Opening doors for women outdoors: Fishing, clay target event a big hit for female participants
Event included a catfish excursion on the Red River with volunteer guides from the Red River Catfish Club and a morning shooting clay targets at the Dakota Sporting Clays range west of Grand Forks.
GRAND FORKS — She might not have grown up in a hunting and fishing family, but Carmella Brazzle has certainly made up for it the past couple of years.
Brazzle, who goes by the nickname “Cg” – the initials of her first and middle names – came all the way from the Atlanta suburb of Duluth, Georgia, for last weekend’s “Minnesota Cast+Blast 2023” women’s outdoors event in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
Hosted by Her Wilderness, a Minnesota-based organization founded in 2019 to promote hunting, fishing and other outdoors opportunities for women, the event included a day fishing catfish on the Red River with volunteer guides from the Red River Catfish Club and a morning shooting clay targets at the Dakota Sporting Clays range west of Grand Forks.
This year’s event drew 12 women, including Brazzle, and six Catfish Club volunteers who supplied boats and expertise for the fishing portion of the weekend: Wade Anderson, Brad Durick, Nate Erickson, Rob Raymond, Jim Sandbeck and Bryan Syverson.
“I just love being outdoors, so any opportunity, whether it’s hunting (or) fishing, I try to take it in,” Brazzle said. Her recent adventures include shooting an antelope in Wyoming through a trip sponsored by another organization, Sisters of the Outdoors, snagging a 57-pound paddlefish in Oklahoma and numerous deer and wild turkey hunts.
“My grandfather, he hunted small game like rabbits, but it wasn’t a big thing,” said Brazzle, a technology professional by trade. “When I grew up, I ran into a lot of guys in business that said ‘Hey do you want to go hunting?’ And I’m like, it’s probably best if I go with some females. I started looking at female groups and found one in Georgia, and then took off from there.”
Brazzle’s trip to Grand Forks was her first outdoors adventure through Her Wilderness. Andrea Charlebois of East Grand Forks, a Minnesota coordinator for Her Wilderness, organized last weekend’s adventure. Mike Collings, Brenden LeHaise and Aaron Thielke served as mentors for the shooting portion of the weekend at the Dakota Sporting Clays range.
‘This is outstanding’
A physical education teacher at Grand Forks Central High School, Charlebois is an avid hunter and angler who also is a certified firearms safety instructor and has taught outdoor education courses at UND.
She learned about Her Wilderness during an online search for ruffed grouse hunting opportunities, a pursuit Charlebois had never experienced growing up in Minot. She signed up for a hunt near McGregor, Minnesota, and the rest is history.
“I met about 20 women that weekend and thought, this is outstanding because none of my friends really hunt,” Charlebois said. “I had an opportunity to meet like-minded women willing to be outdoors and other women guiding, running their dogs, had some success that weekend and thought this is really cool.”
Then one day, Charlebois came across an opening for a Minnesota Her Wilderness coordinator position on the group’s Facebook page. With more than 20 years of teaching experience and chaperoning students on trips to Germany, Iceland and Australia, Charlebois decided to apply and was chosen from among about 30 applicants.
“I had experience leading in a variety of different situations and outdoor education at the University of North Dakota and just years and years of teaching and so basically, I thought, ‘Well, I’m a good fit for this,’ and I applied, and I got it,” she said.
Charlebois organized the first Red River Her Wilderness event in 2021 but had to cancel an excursion last spring because of flooding. Opening doors for new outdoors participants is what groups such as Her Wilderness are all about, Charlebois says.
Prices for Her Wilderness events range from free to $1,000 or more, depending on the location and duration of the event.
“Andrea is a great organizer and facilitator,” said Brazzle, who learned about the Grand Forks event through social media. “Communication is key, and being able to make us feel at ease to come in from across the country to do an event, knowing I have somewhere to stay, knowing the guides are good people, things like that.”
It’s not unusual, she says, for women who meet up as strangers to leave as friends. Brazzle says she didn’t know any of the participants before last weekend.
“With these groups, you have a few people that kind of do trips over and over again, but for the most part, at least half are always new people,” she said. “That’s the whole purpose, I think, is to introduce women to fishing and hunting and make them feel comfortable dropping in together with other women.
“And it’s great that you have people that have been there before because they can kind of mentor the ones of us who haven’t, so it’s a great program.”
It’s been said that women are the fastest-growing demographic in the outdoors today, and the numbers support that assessment. According to a report from market group Southwick Associates and published on the American Sportfishing Association website, females in 2021 made up 23.6% of anglers and 12.3% of hunters nationally, compared with 21.5% of anglers and 9.5% of hunters in 2011.
In 2020 – a big year for hunting and fishing participation because of the COVID-19 pandemic – fishing license sales to women increased 24%, while license sales to men grew by 10%, Southwick Associates reported. At the same time, hunting license sales in 2020 increased 15% among women and 4% among men. The number of new female hunters and anglers increased 41% and 48%, respectively, in 2020, while new male hunters increased 23%. Numbers for new male anglers weren't listed.
Long gone, in other words, are the days when hunting and fishing were perceived as only a “guys thing.” Organizations such as Her Wilderness and others also can help ensure women stay with the outdoors pursuits they try.
“A lot of times, dads would take out their sons, and girls had to stay back,” Brazzle said. “Now that we can go out there and kind of do and enjoy it, too, I think, is really awesome.”
Embracing the outdoors has also helped her embrace conservation, Brazzle says.
“Before I started hunting, I didn’t understand conservation, so I listened to the non-believers, and they were just talking about, ‘Oh, you’re killing it,’ ” Brazzle said. “I’m like, ‘So how do you think food happens to be in the grocery store?’ That’s inhumane killing. I use ethics and guidelines and fair chase.”
The weather for last weekend’s Her Wilderness excursion was about as ideal as one could ask for, and while the best fishing was yet to come, plenty of catfish were caught. Brazzle and Charlebois, who fished with Brad Durick, landed catfish up to 16 pounds, along with a bonus walleye, and Ashley Golnick of International Falls, Minnesota, landed bragging rights with a 23-pound catfish she caught while fishing with Nate Erickson.
In keeping with tradition, Golnick kissed the catfish, which she says fought harder than the sturgeon she is used to catching on the Rainy River.
“It was a lot more fight,” she said. “My one forearm, like, it hurt a lot.”
Not all of the women last weekend traveled long distances. Barb Kueber fished the Red River for the first time, even though she’s lived in Grand Forks all her life.
Kueber said she and fishing partner Theresa Corwin, who's also a local, caught “10 or 12” catfish – some little ones and two really nice ones” – with volunteer guide Wade Anderson.
“I have spent many hours sitting by the Red River when my son was little, and he was fishing, and I was reading a book, but I’ve never dipped a line before,” Kueber said. “It was awesome. I liked it a lot.”
Kueber says she got spoiled fishing in other places, such as Ontario, the Columbia River in Oregon and “all over Minnesota and North Dakota.”
“I thought it was time I started doing some different things, and this just sounded like a perfect thing,” she said.
“Perfect” pretty much summed up the weekend, said Charlebois, who hosted all 10 of the women who traveled from out of town in her East Grand Forks home.
“We had an amazing group of gals,” she said. “Inviting 10 strangers into your home and then having them become just a good, cohesive group was super fun. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the guides were exactly what we wanted and needed.”
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