How Anglers and Conservationists Are Pushing to Include More Women in the Picture
When she gave birth to her daughter 22 years ago, Jen Davis never imagined her life — and diet — would look the way it does today.
As a 20-year-old new mother, she was always in a rush. She also was in college and didn’t have much money. Mac and cheese was a go-to meal. So were Pop-Tarts. Eating healthy meant going to a big-box store for prepackaged microwavable meals and plastic-wrapped meat that had been raised hundreds of miles away.
Today, Davis, who is 42 and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, grows her own vegetables — green beans, tomatoes, and cabbage among them. If she eats meat, it’s always something that she’s hunted herself. It’s often meat that can’t be found at the grocery store and isn't part of most American diets but is native to the forests of the Midwest. That includes squirrel, turkey, deer, raccoon, duck, goose, pheasant, and rabbit.
“I haven’t yet had a turtle but I’m interested in trying it,” says Davis, who hunts with her shotgun, rifle, or compound bow on public lands around southeastern Michigan. “I know, people always ask me about things like raccoons. Yes, you can eat them and no, they don’t taste that bad.”
Davis is among dozens of women who are a part of Artemis, a program of the National Wildlife Federation that’s focused exclusively on promoting and supporting women in angling, outdoor sports, and hunting. Now in its third year, Artemis has more than 70 ambassadors — Davis is one of them — and an email list of 12,000 women around the U.S. who volunteer to support its causes.
“My transition with food was really gradual,” Davis says. “I first started years ago by getting into community-supported agriculture where you buy from farms. Then I got into growing our plants. Then 10 or 12 years ago, after researching the slaughterhouse process and learning about free-range meat, I attended a women’s hunters event and took a hunting safety class. Next thing you know, I was out trying to hunt squirrels. There was definitely a learning curve.”
Not everyone in Artemis hunts for game. Some are avid hikers and rock climbers. Others are big on camping. Many focus on fishing. Davis does it all. Her goal is to eat as much locally grown and hunted food as possible and enjoy the outdoors while at it.
“I grew up really connected with recreation,” Davis says. “My family camped a lot. We did fishing and bike-riding. I would explore any little patch near our house. There were parks and lakes everywhere where we grew up in small-town Michigan. But I got away from all of that when I got older. In the last 10 years, I’ve really felt more connected to it all and to my roots.”
It’s a kind of connection to nature that Artemis wants to encourage more women to pursue, says Marcia Brownlee, the Missoula, Montana-based program manager of Artemis.
“Surveys show that a lot more women are getting interested in hunting, fishing, and outdoor sports, and we’ve seen that with the women who get in touch with us,” Brownlee says. “But we’re still a minority in a space where it's often men who are in the majority, who do the training and who run the clubs and events. Why not women?”
Artemis, Brownlee says, wants to “bring women to the forefront of sporting. We want to lead a conversation about the privilege of fishing and hunting and how it’s a lifestyle that includes the obligation to preserve and protect the land.”
It’s a message that resonates with Davis, who recently left her job working in the photo lab at a community college and switched careers to be a part-time park ranger for Pittsfield Township, Michigan.
“It’s so much nicer and healthier to be working outdoors and getting in the sun to reconnect with the world around us, especially after this year when everybody was indoors and socially distant,” she says. “I really believe that as humans we are not separate or apart from nature. We have to keep in mind how everything we do has an impact on the natural world. Keep in mind that we’re all part of nature. It’s not separate from us, even though in modern life it can sometimes seem that way.”