MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ ‘Becoming an Outdoors Woman’ program is helping contribute to the rise in the number of women participating in deer hunting season this year. The program, which originated at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 30 years ago, has been running in Michigan for over 20 years.

“The ‘Becoming an Outdoors Woman’ program is designed to get women to step out of their comfort zones,” said Michelle Zellar, Coordinator of the ‘Becoming an Outdoors Woman’ for the DNR. “To learn new skills, try new practices, and do that in a non-competitive environment.”

Primary workshops through the department are for women ages 18 and up, and have even featured a participant in her 90s. Zellar says interest in the program has risen alongside the number of women hunting in recent years, but has particularly seen an uptick coinciding with COVID-19.

“There’s been an increase in hunting, not only in the last several years but since the pandemic, “Zellar said. “That really has changed a lot of things in general. Further recreation, being out there and being able to experience Michigan’s natural resources is really important not only to our physical health, but to our mental and emotional health.”

While participants have traveled from multiple states and Canadian provinces, a recent majority have come from below the bridge.

“A large part of our participants actually travel from southern Michigan – like 60% of them,” Zellar said. “We have a lot of volunteer instructors statewide, we have actually some of our committee members are from southern Michigan. So that has really helped us make connections for women and families that might not necessarily have the resources that we do up in the Upper Peninsula.”

The program makes a point to help participants learn about the activities they take part in, hoping to foster a connection that will let them take skills home with them and continue using them into the future.

“We actually tell you the mechanics of the gun,” Zellar said. “The definitions, what they’re used for, why it’s important, and that confidence really helps them feel comfortable and then they move on and take it to the next level.”

You can learn more about the DNR’s ‘Becoming an Outdoors Woman’ program here.