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Woman to woman: Meadow Kouffeld on women in hunting

Meadow Kouffeld is a regional wildlife biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society. (Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com)

Meadow Kouffeld remembers when she discovered she wanted to be a wildlife biologist.

"I found out there was such a thing when I was a senior in high school," Kouffeld said.

After a rich and varied background in wildlife-related jobs, Kouffeld became regional wildlife biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society in 2015. Based in Grand Rapids, she covers Minnesota and the western half of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Kouffeld, who grew up on a small ranch in northern California, earned her master's degree in wildlife ecology and management at the University of Minnesota in 2011. Over her career, her work experience has included goshawks in California, desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico, sage grouse in Nevada and bears in Wisconsin.

She's an avid grouse and woodcock hunter who owns two Deutsch Drahthaars, a pointing breed. In her work with the Ruffed Grouse Society, she has conducted two in-depth classes called "Women's Intro to Wingshooting," which involve weekly sessions culminating in game-farm pheasant hunts.

The News Tribune recently asked Kouffeld to talk about women in hunting.

DNT: Although the number of women taking up hunting is increasing, women still represent a minority of hunters. What are some of the factors that might discourage women from becoming hunters?

KOUFFELD: I think two of the biggest factors that discourage women from hunting are the lack of real opportunity and a lack of social support. In my experience, women and others do best when learning skills like shooting from experienced non-related individuals (not from a grumpy dad or husband) followed by continued mentoring until proficient. This takes more than a single event or class. And there's lack of social support. Programs like "Women's Intro to Wingshooting" work to develop a social support network of ladies who are interested in becoming sportswomen, and together they feel more comfortable with the journey.

DNT: What are the biggest motivators for women to get into hunting?

KOUFFELD: One of the biggest motivations is spending more quality time with family. Many of them have been left out of family outdoor activities because they did not know how to hunt. Some have children who are showing interest in hunting, and they want to be able to take them out. Mothers have a significant influence on their children, and a mother who hunts is much more likely to have kids who hunt when compared to children whose father is the only hunter.

DNT: What motivated you to become a hunter and to pursue a career related to hunting?

KOUFFELD: Hunting has been a constant in my life since early childhood. My dad has a lot to do with that. He is a European immigrant passionate about hunting. He didn't have boys, but I doubt that it would have mattered. He probably would have raised my sister and me just the same — as hunters. Since hunting is a passion of mine as well as wildlife, my career choice as a wildlife biologist was pretty clear to me.

DNT: Do you feel you have ever been discriminated against in your outdoor-related career because you are a woman?

KOUFFELD: I am professional, competent, passionate and skilled, but like a lot of women I don't always get recognition for accomplishments. The discrimination I see most often in the outdoor industry is that women are still either receiving or missing opportunities because of their appearance rather than their skills or accomplishments. This is especially true in the age of social media.

DNT: Many women say they prefer to learn outdoors pursuits such as hunting and fishing from other women. Why do you think they feel that way?

KOUFFELD: In general, women are more sensitive to how others are feeling and are better at reading comfort levels. Comfort levels have a lot to do with learning to shoot and whether or not someone is successful. If an instructor can give direction without making the student uncomfortable (and thus distracted) they will go a lot further in teaching the lesson. With that said, there are not as many female instructors and plenty of great male instructors.

DNT: It must be rewarding for you to see other women gaining confidence in shooting and becoming hunters. What do they tell you that process means to them?

KOUFFELD: Watching them gain confidence and become shooters is one of the most gratifying things in my life. Many of them can't believe how fun shooting is, and they love to share their stories of improvement. Many feel accomplished for going through the process. To some of them, it is a life-changing experience.

DNT: What aspects of hunting appeal most to you?

KOUFFELD: When I am hunting, I am completely in the moment and at my most aware with all senses. I am not plagued by work thoughts, life stresses or anything outside of the experience I am in. I find great enjoyment in the places and the wildlife I pursue, and I consider hunting and fishing and my time outdoors necessary to my health.

DNT: Describe the benefits and the appeal of hunting with dogs you have trained.

KOUFFELD: The scenting ability and cooperation of a good, well-trained hunting dog really enhances your chances of locating birds and getting a shot at them. I am especially partial to the experience of hunting over pointing dogs. In my opinion they are more relaxing to hunt over than a flushing dog and I think they are a safer option for mentoring inexperienced hunters. The longer I hunt over dogs, the more it becomes about their work than actually shooting a bird.

DNT: What is your hope for the future of women in hunting?

KOUFFELD: I hope that women in hunting becomes normal and commonplace, so much so that nobody really thinks twice about it by the time the next generation cycles through. I hope that we are able to stabilize the number of hunters, if not increase them, in the coming decades. This is only possible when people of both sexes and all cultures take to hunting.

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