Why Women Hunt
A female perspective on the sport plus a recipe for Duck Confit by Tyler F. Thigpen.
My father began hunting squirrels with his father when he was 6 years old. My grandfather, a WWII veteran, was skilled in gun use and felt it necessary to share safe gun handling with his two children – both sons. In the Southern rural areas, like western Alabama, passing time can be an art form, and hunting is a legacy that is passed from father to son each generation. However, more and more fathers (and mothers alike) are starting to teach their daughters to hunt as well.
“I owe my love of hunting and the outdoors to my dad, as I’m sure most girls do,” says Lacey Malcombe. “My first hunting trip, believe it or not, was when I was around 2. My dad and I have always had a special bond, and I believe it is directly related to the time we spent walking through the woods as the sun was coming up.”
The National Sporting Goods Association reported a 50 percent increase from 2 million to 3 million female hunters between 2004 and 2009. Economically, women are giving the sport and the conservation of wild game a boost. “Women are the fastest-growing segment of hunters and, as a man from South Louisiana, this is appealing on many levels,” says Beau Phares, a board member of Lafayette Ducks Unlimited. “We like to share our passion with women, and they are contributing to the betterment of the sport financially and ethically. Women make good hunters because they pick up the passion for the sport and they follow through.”
My undergraduate courses in wildlife biology taught me the sustainability of hunting and the millions of acres conserved as a result. My career has taken me on four- to six-month gigs from Western North Carolina to Charleston, Nevada to Antarctica and everywhere in between. While working in these remote areas, I saw firsthand the wetlands that hunting conservation organizations on state, federal and international levels, have preserved. Five years ago, I settled in South Louisiana and learned about the wealth of wildfowl and wetlands this state has to offer.
But the sport intimidated me. The thought carrying a gun — something capable of causing harm — and stories of Dick Cheney on a hunt were frightful; however, with the guidance of capable, seasoned hunters (which are abundant in the Southern states), I began feeling more and more comfortable. And more and more women are beginning to feel the same.
Since living in Louisiana, I have traveled throughout the south-central region of the Southern United States and began to notice and hear stories of women hunting the backwater bayous, floodplains and marshes of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. I started talking to those women and learning why they hunt and how they started.
Some do it because they learned it from their father or significant other. Many do it to get away from the family, while others do it to spend time with family. Some women just like the power, release and escape from day-to-day stressors that the sport delivers.
I liked the responses I got from these women hunters. I liked what men were saying too. Michael Bell, an avid waterfowl hunter and an ecologist, told me, “This is Louisiana. I can’t climb or backpack mountains and I love being outside, so I picked up hunting birds, and now I do it every weekend in season.” He’s not kidding, and his excitement about the sport is contagious.
Hunting your own game is also as fresh and local as food can get. Like me, many women do it in part for the delicious bounty they can cook up at the end of the day. My grandmother, like many Southern women of her era, was so skilled in the kitchen that she could make squirrel taste like roasted rabbit tenderloin. All in all, we hunt for many reasons, including to change up our lifestyles a bit, especially those of us that live in the city.
“I know I’m somewhat of a contradiction,” says Malcombe. “I hunt, but I love animals. I drive a 4×4 truck, but care deeply about the environment. I’m outdoorsy to the max, but love getting gussied up in a new dress and heels for a night out on the town. I guess that’s what makes Southern women so unique.”
Duck Confit (for after the hunt …)
3 Tbsp salt
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
5 sprigs thyme
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 duck legs with thighs
4 duck wings, trimmed
About 4 cups duck fat
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt in the bottom of a dish or plastic container large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots and thyme in the container. Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, then sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, thyme and a little pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 days.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan. Brush the salt and seasonings off the duck. Arrange the duck pieces in a single snug layer in a high-sided baking dish or ovenproof saucepan. Pour the melted fat over the duck (the duck pieces should be covered by fat) and place the confit in the oven. Cook the confit slowly at a very slow simmer — just an occasional bubble — until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, 2-3 hours. Remove the confit from the oven. Cool and store the duck in the fat. (The confit will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.)
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist, president of Acadiana Food Circle and a relatively new addition to the female hunting world. She recently created a Facebook group called Acadiana Women of Waterfowling. Join the group to get connected to more female hunters and share recipes, pictures and tips.