Women Upland Hunters: Not Yet Ubiquitous, But Not a Different Breed

A magazine editor recently rejected a story I wrote about several women who train their own hunting dogs. The article discussed their approach to training and handling dogs and the rewards of hunting with them. The editor said he couldn’t use the story primarily because “Most of the quotes could’ve just as easily come from a man, sort of missing the point of making this story unique.”
Isn’t that a point in itself – that the growing number of women hunters and trainers aren’t necessarily different from men in their focus, frustrations, excitement, fascination, and love of working with gun dogs?
The editor went on to say he’d have preferred I discussed the difficulties these women faced entering a traditionally men’s world. Perhaps they didn’t face difficulties. Perhaps they learned to hunt when they were young or got into it as adults because of the thrill of seeing a dog taut on point or prancing proudly with a bird in its mouth. It is satisfying to know there are women who came to hunting on a smooth road.
The best part of the rejection email was the editor’s asking how the women’s “female sensibilities” are different than men’s when it comes to training dogs. From what I’ve seen, they aren’t different. With apologies to the editor, we don’t squeal “oooh, icky!” if we have to take a bloody, damaged bird from our dog’s mouth. We don’t weep when applying an electric correction to a hell-bent-for-leather dog breaking on the flush. And we don’t balk at slogging through sucking mud to toss decoys out for water training.
Sorry, but the women dog trainers and handlers I know have the same range of “sensibilities” as the men. There are women who are hard on their dogs and there are women who are too easy. Just like men, there are those with a knack for administering correction or praise at the right moment, and others (like me) who get fuddled and inconsistent. No difference, yet all the same differences.
On the same topic of gender stereotyping, a back page column in a popular wingshooting magazine I read a couple of months ago still bugs me. The writer invoked every cliché ever applied to wives of male hunters. They resent expenditures on guns and dogs. They resent the time their husbands go off hunting. They don’t understand the passion. The wives must be lied to and deceived, and, wink wink, all Guys Who Hunt and have such wives, understand the need to, wink wink, lie and deceive.
The column implied the only thing women/wives care about are frivolous domestic things like new bed linens. But not to worry, because offering to take the old ball-and-chain out for dinner would solve everything.
Some of you will say I can’t take a joke; I say tired clichés aren’t funny; they’re just lame. Other readers will say I’m too sensitive – maybe that’s where the “female sensibilities” kick in…Some days it seems that as often as I’m jazzed to talk to a hunter who says gender is irrelevant when it comes to hunting, I stumble upon a sexist and/or ignorant diehard who wants to keep this miraculous world of bird dogs and flushes, shotguns and the outdoors all to himself and his good old boys’ club buddies. Sorry, but the hunters and conservationists I know – women and men – just won’t let that happen.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.