Women take aim at bowhunting
Female archers on the rise in Pennsylvania, up 48 percent since 2013
When Pennsylvania’s archery season opened Saturday, Jess DeLorenzo was perched in a tree stand in a Lehigh Valley woodlot, looking for white-tailed deer.
It’s something the Slate Belt resident couldn’t envision herself doing a few years ago.
An avid archer, DeLorenzo is part of a growing trend of women picking up bowhunting in recent years. After briefly exploring hunting as a kid with her father, Gary Shaw, she moved on to other interests and pursuits. In her mid-20s, she tried archery and fell in love with the sport, opening the door to bowhunting a few years later.
“I started doing target archery and soon just kind of became obsessed with it and realized I could apply it more to the outdoors,” she said. “It was relaxing for me, challenging and it evolved into a crazy passion for me.”
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the number of women hunters in the state has been climbing steadily for the past five years. In 2013, 87,111 or 9% of all hunters were women, while last year that number was 88,122, or 10.3 percent. Over the same time span, the number of women archers has grown 48 percent, from 16,953 in 2013 to 25,027 last year.
Pennsylvania’s hunter statistics reflect a nationwide trend, with women comprising the fastest-growing segment of hunters across the country.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter Outreach Coordinator Derek Stoner, who is in charge developing programs and initiatives to introduce women, youth and families to hunting, said the most recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife survey on fishing, hunting and wildlife watching estimates the number female hunters as of 2016 was 1.1 million.
A professional photographer, DeLorenzo has transformed her passions for the arts and the outdoors into more than just a hobby.
She serves as an ambassador and/or photographer for hunting brands such as SITKA Gear, onX hunting maps and Mathews and Genesis bows. She has hunted pronghorns in Montana, whitetailed deer in Nebraska and turkeys in Missouri. The days of women bowhunters being seen as a novelty in the field, she said, are gone.
“Over the past few years I definitely think there has been a spike in interest [for women hunters],” DeLorenzo said. “I have friends who don’t hunt at all who ask me questions all the time. … I think a lot of people want to know why I do it. They ask me all the time ‘Do you eat the meat?’ and those types of questions.
“They’re interested in the whole, entire process. I don’t really get any negative comments. I think they’re more interested in why I do it and how I do it.”
The growth in female archers can be attributed to a number of factors including an increase in programs designed to introduce women to the outdoors, national hunting magazines and television shows prominently featuring female archers and, at least in Pennsylvania, the legalization of crossbow hunting statewide in 2009, making the sport more accessible to women and youth. Where once there were few resources specifically designed to introduce women to hunting, today the vast majority of states and conservation organizations offer programs and in-the-field experiences designed to expose women to the outdoor pursuits.
“With more opportunities to harvest deer — the key game animal pursued by female hunters in Pennsylvania — and a growing population of female bowhunters in Pennsylvania, the trend of hunting participation by women continues upward,” Stoner said. “Anecdotally, we are simply hearing that more women are being motivated to take up hunting due to shifts in societal norms with a traditionally male-dominated activity evolving in terms of gender and racial diversity.”
One of the primary focuses with the majority of programs and mentor experiences is highlighting the family-friendly aspects of the outdoors pursuits and providing opportunities for families to learn together. In this region, the PGC co-hosts a mentored pheasant hunt for women each October, and in just one example of what local conservation groups are doing to encourage women to go afield, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Lehigh Valley chapters host a Women in the Outdoors program each June.
DeLorenzo has taken her 8-year-old daughter, Emelia, afield. Although she has not hunted under the state’s mentored youth program, she has her own bow.
“She shoots with me and scouts with me occasionally,” DeLorenzo said. “She’s interested, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”
As for women who may be interested in learning more about archery, DeLorenzo recommends talking to a bowhunter and visiting a local archery shop.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she said. “There’s [also] a lot of help online to access information. There are retreats and workshops for women all over the country — all you have to do is look for them.”
Mark Demko is a freelance writer.
Jess DeLorenzo is among the growing number of women who have taken up archery hunting in recent years.
Jess DeLorenzo: “I started doing target archery and soon just kind of became obsessed with it and realized I could apply it more to the outdoors,”
Jess DeLorenzo says female bowhunters are no longr a novelty.