OGDEN — A few Utah women are challenging the notion that hunting is a male-only pursuit.
"I think if more women knew about wildlife management and where the money for license sales goes — habitat restoration, wildlife projects — more would be won over like I have been," Nancy Hoff said.
Hoff has certainly been converted. The University of Utah student "didn't grow up hunting and fishing. I grew up shopping."
But now she volunteers — that's right, no pay — about 20 hours a week to lead the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Larry Dalton, DWR outreach chief, estimates the agency spends about $5,000 a year on prizes, travel expenses and other items for the program. But Hoff is the reason the program is still around.
Hoff had attended BOW programs and was looking forward to the next camp when she was told it had been the victim of budget cuts. She admits she "yelled and screamed a little" when she found out. She also offered to run the program herself.
"So I took her to lunch to determine her sincerity," Dalton said. "I think the last year and a half demonstrates that sincerity."
Last month, Hoff organized a forest-grouse hunt on the western slopes of the Uinta Mountains. About a dozen women showed up. Some came with well-trained dogs, oft-used shotguns and a working knowledge of some of grouse hunting's finer points. Others bought a crisp, new upland game license, borrowed a shotgun and headed out for a first-time hunting experience.
Some had spent years idling in a husband's hunting camp before discovering BOW. Jolynn Dangerfield of Draper said BOW was giving her some knowledge and experience for herself.
"It helps you learn the different aspects of hunting so you don't just have to follow your husband around," Dangerfield said.
On this day, DWR's upland game coordinator, Dean Mitchell, gave the women a rundown on the rules, strategies and ethics of grouse hunting. Along with an interpretation of the upland game proclamation's legalese, Mitchell pointed participants to good Utah hunting areas and taught them where to look — nestled into the needles on the edges of conifer stands — once they were there.
"You can hike around and hike around out here and not see anything," Mitchell warned them before embarking. "But you get into a brood group and you'll see birds going everywhere. It can be pretty fast and furious for a minute."
More often than not, it's a hike, with a dog and a gun, through brilliant aspens and beautiful mountains.
So the group headed for the hills. West Jordan's Joe Holm was invited to show off her pointer and provide another bird dog for the group. Holm is one of a core group of women who show up to most of BOW's events, along with a few newcomers each month.
Another is Karen Macon of Bountiful, who also offered her dog's services for the grouse hunt.
"I don't hunt," she said. "I just follow the dog around and shoot birds."
Macon came to hunting through kind of a back-door route. First, she bought a dog — Blaze, a Chesapeake Bay retriever. Then she trained it. After it was trained, she thought she better give it a place to practice. So she bought a membership to a local pheasant hunting club.
Only then did she buy a gun. Her friend, K.C. Owens, tells of the duo's first trip to the hunting club.
"We pulled up and were getting the dogs ready. And I looked up and saw 10 guys standing in a big circle looking at us. They were just waiting to see how many we'd miss," Owens said. "Jerks."
"After we killed the first three birds, they all went away."
Macon quickly reconciled herself to shooting and cleaning birds, but she is still a bit squeamish when her dog comes back with a bird that is still flapping.
"I can breast them, that doesn't bother me. Just when they're not dead — If I have an option, I'll take the option," Macon said.
The option is often Owens, who has no qualms about snapping the neck of a suffering pheasant.
On the mountain, the hunters divided into four groups, all accompanied by dogs. Gun loaded and safety on, Suzi Farley of Kearns marched along with a small group that included Holm and Mitchell. Mitchell directed a few hunters just inside a stand of pines, and the rest plugged along in the relative openness of the brilliant yellow aspens.
The "edge" of the habitat, Mitchell called it. And this sparked some recognition with Farley, another BOW regular.
For information on the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, go to www.wildlife.utah.gov/bow.