My adventures in to field sports began when I became interested in falconry in my early teens. Like many others falconers-to-be, I had been captivated by birds of prey since childhood. All I dreamt of was striding across the countryside with a trained hawk. I was eventually able to own my own hawk and so my adventures began. I soon got some ferrets too as my parents wouldn’t let me have my own hunting dog at that time. I taught myself how to ferret for my hawk and started to provide myself with some rabbit hawking. I was very lucky to have a great mentor when I started falconry, and he introduced me to other interesting and experienced falconers, but I never met any female falconers and always felt a bit adrift.
In my twenties I started my own falconry business and with that, falconry took over my life – display flying birds at shows and events in the summer months, then hunting through the autumn/winter once the show season quietened down. After managing to meet and make friends with a few female falconers, thanks to the increasing social media we now have, we decided to set up the Female Falconers Club. Until this point falconry – like many field sports – felt heavily male dominated and I was keen to connect women together and see more woman my own age take part in field sports. We were already members of other falconry clubs but rarely met other women unless they were the partners of falconers, and never women our own age! Five years on we now have over 200 members! I, like many other female falconers, met my fair share of patronising and biased people who knocked my confidence time and time again. But rather than put me off it made me more determined to be successful at my craft and to support others to follow their passion too. I must say however that there were many wonderful male falconers who supported me and gave me excellent advice and help of which I am very thankful.
In my late twenties I began looking for a change of pace with my work. Luckily an opportunity arose to set up a falconry centre on a large commercial shooting estate. They were interested in offering hunting days there, which is not an opportunity many falconers get! To fly such suitable, quarry rich ground was impossible to pass. I was quite nervous about moving down there and working alongside a small team of men. However I soon settled and spent a very exciting three years based on a game farm, working on the shoot. I got involved with the whole rearing process and mucked in with the keepers when they needed it. By hunting the boundaries of the shoot with my pointer, hawks and falcons I was able to find plenty of quarry while keeping the birds dogged back into the drives as I did. I ran field meets for falconers and took non falconers hunting with the birds too. Being only 5’ 4” and a woman, I had plenty of encounters with men that were not sure what to make of me at first, especially when I told them I would be guiding them around the ground. But by being firm, quietly confident and having a sense of humour I soon found they listened…especially when the game appeared! I also had lots of chance to breed my own birds of prey which is both very stressful, hard work and greatly rewarding.
It was on this estate I met my partner, one of the keepers there. I had previously only shot at clays in earnest, but he was incredibly supportive in getting me into game shooting. Date night soon became KFC and pigeon shooting! I would go lamping with the keepers and get involved as much as possible. They were so supportive and I felt very comfortable learning. I asked questions and got helpful answers. I love driven partridge shooting and evening duck flighting, but there’s something about wild pigeons on a windy day that produces some very sporting and exciting birds! I also developed a big interest in deer stalking and shot my first deer (a Chinese Water Deer) on the estate. These days we fill our freezers with wild game and rarely ever need to buy meat from the supermarket. We are a team and have a big extended family if you count all my birds of prey, our raven, and our pack of spaniels, pointers and teckels!
My overall experience in both shooting and falconry is I find that most men are very supportive of women in field sports, but it is still an uphill struggle to fit in with some seriously outdated opinions that are still floating around which can be very off-putting to novices. However, it does not deter me. I pick up, beat, shoot, stalk and hunt with falcons and hawks. I have met many wonderful people in the field sports world whom I’m very thankful to for their support and guidance.
Now if you think finding a way to get men to think you are serious about field sports is one challenge then finding suitable clothing that performs in the field whilst fitting the female frame – that’s a whole behemoth to tackle! I want trousers that are quiet and can cope with brambles, boots that aren’t always pink or don’t fall apart at the soles the first time they see a muddy hill, and jackets that actually protect me from the often harsh, wet weather!
It is eternally frustrating browsing catalogues or stands at game fairs to find the women’s section just doesn’t exist, isn’t practical or is stuffed in a back corner somewhere with a terribly limited range. I cannot count the hours I’ve wasted trawling websites for some decent and interesting choice. I love the clothing options that are developed for men but feel so undervalued as a female customer. I’ve ended up sticking to the same clothing time and time again, but it would be great to have more choice readily and easily available.
And don’t ask me about gun shops, oh my goodness, I avoid them as much as possible. I really want to support local businesses, but being ignored when trying to have sensible conversations about guns or buying ammo, or browsing the women’s sections to find just three or four items in obscure sizes leaves a lot to be desired, while the walls are filled with options for men. So online is now my choice for clothing and equipment, and I can always send my other half in to buy ammo to save me the pain of it!
If you are a woman looking to get involved in field sports then I would say don’t let anything put you off following your interests. Ask lots of questions, and you’ll find there are fantastic people ready to mentor and support you. I’m now carrying our first child who is due next year and am so excited about introducing him to the countryside, our amazing native wildlife and the all the field sports me and my partner are so passionate about.
Oh and if the clothing companies could start producing some maternity hunting gear I would be over the moon!