On a crystalline April day, sixteen young women gather in the Clemson Experimental Forest for a final exam in a course formally called LS 1340, but more commonly known as Women’s Hunting.

Instructor Susan Guynn has been in the woods for several hours already, walking through the shade of a pine stand and dropping red dye on leaves, logs, rocks and pine needles.

Instructor Susan Guynn (center) estimates nearly 200 women have taken her class since 2008

Instructor Susan Guynn (center) estimates nearly 200 women have taken her class since 2008
Image Credit: J.Veit/Clemson

Today she will have her students simulate tracking a deer that’s been shot. But first they surround Guynn as she explains some gory details essential to understanding how far the injured deer might have fled and how long to wait before pursuing it.

“If the blood is pink and frothy, what can that tell you about where you hit that deer?” Guynn asks.

There’s a moment of hesitation.

“Lungs?” one student asks.

“That’s right,” Guynn says. “The blood is frothy because it has a lot of oxygen in it. A deer can’t go too far with a lung shot. Blood that has a greenish tint or is mixed with plant matter means it was probably gut shot, you might have hit it in the rumen. And bright red blood means you shot it in or near the heart.”

The idea for a women’s hunting class originated with Clemson natural resources specialist Rick Willey. Willey noticed that many female students were dropping his coed hunting class. He wondered if they might be more comfortable in a women’s-only hunting class, so he approached Guynn.

Guynn began hunting small game with her father when she was about 3 years old, and she attended Clemson where she met her future husband, wildlife biologist David Guynn, who introduced her to big game hunting.

She now holds a Ph.D. in wildlife with an emphasis on the human dimensions of wildlife. For her doctoral dissertation, she researched the psychological benefits of hunting.

“Hunting has taught me patience, humility, and an appreciation for nature and the circle of life,” Guynn said. “One of the things that I hope my students take with them from the class is that they can hunt without being dependent upon someone else to take them into the woods.”

Students point out blood on the ground as the simulate tracking a deer that has been shot.

Students point out blood on the ground as the simulate tracking a deer that has been shot.
Image Credit: J.Veit/Clemson

Guynn’s course is designed to teach the fundamentals of hunting, including safety, wildlife biology and behavior, and how to clean and handle prey after a hunt. Her students hear lectures about why people hunt in modern times and hunting ethics. They complete a series of hunter education quizzes and take a hunter education exam. They learn turkey calling, land navigation, stalking and tracking, and the importance of camouflage. Of course, they learn shotgun, rifle and archery shooting. Her spring semester class goes squirrel, turkey and rabbit hunting.

Women’s Hunting is part of a suite of classes that include Women’s Hunting Traditions, Women’s Shotgun Shooting, and Women’s Riflery.

She estimates she’s had 193 students since she started the class in 2008. Some have never held a gun, while others have hunted with their fathers, grandfathers or boyfriends.

Mara Parmenter, a sophomore animal and veterinary science major from Boone, N.C., hunts squirrels and deer with her boyfriend. Guynn’s class was her first time hunting with a shotgun, and she enjoyed handling bigger guns like the .22-250.

“Hunting brings me closer to nature and is a more ethical way to obtain meat,” Parmenter said. “Some women think hunting is a man’s job but this class is empowering. Now I can imagine myself hunting by myself or with some girlfriends.”

Before taking the class, Brianna Berry, a sophomore business management major from Charleston, had some preconceived ideas about the kind of people who hunt.

“I came from a high school where a lot of kids wore camouflage and hunted, but I never went because I didn’t think it was my thing. But Susan really changed my mind about hunting,” Berry said. “She’s so knowledgeable, and she helped me realize that hunting is a skill that needs to be studied.”

Guynn hopes her students gain the confidence to hunt  or go into the woods by themselves.

Guynn hopes her students gain the confidence to hunt or go into the woods by themselves.
Image Credit: J. Veit/Clemson

Berry also sees her newfound hunting knowledge as a way to relate to fellow students and to help in future business relationships.

“Clemson has a lot of students studying wildlife and natural resources, and I want a way to connect with them. Also hunting is a popular pastime in the South and I plan to stay in the South, so I think this class can help me relate to future coworkers and bosses who are hunters,” Berry said.

Berry had the most fun hunting turkeys she said. “There’s a lot of strategy to hunting them because they’re so aware of their surroundings.”

Now the women start their walk into the woods, scanning the forest floor. They stop here and there to point out the “blood” on the ground.

They are continuing in a strong tradition of women hunters. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I hunted deer and stags with her courtiers, and would happily cut the throat of her quarry. Annie Oakley could shoot the head off a quail when she was just a girl. In Greek mythology, Amazon women were raised by their mothers and trained in agriculture, hunting and the art of war.

About 50 yards into the woods, the students find their quarry tied to the trunk of a tree. No venison today. Instead, the trail of food coloring has led them to sustenance of a different kind — a bag of donuts is their reward for a job well done.

As they eat their treats, these women gather around Guynn while she tells a pointed story about shooting an elk in Idaho.

“I knew it was a perfect shot,” she says. “But my husband questioned whether it was as perfect as I thought, and that caused me to question it, too. So we waited a long time before we tracked it. Then we found it dead in its tracks. Perfect shot, just as I thought. Always have confidence in your shot. If it’s a good shot, don’t let anyone talk you into thinking otherwise.”