The Changing Face of Conservation

By: Kyle Brandt

Source: Melissa Bachman

The hunter has been the face of conservation since the beginning of the 20th century; however, that face may be changing. Since the 1990s, there has been a significant downward trend in hunting participation. This downward trend has raised some red flags among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and many state fish and wildlife agencies. Through their purchase of hunting licenses and tags, hunters are the major source of funding for these agencies. Additional funding is provided by taxes on hunting gear such as firearms and ammunition. With the decline in funding associated with the decline in hunting, these agencies are concerned that they will not be able to finance their wildlife conservation and management programs (Gigliotti and Metcalf, 2016).

Why do People Hunt?

The decline in hunter participation has led to a wave of research aimed at retaining and recruiting hunters by asking the question: “why do people hunt?” Hunting has largely been a male dominated activity, however female participation in hunting has significantly increased, to the point where women are the fastest growing demographic in the sport. Conservation agencies have taken note of this demographic change and are trying to better understand it.

Although male and female hunters are in pursuit of the same quarry, there is a significant difference in their motivations for hunting. Through a mail and email survey, a study from 2001 to 2010 focused on the motivations for female deer hunters in the Black Hills of South Dakota by asking hunters to rate their reasons for hunting from a list that included social, nature, excitement, meat, extra hunting opportunity, challenge, solitude, and trophy. The primary motivations of male and female Black Hills hunters did not differ that much. However, the biggest differences between the motivations of female and male hunters occurred in the social and meat motivations for hunting. Female hunters rated the social aspect of hunting 4% more important and the meat aspect of hunting 18% more significant than their male counterparts, who placed more emphasis on the solitude and challenge that hunting provides.

During the ten-year study, female hunter participation rose by 40%. This increase in female hunters is sparking interest among Fish and Wildlife agencies as a way to potentially offset the downward trend in hunting participation. By refraining from messages focusing on hunting as a sporting activity directed toward a male base, agencies may be able to retain and recruit more female hunters. One tactic may be to portray hunting as a nature activity, with a strong social component and the opportunity to obtain high quality and highly nutritional meat for the table. This portrayal of hunting may also appeal to individuals who traditionally are not interested in hunting or may even hold a negative view of hunting as strictly a sporting activity, especially as the locavore movement gains popularity.

Male and Female Introductions Differ

While the differences in motivations for hunting between males and females are small, the ways in which the two genders are introduced to hunting varies dramatically. Male hunters are generally introduced to hunting at by their father or other male relative at a young age. Females however, are typically introduced to hunting at a later age by their husband or boyfriend. 65% of female hunters also report that their primary hunting partner is their husband or boyfriend as opposed to another family member or a friend. This difference is something agencies will have to address if they wish to recruit more female hunters. Since females are typically are introduced to hunting by their husbands or boyfriends, a decrease in the number of male hunters could possibly lead to a decline in female hunters as there are fewer male hunters to recruit new women to the sport. However, as females become more prominent in the hunting community they may play a larger role in recruiting new hunters by introducing their daughters, sons, and friends to the sport. In addition, changing social attitudes and the decline of gender stereotyping in hunting may lead to more females being introduced to hunting at a young age by their fathers or other male relatives.

In the Spirit of Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley hunting with her pointer, Dave, 1908. Source: Heritage auction Galleries

Since the early 1900s, the hunter has been the face and the driving force behind conservation in the United States. The decline in hunting participation is a serious threat to the way conservation and wildlife management is practiced in the United States. This traditionally male dominated activity is seeing a drastic change, and one that is necessary for its survival. Driven by similar motivations as their male counterparts, women are taking up rifles and bows and heading to the woods, marshes, and prairies in pursuit of wild game. In doing so, they are changing the face of hunting, and therefore, the face of conservation in the United States.


Gigliotti, Larry M., and Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf. “Motivations of Female Black Hills Deer Hunters.” Human Dimensions of Wildlife(2016): 1–8. Web.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store