For generations, the stereotype of outdoorsmen in Maine has been that they went to hunting camp, pursued their quarry and told their stories — all while leaving their wives and girlfriends at home.
These days, women are a rapidly growing percentage of licensed hunters in the state. From 2010 to 2020, the number rose from 17,078 to 23,723, an increase of 39 percent.
From 2019 to 2020 alone, the number grew nearly 16 percent.
Despite the uptick in interest, women find it hard to integrate in online hunting discussions that are often dominated by men. They have posed questions on public Facebook pages, websites and forums, only to be subjected to ridicule and unwanted advances. But one Facebook group has set out to provide a supportive place for women to have their questions answered — and has swelled to more than 5,000 members in the process.
Providing a welcoming and informative environment for women aspiring to embrace hunting was the reason Christi Holmes of Gray created the Maine Women Hunters Facebook group.
The Machias native, who did not grow up hunting and fishing, has become an accomplished outdoorswoman. She realized something was missing.
“I experienced firsthand the challenges that all new hunters face, and then maybe some additional challenge with being a female hunter,” Holmes said at the Maine Women Hunters booth during the recent 40th State of Maine Sportsman’s Show at the Augusta Civic Center.
“I had to struggle through teaching myself and finding mentors,” said Holmes, who is an outdoors columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
Many women aren’t taken seriously when it comes to hunting. Holmes recounted visiting a sporting goods store and being asked if she was shopping for her husband.
“Now I keep my Maine Guide hat in my car and I put that on when I go into Cabela’s,” said Holmes, who is a Registered Maine Guide.
Many other Maine women and girls have experienced similar situations. The enthusiasm of excited show patrons, including men accompanied by their daughters, was palpable as they visited the Maine Women Hunters booth.
“Women walk by and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,’” Holmes said.
She started the Facebook page after her experiences with the Maine Women Fly Fishers group. Holmes knew something similar was needed to bolster female hunters.
The Maine Women Hunters page, created four years ago, now features 5,200 members and is open only to women and girls.
“There’s something to be said about, if you post a question, it’s going to get answered by other women,” Holmes said. “And that’s empowering for the person who’s answering the question.”
The page provides women with a supportive place to ask important questions about hunting, such as do you hunt while you’re on your period and how do you pee in a treestand?
“The leading thought is not that women can be experts in this field. It’s a male-dominated sport,” said group member Stacey Wheeler of Bowdoin. “Traditionally, the man is the hunter and the woman is the gatherer. It doesn’t have to be, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to change.”
Members also appreciate having a place where they can discuss situations they encounter afield, such as the disappointment of taking a shot and missing.
“We’re a judgment-free zone, there to empower each other, help each other learn,” Wheeler said.
“It draws more and more women in to really understand not only hunting or fishing, but just what the outdoors is all about and how we can be a commodity ourselves,” she said.
Holmes said hunting can be intimidating for newcomers. They must learn the laws, follow safe and effective use of firearms, and show proper respect for pursuing game.
“You’re taking the life of an animal. This is serious business,” she said. “There’s so many things to learn.”
Group members range widely in age and background and come from across the state.
Make no mistake, Maine Women Hunters members aren’t just sitting back and chatting on social media. They get together in the field and share hunting and fishing experiences.
A handful of women recently went on a snowshoe hare hunting trip in the Lincoln area. The group also sponsors a duck hunting event and has members who are trappers or are interested in that side of the outdoors experience.
“I started organizing events where we can meet each other and then go on guided hunts,” Holmes said. “It’s a little more affordable, more approachable, for women who have never hunted.”
During the sportsman’s show, Maine Women Hunters conducted a seminar, “Maine Women and the Outdoors,” to generate more discussion.
“If you’ve never seen a picture of a woman hunting that looks like you, [then] you don’t think you can do it, that it’s not for you,” Holmes said.
In the hope of expanding their ranks, Maine Women Hunters has a sister group called Maine Women Anglers. Their outings include ice fishing, smelting, freshwater fishing, striper fishing and groundfishing.
Maine Women Hunters also have an Instagram account, @mainewomenhunters, and a website, mainewomenhunters.com, which features apparel and other logo merchandise.
Holmes said some former group members who moved away have already formed similar organizations in other states, while women who have come across the Facebook page have been inspired to create their own groups.
The supportive atmosphere is a winning strategy for women eager to talk more about hunting and fishing.
“We just find the greatness in everybody’s story and exemplify it,” Wheeler said.