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Percent of female hunters is growing

| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006

If you see Darlene Anderson in A&S Indoor Pistol Range in Youngwood, surrounded by display cases full of pistols, shelves lined with ammunition, and walls hung with holsters and military-looking rifles, don't worry.

She is not lost and in need of directions. Nor is her car broken down. She's not simply waiting for her husband to finish shopping, either.

Anderson, of Greensburg, works there, selling guns when she's not shooting them herself.

Anderson got hooked on target shooting 10 years ago when she accompanied her husband to the range. She took up deer hunting five years ago, and killed her first whitetail, a doe, at age 40. She's taken three other does since.

"My dad never hunted," Anderson said. "I've been married 27 years, though, and my husband's done it off and on all that time. One year I thought, I'd like to try hunting, too, so I went and took my hunter safety course, and I've been doing it ever since."

Twenty years ago, a female hunter like Anderson might have been considered an oddity. That's no longer true. A recently-released National Sporting Goods Association study determined that women account for about 16 percent of the nearly 21 million active hunters in the United States.

What's even more noteworthy is that women represent one of the fastest growing segments of the shooting and hunting industries.

That offers some real potential economically. Female hunters tend to spend less on gear than do their male counterparts, said Thomas B. Doyle, vice president of information and research for the association. Still, sales of firearms, ammunition and a few accessories, excluding clothing, amount to about $3.4 billion total annually.

"If women are 16 percent of that market, they would account for $500 million, which is a good chunk of change," Doyle said.

Manufacturers are trying hard to tap into on that market. Efforts to produce rifles, boots, clothing, and other gear that fits women and appeals to their fashion sense have taken off in the last five years, said Steve Wagner, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

When the shooting industry hosts its annual trade show in Orlando next month, for example, Foxy Huntress, a Texas-based maker of hunting clothes for women who want to be "dressed to kill in more ways than one," will be just one of several new vendors on hand looking to cater to women.

There are likely a number of reasons why girls young and old are taking up guns, said Greene County's Roxane Palone, just the second female to serve on the Pennsylvania Game Commission board.

Sportsmen's organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation and National Rifle Association and large retailers like L.L. Bean and Orvis offer programs aimed specifically at introducing women to the outdoors. There's a new realization, too, that hunting and shooting are good family activities, she added.

"And I think it's just more acceptable now," Palone said. "In our whole society, women are doing things they couldn't a generation ago. They're in business, they're airplane pilots, they're in the military. Women are just doing a lot of things they didn't before."

No matter the reasons, the move by women to join the outdoors community can't help but be a good thing, Wagner said.

"My sense is that it's the softer side of hunting, the side that never makes the cover of Field and Stream but that's important nonetheless, that women are focusing on," Wagner said. "A guy might come back from the woods and talk just about how many bucks he saw. A women might also describe how beautiful the spot where she was sitting was, the wildlife she saw, how nice a day it was. I think that's going to be good for the image of hunting."

Anderson pays attention to all those things, she admits. But she likes her venison, too.

"You know what they say about that adrenaline rush and the shakes you get when you see a deer, how your heart starts pumping• That's all true," Anderson said.

A closer look

• According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 2.4 million women hunted with firearms in 2005, a increase of 72 percent over 2001. Participation in target shooting grew by 50 percent over the same time, while the number of women bowhunters grew by 176 percent.

• More than five million women enjoy shooting, according to the survey. That's up 50 percent since 2001.

• Among female target shooters, the number using air rifles grew by 55 percent between 2001 and 2005. Use of rifles grew by 53 percent during, use of handguns by 33 percent, and use of shotguns by 16 percent.

• Women ages 18 to 24 represent the fastest-growing group of female hunters and shooters, followed by those aged 35 to 44.

• No one can say for sure how many women hunt in Pennsylvania, as the state's old fashioned carbon paper-based system of selling licenses isn't designed to collect that kind of demographic data. But in Michigan, a state similar to this one in terms of its sporting traditions, 21 percent of the people taking a hunter safety course in 2005 were female.

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