Programs Target New Women Hunters

By Nick Simonson

Through the offering of two hunter’s education courses open only to women on Feb. 12 in Bismarck and Feb. 13 in Beulah, the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) is looking to a growing demographic of new participants to help carry on the state’s rich hunting traditions.

A Growing Share

“Fifteen years ago, roughly 20 percent of our hunter’s education students were female, by last year it had grown to 42 percent,” said NDG&F Education Coordinator, Brian Schaffer, “the interesting thing during that timeframe is that the number of students is staying stable at 5,500 to 6,000 each year, but we’re seeing that increase in female participants with a decrease in male students,” he related.

Starting in 2016, the NDG&F launched pilot women-only hunter’s education courses, in Bismarck and Dickinson, and since that time has graduated more than 100 new women hunters into the state’s ranks.   Based on the internet-assisted home-study hunter’s education program used by the NDG&F for older students, the women-only class works with participants age 16 and over and targets those busier adults who have work, school and family responsibilities that might make attending a traditional hunter’s education class more difficult.  The program also features an a more open dialogue setting in its three-hour classroom portion to help answer specific questions which the students might have, while still employing the three-hour skills and hands-on knowledge test to complete the course and obtain the certificate necessary for hunting.  Heather Mattson, a graduate of one last year’s women-only hunter’s education programs, recommends the opportunity.

“It was a really great experience for me, I hadn’t been hunting before but I grew up in a family of hunters, and I am military so I had worked with firearms before, but hadn’t gone and hunted,” she revealed, “the instructors did a good job of showing respect and understanding for the process, explaining that it’s not just about the killing; they explained why tags are set the way they are, the science behind it and the benefits to our communities and farmland that result,” she concluded.

As part of the NDG&F’s follow-up on the course, Schaffer and staff members work to get graduates out to various ranges and trails and help them build on their learned skills through optional events. Field walks involving the placement of 3D targets in realistic settings allow staff to help new women hunters assess the safety and quality of a shot and determine the proper decision in a ‘shoot-or-don’t-shoot’ scenario.  This spring and summer, the NDG&F will coordinate opportunities at various ranges and facilities where women can learn to shoot a rifle or shotgun and continue to build on their skills learned in the course.

Schaffer’s broader vision for the course includes partnering with non-government organizations in the future to provide women a fuller experience in the field, with knowledgeable female mentors and trained department staff by their sides. More information and enrollment for the women-only hunter’s education courses can be located at the NDG&F website under the “Buy and Apply” menu link.

Women Wingshooters

With that growing female hunter demographic in mind, North Dakota Pheasants Forever Women in Conservation Coordinator Cayla Bendel sees an opportunity to recruit women who will champion the hunting tradition and serve as a powerful voice for conservation.  Through the organization’s women-only wingshooting event, set for June 7 at Capital City Sporting Clays in Bismarck, Bendel sees a positive connection to the upland hunting community for graduates of the NDG&F women-only course and other interested female hunters.

The first of its kind for the organization in the state, the women-only wingshooting event will help develop shotgun skills for new female hunters, and will rely on women trainers to help further facilitate participants’ understanding of various in-the-field situations when it comes to hunting upland game.

“The follow-up teaching is important,” Bendel stressed, “for some new women hunters, it can be very important to have further instruction in a non-male setting.”
Beyond the June women’s wingshooting event, Bendel sees many opportunities for ladies’ shooting teams and mentored hunts which promote conservation that will take participants beyond just field safety and hunting, making them more complete outdoorswomen in the process.  For more information on the women’s wingshooting event or the women in conservation program, interested individuals can contact Bendel at

(Featured Photo: The number of women hunting is on the rise. Both agencies and conservation groups are looking to educate, recruit and retain the new demographic joining the ranks. Simonson Photo)

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