Back in 2012, Scott Brosier, a dog trainer and hunting enthusiast, said he wanted to introduce newcomers to bird hunting, but he didn’t want to do it like everyone else.
“There were so many youth hunts out there, but nobody was paying attention to the matriarchs,” said Brosier, who, along with his wife Ada, runs Pine Hill Kennel and Sportsmen’s Club near Belding. If the mothers, the wives or the girlfriends are on board with it, then it can be a family event. Without the ladies, you don’t have a prayer of getting the children involved. Women are the hub of our culture.”
The Brosiers staged a ladies’ pheasant hunt, which was a success. Brosier thought it was likely a one-time event, but there was one attendee who thought that would be a shame.
Donna Jones, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician at Flat River State Game Area in Ionia and Montcalm counties, went to the hunt just to witness the event, saw the potential, and asked Brosier if he’d consider making the hunt an annual event if she could help line up some funding. Brosier agreed. Recently, Pine Hills hosted its fourth annual ladies pheasant hunt.
“I wanted to do something for ladies who might not have the opportunity to go hunting – or even shoot a gun,” Jones said.
Jones approached the local chapter of Pheasants Forever, and the group went all in.
Now, Jones said, each year when the event date is announced, the 12 available slots fill up within a day.
“Pheasants Forever has been funding it since day one,” Jones said. “We get people from the Detroit area, from Grand Rapids, from all over. We announce that it’s for beginners, but we’re not really restrictive. But we do ask that they don’t come back a second time. There may be women who have deer hunted but not bird hunted. Hopefully, we’re making some new hunters.”
The women, who range in age from young adults to gray-haired, pay $45 for a day that includes instruction in handling firearms, some clay target shooting, and a chance to work the grass fields with guides and dogs for pen-raised pheasants. The fee essentially pays for lunch and refreshments, Jones said. Pheasants Forever picks up the rest of the tab.
“Donna approached us a couple of years ago, and this falls within our charter – to introduce newcomers to hunting,” said Mike Weiden, president of the Grand Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever. “Pheasants Forever is known as a habitat organization, but we are heavily involved in youth activities and bringing new hunters into the outdoors. As long as our budget can support it, we’ll stay involved with this event.”
Anne vandenGoor and her roommate Megan Cross were among the younger participants at the latest event. The 25-year-old vandenGoor said she saw the event in a DNR newsletter, suggested it to her pal, and the pair – neither of whom have hunters in their families – signed on.
“Neither of us knows what we’re doing,” vandenGoor said.
Fact is, both women asked their mothers to join them – “Our moms are even worse than us,” vandenGoor said. But by the time the moms agreed, all the slots for the event were filled.
Within an hour after the morning meeting, both women were breaking clay targets and ready to go afield.
Patti Gasper of Cadillac – who is a relatively new deer hunter but has never hunted birds – decided to go when her daughter, Coriann McIntosh of Mt. Pleasant, said she wanted to go but didn’t want to go by herself.
“I didn’t have to twist her arm,” McIntosh said.
Angela DeLing of Grand Rapids, who said she shot a shotgun for the first time just a couple weeks earlier, was excited by the event.
“I’ve been going to the BOW (Becoming an Outdoor Woman) programs in the U.P. and I went to one in Kentucky,” the stay-at-home mom said. “I love those programs.”
Hunting was tough; it was warm and dry and the birds were wild. But the ladies – who were hunting in parties of four, accompanied by a guide with a dog – had their opportunities.
Lori Rogers, who teaches writing at Central Michigan University, was the first to connect, shooting a long-tailed cock as it rose from the tall grass and headed downwind. It was her first.
“It’s always a good time, but now that I’m more experienced, I’m more comfortable shooting, more relaxed,” she said as she posed for photos with her first bird. “I have a Brittany, and I’ve been inspired by her hunting instincts.”
The concept of introducing women to the shooting sports will pay dividends for natural resources managers in the future, said Richelle Winkler, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University who has been analyzing license sales data for the DNR’s Wildlife Division.
“The number of licenses sold has been declining,” Winkler said. “Men born in the 1960s – that later baby-boom generation – have been the most likely to participate in hunting. But as we see that group of people aging and eventually passing on, the future numbers of hunters among men will be a lot lower.
“But we’ve seen the very opposite among females,” Winkler said. “Older generations of women did not participate, but newer generations – especially women born after 1986 – have been more likely to participate in hunting. In recent years, 20 percent of the youngsters entering hunting are females. It used to be 10 percent.
“We don’t know where that’s going to go. But the number of hunters is declining, and if we can retain those women, that will really help reduce the decline in the number of hunters.”
In 2013, there were 60,000 female deer hunters in Michigan, Winkler said.
“By 2035, we would project that number to be around 100,000,” she said.
Whether events like the recent ladies’ pheasant hunt will help, nobody can say for sure. But Brosier said it can’t hurt.
“Everybody had fun,” he said. “A lot of ladies got to break their first clays, and some got to shoot their first birds. It was a successful event.”
For more information on pheasant and other hunting opportunities, visit www.michigan.gov/hunting.