Hunting and Shooting Industry Targets Women for the 'Sarah Palin Effect'

PHOTOS: Seen here is 19-year old hunting enthusiast Regis Giles.
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As the key household decision makers, women are increasingly the target of marketing efforts from the food, clothing and health industries. The gun and hunting industry, formerly a man's domain, is no longer the exception.

More women than men took up hunting in the United States in 2009, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Total hunters in the United States decreased by .05 percent, but the number of female hunters increased 5.4 percent, which led to 163,000 new hunters.

It was unclear how much that is translating into dollar bills for the already huge hunting industry. Retail purchases in the hunting industry totaled $25 billion in 2007, according to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

"Women are buying more handguns, rifles, shotguns. We are the market for the future," said Judy Rhodes, co-founder of Diva -- WOW (Women Outdoors Worldwide), a women's shooting and outdoors sporting organization.

The number of women who hunted rose to 3,204,000 in 2009 from 3,041,000 in 2008, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Women made up 16.4 percent of the total number of hunters, 19,445,000, in 2009.

That number is bound to grow with more organizations like Diva, according to Larry Whiteley, communications manager with Bass Pro Shops, one of the largest sporting goods stores in the countries. He said female customers have grown significantly in the past three or four years but he could not reveal actual figures because Bass Pro Shops is a private company.

Whiteley said more organizations that educate women and media coverage of hunting -- shows like Swamp People on the History Channel -- have contributed to those growing numbers.

"In the past, it's been a men's sport," said Whiteley, who said Bass Pro Shops has added several women's categories in hunting and fishing. "The women saw how much men enjoyed it and wanted to try it themselves. They started joining with their female friends."

When asked if the growing visibility of Sarah Palin and her enthusiasm for hunting is a factor in the sport's growing popularity, Rhodes said she and other women can relate to Palin because, like the former governor, they have been hunting since childhood. A self-proclaimed "rancher's daughter" from Texas, Rhodes received her first BB gun at the age of four.

No Stereotypes for the Female Huntress

While hunting is not new to Rhodes or many women around the country, she recognizes that hunting has traditionally been a man's sport. After fundraising for several nonprofit groups in Texas, including the Dallas Opera, Rhodes realized there was no organization for women and the outdoors.

When she started her organization in 1999 with her husband's support, she said there was a large amount of skepticism from men that has since diminished. She noted that the word "diva" hardly was used outside of the world of opera back then.

"When I talked to men's organizations and told them our name, they said, 'Oh, good Lord. Sure, you're a diva,'" she said with a laugh.

For the most part, she said, men were accepting of the organization but it took about six years to be recognized as a true force in hunting circles. Rhodes said the organization steadily has grown because many women, as social beings, tend to talk about their activities and invite others. There are now 1,500 members in her organization.

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