By Anne Muller

As I was writing this, the words and concepts kept juxtaposing themselves into different combinations, much as letters of the alphabet do when you’re playing Scrabble. Myriad interpretations can be offered of the same players, quotations, and events depending on who’s doing the observing (the Rashomon Phenomenon). But I believe in truth, and not the notion that it’s just your perception vs. mine. One test of veracity is to kick the stimuli that are presenting themselves in different places to ensure that the perception is real, as distinguished from “virtual.” In computerese, “virtual” means the appearance of reality for the purpose of accomplishing a short-term goal, but you can’t bank on it, you can’t save it, it all disappears when you turn off the computer. I believe and trust that our wildlife management agencies are operating in virtual reality. They know the computer’s about to be shut off, but they’re determined to go out with a bang.

The real reality is that the traditional white male hunting population is declining and the Conservation Fund’s bottom line is plummeting. More young people are interested in Nintendo than in getting up at the crack of dawn, freezing their butts off in the forest while waiting for a hapless animal to wander by so they can destroy it. Those trends are making game agencies and the weapons industry quiver. Realizing that their traditional customer base is dwindling (though too slowly for us), game agencies are aiming their marketing power at women, children and to a lesser degree, minorities. Their assumption is that getting women to hunt means getting children to hunt, and getting children to hunt (in their terms to “appreciate nature”) ensures, in virtual reality, the continuation of weapons, ammo, and hunting license sales. Agencies blame the fact that young people are not hunting on a growing number of single-parent families headed by remiss moms, moms who are not instilling the hunter “ethic” in their children.

In the August 1994 issue of Wyoming Wildlife, an article appeared entitled, “Single with Children.” The author, Kathy Etling, says: “If more women and children hunted, it would be pretty tough for animal rights cults to enlist any public support against the sport.” She goes on to extol the virtues of passing the hunting “tradition” down from grandmother to granddaughter. (She’s into virtual traditions as well.) The article focuses on a “no-nonsense” conservationist-type grandma leading her daughter and granddaughter from a “successful” upland bird hunt. The granddaughter is cheerily swinging two dead pheasants as she skips along in back of the adults. The problem with that image is that it doesn’t represent the typical matriarchal family. They are oddballs, all three of them and will happily have no impact on the bottom line. Nevertheless, the theme keeps popping up.

The real reality is that game agencies are working on ways to improve their income, and that means generating more weapons sales by providing more hunting opportunity, widening the traditional customer base and creating new ones. Their income is based primarily on the sale of hunting licenses and excise taxes on weapons and ammo. Every handgun, semi-automatic, rifle, shotgun, bow, arrow, and ammo carries a 10-11% excise tax that goes to “wildlife restoration” which means creating more hunting opportunity so that weapons have a continuing market. Furthermore, state game agencies get a pro-rated percentage of the excise tax depending on the number of hunting licenses they sell. States compete with each other to sell the most hunting licenses!

Christine Thomas, Assoc. Prof. of Resource Management at the U. of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, created a course in 1991 to recruit women hunters. That course is given around the country and there are claims that the classes are packed. “Sportsmen” have also embarked on a campaign to encourage hunters to befriend young (usually male) children of single moms to take them hunting. (It’s getting bizarre.) And, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is attempting to push hunting programs into 40,000 schools across America this year and reach 100,000 schools by 1996.

Hunter safety manuals are becoming laced with illustrations of women, children and minorities. Dick and Jane style illustrations show male instructors helping women to learn the ropes. He stands next to his female “student” helping her to comprehend the fine points of taking aim. Both are smiling and you can imagine the way the rest of the day will go. Will they go hunting? Or will they merely spend the rest of the day over a glass of wine sharing stories of their besotted love for nature? My feeling is they will simply self-destruct as real reality sets in, but we have to stay tuned for that one.

The marketing strategy smacks of Revlon founder Charlie Revson’s approach to getting women to wear nail polish to match their lipstick. He didn’t sell “gunk” for nails and lips. He sold romance. Charlie was smart. He said: “Your lipsticked lips with matching fingertips will have men falling at your feet”; to the men, he said, “you aren’t real men if you aren’t enamored of lipstick-enhanced women with matching fingertips.” As it began to work, Charlie went laughing all the way to the bank.

Hunting magazines devote pages to women who hunt, and every issue covers “successful” female hunters who have bagged bigger and better “game” than their male counterparts. (That could be the reason men are leaving the “sport.” Maybe this isn’t a bad idea!) But for now, hunting is still considered a man’s domain an getting them to open up the good ole boys’ club to women won’t be an easy sell.

I can imagine that for a macho hunter to see a photo in his magazine of a young woman smiling sweetly over a big bear she just blasted in the gut might be a little like the reaction of a socialite flipping through Vogue who sees a hunter with bloodshot eyes and a two-day growth in a velvet evening gown, proudly holding up the bloodied head of Bambi. “What the hell is it doing here?” It doesn’t work! It’s virtual reality! I mean, do you really think she’ll be inspired to wear a velvet evening gown to the next cotillion?

In real reality, selling hunting to women isn’t going to be easy either. Most women don’t want to directly inflict pain on animals, and most women don’t want to pal around with the slobs that do.

But we learn by trial and error, and their marketing effort has just begun. Right now, about 94% of the hunting population is male. The few women who hunt, or don’t object to hunting, are rising to positions of prominence within game agencies, witness Mollie Beattie, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the NRA has made Tanya Metaksa its second most powerful executive. More and more women are in leadership positions to promote hunting both within the government and without- Is it all working? If the numbers are right (each source varies somewhat) there has been a definite increase in the number of women hunters just within the past 3 years. In 1991 the estimate was about 2% of the hunting population, it is now up to 6% (some say 9%) national average. Although the total numbers are still relatively low, the trend is of concern. The marketing attack on women should be nipped in the bud.

I would like to think they’re barking up the wrong tree, but hey, with enough marketing you can probably sell anything. Even cancer looks romantic in the cigarette ads.

What can we do? Tell legislators that you don’t want your tax dollars spent on encouraging women to turn bucks over to Marlin, Winchester, Remington Arms and so the USFWS. You don’t want “game” agencies also going into the pimping business.

Simultaneously, let women who may be falling for the hooey know that they are victims and pawns. Let then know they have become another “game” species. Explain how they will be putting their hard-earned money into the hands of the weapons industry and government pimp and game departments. Show how they will be contributing to the bottom line of the weapons industry at the expense of the general public, the environment, ecology, species, individual animals, and their own soul.

We encourage any woman who is “thinking about it” to “Just say NO!” C.A.S.H. works with a psychologist who will help women (and men) work out whatever problems they are having in (real) reality without resorting to hunting (virtual) reality. Before you take that first shot, call us.


Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561