Hunting: Not just a man’s sport anymore
When Linda Beagley goes to park her vehicle by Pagoda Peak with her grandkids and unpacks her hunting gear, she sometimes attracts attention from other hunters getting ready to pack in.
“They would come over and take pictures, saying ‘I have to show my wife this,’ or ‘Look at the woman and kids going hunting,'” said the 65-year-old Eagle resident.
Beagley’s father began taking her hunting when she was 6 years old. She got her first hunting license as soon as she could get one ” at age 14. Now, her granddaughters hunt. The three girls, now 16, 17 and 18 , began hunting blue grouse at age 10 with a .22 caliber gun.
Despite all the female hunters in her family, it is still rare to find other women who hunt. Beagley estimates one in 50 people she sees packing in are women, and she doesn’t think the sport is becoming any more popular among them.
“No, I don’t see it,” she said. “In fact, most of my friends think I’m crazy because I go. You sleep on the ground and you eat food cooked in a fire, and all the bugs.”
Beagey’s neighbor, Leslie Miller, sees it a little bit differently.
“A lot of the women out here hunt,” Miller said. “They’re just a lot more quiet about it than their husbands.”
According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the number of women hunters in Colorado in 2001 was too small to be reported, but if you subtract the number of women anglers from the number of women sportspersons who fish or hunt, the figure is around 2,000.
Nationwide, 9 percent of hunters were women that year, amounting to 1.2 million women, and some say that figure will grow.
“It’s getting more and more common all the time,” Miller said.
Miller, who has run Copper Mountain Stables for nine years, has hunted for the past eight years, but her husband prefers to fish.
“This is my thing,” she said.
When Miller lived in Los Angeles, she didn’t know any women who hunted. Miller moved to Colorado 30 years ago when she married her husband, a geologist. A friend, Dave Curtis, taught her all she knows about hunting, she said.
“I figured, ‘If you’re going to eat meat, you might as well see the whole process,'” she said.
The meat from hunting is healthier because it doesn’t contain any preservatives, said Miller, who dons fringed leather chaps and a black cowboy hat when she goes hunting.
“It’s a lot healthier to harvest an animal in the wild than from a feed lot,” she said.
Miller said she is not a trophy hunter, but she’s not against anyone who is one.
“I only hunt what I want to eat because I don’t see the need to kill just to kill,” she said.
Beagley and maybe a dozen kids and grandkids go up for a weeklong stay at their hunting area at Pagoda Peak in the Routt National Forest. There they hunt, fish and ride their six horses.
She has taken grandchildren as young as six months old hunting with her.
“We would put their little babyseats in the middle of the horses, and they’d sleep all the way in,” she said.
Beagley usually hunts elk and deer with a .308 caliber high-power rifle and then prepares the meat herself.
“If you don’t package it correctly, then you get a wild taste to it,” she said.
Beagley described “wild taste” as when the meat smells like it has spoiled while you’re cooking it. To avoid that taste, Beagley takes the hide off, lets it cool while hanging in the cold night and packages it herself.
At home, she butchers the elk, removing all the muscle, fat and bones. When she cooks it, she rolls the meat in flour and fries it in grease so it’s crispy.
Her family has a proven method of finding and shooting elk: They get up at the crack of dawn and watch the elk come out into the meadow at daybreak.
“We’re always up there, sitting around in the meadows, when it starts getting light,” she said.
Later in the day, the elk don’t stay in the meadow, making it more difficult to shoot them, she said.
“They usually will hear you before you see them, and unless you can run as fast as an elk, you can never get a shot,” Beagley said.
Her favorite part about going hunting is the wilderness area itself. When she goes hunting in the fall, the aspens change colors.
“It’s just beautiful,” Beagley said. “You can ride all day long and not see a thing but beautiful scenery.”
Although some stores are now carrying hunting gear designed specifically for women, Beagley said she has never bought any.
“I’ve had my rifle for a long, long time, and we’ve had all our hunting gear for a long, long time,” she said.
Miller said she gets her hunting gear from Cabela’s, but that she doesn’t bother with the women-specific clothing because she doesn’t wear camouflage. Instead, she wears Carhartt, a brand of durable clothing, and heavy-duty Sorel boots.
Jim Bulger is the coordinator for Women Afield, an outreach organization for women interested in shooting sports, hunting and fishing, which the Colorado Division of Wildlife created last year.
Bugler taught a shooting clinic July 12, which 15 women attended.
“Ninety percent of them ” if they had picked up a shotgun, it was to move it, not to shoot it,” he said.
Last year, the Division of Wildlife led three guided pheasant hunts and three guided goose hunts for women. Four pheasant hunts, four goose hunts and one elk hunt are planned for women this year. The details on those guided hunts will be posted in September on the Division of Wildlife Web site, Bugler said.
The space for each hunt ranges from four to 16 women, depending on the game being hunted, he said. Bugler said it’s too early to tell if there’s a strong demand from women.
“My gut feeling is, ‘Yes, it is a program offered through the Division that will continue to grow,'” he said. “They’re looking for a resource to provide them with hunter education, so they can develop those skills to do it on their own.”
A hunt typically costs $100 to $150 a gun, but the Women Afield hunt will cost $25 to $40, so that the high price won’t scare women away, Bugler said.
Right now, the Women Afield hunts are offered near Mead, Parachute, Greeley and Durango.
“As I see the program grow and we get other landowners and other opportunities to hunt, I see picking up all four corners of the state,” he said.
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