COLUMBIA — With everything but her glasses covered in camouflage, 11-year-old Taylor Kemp hopped up and down in anticipation of her first time hunting.
Her dad, Don Kemp, helped her put an orange hunter's vest over her puffy camouflage coat and positioned her backpack filled with the essentials: Double Stuf Oreos, Cheez-its and Nutter Butters.
A few yards away, 14-year-old Hannah Morse chatted on her cellphone with her mom, who called to wish her good luck before she went hunting with her dad for the first time. Her brown hair was pulled into a ponytail and stuck out of the side of her hunter's orange stocking cap.
“My mom says that she just doesn’t want to see the deer,” Hannah said.
In a sport traditionally dominated by men, two out of the five participants in a managed youth deer hunt on Saturday and Sunday at the Charles Green Conservation Area near Ashland were girls.
“I think it’s good that we can show boys that we can do it, too,” Hannah said.
“Yeah, that we’re not afraid to get dirty or anything,” Taylor said.
Taylor said her parents were a little skeptical about how she would do field-dressing a deer, but she wasn’t worried, citing “disgusting things” she has done in the past such as sliding down a mound of mud after it rained and dissecting owl pellets in class.
“Most of my friends don’t believe I’m going hunting,” Hannah said. “They tell me I look more like a cheerleader than a hunter.”
Outdoor skills specialist Brian Flowers, who was in charge of the hunt, said in the past 10 years he has been involved in youth managed hunts he has noticed more girls participating.
In 2010, out of the 16.3 million hunters in U.S., 2.3 million were female, according to a National Sporting Goods Association survey. While participation in the sport continues to decline across the nation, in Missouri the total number of people buying hunting permits is "holding," in part because of the increase of females in the sport. In Missouri, 74,833 women hunted in 2010, 2,755 more than in 2009.
In Missouri, for every hunter who goes out another comes in, Flowers said.
Kelsey Brandkamp, 18, has noticed an increase in women coming into her parents' store, Powder Horn and Guns & Sporting Goods, where she works.
“Now every lady who comes in has hunted before, is planning on going hunting or at least goes out there and sits,” Brandkamp said.
She also said that a lot of the women she sees are young women who go hunting with their mom or dad.
“It’s a family thing, it really is,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to see what it’s all about. Usually you’ll sit for five or seven hours at a time and not see anything. But when you do, it gets pretty exciting.”
Not more than 10 minutes after settling into a camouflage blind Saturday afternoon, Hannah excitedly whispered to her dad, Wayne Morse, that she'd spotted a deer. Silently and quickly he turned to look out the oval opening in the blind.
A doe stood less than 100 yards away.
He crouched down by his daughter and picked up the rifle, easing it through the opening and locating the doe through the scope.
“It’s a nice one,” he said. “You want it?”
Hannah nodded and her dad moved back to let Hannah pick up the gun. He crouched right behind her, helping her line up her shot, urging her to take her time and make sure she could see the doe through the scope.
She shot the .250-caliber Savage that used to belong to her Aunt Divna, shattering the otherwise silent woods.
She missed, and the deer retreated behind the trees.
“It’s OK,” her dad said. “We just lost sight of her. She's still there.”
After unsuccessfully trying to find deer with the scope again, Hannah's father led her through the zippered opening of the tent and walked slowly outside to get a better view.
They crouched down in the leaves to line up a shot. Suddenly, the deer spooked. Her white tail flashed through the woods as she bounded up the hill.
The two headed back up to the blind and munched on trail mix and fruit snacks as they waited in hopes of having another deer wander by.
They didn't see one for the rest of the day Saturday, but on Sunday morning, the pair left the tent they were sleeping in at 4 a.m. to try again.
“I saw one pass by and I let it go and then that one showed up and I took it,” Hannah said.
Her father, who has been hunting for about 30 years now, shot his first deer when he was 14. Just like Hannah.
Hannah was excited to share the news with her best friend, Hannah Dietzel, who also hunts.
Next, she wants to learn to shoot a compound bow.
“I know she wants to go try some bow hunting, some archery,” her father said. “I’m still trying to get that down so I can take her.”
Taylor got the idea to go hunting during gymnastics practice. She saw pictures one of the owners had brought in from a successful turkey hunt and decided that she wanted to try her luck.
“Every time I see a deer I put my hands up and I practice,” Taylor said using both her hands to form a gun and pretending to shoot.
For about three to four weeks prior to the youth hunt, Taylor practiced shooting her .243-caliber rifle.
“She does pretty good shooting,” Kemp said.
“I’m excited about being able to go hunting for the first time because a lot of people in my family don’t hunt besides my uncle,” Taylor said.
On Saturday, shortly after sundown, Taylor saw her first deer of the day, a small doe. She killed it with a single shot.
“It was kind of being blocked by a tree so I didn’t hit any vital organs, instead I hit the backbone and split it,” Taylor said. “It dropped instantly.”
As Taylor predicted, she was fine watching and learning how to field dress the deer. After the deer was gutted, her father cut open the stomach so she could see the bits of white from the acorns the doe had been eating.
She plans on going hunting again this year with her dad and uncle. She kept two of the deer legs to make coat hangers and hopes to get more to add to it.
Blazing the trail for others
There weren't many women hunters when Helen Hader took up the sport more than 50 years ago. Over the years she has noticed more women joining the sport, be it girls with their fathers or wives with their husbands.
Unlike Taylor and Hannah, Hader didn't learn to hunt from her father, but rather her husband, Ralph. He taught her about guns and first took her deer hunting, and at 82, Hader still sits on top of her favorite hill every November for the firearms season.
She hasn’t shot a deer in about six years — the clip for her .243-caliber rifle still holds bullets Ralph loaded for her before he died in 1991.
Lisa Snelling, founder of Women Hunter magazine, first got involved in hunting as a way to spend time with her husband, too.
"I had no interest in the sport and never planned on hunting or owning a gun," Snelling said. "I simply went hunting with my husband as a way to spend time with him. However, I quickly developed a love for the sport and a connection to the outdoors."
She encourages other women to try hunting as well.