Hunting pic

Stephanie Helmuth takes aim with her firearm. Helmuth used to go hunting with her father. Now she takes her two sons.

Females are the fastest-growing hunting demographic in the United States.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation determined in 2001 there were 1.8 million registered female hunters in the United States. That number increased to 3.3 million by 2013. Today, one in five female hunters is a woman.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) offers hunter education courses in person or through online study.

Why are so many females venturing into the woods to hunt?

Greenwood resident Stephanie Helmuth, who works at the Burton Center, was introduced to deer hunting by her late father when she was 6 years old.

"Of course, I was little, and all I wanted to do was make noise," she recalled. "I would go with him and sit with him and he would kind of tell me about things he was doing, and I'd watch him."

As she grew, she became more interested in stepping behind the scope and actively participating.

"My dad had always told me that, when you see your first deer, you'll get 'buck fever.' I really didn't know what he was talking about," Helmuth said. "Well, when I did see that first deer, my chest started pounding and my adrenaline started going. It was the best experience. I didn't know if I was going to be able to hit the deer."

But she did.

"To be able to do that with my dad, that's a memory I'll never forget," she said.

Helmuth later repaid the favor to her father when she took him on special "disabled hunts."

"He was my ol' hunting buddy, so we'd go hunting together," she said.

The SCDNR offered the special hunts for her father and other disabled people. Helmuth learned early that hunting was about more than sport.

"My dad harvested the deer," she said. "We ate the deer. When I became an adult, I wanted to be able to provide that for my family. Knowing that I could go out and hunt deer and put meat on the table, that's what really got me into it."

Helmuth and her husband have two sons, ages 12 and 15. Her husband hunts, but, because of his work schedule, they rarely get to go together. Helmuth takes her sons hunting, passing on the tradition to a new generation.

"I love being able to teach my kids that, and it's memories that they'll keep forever," she said.

She remembers one particular occasion with son Isaiah.

"I shot the deer, but Isaiah was with me and he got to experience killing the deer and taking it to the processor," she said. 

Helmuth has a multi-seat deer stand, so she doesn't have to hunt alone; however, she truly enjoys her time in the woods.

"I'll go out in the woods hunting now and just think about my dad while I hunt," she said. "He's not there anymore, but I still have all those memories that I think back on."

She said her female friends who hunt grew up with their father or another family member teaching them.

"I think that is where we need to start: Teaching our children about hunting and letting them develop the love for it," Helmuth said.

She uses a .243 Remington bolt-action rifle — usually considered a youth firearm — because she is petite and likes the size and feel of it. The biggest deer she's bagged was 120 pounds.

She has advice for other women interested in hunting. She said the National Wild Turkey Federation has a lot of female outdoor sporing events and "introduces women to all the different aspects of archery, turkey hunting" and more. 

"It's actually for women, so you don't have to feel embarrassed if you don't have any idea of what you are doing," Helmuth said. "You can go to the DNR website and learn about it."

Helmuth uses her time in the deer stand for reflection.

"Basically, you just sit there and think about anything," she said. "I consider it my quiet time, and I love it. I get out there and I can think about stuff and enjoy the outdoors — although the squirrels will drive you crazy because they are making all the noise and you think a deer is coming, when it's actually a squirrel."

Contact staff writer Greg Deal at 864-943-5647 or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.