Women and ‘newbies’ adding to mix of Adirondack hunters
By Megan Plete Postol
Hunting wildlife in the Philippines primed Ambrosio “Ambie” Tepace Garcenila for tracking whitetail in the Adirondacks.
Growing up on Samar, he slew birds with his slingshot and farmers hired him to take monkeys that stole coconuts.
Three years ago, he arrived in the North Country. Garcenila, 40, and his wife found a slower pace and solitude, plus hunting, in the Adirondacks.
“My wife brought me here,” he said. “We want to stay here and visit the Philippines once a year.” The couple enjoy hunting, and they are among a shifting demographic.
Diversity among the Adirondack hunting community is growing and may increase in the next generation if the counties within the Blue Line follow projected trends.
A recent Journal of Wildlife Management study found that the majority of hunters are white and male. It also found people who reported that they were interested in hunting are from more diverse backgrounds. If they act on their inspiration and pursue hunting, they will infuse the “traditional hunter” demographic.
Women, too, are adding to the mix. Over a decade, the state Department of Conservation tracked an upward trend of females registering for hunting education courses. DEC recently started to collect ethnicity data.
In 2010, DEC recorded 4,358 women among 22,174 course registrants. In 2020, with online options, the numbers grew to 23,040 women out of 69,264 total.
The 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that males represented 90% of hunters 16 years and older and 97% were white. Researchers expect that 2021 data will show growth of minorities in hunting. The outdoor industry and social media had already witnessed a surge of brands that target underrepresented communities in the hopes of bolstering participation.
The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Nature Conservancy, National Deer Association, and Hunters of Color have been working to foster inclusion. A few months ago, the groups came together for a whitetail crossbow hunt on Conservancy property in the Albany area. The hunt paired eight experienced hunters with eight novices for instruction about logistics, ethics, and other hunting practices.
In a rapidly shifting America, “newbie” hunters, as Garcenila calls himself, could boost conservation revenues because hunting registrations help pay for environment and protection programs.
Garcenila is on the Adirondak Loj maintenance crew. A friend, Jeff Murray, of Saranac Lake invited him on a hunting trip near Cranberry Lake where he harvested his first Adirondack buck, an eight pointer. It took two hours of still-hunting. Sneaking through the animal’s habitat to scan and listen for movement, he caught sight and fired his Ruger 6.5 Creedmor bolt action rifle.
In Filipino culture, he said, such a harvest would be a blessing shared. Keeping with his tradition, he distributed venison to coworkers, friends, and neighbors. He also had a European mount made of the skull and antlers to display on the wall.
Hunting in the Adirondacks differs from the hunting of his youth. It isn’t tropical and the game species have unique strengths.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “How to understand wildlife, its habitat, even the wildlife outside of your target.”
It’s safer to hunt here, too, he said, because it is unlikely he’ll encounter the kind of armed rebels of Samar.
“You can’t hunt in the mountains because of the insurgency issue,” he said. “Here, as long as you obey the law and follow the rules, you’re good.”
A casual hunter, Garcenila’s wife, Tammy, “Cat” Hadlow, has been hunting longer than him, starting as a girl on her grandfather’s Oswego farm.
Hadlow is glad her husband has the hunting passion. “I was so nervous he wouldn’t like winter,” she said. “Thankfully he loved it and embraced it.”
In North Creek, taxidermist Samantha LaFond sees a trend of new hunters. LaFond started Naturally Wild Taxidermy while living in Alaska and relocated the shop to her home in the Adirondacks. Last year, of the 96 whitetails she put on mounts, six came from female hunters, well above average.
Last year one of the biggest bucks she took in was shot by a woman.
“It was her very first hunt,” LaFond said. “She was so modest but her husband was so excited to tell me all about it.”
LaFond, 33, is a hunter herself. Her taxidermy business relies on the success of the hunting industry. For her, it is a way of life. She was raised in an outdoors family and has always been intrigued by wild spaces. That is what drew her to Alaska, where she got into trapping. While there she noticed a cultural difference —hunting was part of the natural rhythm of life. That philosophy stuck with her.
“I have a greater respect for it now.. It is not always about the big racks but about providing for your family.”– Samantha LaFond
As a girl, her mother read her stories from outdoor magazines. She would accompany her father and try to photograph his deer hunts. She would be so excited that the photos were shaky.
“It’s a lifestyle for me,” LaFond said. “I took the hunting course as soon as I was of age to do so. After that I took the bow course.”
She said she’s noticed more women joining their husbands or boyfriends at the shop and they tell her they’re hunting along with the men.
Tiffany Bezio, 31, of Whitehall, said she got her passion for hunting whitetail from her father.
“I remember just following him around like a little puppy through the woods trying to learn everything,” she said.
Most of her earliest hunting memories stem from her father’s membership in a hunting club where the members became like family and the kids grew eager to join the grownups, she said.
These days, Bezio is a member of that same Dresden club and she mostly hunts alone. She was on her own when she took a buck, dragging and gutting it herself. One year, she bagged an eight-pointer with a bow and a 10-pointer with muzzleloader.
Bezio recalled working in the fishing and hunting department of Dick’s Sporting Goods during college and men being surprised at her knowledge.
“They weren’t expecting good answers,” she said. “But then they keep talking and you can tell things went the exact opposite of what they expected.”
Bezio loves hunting in part because it gets her into the forest and quiet places to decompress from her job as a state trooper.
“When you’re sitting in the woods you can think about anything or everything. It is also really cool to see all the animals. Even if you don’t see anything, it is just so nice to be in the woods.”– Tiffany Bezio
She is glad to see that more women and minorities are hunting. She acknowledges that not everyone has access to mentors like her father, so she wants to be encouraging.
“It is a self-sustaining sport,” she said. “You really don’t need anybody else. There are resources out there to help you learn.”
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