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More women set sights on hunting

November 22, 2008 at 04:06 AM


SACHSE, Texas (AP)—The majestic horned head of a black wildebeest stares from the trophy room of a home in Sachse, a community northeast of Dallas.

The person who shot the animal is Clarissa Norcross, a petite 42-year-old single mom.

“I got him from 170 yards,” the 4-foot-11 woman said, holding her firearm of choice, a Remington .243 youth rifle.

The 550-pound Connochaetes gnou that Norwood killed two years ago will soon be joined by the silent, glass-eyed company of several other animals. The Texas hunter fixed them in the cross hairs during a two-week hunt this summer in South Africa, her second safari.

The restaurant owner listed her prey like exotic menu entrees.

“Eland. Kudu,” Norcross said, counting on her fingers. “Impala. Zebra. Red hartebeest. And a vervet monkey.”

That’s quite a collection for someone who knew nothing about hunting or handling firearms five years ago.

Others, she said, are surprised when t old what she does for recreation.

“I’m small. I’m female. I’m feminine,” Norcross said. “I’m not afraid (to shoot). And I’m good at it.”

Norcross is part of one of the fastest-growing segments of the shooting and hunting industries.

While the overall number of hunters has dropped—11 percent from 1991 to 2006—the number of females who hunted with guns increased 72 percent between 2001 and 2005, according to national reports and surveys.

In Texas, where deer season opened Nov. 1, about 15 percent (20,000) of 2007 youth hunting licenses went to girls under 17. That’s an increase of 6,000 from 2003, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began tracking the information.

Women are attending hunter-training courses and enrolling in outdoor-education programs sponsored by the department, the National Rifle Association and other groups. The nonprofit WomenHunters provides information on its Web site ( ) about firearms, bows, hunting dogs and club hunts and features poetry written by female hunters and hunting stories with titles like “My First Buck.”

Texas Women’s Shooting Sports has 800 members worldwide, and the numbers are growing. The DIVAS, as the group calls itself, staged a September clinic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and had to limit the seminar to 175 participants.

“Some women turn 40 and one of their goals is to learn how to shoot,” founder Judy Rhodes said. “A lot are single parents, the breadwinners. Hunting is one way to introduce their children to the outdoors. Others enjoyed it during childhood but then got busy raising families.”

Pat Bullard of Aledo is an experienced hunter and DIVAS member.

“In society today, people are facing more and more stress,” said Bullard, who recently returned from an elk hunt in Colorado. “Women are looking for an outlet. I can’t think of anything more peaceful than sitting in a deer blind, at one with nature. Also, women are just being more assertive. They’re saying to themselves, ‘I can do this, too.’ “

Charlie Wilson, a shotgun instructor with the Parks and Wildlife Department, admires the prowess of female hunters he has observed.

“Women are very visual,” he said. “They’re more aware of their surroundings” and look for little telltale signs.

“They may see an ear before you see the whole deer. They’re keenly observant and very meticulous taking a shot.”

Norcross decided to learn how to handle a gun after witnessing a distressing event five years ago. One moonlit night, a pack of coyotes crept into the back yard of her 10-acre property and ate her pet cat.

She brought a rifle to a DIVAS shotgun clinic but quickly educated herself about the different kinds of firearms and became a proficient marksman.

Norcross took her first animal, a wild hog, on an all-female hunt in Oklahoma.

Caitlyn, her 11-year-old daughter, also hunts.

“She has turned out to be a surefire shot,” Norcross said proudly. “Like Mom.”

Learning skills

Before Peggy York unboxed a Savage bolt-action .22 rifle and led eight female students into the woods, the hunting instructor discussed some of the characteristics and habits of several wild animals found in Texas.

Turkeys, York said, speaking from experience, aren’t very bright. Male deer are quite active during the rutting period and are unfamiliar with the concept of monogamy.

“A buck will mate with as many as 10 does in a season,” York said. “That’s just the way they are.”

Javelinas are . . .

“Ugly,” one student said, staring at a color photo.

York suggested that javelinas are also less than palatable and shared her mother’s good-humored recipe for preparing the homely critter. Place the meat - and a stone - inside a pot. Begin cooking.
Once you can pierce the stone with a fork, the javelina is tender and ready to serve.

York is a volunteer instructor f or a Parks and Wildlife Department program designed to teach females outdoor skills like kayaking, mountain biking, bird-watching, fly-fishing and hunting. More than 90 women paid $185 each to attend the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman weekend workshop in late October at the Parrie Haynes Ranch along the Lampasas River near Killeen.

Ashley Mathews, the program director, said participants typically are middle-aged. Some women with grown children want to hunt with their spouses. Others hope to learn about guns and hunting because their sons or daughters are interested in shooting sports.

York also teaches an introductory firearms class at the workshop.

“Do any of you have a fear of guns?” she asked the group.

Several women raised their hands.

“How many of you can cook?”

More hands shot up. The instructor assured the class that firearms are no more dangerous than a kitchen appliance. A gun, she said, is a tool anyone can safely learn to use.

Getting acclimated

Janet Godsy grew up around firearms. Her father shot trap and skeet.

“But back then,” said the 53-year-old mother of two, “girls, quote, ‘didn’t do that.’ “

The San Antonio woman never held a gun until she attended her first Parks and Wildlife workshop. Now she is Annie Oakley-skilled with a shotgun. In September, she went dove hunting near Shiner with a male friend and his teenage son. Godsy shot the first bird and can’t wait to go deer hunting.

York understands the anxiety some newcomers may feel about killing an animal.

She can still see herself, a teenager, hunkered down in a ground blind where her father had left her before going off to hunt deer. It was early morning, still dark. She was alone. Anticipating shooting her first turkey, the girl closed her eyes to steady herself, to calm her fears - and fell asleep. When she woke up, after sunrise, she couldn’t believe the scene.

Birds were everywhere, right in front of her, strutting, preening, heads bobbing.

She silently picked one - and squeezed the trigger.

To her consternation, the bird flopped and thrashed on the ground before dying.

“I dragged that turkey back to the truck,” York recalled, “crying all the way.”

An avid hunter, York abides by her rule of eating whatever she shoots - turkey, deer or elk, her favorite meat.

The one exception, she said, smiling, was a bobcat that in her judgment “wanted to eat me.”

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