Christi Holmes is not what you might expect in a woman hunter.

Start with the fact she was the University of Maine Homecoming Queen in 2008. Then consider she grew up in a family that didn’t hunt.

She didn’t even get her hunting license until five years ago.

Yet as the founder and administrator of the Maine Women Hunters Facebook group, Holmes, 31, has single-handedly created a vibrant community of nearly 1,000 women who, through advice, tips, support and storytelling, encourage one another to hunt. It’s the second Facebook group for women hunters in Maine but the first to draw more than a few dozen members – and it has twice as many members as groups in North Carolina and Washington.

“It’s hard to learn new skills, learn about the gear, gain confidence as a beginner if you’re only surrounded by men that may have been doing it their whole lives,” said Holmes.

Her grassroots effort comes at a time when the state is trying to recruit more women hunters – and when more women are taking up the activity. Since 2010 the number of licensed women hunters in Maine has increased from 17,078, or 9.6 percent of all hunters, to 21,178 women, or 13.3 percent in 2017, the last year for which the state has data. Last year the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hired a coordinator to recruit and retain more hunters in Maine, with a focus on women and youth.

Meanwhile, in just 10 months, Holmes’ Facebook group has grown to 909 members. They describe it as a safe, non-judgmental and positive community in which they can learn new skills in a sport that is dominated by men.

“It’s great to open your eyes to the ability women have, to see it’s not just a largely male sport,” said Camille Nolden of Wells, a hunter of two years, who last month posted a photo of her license plate “LUV GSP,” a nod to her hunting dogs, German short-haired pointers.

From left to right, Christi Holmes, Amy Dowley, Katie Stevens and April Nesbitt are among the 909 members of the Maine Women Hunters Facebook group. Photo courtesy of Christi Holmes

Holmes grew up in Machias with a love of adventure and the outdoors. In high school she was a busy athlete who ran cross country and played softball and basketball, scoring 1,000 points on the court. Summers she would hike and camp with her family in nearby Acadia, and farther afield – in the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. Hunting was “a normal thing” in Washington County, she said, but her family didn’t participate.

Holmes attended the University of Maine and after graduating with an engineering degree in 2010, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail solo. Then she backpacked across Europe for five months, including a month in Spain to learn Spanish and hike the 380-mile Camino de Santiago trail. In the fall of 2013, just before Holmes moved to Portland to work as an engineer, she got her hunting license.

“I was interested in where my food came from,” Holmes said, “and I wanted it to be locally sourced.”

She bird-hunted with male friends but for the most part taught herself to hunt, through books and trial and error. She bought a Brittany spaniel, naming him Argo for Odysseus’ loyal dog in “The Odyssey” and taught him to hunt and point birds.

Two and half years went by before she killed her first animal – a turkey. “It’s a very humbling experience, and taught me resiliency and gave me a tremendous amount of respect for the animals and their intelligence,” Holmes said. “I’m sure there are other examples of women who learned to hunt on their own, but I think it’s uncommon.”

Today, Holmes enjoys hunting for pheasant, duck, turkey, deer and bear. She’s also learning to trap. When she trapped her first beaver, she used the meat in a tasty stir-fry and sent the hide to a tanner to have a hat made. Never one to waste wild game, she once picked up a dead grouse she found on the road. It was still warm so she turned it into dinner.

Last spring, Holmes started to think about how she could help other women who shared her interest in hunting, how she could keep them from feeling discouraged or intimidated. For instance, “a lot of women get introduced by a father or boyfriend, and then that relationship can end for various reasons and women may not be comfortable or ready to continue on their own, even though they’re interested,” she said.

She’s impressed with the response. “So many post and ask questions,” Holmes said. “Everyone is polite and positive. This is my fifth year hunting, and I haven’t shot a deer and I get frustrated. The group is encouraging.”

Members of the Maine Women Hunters site share stories of hunts, successful and not, and their joy in the field either way. They ask questions: What rifle to buy? What’s the best bow for a woman? Which are the warmest hunting boots? How do you field dress a bear? They encourage each other to try new methods of hunting, such as bow hunting as opposed to firearm.

The post that drew the most response – 31 comments – was about a steep discount on women’s Muck boots at Marden’s. Several woman scouted the Marden’s in Gray, Biddeford, and Waterville to let others know where to find their size.

For Molly Hamel of Greenbush, the group is a safe place to find a hunting partner, avoid criticism from male hunters – and dodge “a can of worms.” Last fall, Hamel got on the Maine Hunters Facebook site, a group with 20,000 mostly male members, to post a photo of a moose she shot. The response wasn’t what she was looking for – several men asked her out.

Holmes’ approach to the Facebook group is classic Holmes, according to April Nesbitt of Houlton, a longtime friend and one of Holmes’ first hunting partners. “Christi started the group to offer a community to women where they would feel comfortable and not feel judged or talked down to,” she said. “It is 100 percent positive.”

 


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