It’s the first Women of the Outdoors Range Day of the year, and a 16-year-old has come out to try something new, something she’d never thought of doing before. Her nerves are in knots, her thoughts are wild with anxiety and she’s not sure what to expect. The minute she arrived at the range, however, the welcoming atmosphere made the intimidation disappear. Even her lack of experience and the fact she was one of the youngest participants didn’t seem to matter. She was a natural, excited to listen, learn and try out the various guns and bows.
The expression on her face and the intensity of her hug at the end of the day was enough to tell me she’d had a positive and empowering experience, showing her a path in a sport she never would have thought about participating in before. This is what Range Day, offered by the Ontario Women’s Hunting Association (OWHA), means to me as the organizer—a simple way to empower, educate and inspire women of all ages to find their place in the hunting and outdoor community.
More than just shooting
Since launching in 2011, the OWHA has been helping women fulfill their potential when it comes to hunting and firearms, and Range Day has played a big part in that. The program allows women to try their hand at shooting pistols, shotguns, rifles and bows, with no licence required. They walk away knowing how to safely handle guns and bows, and how to load, unload and target shoot with proper posture. The members of local gun ranges and I have accomplished this through personalized instruction, working one-on-one with participants and answering questions with experience and thought.
By giving women a place and community to meet others and participate in events and programs to further educate themselves about firearms, archery and hunting, the OWHA also helps rejuvenate interest in Canada’s outdoor heritage. After all, if Mom likes to get out there and participate on the gun range or at hunt camp, then the children will almost certainly follow.
To get involved in the shooting sports, however, it doesn’t mean women are obligated to get up before sunrise and harvest the biggest buck for the dinner table. Rather, participation in outdoor activities provides them with the chance to expand their horizons and learn valuable life lessons. I want everyone to be able to have fun and enjoy the outdoors with their peers, and at the same time lay a solid foundation of skills and knowledge they can build on for the rest of their lives. The ultimate goal is to provide an opportunity for women to get outdoors, learn about Canada’s outdoor heritage and carry it forward.
Filling a growing demand
I’ve been working on Range Day since its launch, after it was pointed out to me there was a demand for assistance in introducing women to the shooting sports. I was flattered that women of all ages were asking me to share my expertise, not just those who wanted to shoot, but also women who wanted to better understand the entire shooting and hunting culture.
As they soon learn, the outdoor industry as a whole has so much to offer beyond mere hobbies, from employment and fundraising opportunities to conservation programs and putting food on the table for the family. They also shed any apprehension they may have had about their partners’ gun collections or hunting firearms, having learned for themselves how guns actually work.
A few years back, I had an 82-year-old woman come out to Range Day. I will always remember her expression after she squeezed the trigger on a pump shotgun—it was like watching a 12-year-old ride a roller coaster for the first time. She was as enthralled by the reaction of the shotgun as she was surprised that she actually hit the target, saying she had never felt so strong and in control. And that’s precisely what Range Day is all about.
Avid hunter Amanda Lynn Mayhew founded both the OWHA and the Range Day program.
To learn more about the Ontario Women’s Hunting Association or how to participate in a Range Day, go to www.owhaontario.com.