska Game and Parks, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and Karin Holder from the TV show Raised Hunting, told participants to expect two things.
“I told them that it would be safe and that it would be comfortable for them,” says Dinger. “I think women in particular learn best in an environment that’s physically comfortable but also supportive. They want to feel they can ask anything and that they’re not being judged or sized up, and for us, that means being in a situation where women are learning from other women. Time and again the ladies said they’d always wanted to try hunting, but they’d never been invited, and to be invited by someone they know and trust was the key for them.”
That certainly describes Steph Vanous.
“If you would have told me five years ago that I would know how to shoot a shotgun and that I would go turkey, dove, and pheasant hunting, I would have told you that you were absolutely insane,” says Vanous. “I don’t look like someone who hunts. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family. I didn’t know how to shoot a gun until I was taught six months ago, but I have to tell you, I am HOOKED!”
And it describes Sheri Irwin-Gish, who had wanted to shoot trap for years, but had never had the opportunity.
“I learned how in a safe and supportive way with 20 women,” says Irwin-Gish. “Then we went hunting in groups with newbies and mentors. There were plenty of laughs and cheering. Words cannot explain the sense of empowerment gained through this experience!”
Dinger says the atmosphere of supportive education was enhanced by Holder, who hosts a women’s empowerment hunting camp called “Raised at Full Draw.”
“Most women learn differently when they’re taught by other women,” says Holder. “Not necessarily better or worse, but they learn differently when they’re given an opportunity to share experiences and knowledge with other women.”
The women’s pheasant hunt is an extension of the Powderhook brand, which includes a fast-growing mobile app that serves as a digital toolkit for beginning hunters.
“Powderhook’s motto is ‘Front Door to the Outdoors,’ and I think both the hunt and the app deliver on that,” says Dinger. “The app is a resource—for people looking for a place to go, or looking for a mentor to teach them, or looking for an answer from the community. Our women’s hunt tried to provide resources in real time, but also an experience that participants can tap into to gain confidence and knowledge.”
Over appetizers—of pheasants, of course—at the end of the event, participants were eager to talk about next steps. Most wanted to reprise the hunt.
“I’ve scheduled two pheasants hunts in which I have 10 of the 20 women committed to hunting,” says Dinger. “I’ve had 15 women who heard about our event and want to join in on the next one. But whether they do this for the rest of their lives, or take their families with them for maybe just one or two future hunts, the important thing is that they have the knowledge and the comfort to take that next step.”
There’s another tangible benefit, says Dinger.
“This event sold 20 hunting licenses, and created at least 10 follow-up hunters,” she says. “And it’s scalable. It’s a real example of mentoring, of teaching and encouraging people who will then go out and teach and encourage other people. It’s exactly how we need to make more hunters in America.”
Powderhook promises to help people get outdoors more often. The Powderhook app and website are a one-stop place to find local, current information and expertise simply not available anywhere else. Our community of Digital Mentors are ready to help answer any outdoor question that’s thrown their way. Download the app.