By Cassie Gasaway
Female bowhunting mentors are a niche group with an important job. They’re tasked with – and held accountable for – introducing girls and women to bowhunting. Why are these volunteers, though few in number, crucial to bowhunting?
Female hunters are increasing, but males still far outnumber them. The National Sporting Goods Association’s 2018 Annual Sports Participation Report said 12.6% of over 18 million hunters in the U.S. in 2003 were female. That number rose to 21.2% in 2017, a 65.8% increase over 14 years.
Most female hunters, however, use firearms. The study found 3.4 million women hunted with guns in 2017, while 1.5 million used bows and arrows. With data showing female bowhunters 44% as common as female gun-hunters, they’re especially valuable as bowhunting mentors. We spoke with two female mentors devoted to teaching others, especially women, bowhunting skills.
Donise Petersen, chief operating officer at Raised at Full Draw in Iowa, said it’s often difficult for women to mentor newcomers. Many are already juggling families, careers and hobbies.
“It’s hard to balance all that, but I love to mentor because I like to share my passion and knowledge with people who want to learn,” Petersen said. “It’s also a way to build friendships around a common sport. And when you work closely with someone, you start to see a difference in them. That’s what I enjoy most.”
Petersen, 33, grew up hunting with her dad. She has mentored 11 years since getting her start with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She now works at RAFD, teaching outdoor education and bowhunting to youths, women and families. The organization’s R.I.S.E (Reach, Inspire, Support, Empower) Women’s Outdoor Retreats bring together women who are eager to learn outdoor skills. Petersen mentored 25 women in 2019 through programs and one-on-one efforts.
Helen Butt of New Mexico also loves mentoring.
“I’d rather mentor than hunt.” Butt said. I love to hunt, but mentoring creates such neat feelings and experiences. I get excited watching people harvest their first animal. I love sharing their joy, and hope they get hooked so they pass it on to others.”
Butt grew up in a gun-hunting family but was inspired to bowhunt 12 years ago after watching Tiffany Lakosky arrow a buck on TV. Now she loves sharing her passion and knowledge with others, including her husband, two sons and other family members. Butt also introduces three to eight newcomers to bowhunting annually through her volunteer position as New Mexico’s coordinator for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors program.
Butt believes mentoring is vital to hunting’s future. “Hunting can no longer live on men alone,” she said. “We need more ladies hunting and shooting archery. I pass on my skills so others will fall in love with hunting, and connect to nature. I want people to appreciate and respect the land, and understand hunting’s role in conservation: to preserve wildlife and their habitats.”
Butt and Petersen believe most women feel too intimidated to hunt, or they want to learn but don’t know where to start. Books, articles and how-to videos offer great advice, but nothing beats hands-on instruction from real bowhunters. Mentors provide practical advice that helps nonhunters become bowhunters, and female mentors have an advantage teaching newcomers.
Male instructors intimidate many women. Other females just feel safe and more comfortable with women. They more easily bond with females, and find them more patient and nurturing. They create a calm, laid-back atmosphere beginners enjoy. Plus, some mentoring programs, like ones through the NWTF, recommend same-sex mentor and mentee partnerships where possible.
Men and women also tend to communicate differently. When giving directions, for example, females tend to use landmarks and designate left- or right-hand turns. Males often use road names, cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), and distances. The genders also give directions differently when translating tips on how to shoot a bow, use a climbing treestand, and field-dress a deer.
Women also create next-generation hunters at higher rates. A National Shooting Sports Foundation report found 46% of boys and 13% of girls participate in shooting sports when fathers participate. If a mother and father participate, the rate jumps to 64% for boys and 50% for girls.
Bows are excellent for introducing females to archery and bowhunting. They’re quiet, easy to master, and less intimidating than firearms.
Butt and Petersen challenge female bowhunters to introduce friends, coworkers, neighbors, church members, relatives of mutual friends, or anyone (including males) to bowhunting.
You don’t have to be an expert bowhunter or teacher to mentor. If you’re passionate about bowhunting, and you practice safe, legal tactics, you can introduce others to the sport while learning more yourself.
“You can learn together,” Butt said. “I don’t think of myself as a mentor or teacher, but rather a hunting buddy going out with a new friend.”
Petersen thinks bowhunters who start mentoring will find it addicting. “Try it, but be careful because you’re going to get hooked,” she said.
If you’re still nervous about it, enroll in a mentoring class or program, and work your way to becoming a one-on-one mentor. Realize, too, that it’s not all about archery and bowhunting tactics and techniques. You can also teach beginners about scouting, or preparing wild-game meals.
“Mentoring is not just hunting. It’s us hanging out, or scouting or fishing,” Butt said. “It’s an array of things. Mentoring has different levels, but they’re all about bonding, building friendships, and experiencing the outdoors together.”
Petersen said mentors just need to be open and confident, and to trust themselves and their abilities. She also said to focus on the bowhunting journey, not the harvest. Butt, meanwhile, stresses patience and understanding, which enhance a beginner’s experience.
To learn more about mentoring, read Bowhunting 360’s article “Become a Bowhunting Mentor.”
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