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We are women who hunt

Showcasing voices of women in the hunting community

Andrea Zani and Kathryn A. Kahler

silhouette of woman placing duck decoys on marsh©COURTESY OF EMILY IEHL"An increase in the number of women hunters presents a unique opportunity for wildlife managers to learn more about women as a growing demographic of Wisconsin hunters."  — Emily Iehl

As the number of women in hunting and shooting sports continues to grow in Wisconsin and nationwide, we sought to showcase the voices of some of those hunters. A number of them are heard on the following pages.

Many of the women in Wisconsin’s hunting community are found right here at the DNR, as might be expected from an agency charged with natural resources management. Plenty of others are represented as well.

Some grew up in a family of hunters. Others took it up as adults. A few of these women view hunting as a deeper way of life for themselves, pursued with obvious passion and expertise. Others focus on learning new skills and having distinct experiences.

Caring for natural resources and supporting conservation are points of emphasis for many, and several reference the unforgettable experience of a first harvest. A number of these hunters express an obligation to be more self-sufficient or a desire to provide their own sustainable food.

Many talk about being with family and friends and the important role that plays in their enjoyment of hunting. And nearly everyone mentions how much they relish being in the outdoors and feeling a deeper connection to nature.

Whatever their stories and individual motivations, all these women have one thing in common: the pride they take in being part of Wisconsin’s rich and enduring hunting traditions.

Andrea Zani is managing editor and Kathryn A. Kahler is associate editor of  Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.


For everything you need to know about hunting in Wisconsin, check Hunting.


'Why Women Hunt'

Our coverage of women in Wisconsin's hunting community was inspired in part by a new coffee table book we came upon recently. "Why Women Hunt"includes stories and beautiful photography profiling 18 women, including from Wisconsin, who are devoted to the sport of hunting. The book is written by Minnesota author K. J. Houtman, herself an avid outdoors woman, and published by Wild River Press ($49.95). It is available at or from online booksellers.

Why do I hunt?

“As a full-time working mother of three young boys, I must be efficient. Hunting is the ultimate way to multi-task. I can enjoy the outdoors, bird and wildlife watch, clear my mind, get some exercise, breathe some fresh air and hang out with friends — all while having the potential of bringing home some food. … No one in my immediate or extended family hunts. I grew up in a city with my mother and three brothers. While in college, I decided to become a hunter. At first, I tagged along with a friend who taught me good hunting ethics. I took a hunter safety course and practiced shooting. I watched other hunters, but mostly learned by trial and error. … Probably because my mom was always financially stressed, I love being self-sufficient when it comes to food. My big-city brothers always say that if the world falls apart, they are moving in with me, because I can provide.”

2019 Wildlife Biologist of the Year for the DNR and the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

“I had my first hunting experience through the DNR’s Learn to Hunt turkey program last spring. I enjoyed it so much, I did Fish for Food and Learn to Hunt deer and squirrel that same year. … Not too long before my first Learn to Hunt, I tore my ACL (knee ligament), which kept me from doing many of the outdoor activities I enjoy. So hunting seemed like a great way to enjoy being outdoors and experience nature in a different way.”

Learn to Hunt participant

“My most memorable hunting experience is probably the first deer I ever shot, when I was 26. I had recently been hired by the DNR and part of my job duties included sharpshooting deer. I had never shot an animal before. My grandfather and uncles had a deer camp up north at our family cottage. I was able to go out hunting with them, along with my 12-year-old cousin, also a new hunter. I spent the weekend half hoping a deer would walk by and half dreading it! … It was an amazing experience to spend time with my grandfather, uncles and cousin. I never expected to enjoy hunting, and that hunt opened the door to the other opportunities I’ve had since.”

DNR wildlife biologist in Poynette

“I grew up in the Wisconsin Northwoods. My family farmed, gardened, fished, hunted. For me, taking up hunting as an adult was about getting back to that heritage of a life immersed in nature and intertwined with the land.”

Outdoors lover now living in Madison, and Learn to Hunt participant

“Why do I hunt? It’s simple — I love cooking and eating wild game. It’s sustainable and I love supporting conservation funding through hunting. I also love any excuse to spend time outdoors.”

DNR Water Program coordinator, who met her fiancé at a 2015 DNR Learn to Hunt event

“My last adventure was squirrel hunting with a team of wardens when I shot this squirrel. We had a blast, and I feel that just being in the field with friends and the outdoors is a wonderful experience. I also love to cook and experiment with recipes involving fish and game. I won first place in a chili cook-off two years ago using a pheasant white chili recipe that I was very proud of.”

DNR conservation warden in La Crosse

“I started hunting with my dad when I was 12 years old. The outdoors were a huge part of my upbringing and instilled values I took with me into adulthood. I hunt to provide free-range wild meat for my family, but most importantly, I just enjoy being outdoors and the entire process of ‘the hunt.’ Some of my best memories have been made while hunting, from sharing camp with family and friends, my first buck and even my engagement — which happened in a tree stand! It’s made me who I am and helped cultivate lifelong relationships for me.”

Hunter and DNR “Wild Wisconsin” video collaborator

“Hunting is a new type of challenge for me that taught me to be patient and persistent. It also taught me to truly push myself. As a female hunter, hunting has allowed me to counter societal norms; I can walk into the woods alone in the dark, I can clean and maintain my firearm, I can handle it safely, I can harvest my own game ethically and process it. Hunting has empowered me to overcome societal and self-imposed barriers. The love of being outside coupled with an opportunity of a unique new hobby encouraged me to hunt, but the community of fellow hunters and the amazing new meals are what keep me coming back. I came for the exercise and stayed for the camaraderie!”

On staff of Gov. Tony Evers, and a recent devotee of turkey hunting

“When I was a kid, I always would go out with my dad to help put up his tree stands or clear a new shooting lane. I would usually ‘help’ him track his deer after he shot them, although it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized he knew where the deer was the whole time. He just wanted to introduce me to that aspect of hunting. Growing up in a small northern Wisconsin town, going through Hunters’ Safety courses was a bit like getting your driver’s license — everyone was excited about it long before it happened.”

Daughter of freelance photographer and magazine contributor Linda Freshwaters Arndt

“Being able to give back to nature is what makes hunting most important to me. It’s not about the chase or taking game anymore. It’s about the experience and mentoring new hunters. It’s about making memories and hanging out with good friends and family. It’s about conservation and giving back to nature — prepping and maintaining my land for the different hunting seasons by planting large wildlife area habitats, offering different types of water sources, setting up wood duck houses, clearing trails and planting trees and food plots for a variety of wildlife. I have progressed through the five stages of hunting (referenced in hunter education: shooting, limiting-out, trophy, method, sportsman) over the years and I can honestly say I am in the ‘sportsman stage’ at this time in my life because it has become my way of life. It’s how I eat and how I spend my spare time. I love the outdoors, wildlife and being a hunter. The preparations, anticipation, participation and resulting rewarding experiences all make my life more exciting and enjoyable.”

Coordinator for the DNR’s Hunter Education Program and shooting ranges

“I haven’t been hunting since I moved away from the Midwest, but my favorite parts were: the camaraderie with other enthusiastic beginner and seasoned hunters, and the quiet mornings. I wasn’t too fussed about getting anything from a successful hunt, so I just really enjoyed sitting out in nature, enjoying the peaceful environment.”

Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Learn to Hunt participant 

“Looking at 12-year-old Julie, hunting would probably be on the top 10 least likely activities you’d guess I’d be participating in as an adult. I grew up a vegetarian, anti-hunter, who spent hours saving insects from swimming pools instead of swimming. But my love of outdoor recreation and my growing interest in the field of wildlife ecology were my gateway into the world of hunting. Through my studies, I began to appreciate the role hunting played in wildlife management, both through population control and the funding it provides for conservation (through the Pitmann-Robertson Act). Starting my career with the DNR, I was suddenly surrounded by people passionate about wildlife, conservation and public lands, and I wanted to be one of them. They also happened to be hunters and since hunter dollars were now paying my wage, I figured I’d better give it a try. Luckily, the mentors in my professional life were willing to share their love of hunting with me.”

DNR wildlife biologist who hunts mainly deer with her mentor, retired DNR wildlife biologist Mike Foy

“I hunt to consume sustainable, local food. It’s important to me that I know where my food comes from and that I have a hand in how I acquired it. To me, food tastes better when you’ve had to work for it, whether that be by planting and nurturing or hunting and harvesting. I grew up in a hunting community but was always hesitant to actually go out with the guys, despite having a slight interest. After college, I was invited to join a group of friends, and the offer was too good to be true. … I had a strong desire to hunt to make sure I could be self-sufficient. Ethically, it felt wrong of me to always expect someone else to kill the animals I ate, especially if I couldn’t do it myself. A Learn to Hunt for Food program came along and presented the perfect opportunity for me to harvest my own meal.”

Aldo Leopold Foundation recent fellow now living and hunting in Minnesota

“Women have always been important in hunting cultures, not to mention we make up over 50% of the population. And I’m pretty sure every single hunter was made by a woman. Female hunters are the fastest growing demographic in hunting.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Wisconsin chapter, board member and Wisconsin Sporting Heritage Council member

“I got interested in hunting tagging along with my dad and mom as a young girl. My father did his best to pass his passion for hunting to us three girls. I think women bring so much not just to hunting but all outdoor pursuits because collectively, generally we tend to bring a deep appreciation for our pursuits. … In the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman program, I did notice the camaraderie and encouragement we provided each other. It is wonderful to be part of a group of women learning new things and supporting one another. I continue to hunt to be part of the experience with my father as much as I can. … My husband and my two sons are much more likely to join in my non-hunting outdoor pursuits like hiking, biking, kayaking and outdoor photography. … And if there is anything that 2020 has taught me, it’s that time with family in all its forms and with all generations is important.”

UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources academic and career adviser and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman adviser

“I hunt because I love to be outdoors and know I’m the only person for miles. It also helps my understanding of wildlife dynamics, improving my knowledge as a wildlife biologist. I most enjoy the connection I feel to nature, the peacefulness — nothing else compares.”

DNR’s Peshtigo area wildlife supervisor and turkey hunter since 2014

“We all enjoy hunting together and it gives us a real sense of place at our cabin. My daughters are very adept at knowing the land and knowing the animals on that land. Every year we get photos of all kinds of artistic scenes from the deer blind. They have taught me as much about hunting as I have them because of their really broad interest in all things nature. Hunting with them has greatly expanded my horizons and made me appreciate family time much more. Now that they’re both in college, time is tougher to come by, but that is a temporary challenge. They’ll always have hunting and will come back to it — hopefully with grandchildren.”

DNR Fish, Wildlife and Parks division administrator 

“Though hunting wasn’t a family tradition, I think exploring the natural world around us and my family’s giant backyard garden sparked something in me. Working in the garden and helping with canning and freezing was a family affair and generated deep connections with people and place and the work and reward of our efforts in the food we ate. While I’ve spent my career working in positions tied to conservation, it wasn’t until my late 30s that I began to explore hunting as another vital connection for me to natural spaces and the ecology of wildlife populations, people, food and best of all dogs — all the things that nourish who I am. The aspects of hunting that speak most to me are things like dog training for upland birds, time outdoors scouting and exploring during spring bird migration and early morning turkey hunting, and mentors and friends who continue to spur me to be better.”

DNR wildlife veterinarian

“A few years ago, I accompanied my friend Brittany on her first deer hunt. She was participating in a Learn to Hunt program through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which initiated the program in 1996 in response to a decade of falling hunter numbers both in Wisconsin and the United States. … After sitting in the rain for seven hours, Brittany shot her first deer — a beautiful doe. For both of us, this experience embodied more than a few hours of outdoor recreation. Hunting together allowed us to help pave the way for new groups of people to interact with nature in a powerful way that is fading with our changing culture. … Over the last few decades, the number of female hunters has been going up ever so slightly as the number of men goes down. This shift presents a unique opportunity for wildlife managers to learn more about women as a growing demographic of Wisconsin hunters and to explore ways to better support women interested in hunting.”

DNR R3 Program and Learn to Hunt coordinator (excerpted from a 2015 blog post for the Aldo Leopold Foundation)

“I didn’t really start seriously hunting until I was in my 20s. I asked a friend to tag along because I was always intrigued — loved spending time outdoors and loved to eat. Fast forward to today. My entire being is consumed with hunting, wildlife and conservation. I hunt to feed my belly and my soul, feel closer to God and nature, to continue to learn patience and to embrace the uncomfortable when our lives today are full of comforts. I count the days until I can head West to chase elk, only to return to months of whitetail bliss, take a short break before turkeys are gobbling and then do it all over again.”

Avid hunter from Arena who collaborates with the DNR’s Deer Management Assistance Program

“As a Learn to Hunt for Food program coordinator and a trained hunter mentor, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce dozens of beginners, mostly women, to hunting. It’s interesting to me that one motivation for women to take up hunting is the same motivation that brought me to hunting — food. Women new to hunting often talk about wanting a connection to nature, to know where their food comes from, to be able to sustainably and responsibly harvest an animal that roamed free during its lifetime. All of these things are important to me, too. Mentoring new hunters is fun and rewarding. The excitement of preparing for the hunt, sitting together the first morning as the world wakes up, and sharing my knowledge feels like a privilege to me. I’m encouraged that there are so many women who want to learn to hunt. I’m happy to be a part of helping them become hunters.”

Becoming an Outdoors-Woman coordinator and hunting mentor