Kristine “K.J.” Houtman is a latecomer to hunting, a passion she didn’t begin pursuing until 2014.
It all started during a sturgeon spearing media event on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago, which Houtman attended as an outdoor writer and angler with longtime connections to the fishing industry. She spent nine years running the Masters Walleye Circuit fishing tournament trail and also worked for the American Sportfishing Association and the North American Fishing Club.
Staring down a large hole in the ice waiting for a sturgeon to swim into spearing range, Houtman says she realized what she was doing was more like hunting than fishing.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a hunter earlier on,” said Houtman, who lives in Crystal Bay, Minn., on Lake Minnetonka. “And as I’m staring down the hole in the ice in the darkhouse, I’m realizing, this isn’t fishing. If a sturgeon swims through, you've got to make a decision on size, and then you have to make a quick decision on, ‘Are you taking this?’
“And when you do, it's not like fishing for catch-and-release. This is now a harvest.”
That was a thrilling prospect, she said.
“I thought, well, maybe I would enjoy hunting, too, because I really liked that,” Houtman said.
Enjoy she does, and Houtman has bagged wild turkeys in Kentucky and South Dakota, shot an antelope at 295 yards in Wyoming and hopes to someday hunt ruffed grouse in the Minnesota Northwoods and big game in Africa.
“There’s so much more to do,” she said. “There’s so much more.”
Drawing on her experience as a writer and now, a hunter, Houtman recently authored “Why Women Hunt,” a series of 18 profiles on women hunters from across the country.
Published in June by Wild River Press of Mill Creek, Wash., the 242-page coffee table-style book is rich in color photos and delves into a common question Houtman asked each woman:
“Tell me about a hunt that changed you.”
“That was my common thread question that I asked every woman,” Houtman said in a phone interview. “And so all of the stories have something to do with how these women found something deeper inside themselves that maybe they didn’t know was there. Or maybe they challenged themselves to something they didn’t think they could do and then were thrilled that they could.”
Houtman didn’t want the book to be about the most well-known women hunters, she says, instead choosing to dig deeper into the stories of the women she profiled.
Brenda Valentine, whom Houtman calls “The First Lady of Hunting,” helped her build a list of women to feature; Valentine also wrote the Foreword to the book.
“Most of the women are gals that I have met in my travels and in my writing and in my work,” said Houtman, who also authored a biography of Jim Zumbo, the renowned hunter and writer who was hunting editor for Outdoor Life magazine until 2007. “I maybe knew a little snippet of their stories, but I wanted to dig deeper and find out more.”
An example is Trisha Steffen of Medford, Wis., who started hunting in 1992 and also runs a trapline.
“I had done an article once before because she was a trapper, and she would take her daughter trapping with her at the time,” Houtman said. “I just thought it was so unusual because how many women do you know that are trappers? I mean, I don’t even know very many men that are trappers now.
“It was nice to be able to have a little longer format for her story and to show her not just with her daughter, but now with a son, and this is something that she’s sharing right now when she works the traplines with her son. That’s amazing.”
Learning to hunt
Learning to hunt was intimidating, Houtman says, but attending a long-range rifle school in Texas gave her insights into managing a rifle and scope and confidence that she could shoot an animal at a distance.
“When I took my first antelope, it was like ‘Yes,’ ” Houtman said of the 295-yard shot. “I just dropped him right there perfect in place and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. All that work pays off.’
“But since then, I’ve also learned that not every shot goes perfectly, and I learned a great deal about the work that it takes when you have to have that follow-up shot.”
If there’s a common thread to the stories, Houtman says, it’s the importance men played in the lives of the women she profiled, whether it was a father, a hunter education instructor or some other mentor.
Men likely will enjoy reading the book just as much as women, she says.
“I wonder, too, if I were to write a book called ‘Why Men Hunt’ and interview 18 men, would it be the same book,” Houtman said. “I think it would be fairly similar, and I think it would be just their own unique stories of ‘Tell me about a hunt that changed you,’ and they would tell me about their hunt when they were young where maybe they set off and got their first big buck or something like that. Or maybe they would tell about being included into the new wife’s family who are all hunters.”
Houtman -- no relation to the renowned Minnesota wildlife artists whose last name is Hautman with an “a” -- says she hopes the book appeals to a cross-section of women readers, as well, even anti-hunters.
“I wrote the book hoping that even a woman who didn’t like hunting, if she would be willing to read this, would she gain anything or learn anything?” Houtman said. “And I’d hope she would, too, maybe see something a little bit deeper.”
Time outdoors, solitude and providing meat for family and friends all are among her motivations for hunting, said Houtman, who didn’t grow up in a hunting family. Despite the challenges, it’s easier for women to get into hunting today than it might have been 20 years ago, she says.
“So many women have already paved that way,” Houtman said. “Your personality type doesn’t have to be a trailblazer; you could be a follower and you could still enjoy hunting.”
Women are the fastest-growing demographic in hunting, a trend Houtman says she hopes can continue.
“I think that more women will continue” to become hunters, she said. “The more women you have hunting, the more you will have a next generation. Because the more you have a woman hunting in your family, the more the kids are going to be hunting.”
Released in June, “Why Women Hunt” retails for $49.95. The book is only available online at whywomenhunt.com.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Why Women Hunt’
Author: Kristine "K.J." Houtman.
Publisher: Wild River Press, 242 pages.
To order: Only available online; whywomenhunt.com.