Knife Drop: These Hunters Are Demystifying Hyper-Sexualized Sportswomen

Knife Drop: These Hunters

Are Demystifying Hyper-Sexualized Sportswomen

She pulls back her long hair, binds it into a ponytail and picks up her hunting rifle. A couple of waning hours of sunlight means that Alexis Bonogofsky has time to unwind the day with a solo walk in the woods. The nearby public lands, where she hunts, are a short drive from her small ranch outside of Billings, Montana. Bonogofsky pack is preloaded with a handsaw, used to cut into captured game, so that the body can cool—a rope to help carry the catch, a headlamp and a high-calorie snack. The fourth-generation Montanan is a seasoned hunter. She was introduced to the sport by virtue of her family and learned how to fire a rifle two decades ago. If she can score a mule deer or a pheasant this evening it’s a bonus that she stringently pursues. In reverence for the animal, she only shoots with 100-percent accuracy.

“When I travel outside of the interior west, or to cities, people are surprised that I hunt,” says Bonogofsky. The broad perception of hunting culture that is popularized by media, advertisements and brand marketing—an image of sexualized women, over-the-top extreme hunts and machismo men—is a homogenous one that does not reflect reality. “The normal hunter is me. Work until 5 p.m., head to the nearby public lands, hunt a deer, go home and see the family.—That’s not sexy enough for hunting media,” explains Bonogofsky. So she joined a coalition of powerhouse women who are shifting the narrative.

Cue Artemis, a nonprofit with a two-prong mission: To draw more women into the hunting and angling communities, and to galvanize sportswomen—and sportsmen—to actively participate in conservation efforts. The end goal? To increase the quantity of voices and the diversity of perspectives within advocacy, which will in turn engage more activists and support. Inclusivity will strengthen the cause.

“We’re not looking to elbow out men,” says Artemis co-founder Jessi Johnson, who is the organization’s original founder and the public lands coordinator for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation and the parent organization of Artemis. True, these sports are male-dominated, but eligible sportswomen have always participated. To point, the Department of the Interior reports that the number of female anglers increased by 300 percent—80 years ago.

Here’s modern fuel for more steep growth: Artemis was started by ten women in the Rocky Mountain region last June, with a trip to Washington, D.C., where the co-founders lobbied for public lands. Artemis workshops also commenced with a central focus on public advocacy.

“We hold trainings about how to engage in your local legislature, how to be an effective advocate, and how to engage in democracy. There is no privilege without obligation. If you hunt and fish, you need to show up and be the voice for the wildlife and the fish that are so integral to our lifestyle,” says Johnson.

Artemis also teaches women’s-only clinics that cover a range of hunting and angling skills such as archery, butchery and how to fit gear. The organization’s national participation and support, constituents that include both men and women, is gauged by the number of volunteers at events and the email list, which has grown to 5,000 subscribers in one year.

Positive backing of Artemis is no surprise considering the recent swell of female participation in hunting and fishing. The number of registered female hunters in the U.S. doubled to 3.3 million between 2001 and 2013, reports the National Rifle Association of America. And more ladies are casting now than ever before: 35 percent of anglers nationwide are female, and women are the fastest growing demographic in the sport of fishing, according the Recreational & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Industry Association.

The growing community of female fishers is incited by progressive initiatives such as 50/50 On the Water, a national program recently founded by Orvis—a 161-year-old rod and tackle manufacturer—to create gender parity in the sport fly fishing. The campaign launched after two years of research and input from more than 120 industry professionals. 50/50 has three central goals: Change the industry’s perception of women by reflecting diversity across physique, age, ethnicity and skill level; celebrate women in conservation; and increase sport access by providing free-of-cost and women’s only clinics and schools.

“There will be so many women with strong voices on the leadership stage, and an equal and fair representation of people who hunt and fish, that Artemis is no longer needed. Our hope is to do a knife drop and walk from the stage" - Jessie Johnson

“Our consistent growth has been a drink from the firehose,” says Johnson. Hence, the onboard of Program Manager Marcia Brownlee, who joined Artemis full-time this month. Brownlee spearheads the community events in the six western interior states—Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico and Colorado—where the organization launched. This year, Artemis will formulate a state ambassador program that kick-offs in Oregon.

Another pivotal focus for Artemis is youth advocacy education, which is widely overlooked in public education. The nonprofit partnered with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers—an organization that provides resources and education to support North America’s public lands and water, fishing and hunting—to offer hands-on advocacy training for college students.

“Artemis wants to give people the skills that they need to navigate the complex, intimidating waters of our political system on the local, state and national level. We want to remove the barriers that are actual and perceived and encourage people to advocate for what they care about,” says Brownlee.

Artemis will lead a segment of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Collegiate Program’s Hunting for Sustainability course, a weekend-long program, that covers how to lobby, how to interact with representatives and senators, how read a bill and the steps that a bill takes to become a law. Class culminates with a field trip to visit the state legislature. The curriculum is offered in Montana this fall with an intention to expand to other states.

Broadening the scope of opinions around policies presents a paradox. More voices inevitably slows down the bureaucratic process but the increased political participation of Americans will improve the long-term outcome, points out Johnson. Especially regarding the current push from President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to transfer publicly-owned lands, an unconstitutional rollback that dissolves wilderness protections, opens land for privatization, and allows for oil, gas and mineral extraction.

“We are in an administration that wants to open up this public land to energy development at the expense of losing important habitats and wildlife. As hunters and anglers, we need to adjust in the moment and stop this threat in its tracks,” says Bonogofsky.

Public lands and waters—640 million acres that include National Parks, National Forests, Wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers and wildlife preserves—are owned by Americans and managed by the federal government. Nearly all public lands allow hunting and fishing. The financial impact of that recreation is significant. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 104 million “wildlife recreationists”—36 million anglers, 12 million hunters, and 86 million wildlife watchers (read: when folks observe, feed and photograph wildlife)—ages 16 and older, spent $157 billion on their sport in a single year, in 2016.

Furthermore, people like Bonogofsky are involved with their family’s hunting ritual at age five, and evidence points that our country’s hunting and fishing population is larger than the aforementioned stats: 47 million anglers and 27 million hunters—including the bow, handgun, rifle, and shotgun categories—ages six and up, were tallied in the 2017 Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report, published by the Outdoor Industry Association.

The collective population of hunters and anglers is a powerful one with potential to impact public lands, as well as other current conservation issues such as the Interior Department’s controversial changes to the sage grouse protection management (the comment period was reopened after the BLM lost 100,000 public comments), and the Land and Conservation Fund, which will expire this September without action from Congress.

“Hunting and angling have relied on this age-old argument that we pay for conservation therefore we are conservationists,” says Johnson. The sales of required tags and licenses, and the equipment taxes for hunting and fishing gear, funnel into a fund for wildlife conservation. “But that is accidental conservation. We need to show up to protect the wildlife and wild land that we care for so much: Write your congressmen, volunteer at local events, and talk about these specific conservation issues on a larger scale,” she says.

Artemis reinforces the need for dedicated attention and deliberate inclusion of females in sport and conservation. “Women have a voice that isn’t heard as often [as men] politically, especially on an administrative stage that is so male dominated right now,” says Johnson and continues, “Everyone needs a seat at the table: the cat lady in New Jersey, oil and gas companies, conservation groups, and hunters in west.” Equality and inclusion doesn’t negate the special role that women have in evolving the political tone and changing the perception of hunters and anglers. 

“Women have a voice that isn’t heard as often [as men] politically, especially on an administrative stage that is so male dominated right now. Everyone needs a seat at the table: the cat lady in New Jersey, oil and gas companies, conservation groups, and hunters in west.” – Jessi Johnson 

“Our Western culture is uncomfortable with death. We—hunters and anglers—need to be more cognizant about how we speak about our relationship with the natural world. This is a generalization, but women tend to be more emotionally intelligent than men with how they talk about hunting,” says Johnson.

Downstream, the ultimate win is for Johnson to be out of a job, she hopes: “There will be so many women with strong voices on the leadership stage, and an equal and fair representation of people who hunt and fish, that Artemis is no longer needed. Our hope is to do a knife drop and walk from the stage.”

Morgan Tilton

Morgan Tilton is an award-winning travel writer with a passion for adventure and focus in outdoor industry news. Tilton completed the first descent on stand-up paddleboard of Utah’s wild Escalante River: a self-supported, 100-mile exploration of one of the most remote regions in the lower 48, with four friends. She enjoys mountain-ultra-trail running and has worked with more than 40 publications. Follow Morgan’s trail @motilton and www.morgantilton.com.

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