November 20, 2017

Women in the woods

Observer courtesy photo
Laurie Malenfant can’t wait to get to her family’s hunting camp for the start of rifle deer season Saturday.

Searching out Vermont’s female hunting population

By Jason Starr
Observer staff
When Laurie Malenfant heads to her family’s hunting camp in the Northeast Kingdom on Saturday for the opening of Vermont’s rifle deer season, she will be one of three women in a roughly 12-member hunting party.
At 25 percent, that is more than double the percentage of women hunters statewide — 11 percent, according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
Vermont’s percentage lags well behind the national percentage of women hunters, which has risen to about one quarter of the hunting population, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

While the Southeast and Midwest have seen growth in female hunting, participation in the Northeast has remained flat, said Chris Saunders of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Since 2009, the number of women purchasing Vermont hunting licenses has remained steady at about 5,400.

Observer courtesy photo
Since 2009, the number of women purchasing Vermont hunting licenses has remained steady at about 5,400.
The percentage of women hunters has increased from 9 percent to 11 percent during that time due to more men stepping away from the sport as they age.

The percentage of women hunters has increased from 9 percent to 11 percent during that time due to more men stepping away from the sport as they age, Saunders said.

The department offers several women-specific hunter and outdoor education classes that have increased the number of women learning about the sport. But that hasn’t translated into hunting license sales, said Saunders.

Malenfant, a native of Essex Junction, is an eighth-generation Vermonter who was taught about hunting at the earliest of ages. She received her first hunting license at age 9 and recalls joining her brother on squirrel and bird hunts off Redmond Road in Williston as a child.

She understands the hesitancy among women to start participating in the sport, especially women who weren’t brought up in hunting families.
“I have hundreds of female friends, and I can count on one hand the number of female friends who hunt, fish and enjoy the outdoors like I do,” she said.

She is occasionally compelled to defend her participation in the sport to friends who challenge it. Malenfant lost a sister to gun violence when a man opened fire at Essex Elementary School in 2006, and some of her friends question her support for shooting sports in light of the tragedy.

“I think a lot of women won’t touch a gun because they are afraid of them,” she said. “I’m glad my family brought me up to value the purpose of hunting, feeding the family. I’m glad to carry on that tradition.”

In hunter surveys conducted by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, the ability to provide meat for families “is far and away the most important reason” women cite for wanting to hunt, Saunders said.

Malenfant is proud to be able to harvest and pack her own meat. But her reasons for hunting go beyond that. She said her early success in the sport instilled in her a confidence that continues to serve her as an adult.

Hunting is a way of life, a family tradition and an enduring passion.
“There is a sense of glee and excitement surrounding every season,” Malenfant said. “I can’t wait to get there this weekend.”

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