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Getting girls to the outdoors

Ten-year-old Hakyma Von Bargen of Alexandria takes aim with a slingshot as Brian Krebs of the Douglas County Pheasants Forever chapter helps her out during the second annual parent/daughter night hosted by the local PF and Viking Sportsmen’s clubs. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)1 / 3
Tim Oldenkamp takes time for a photo with his two daughters, Greta (left) and Lydia (right), that he brought to the parent/daughter shoot. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)2 / 3
Above, Alexandria’s Lexi Gunther shoots at a clay pigeon at the Alexandria Shooting Park last Tuesday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)3 / 3

Alexandria’s Lexi Gunther knows the stereotype that some still have involving girls and their involvement in the outdoors – most notably that it’s not for them.

“They’re going to be inside with their mom and shopping and nails,” Gunther said. “I’m not like that. I’m the one that if there’s a mud puddle, I’ll be the first one to jump in.”

Gunther, 14 years old, has always been one to be by her dad’s side whether it was through farming or in a deer stand or the turkey woods. She grew up with that and fell in love with the freedom and seclusion she got from being in the outdoors.

Gunther says not a lot of her friends joined in that, but she wasn’t alone last Tuesday night as the Douglas County Pheasants Forever (PF) and Viking Sportsmen’s group teamed up to host a parent/daughter night at the Alexandria Shooting Park.

“Now I know that I’m not really the only one who likes doing all this stuff,” Gunther said. “There are other girls around here that like doing the same things that I do.”

Members of both the local clubs wanted to do something that would allow girls to be responsibly introduced into the shooting sports in a comfortable environment.

There were multiple activities for the girls to choose from. The youngest participants had a slingshot course with Brian Krebs of Pheasants Forever teaching them how to shoot. There were furs for them to look at, a muzzle-loading shotgun to shoot and trapshooting for both beginners and those with experience. Each shooter worked with a certified firearm safety instructor.

“We just wanted to really avoid the intimidation factor of a bunch of boys being out here that maybe had a little more experience and really let these girls, who haven’t had a chance to shoot or an opportunity, to get a really low-stress environment to get that experience,” Douglas County PF president Dean Krebs said. “It’s really just an introduction to the sport and how fun it can be. That they don’t have to be afraid of guns and they can go out there and say, ‘Jeez, this is a lot of fun to do.’ ”

Krebs said he and others looked at trends nationwide on how the number of women in shooting sports is growing and wanted to take an active approach of being a part of that at the local level.

“We took a look at that from a national level and said here’s what’s happening is we’re getting more and more girls interested,” D. Krebs said. “Let’s take advantage of that and put together an event that’s really for them.”

The goal was to create a comfortable environment for them to have fun and simply introduce some to the sport who haven’t had the chance. Krebs had parents of girls who hadn’t shot before walk up to him and say how fun the event was for those girls.

“A comfort level and that it is safe and they can do it and not be embarrassed,” Viking Sportsmen’s president Steve Henry said when asked what he hopes the girls take from the night. “With this, many of them have never handled a gun before and that’s fine. I think they feel comfortable out here doing it this way.”

Alexandria’s Tim Oldenkamp brought his two young daughters to the event. Greta, 8, and Lydia, 7, are no strangers to the outdoors. They have been sitting in a duck blind with their dad since they were about 3-years-old.

Greta refused to wear camo when Tim first started taking them with. All she wanted to wear was pink, so her dad gave in. The most important thing was that his daughters were with him and getting an introduction to the outdoors. A night like last Tuesday was just another opportunity to do that.

“That’s really important to me,” Tim said. “The important thing at a young age is that they have early success and see how much fun it is right away. With a shooting event like this, where they make it really easy for them to have success, I think that gets them more involved.”

The numbers say that stereotype of girls and their place in the outdoors is disappearing fast. The goal is to shatter it like the clay pigeons that were busted at the Alexandria Shooting Park last week.

“What I’m looking forward to is it being a lifelong activity,” Oldenkamp said. “That it’s something you can do forever with your family. What is it about that stereotype that it’s as if girls aren’t expected to or however it is we socialize them in a certain way that leads us down certain paths. I see my girls being excited about it as much as a lot of my friends’ boys.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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