I have a lifelong passion for hunting and shooting. From my early childhood I remember my father and my uncle John going hunting in the Fall seasons. My dad really enjoyed hunting cottontail rabbits and European hares, commonly called Jack rabbits, outside Kingston in the mid-1960s. I yearned for the day when I would be old enough to join them. As I grew older and entered my formative years, I remember poring over the hunting magazines, such as Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Field and Stream, my father amassed over the years. I combed these magazines for articles on upland bird hunting and waterfowling, mostly. I was eager to learn all I could about these pastimes so I could apply this knowledge when I came of age. I got my first hunting license at 15 and never looked back. When I entered my 20s I took up collecting books on guns, hunting, gun dog training and wildlife conservation. Currently, I have a growing collection of books that detail the North American hunting and shooting culture of the 19th and 20th centuries that guided me in my development as a hunter. I take great pride in my heritage as a gun owner and hunter. I keep these books, hoping they will help preserve a record of my gun and hunting heritage for posterity. In fact, I often point to this heritage in standing up for the rights of gun owners and hunters when gun ownership and hunting come under attack from critics who denounce these activities as archaic, old fashioned and out of step with the times.
One bone of contention that comes up is that gun ownership and hunting were traditionally viewed as activities suitable for men and boys. Girls and women were excluded as it was seen as unladylike for girls and women to take part in hunting and the shooting sports. There were exceptions, of course. Annie Oakley comes to mind. There is also the example of Frances Hammerstrom. She published her autobiography Is she coming too? Memoirs of a lady hunter in 1989. This is a very good read. She details how as a girl and young woman she shared the same passion for hunting I do, only in her lifetime it never occurred to her father when he took her brothers hunting that she wanted to come too. As a young woman, before she married, she borrowed one of her father’s hunting guns and went hunting with boyfriends. When she married, her husband included her when he went hunting with his friends. Hence the title of her autobiography: “Is she coming too?” Invariably, his friends posed this question when they saw her decked out in hunting clothes.
Looking over the books on hunting and shooting in my collection, particularly those published in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it is true they were written from the perspective that these activities were intended for men and boys. It was not a bad thing. This was understood as part of a boy’s development into manhood. Stephen Tillingshast Hammond illustrated this point in the following quotation from his book My Friend the Partridge was published in 1908 by the Forest and Stream Publishing Company:
The noble sport of field shooting has done much for the men and boys of the last two generations. It has enabled them to store up a stock of vitality that has done them good service in the time of need. The forms of those who practice it will not be prematurely decayed, their minds will not easily be warped by worldly cares; for there is a stimulus in the air of the forest that fills their veins with a potent power to withstand the debilitating effects of the strenuous life. Not only this, but the average boy must perforce, in some manner, work off the surplus steam that all boys are possessed of–at least, all boys that are worth while. It has been my experience that in many instances these high-strung youngsters, who did not take to the woods, have worked off this surplus steam in a manner that was very distressing to their friends, and far from being conducive to their own well being.
So when your boy asks for a gun, thankfully place it in his hands and wish him good luck.
Times have changed, critics of hunting and sport shooting assert. This is an archaic view of boyhood and masculinity. It is “gender specific,” a remnant from the not so good old days and ought to be relegated to the past. I disagree on this point, what Stephen Tillingshast Hammond wrote in 1908 regarding men and boys who are interested in hunting and shooting was true in his day and is true in the present. I do agree, however, that times have changed and for the better. In the present day North American gun and hunting culture includes women and girls who have as much right to participate and as much to gain from participation in these sports as men and boys. I find a sterling example of this in Sgt. Tatyana Danylyshyn of the Canadian Scottish Regiment, a Reserve regiment based in Victoria, British Columbia.
Sgt. Danylyshyn joined the Canadian Forces in 2002 and distinguished herself at the Bisley shooting competition in 2015, placing 1st. She used the C7 assault rifle in this competition, the assault rifle currently employed by the Canadian Forces. Her father taught her to shoot and safely handle firearms when she was 5 years old, proudly observing “I taught all my kids to shoot before they started school, and to swim and to read as well.” (as cited in the National Post) Sgt. Danylyshyn is also a hunter and the requirement for marksmanship in big game hunting is not lost on her as she commented on making the shot, “if you screw it up—and there’s always those moments—you want to make sure it’s not at some animal’s expense.” (as cited in the National Post) I understand the need for marksmanship hunting as I know all too well what happens when you make a poorly placed shot on a big game animal.
In my own life I count among my friends and hunting buddies a married couple, Jason and Fran, with whom I take to the field come hunting season. Fran is an accomplished big game hunter. She has taken many deer and a black bear over the years in hunting with her husband Jason. I remember when I met Jason and Fran and how we started our hunting partnership. I happily welcomed Fran into the fold as a hunting buddy. It did not even bother me when in 2011, the first season we hunted together, I sat in my deer stand, freezing my butt off during the 2nd week of the November rifle season, watching in vain for a deer. It was on the last day of the season, in the last half hour of shooting time while Fran took my place in my deer stand that a buck wandered into view and Fran shot him, killing him cleanly. Ah well, what can I say: “it is the fortunes of hunting.” Jason and Fran are the proud parents of a daughter, Rose, who turns 4 at the end of July this year. They are hopeful Rose will develop an interest in hunting and shooting as she grows up. If so, they will happily guide her in her development as a hunter and sport shooter and I will welcome her into our group of hunting buddies happily.
Yes, though I was born and grew up in the latter half of the 20th century when in North America hunting and shooting was primarily a pastime enjoyed by men and boys, I think it is great that women and girls participate freely in the present. I look back on the male dominated hunting hunting and shooting culture of the 19th and 20th centuries fondly. Why not? This is the culture in which I came of age and became the man I am today. That women and girls are now very much a part of this culture shows it is a living and growing culture that is enriched by their participation. Rest assured, also, that those of us living in the present, men and women alike, who have a passion for hunting and the shooting sports will stand up to its critics, defend our North American hunting and shooting culture and see that it carries on in succeeding generations of hunters and sport shooters.
Posted by Geoffrey