Beth Schatz Kaylor
 
 
    
 
Duck a l'Orange is a classically French dish of roasted duck, served with an orange sauce. (Submitted photo)
 
 

 
In addition to feeding her family, Pam Ihmels and her son Matthew hunt as a way to spend quality time in nature. (Submitted photo)
 
 

 
An avid bowhunter, Lisa Engelstad recently went hunting in Africa. All meat was donated to the members of the community. (Submitted photo)
 
 

 
Pam Ihmels and one of her favorite hunting partners, Kota, after a pheasant hunt. (Submitted photo)
 
 

This fall like every fall, hunters take to the fields, exploring the Great Outdoors and filling their freezers with game meats like venison, pheasant, grouse and duck. But unlike previous seasons, more and more of those hunters are women like Lisa Engelstad.

"I think at first, people find it hard to believe that I hunt, since I don't really fit the profile of a hunter," says Engelstad, a long-time resident of Bismarck. "I still like to wear make-up and dress up once in awhile!"

A spunky blonde woman who trades her weekday lipstick and earrings for camouflage and field boots on the weekend, Engelstad started hunting like many other women: she wanted to spend time with her partner.

"I came into hunting later in life. I had a companion that hunted, and I was either left behind or would join him," she says. Quickly, though, she found her own passion for the sport.

"For instance, recently I went elk hunting," Engelstad says. "I did not see an elk, but I'm sitting outside, I'm in the outdoors and I'm watching mule deer, I'm listening to the birds ... it's an unbelievable experience to be out in the middle of nowhere, out in nature. It's absolutely breathtaking."

Nationwide, hunting is on the rise, increasing 9 percent from 2006 to 2011. Men still make up the majority of America's nearly 14 million hunters, but more women are joining the ranks. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, from 2006 to 2011, the number of women in the field has increased 25 percent, an astounding jump in five years.

Why the growth? With more emphasis placed on eating locally raised foods, more people are choosing to get up close and personal with their dinner plate, with experts pointing to the growing interest in natural, organic foods as one reason in the rise in hunting's popularity.

"The meat is a gift," Engelstad says. "I definitely believe we should consume what we hunt." Her favorite game meats range from creamed pheasant to venison steaks. "I also fish and deep-fried walleye is my favorite. It's probably the worst for you, but it tastes the best."

Pam Ihmels also hunts and values the meat that fills her freezer, making wild rice cheddar and jalapeño bratwurst. When it comes to preparing game, she says to take care not to overcook the typically lean game meats. "People think they have to cook wild meat to death because it is wild, but then it's like eating rubber." A quick, hot sear of seasoned venison steaks in a pan, served up medium rare with a crisp exterior (pat the steaks dry before seasoning for an extra crispy crust), is a simple, excellent way to enjoy wild game.

Although nearly 95 percent of North Dakota's land is privately held, Ihmels has learned that doors will open to hunters if you simply ask.

"I have no problem going to a landowner and asking for permission to hunt," Ihmels says. "It's not that farmers don't want you on their land -- they just want to know who is there. If you see a 'No Hunting' sign, it doesn't necessarily mean the gates are closed. Often they just want to be asked."

For adult women wanting to learn more about hunting, archery, or just get out and explore the outdoors more often, Ihmels doesn't hesitate with her recommendation: attend a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) workshop.

"What's nice about BOW is that it's not your boyfriend or husband teaching you," Ihmels says. "It's just women. There is no reason to be intimidated."

A program of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, BOW workshops are popular. Open to women ages 18 and older, activities are geared towards the beginner, although the weekend-long outing is open to all skill levels. Workshop activities vary depending on the season, but summer BOW activities at Lake Metigoshe have included hunting, fishing, archery, geocaching, birdwatching, paddleboarding, canoeing and camp cooking. Think summer camp for adults.

For both women, the outdoors represent a sanctuary, a place where their senses come alive as life is pared down to the essentials: land, breath, stillness, nature. However, as more people take to the fields, wildlife habitat continues to shrink. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, nearly 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has been lost recently as native prairie is converted into crop land. Meanwhile, expanded energy development puts pressure on wildlife populations in the western part of the state. The limited number of deer tags in recent years is a growing concern for many North Dakota hunters, but this year Engelstad is one of the lucky ones.

"I know a lot of people didn't get deer tags and are pretty disappointed, but I did get drawn for a tag, so off I go," she says, eagerly anticipating deer opener on November 7.

For more information on Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) programs, visit gf.nd.gov/education/becoming-outdoors-woman.



 
Beth Schatz Kaylor is a communications professional and freelance writer. She blogs about her North Dakota kitchen at rhubarbandvenison.com.