Sisterhood of the Outdoors
You have likely heard of the "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," a series of novels that spun off into a popular movie. The consistent theme is a group of women and their special friendship - a bond created by a pair of blue jeans, prompting them to stick together and love each other no matter where their lives may take them.
It is pretty much the same for "The Sisterhood of the Outdoors," with one major exception. The pants are camouflaged and the bond that brings the women together is indeed the outdoors.
I first met Amy Ray, the President of the sisterhood, hanging out near a shooting house at the Silver Shoe Ranch in Dalton, Ga. It was clear she would have been far more comfortable with a shotgun than she was with my tape recorder stuck in her face. But she was proud to share the mission of her business that she quickly admits isn't very profitable, yet.
"We don't want to lose money doing this," said Ray. "But the real goal is to empower women who are hunters and create the next generation lady hunter. Why can't we make hunting a girl's weekend or make an elk hunt a girl's trip... that's kind of our niche."
The business was born in 2010 as "Babes, Bullets and Broadheads. (BBB)" Her husband bought Ray her first duck hunt from BBB. While she had hunted before, she had never duck hunted or done very much wing shooting. She drove 8 hours to Arkansas to hunt with women she'd never met before.
"I was intimidated, I was nervous. It wasn't my first hunt but it was my first hunt with just ladies. But they were just amazing. I booked another hunt immediately," said Ray.
Her "real job" is as a chemist and technical specialist for BASF in Dalton, but she started spending all her vacation money and time with BBB until the opportunity came to buy the business in 2014. She and her husband took it over and changed the name to "The Sisterhood of the Outdoors," serving as organizer and liaison booking hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities all over America, specifically for women.
The website includes hunting and other outdoor opportunities across the country, often at significant discounts. The Sisterhood includes a wide network of nearly two dozen women who serve as volunteer staffers from about 15 different states.
The outdoor industry often touts women as "the fastest growing segment of outdoors users." That is a little bit misleading. Even if you double or triple the number of hardcore female hunters, it is still a pretty low percentage of the total hunting demographic. But Ray points out that in the last decade, manufacturers have recognized the female demographic as a force to be reckoned with.
"Women were tired of wearing their husband's hunting clothes," she said. "But now there's more and more hunting gear and clothing designed just for us. There are a lot more options for women now."
Ray admits the Sisterhood may have been a little bit low key in its marketing, but she intends to change that.
We're getting involved with more conservation groups, outdoor trade shows and social media. Their Facebook page includes more than 35,000 followers.
Ask Ray about memorable stories is like flipping a light switch. There is seemingly no end to the anecdotes of women who have joined the Sisterhood because the men in their life simply weren't interested. Kaitlin Zoida is just one of many.
"She had never been hunting on horseback, never shot a rifle and never been camping," said Ray. "But she picked a 4-day Cody, Wyoming pack trip for elk. That's a very aggressive hunt for a first-timer. I told her she was either going to hate me or love me in four days," added Ray with a laugh. "When she shot her first elk she came running into my tent talking 90 miles an hour, telling me about making the shot, skinning the elk - it was so great to be there with her for that experience."
Ray also proudly tells of her friend Lana Van Winkle from Arkansas who took up hunting with co-workers because her husband just wasn't interested. Her interest in duck hunting grew into a passion for calling and Ray says this year Van Winkle will be competing in her first world championship duck calling championship and, "she's going to win it."
Many hunts and other events for 2017 have already sold out, but a few opportunities remain. They range from a 3-day, $1,350 Arkansas duck hunt to a $250 pheasant shoot at Silver Shoe Ranch near Dalton (Ga.).
Don't have a gun or gear needed for a hunt, but you still want to get your feet wet?
Ray says that's no problem. They will help get first-timers outfitted with the gear they need. And she says don't worry about being a new kid on the block because 63 percent of their clients are on their very first guided hunt.
She says they're already hard at work on next year's calendar that will be posted on the website soon. Paid members of the Sisterhood ($45 a year) get first shot at booking events when they come available. It also includes special discounts from industry partners.
The best thing about membership, it doesn't require a pair of magic blue jeans - just a desire to learn about the outdoors from other outdoor women.