Like the rest of its population, Japan’s hunter ranks aren’t just aging—they’re also shrinking. Since 1970, Japan’s hunter numbers have fallen by more than half, as Japan Times reports. And of the 200,000 or so remaining, 65% are men over the age of 60.
But an unlikely demographic is now bucking that trend. Though they’re still a tiny minority, women in their 20s and 30s are one of the few hunter populations whose numbers are growing or staying the same, says RocketNews24. Women hunters of Hokkaido, whose numbers are on the rise, even have their own blog, “The Women In Nature,” with the tagline “shoot & eat.” Part of the draw is being able to come home with delicious food, says RN24, something hunting groups geared toward women hunters emphasize.
This is probably welcome news for Japan’s ministry of environment, which has for years struggled with exploding populations of deer and wild boar. Those and other wild animals have caused an estimated ¥20 billion ($200 million) a year in damage each year since 2009.
For instance, deer eat foliage, increasing the probability of mud slides. They also cause traffic accidents and damage crops. Boars too eat crops, and are an increasing problem in Fukushima prefecture, the site of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami. In the wake of the disaster, the area was evacuated, allowing wild boar populations to overrun the area. Now their teeming numbers are stymying efforts by farmers in Fukushima prefecture to regrow crops after the 2011 earthquake/tsunami (some have outsmarted electric fences).
Neither deer nor boars have any natural predators, which explains why local governments all over Japan have been organizing big parties of existing hunters. These have had limited impact with boars, at least, given that “it is a cat-and-mouse game, because they reproduce quickly,” as Hiroshi Sakai, a local government conservation division manager told the Japan Times.
One barrier to drumming up hunter numbers is the rigor of Japan’s gun ownership restrictions, reports the Japan Times, which makes the growing ranks of female hunters all the more impressive. Prospective gun-owners must first attend a lecture and pass rigorous background checks that examine criminal records, mental illness history and compliance with hunting law. Then comes a test on hunting law, firearm care, the use of nets and traps, and knowledge of different types of game. And after all that, a buyer of the two legal guns—shotguns and rifles—must tell the police exactly where she stores the gun and ammunition so the police can check for compliance each year. She also must alert the police every time she fires a gun.