KANSAS CITY, MO. -- Synthia Wilson recalls the day she knew she was destined to be a deer hunter.
It happened on a fall day in the 1990s, when she tried hunting big whitetail bucks with a bow for the first time. She and her husband, Ken, traveled to some property near Onaga, Kan., that they had purchased -- the same land Synthia had explored when she was a child.
"I knew that land like the back of my hand," said Wilson, 51, who now lives in Olathe, Kan. "And I knew a lot of deer lived there."
No sooner had Synthia climbed into a treestand and notched her arrow, an 8-point buck walked within shooting distance. She calmed her nerves, aimed and hit her target.
And on that day, a bow hunter was born.
"It was almost like it was staged," said Wilson, 51, of Olathe. "My first bow hunting trip, and I didn't even have to wait for a deer to come by.
"It was beginner's luck. But it was so exciting, shooting that buck on the land where I grew up."
Almost 25 years later, Wilson has taken many deer and several trophy bucks with her bow. And she remains just as passionate as ever about bow hunting.
In fact, she has become an expert at the game -- one of the industry's new faces in an often stereotyped sport.
Erase that image of a grizzled backwoods recluse or a young buck with his camo ball cap turned backwards. Oh, they're still around. But women like Wilson, complete with nail polish and lipstick, represent part of hunting's new look.
The number of women bow hunters has climbed quickly in the last 10 years, according to state and national surveys. And archers such as Wilson are at the forefront of that surge.
"Synthia proves that deer hunting isn't a macho thing," Ken said.
When Wilson isn't in the woods, she works tirelessly to get other women involved in the sport. Her view? Bow hunting isn't solely a man's sport.
"I think a lot of women, especially the ones who live in an urban setting, are a little intimidated," she said. "Many are sheltered. They never grew up with something like that and they think that deer hunting is something that the men do.
"But this is something that the girls can do, too. Being outdoors is a great way to build self-esteem, enjoy God's creatures and experience the excitement of the hunt."
As a pro staffer for several hunting-equipment companies, a volunteer bow hunting instructor and a seminar speaker, Wilson has recruited many women into the sport. She remembers one experience that was especially gratifying.
"I was teaching a course of 25 women in a National Wild Turkey Federation course," she said. "Only two of those women had any experience in hunting. But by the end of the course, they were so excited that they couldn't wait to go out hunting.
"Later, I was at another event and I had several of those women come up to me and say, 'I tried what you said and I got a deer.'
"That meant a lot."
Wilson has been recognized for her efforts. In 2011, she was one of the 12 finalists for the Prios Extreme Huntress award. And in 2008 and 2009, she was awarded the Lady Archer and Bowhunter Award by the Women Bowhunters organization.
But seeing the young women she has coached turn into avid hunters or fishermen is the only reward she needs.
"This is something girls can do. They just have to have someone show an interest in teaching them."
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