Armed and avid - German women turn to hunting
With a chill wind whistling through the raised hide set among the trees and undergrowth, Johanna Hofmann sweeps her hair back from her face as she watches and listens, her rifle to hand.
Wrapped up warmly but elegantly in a green rain- and windproof jacket, scarf, jeans, mittens and wellington boots, Hofmann, 31, is one of Germany’s growing number of women hunters. Every animal, be it a wild boar, fox, deer, rabbit or bird, makes a different noise in the forest, she said. When she spots a potential target, she picks up her rifle, takes aim and holds her breath.
“I try to keep completely quiet, composed inside and concentrated, and breathe quietly because of course I’m quite excited. And I have to be sure it’s safe and it’ll be a good shot,” she said. Her pearl earrings, nose piercing, light make-up and varnished nails delicately offset the 3.5-kilo (7.7-pound) hunting rifle she carries over her shoulder, a weapon not far off being as tall as she is.
Like for many women, Hofmann, who has been hunting for five years, said one of the attractions was the chance to train and hunt with her dog, an excitable, two-year-old German shorthaired pointer called Anka. Germany has seen a tenfold jump in the number of women who hunt over the last 15 years, according to the German Hunting Association, heralding the fall of another male bastion.
“Fifteen years ago we had about one percent female hunters in Germany. Today the ratio is about 10 percent female hunters, so that adds up to roughly 35,000 female hunters,” spokesman Torsten Reinwald told AFP. He said women currently made up just under a quarter of all those who sit the exam to obtain a permit to hunt in Germany. Women also take up hunting because they want to eat fresh game, which they consider to be healthier and of better quality than store-bought meat, or to spend time outside the city getting close to nature, he added.
Nature conservation is another factor cited by women, he said, adding that by law, land used for agriculture, fishing or forestry in Germany had to be hunted to prevent disease due to overpopulation or damage from over-feeding. With the knife she carries in her shoulder bag in the forest near the town of Nauen, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Berlin, Hofmann removes the innards of whatever she hunts, takes it to be weighed and registered at the forestry office, pays for the meat and then takes it home.
She cooks and eats what she kills and shuns supermarket meat — Christmas dinner this year was a deer she had hunted and prepared herself which she said gave “real value” to the meal. “Many people eat meat that comes from the supermarket and they don’t question where that meat comes from, but (say) a hunter is a murderer. That’s a paradox,” she said.
Having studied forestry, she works as an adviser at the Hunting Association and, unless it is raining heavily, hunts once a week with her boyfriend, whom she met at a game biologists’ conference.
Mother-of-three Nathalie Bunke, 46, passed the exam 10 years ago after devoting two evenings a week, plus weekends, for six months to studying. At the time her two eldest children were aged two and four. “It was hard but it was so interesting, also the biology aspect,” she said. “And it was for me, I wanted to do it and it was so fascinating. I failed (the exam) the first time and did it again.”
Having later got her husband into hunting too, the Berlin couple go into the forest together and have even taken all three of their daughters — the youngest now six — on hunts with them, she said. Her eyes light up as she describes the thrill and surprise of seeing an owl silently fly by, of watching a sunrise, taking in the noises, smells and peace, or enjoying a moment that no one else will ever experience.
“Even when you’re sitting in the raised hide and there’s no animal, which also happens, you can be sure a beetle or a spider will run by, and usually I have a camera with me,” Bunke said.
With the bone of a roebuck she once shot hanging around her neck, she said she now uses animal parts and fur to make and sell jewellery and educational materials, as well as volunteering to train other hunters and teaching.
Both women stress the need to respect the animals they shoot. Without emotion, they say, it is just killing. “For me, it’s important to have respect for the animal, also empathy,” said Hofmann, who also lives in the German capital. They also both see differences in the way men and women approach hunting. Men are more interested in trophies and tend to be knowledgeable about the guns, Hofmann said.
“The women I know who hunt are more prudent, are more cautious, they’re not so quick to shoot,” Bunke said. While women were never formally restricted from hunting, around 40 years ago they might have disparagingly been referred to as a “Flintenweib” (roughly translated, gunwoman), Reinwald said.
Now women-only hunting events take place in the North Rhine-Westphalia state, he said, adding that many women he knew were better shots than their male counterparts.
“I think some women, if they decide to become a hunter, feel that they have to be even better than their male colleagues, and they sometimes are,” he added. Hofmann acknowledged that hunting was still a male-dominated field but said her interest had been welcomed and accepted. She recounted that as the only woman in a group of six on a course to train her dog for hunting, she had heard that behind her back she was referred to as “the little girl”.
“But in the end, I passed and the five men failed,” she said, laughing.