The redheaded high school freshman watched her father closely as he kneeled in the snow to examine the fresh grouse kill.
Distinct mountain lion tracks stood against the white blanket coating the Bighorn Mountains. Fog pressed thick against the two hunters.
“It was pretty scary watching my dad,” said Dorothe Nobles, recalling her first elk hunt. “He was nervous, and when my dad is nervous, you know something is up. But, it was exciting, too, and I wanted to go back.”
Today, Nobles is one of a growing cadre of women participating in hunting and shooting sports.
Six years ago she noticed no one was catering to this expanding demographic and founded Shady Lady Shooting, a family business based out of Green River, Wyoming.
“My daughter hunts elk and deer. Six years ago she won this fancy little rifle at the annual sportswoman’s banquet, but she couldn’t find any pretty cases out there to put it in,” Nobles explained.
It dawned on her that all her rifles also lived in ugly, old, brown cases. She started manufacturing her own cases, and the company now sells product on both coasts.
Nobles is participating in the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show) in Las Vegas this week. The expo matches manufacturers with wholesalers worldwide and is the largest of its kind.
The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, provides space to Shady Lady Shooting and four other Wyoming outdoor industry companies attending the event. Eight other Wyoming companies also have displays at SHOT Show.
More than 64,000 professionals in the shooting, hunting, outdoors and law enforcement industry attend the show each year. Exhibitors, buyers and media travel from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to take part in SHOT Show.
“SHOT Show is huge nationally for us,” Nobles said. “The first year we were at SHOT I didn’t talk much, but now I have buyers coming to me saying they need more product because demand is high and they don’t have enough for customers.”
Nobles’ experience matches the national trend. In 2001, there were only 1.8 million women hunters, and they comprised just 10 percent of participants in the sport, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation study. Those numbers nearly doubled by 2013.
Women hunters see more room for females in the sport, though.
“Girls come up to me all the time and say they wish they could go hunting,” Nobles said. “It’s kind of a glass ceiling, where if a young, single woman doesn’t know somebody they can go hunting with, they don’t know how to learn.”
Nobles sends inquiring women to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or to mentor programs at places like Cabela’s.
One Wyoming nonprofit is providing another option – the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt.
Discovering a new passion
Codee Augustin, of Cheyenne, is an experienced hunter, but it was an eye-opening experience for her to participate with her daughter, Aysia Rogina, in the Women’s Antelope Hunt for the first time last year.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man, we need to get more women involved, because look how much they enjoy it.’ There’s no pressure, a guide takes time to teach you and work with you, it’s just a great event,” Augustin said.
Since the hunt, she has been talking with others around her about how to get more women involved in the sport.
Watching her daughter, Rogina, come into her own thanks to the event has been one of her prime motivators.
Augustin watched her shy teenaged daughter take control in a group setting. She made decisions, received advice and learned new skills in the field.
Women’s Antelope Hunt guides teach hunters how to harvest, transport, butcher and cook the animal.
The lessons have carried over in the months since the hunt. The two women bonded, built more trust in themselves and others and gained confidence, Augustin explained.
“She had to get out of her comfort level,” Augustin said. “You need a lot of confidence at that age, and she walked away from hunting with that mindset. I’ve seen a huge change.”
An expanding array of options like the Women’s Antelope Hunt where women can learn hunting skills in a welcoming environment may account for the rapid growth in female participation in the sport. Game and Fish numbers show Wyoming women with hunting licenses increased 19 percent since 2011.
Growing demographic means business opportunity
The rise in women hunters means more customers for companies like Shady Lady Shooting.
A National Shooting Sports Foundation study determined women gun owners spend an average of $1,275 annually on guns and accessories. Retailers estimated 20 percent of their shooting and hunting related sales could be attributed to women in 2013, compared to just 15 percent in 2010.
“Whatever you’re trying to sell, I think there’s no question women need to be part of it,” Augustin said.
Competition for women hunters is fiercer than before, Nobles agreed. Still, she’s one of a few specifically targeting the demographic and she’s confident her company will continue to grow.
Shady Lady Shooting designs and tests everything in house. The product is made in the United States – “I’ll go out of business before I go offshore,” Nobles said – an important selling point for customers in the industry.
Nobles is part of a booming firearms manufacturing economy in Wyoming. The state’s industry is growing at the second fastest clip in the country, according to a 2016 National Shooting Sports Foundation report.
Major firearms accessories manufacturers like Maverick Ammunition, HiViz Shooting Systems, Magpul Industries and Thunder Beast Arms Corporation have all flocked to Wyoming. They cite Wyoming’s gun-friendly culture and business advantages.
Those companies, along with dozens of homegrown businesses, account for more than 730 jobs and $19 million in wages.
Hunting and shooting sports are part of the larger outdoor industry, which is a sector the Business Council is targeting for growth in Wyoming.