For generations, the stereotype of outdoor enthusiasts in Maine has been that they go to hunt camp, pursue their careers, and tell their stories – all while leaving their wives and girlfriends at home.
Today, women make up a rapidly growing percentage of licensed hunters in the state. From 2010 to 2020, the number increased from 17,078 to 23,723, an increase of 39%.
From 2019 to 2020 alone, the number has increased by almost 16%.
Despite the renewed interest, women find it difficult to integrate into online hunting discussions which are often dominated by men. They asked questions on public Facebook pages, websites and forums, only to be ridiculed and receive unwanted advances. But a Facebook group decided to provide a place of support for women to get their questions answered – and grew to more than 5,000 members in the process.
Providing a welcoming and informative environment for women aspiring hunters was why Christi Holmes de Gray started the Maine Women Hunters Facebook group.
The Machias native, who didn’t grow up hunting and fishing, has become an accomplished outdoorswoman. She realized that something was missing.
“I experienced firsthand the challenges that all new hunters face, and then maybe an added challenge as a hunter,” Holmes said at the Maine Women Hunters booth at the recent 40th State of Maine Sportsman’s Show at Augusta. Civic Center.
“I had to struggle to teach myself and find mentors,” said Holmes, outdoor columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
Many women are not taken seriously when it comes to hunting. Holmes said she visited a sporting goods store and was asked if she was shopping for her husband.
“Now I keep my Maine guide hat in my car and put it on when I go to Cabela’s,” said Holmes, who is a registered Maine guide.
Many other Maine women and girls have gone through similar situations. The excitement of the show’s excited patrons, including men accompanied by their daughters, was palpable as they visited the Maine Women Hunters booth.
“Women walk by and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,'” Holmes said.
She started the Facebook page after her experiences with the Maine Women Fly Fishers group. Holmes knew something similar was needed to support the Hunters.
The Maine Women Hunters page, which started four years ago, now has 5,200 members and is open only to women and girls.
“There’s something to be said, if you post a question other women will answer it,” Holmes said. “And it’s empowering for the person answering the question.”
The page provides a supportive space for women to ask important questions about hunting, like do you hunt on your period and how do you urinate in a tree?
“The main idea is not that women can be experts in this field. It’s a male-dominated sport,” said band member Stacey Wheeler of Bowdoin. “Traditionally, the man is the hunter and the woman is the gatherer. It’s not necessary, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to change.
Members also appreciate having a place where they can discuss situations they encounter on the field, such as the disappointment of shooting and missing.
“We’re a non-judgmental zone, there to empower us, to help us learn,” Wheeler said.
“It’s attracting more and more women to really understand not only hunting or fishing, but also what the outdoors is and how we can be a commodity ourselves,” she said.
Holmes said the hunt can be daunting for newcomers. They must learn the laws, follow the safe and effective use of firearms, and show respect for the pursuit of game.
“You take the life of an animal. This is serious business,” she said. “There is so much to learn.”
Band members vary widely in age and background and hail from across the state.
Make no mistake, Maine Women Hunters members don’t just chat on social media. They meet in the field and share their hunting and fishing experiences.
A handful of women recently went on a snowshoe hare hunting trip in the Lincoln area. The group also sponsors a duck hunting event and has members who are trappers or have an interest in that aspect of the outdoor experience.
“I started organizing events where we can meet and then do guided hunts,” Holmes said. “It’s a little more affordable, more accessible, for women who have never hunted.”
During the sportsman’s show, Maine Women Hunters held a seminar, “Maine Women and the Outdoors”, to generate more discussion.
“If you’ve never seen a picture of a woman hunting that looks like you, [then] you don’t think you can do it, it’s not for you,” Holmes said.
Hoping to expand their ranks, Maine Women Hunters have a sister group called Maine Women Anglers. Their outings include ice fishing, cast iron, freshwater fishing, strip fishing and bottom fishing.
Maine Women Hunters also has an Instagram account, @mainewomenhunters, and a website, mainewomenhunters.com, which features logo apparel and other merchandise.
Holmes said some former members of the group who moved on have already formed similar organizations in other states, while the women who stumbled upon the Facebook page were inspired to start their own groups.
The supportive atmosphere is a winning strategy for women who want to talk more about hunting and fishing.
“We just find the greatness in everyone’s story and exemplify it,” Wheeler said.