I doubt there’s anyone in Maine who doesn’t know this, but hunting is a huge activity here. In 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife service reported that there were over 160,000 paid hunting licenses in the state. With that many hunters, if you don’t hunt, I’d bet you know someone who does.
And is it any wonder? Maine has some of the most beautiful, expansive natural areas in the country. There are thousands of miles of forests, lakes, and mountains to explore and appreciate.
I like to think of it as a tradeoff for not being able to order pizza delivery to my house.
But hunting has a peculiar set of stereotypes. When you read the word “hunter,” what do you think of? Someone who looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant? Maybe a British man with a tweed jacket and tie, gun tucked under his arm? Or a guy in full camouflage clothing, sitting eagle-eyed up in a tree?
You might have noticed that all those descriptions are of men. That’s no accident, and it’s undeniable that the practice has long been associated with men. Even a quick search for “hunter” on Google shows a man in every image on the first page, with the one exception coming from an article about how unique the lone woman on the page is for being a hunter.
I recently had the good fortune to interview Christi Holmes, a woman who’s working to buck that stereotype. After graduating college, she decided to hike the Appalachian Trail back in 2011. With that accomplishment under her belt, she felt that she “needed a new way to enjoy the outdoors.”
This was, she says, “about the time when it was important to people to know where their food comes from.” Combining her interests in the outdoors and safe food sourcing, Christi set about hunting, hoping to shoot a deer each year in order to have local, ethically harvested food.
Nowadays, she’s an experienced hunter and registered Maine Guide for hunting and fishing. She’s hunted deer, pheasants, and rabbits, and gone fly and ice fishing.
In her pursuit to enjoy the outdoors, she’s found it helpful to join communities. The problem, as she’s discovered, is that in many Facebook hunting groups, women aren’t treated as equals. Tired of unnecessary criticism (and even outright sexism), Christi founded the women-only Maine Women Hunters, a Facebook group 2,500 strong.
“It’s all women answering questions. You gain confidence because you know that,” Christi explains. “You can ask questions like, ‘What’s your breast pumping regimen for hunting?’ or, ‘Can you hunt on your period?’” And beyond that, Christi also notes that the group helps women overcome “tangible barriers” to hunting, like “finding the right clothes” for the outdoors.
Maine Women Hunters has had extraordinary success. It’s a diverse group of women. Some are experienced, like Christi, Libby Nilsen, and Denise Murchison, who have all guided hunts in the past. Some women are newer to the sport. Christi recounts a recent pheasant hunt in which “one of the ladies had never been hunting before, one had never been bird hunting before, and one had hunted, but had never killed anything.”
Christi graciously allowed me to post in the group, asking what people’s experiences were. Within two days, the post had over eighty comments, mostly anecdotes and testimonies from members—far more than we can publish here! Practically every single one of these messages was a variation on how supportive the group is, especially toward newcomers.
Katie Barvenik says that the group has “truly given me a sense of confidence and community. I never feel like anything I ask is “stupid” or judged. I feel like I have found a sisterhood.”
This sentiment is a common one for members. Christy Castagno echoes that “[In] any other group, I would’ve been too embarrassed to ask anything! So happy to be in this group.”
These women come from diverse backgrounds, too. Christi is an engineer, while other members are paralegals, finance managers, taxidermists, and more. Despite this wide range of fields and careers, almost every one of them expressed a desire to get back out and hunting. Take Lisa Foster Pacheco, who tells me she’s a “Realtor by day, hunter/fly fishing enthusiast every chance I get.”
The variety within the group isn’t limited to careers, either. I heard anecdotes from women in their sixties, right alongside the tale of how 14-year-old Olivia got her first moose last year.
With the varied careers come varied experiences starting and learning to hunt. Jessica Crouse, an experienced hunter, speaks of how, “For some women, caring for family can be a barrier [to learning to hunt]. Traditionally being caregivers of the young or elderly can make it difficult to have time.”
As Jessica notes, that’s not true for everyone. Stacey McCoy Wheeler got her start because of her family. “It was born from a desire to connect with my son, who was going through some rough teenage years . . . Somehow it came to me that I needed to find some common ground in which we could connect.” And it worked for her. “It was hunting that brought us close together, and hunting that keeps our relationship strong.”
Whatever their reasons, the women of this group have found a place for themselves in hunting and fishing. As I read through the dozens of anecdotes and testimonies of its members, I came away with one overriding impression: The group Christi has founded is profoundly positive and supportive. It is clearly meeting a need among its members.
For more information, or to request admission into the group, visit <www.facebook.com/groups/mainewomenhunters>