In Her Sights

With rifles and a local program in hand, women are drawn to the once-male domain of hunting.

November 10, 2006|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun Reporter

LA PLATA — LA PLATA-- --Brieanne German enjoyed the action in the field and on the field Saturday, shooting her first deer in the morning and getting home to Annapolis by noon to watch her beloved Terps beat Clemson.

With one shot, Carolyn Kolstad of Odenton guaranteed a freezer full of high-quality meat and made plans to start a hunting tradition with her young son.

Georgeann Roeder, a Baltimore nurse, didn't get a deer this year as she did last year, but she is already envisioning her next hunt.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline in the sports section Friday about a hunting program for women incorrectly identified the firearms being used. The hunt was conducted with shotguns. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

All three women and a dozen others paid $40 to take part in the annual "Becoming an Outdoors-Woman" hunt, an annual joint venture between the state and the Army's Blossom Point Research Facility.

Programs to teach women to hunt have proliferated in recent years, as state game agencies and sporting goods manufacturers try to counter the decline in hunting by men. Maryland had 75,000 licensed hunters during World War II. The number peaked at 194,000 in 1975 and has since declined to about 140,000, with women making up 2 percent of the total.

The object of the two-day workshop at Blossom Point is to make hunting a little more accessible sport for women, not that it's as easy as going to a burger joint's drive-through window.

After several hours of classroom instruction on safety, deer biology and ethics, participants had to qualify on the firing range to prove their marksmanship to certified firearms instructors.

Then came the really hard part: waking at 3 a.m. and getting to the staging area to be driven to tree stands before twilight announced the 6:38 a.m. sunrise.

Under a full moon and bright stars, with the temperature at 27 degrees, the hunters got their final instructions and made sandwiches for the long day ahead.

The day would be considered a success if six of them returned with a deer.

"It just doesn't happen for everyone," counseled Bob Wardwell, the Army's point man on the project. "You'll get in that tree stand and wait, wait for the five seconds in the 10 hours that you'll see a deer."

Bucking the odds

The odds at Blossom Point, however, are good. Jutting out into the Potomac River in Charles County, the military complex is filled with plenty of acorns, thick woods and marshland. After years of careful management, Wardwell has achieved a good balance of bucks and does. Recent development nearby has pushed more deer onto Blossom Point's 1,600 acres.

And the deer mating season - known as the rut - has just started. Bucks tend to throw caution to the wind when chasing does.

As the transportation trucks clattered to life to take the hunters into the field, Ernie Licalzi, one of Wardwell's helpers, cheered and teased the women with his prediction: "By 8:30, there will be six deer on the ground and 10-12 taken total. How do I know? Because that's how many I turned loose."

Licalzi knew there were a number of big deer at Blossom Point, including a crafty 12-point monster that has eluded hunters, rut or no rut.

"Here's hoping you won't need those lunches," Wardwell called after them.

Some participants were new to the BOW program. Others shot their first deer at previous BOW hunts and returned because they like the structure and attention from Wardwell and his volunteers.

"We're here to make sure you're comfortable," Wardwell told them. "We're not going to leave you out in the woods. If you're cold, if you're hungry, if you've got to go to the bathroom ... fire a shot into the ground and wave your hat and we'll be there in 10 minutes."

Then there's German, 28, the Terps fanatic at her third BOW hunt. The first year, she left the hunt early in favor of watching the football game against Florida State. Last year, she stayed until sunset, but kept up with the Terps-Seminoles contest through text messaging.

But rather than being a charm, the third time begins like a voodoo doll. Someone broke into her car at home. Her boyfriend couldn't lend her his pickup truck, meaning any deer would have to be folded into her compact car. Finally, she discovered that she left the key to her trigger lock at home.

Annoyed but undaunted, she took her place in a tree stand and hunkered down.

Nearby, Kolstad took her position and waited.

Women's movement

The push to recruit women hunters began more than a decade ago, when organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and the National Rifle Association started running educational programs for women and taught by women. The BOW program, begun in Wisconsin 15 years ago and adopted by Maryland in 1995, is similar.

As a result, the number of female hunters has increased 75 percent to 3 million during the past five years, which makes them 9 percent of the hunting population, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

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