I often have women tell me that they feel like they are ready to start bowhunting but they don’t know where to begin. They have a bow, they’ve taken some lessons, maybe have shot in an archery league or practiced on their own and consider themselves target archers, and are ready to move forward. This can be a really intimidating step for many women, especially if they don’t have a social circle of other bowhunters around them.
One of my first suggestions would be to look into the Department of Fish and Game’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program in your state. I have been a volunteer instructor for BOW for the past 6 years and cannot say enough about it. The classes they offer, the quality of information that they provide and the skilled instructors that volunteer their time to help others to find their passion in the outdoors is second to none. BOW was started where I live in Alaska in 1995 and has grown rapidly due to a wonderful community response to the great classes they provide. There are BOW programs all over the Lower 48 as well! There are several options for BOW classes: the first is 3 day weekend courses (workshops) which cover a small sample of many subjects. A total of 100+ participants (ages 18+) can sign up for this amazing outdoor inspired weekend and can pick subjects from a variety of 4 hours courses such as archery, bowhunting, moose hunting, field dressing, cold weather camping, outdoor cooking, hunting small game and much more! This is not only the perfect place to start to build up confidence by educating yourself on hunting, but its also a great place to meet other women who are interested in the same things that you are! Classes like the field dressing course are completely hands on. For our Alaska class, they bring in an Elk or Moose etc… from the Wildlife Conservation Center or other donated sources and you actually get hands on experience in field dressing the entire animal with skilled and experienced instructors leading the way. The BOW weekend offers classes in an encouraging and supportive environment to beginners. Classes are presented in a way where the participants do not feel intimidated no matter their skill level or outdoors/hunting knowledge.
In addition to these big weekend workshops; BOW also offers intensive courses on specific subjects called Beyond BOW. I teach beginning archery at the big weekend event and I teach a more advanced bowhunting class in the 1 day intensive courses. There are other intensives on subjects like butchering wild game, big game hunting, field dressing, spin and fly fishing, survival, map and compass and outdoor cooking just to name a few. Beyond BOW events provide the next step in practicing the skills that a participant started to develop at the weekend workshop or they build on knowledge that a woman might already have in order to increase her confidence in using those skills in the field. Beyond BOWs teach more advanced skills, and may be conducted almost entirely in an outdoors setting to help to build that confidence that you will need to go out on your own!
Many states BOW programs also offer some women’s group hunts. This is a wonderful opportunity to get to go out and hunt with other women, led by Fish and Game staff and volunteers. If you don’t have friends to start hunting with, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to set up a hunt with other women who are also beginners in a safe and supportive environment. For more information on how to sign up for BOW classes visit the Fish and Game website for your state. Another option to get connected is to check with your local archery Pro Shops for women’s organized hunts or there are several businesses like mine, Rockstarlette Bowhunting, that organize women’s group hunts. I have organized quite a few ladies hunts in the past few years and I have to say, there is nothing more rewarding than the bonding and life long friendships built when your hunting with “just the girls!” In 2010 I organized a week long, ladies tree stand black bear archery hunt. I think this is one of the easiest hunts for a beginner to start bowhunting with. A tree stand or bear bait situation makes for fixed yardage that you can range before the animal comes in to prepare, plus you have the safety and security of being above the game you are hunting. The women that came on this black bear hunt were all first time bowhunters and all had great success with their bows. They have become hooked on hunting and have gone on several hunts since! Follow Rockstarlette Bowhunting on Facebook or Instagram to get more information on upcoming women’s organized hunts!
How do you build up the confidence in your shooting skills; to move from shooting at paper targets to live game? At many archery stores, they offer private lessons and can focus the lesson on the skills that you need to develop. So if you are looking to get ready to pass your bowhunter certification class, or are prepping for a specific type of hunt in the field – ask them to structure a private lesson to meet your needs. Many Pro Shops also offer time in the Techno Hunt booth (a virtual hunting booth) so that you can practice shooting at live video scenes of animals in a controlled environment. You use your own bow and arrows, blunt tips that we provide and can choose from over 700 different animal scenarios to practice on. 3D archery tournaments outdoors are also a great place to hone your skills. Going through an unmarked 3D archery course and practicing either using your range finder, or judging yardages can be a great tool for honing your hunting skills and confidence in the field!
Last, but most importantly; find out if you need to get your Bowhunter Certification from your states Department of Fish and Game. Some states require this before you can bowhunt (we do in Alaska!) For us, this is a two part test; a written Bowhunter Education section and a field shooting proficiency portion. These bowhunting classes certify more than 800 Alaskan hunters each year. The certificate is also required in Alaska to put in for archery drawing permits. The Bowhunter Education written test covers many of the same topics as Basic Hunter Education courses but with some specific questions on bowhunting. The written portion can be done online or in a classroom setting; while you must get signed up for a test date with Fish and Game for the shooting portion. The shooting portion of the test requires you to hit the vitals area of several big game targets at distances from 10-30 yards from both a standing and kneeling position. If you are nervous about taking the shooting portion of this test, taking an archery lesson that specifically focuses on the skills needed for the test is a great confidence booster! Contact your local Pro Shop to set something up!
The main thing is to not be afraid to get started and to know that there are lots of great resources out there to help you! I hope to encourage other women to not be intimidated and to take advantage of the resources available to get out and find their passion for the hunt! The motto of my company is “Encourage. Inspire. Empower.” if you have any questions on getting started; please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will help you get started in any way I can! I love to help other women find their passion for bowhunting!
Joni Kiser is a former Archery Pro Shop owner and the Founder of Rockstarlette Bowhunting
She has harvested a wide variety of big game animals with her bow and is a National Factory Pro Staff for Xpedition Archery and HHA and Field Staff for Prois.