US & Canada

Can going pink draw more female hunters?

A model wearing blaze pink Image copyright Legendary Whitetails

Laws to permit the colour "blaze pink" for hunters have been proposed in five states in the US. How did this become a legislative trend?

As the legislative session drew to a close last week at the Minnesota state capitol, a curious piece of legislation became the focus of ire for lawmakers - a bill to make something called "blaze pink" legal for hunters to wear.

"Midnight - 24 hrs to go. Voting AGAIN on blaze pink," complained Minnesota Representative Diane Loeffler on Twitter.

"Taking up $1 billion+ dollar bonding bill with 42 minutes to go in session," wrote Zach Rodvold, director of external affairs for the DFL Caucus. "Good thing we talked about blaze pink three times though."

While "blaze pink" became a stand-in for government dysfunction in Minnesota, it is also a peculiar new legislative trend in the US - five states have considered or passed a version of the bill so far.

In many states, it is required that big game hunters wear "blaze orange" garments - an eye-catching, fluorescent colour - to help them see one another in the field and prevent accidental shootings.

Image copyright Wisconsin Legislative Photographer, Greg Anderson
Image caption Wisconsin legislators faced criticism over their "Hunt Pink" campaign

Last spring, Wisconsin Representative Nick Milroy had the idea that "blaze pink" might also be an acceptable safety colour as well as a way to get some new blood into the sport.

He even got a textile scientist at a local university to investigate whether there were any safety concerns.

"The fastest growing segment in new recruits into hunting are females, and that's one of the big reasons that companies have been marketing things like pink camouflage, pink guns, pink knives," he says.

Participation in hunting in the US has been on the decline for decades, and the sport is overwhelmingly dominated by men.

But not everyone likes the concept. Not long after Milroy held a news conference with a bipartisan contingent of supporters wearing "Hunt Pink" shirts, a women's hunting group in Wisconsin made their own shirts with the phrase crossed out on a more traditional green camouflage print. The group felt that the blaze pink bill was sexist for suggesting women would take up hunting just because of the new colour choice.

"We felt like it was demeaning to us," said Sarah Ingle, president of the Women's Hunting and Sporting Association, to National Geographic.

"My response is nobody has to wear blaze pink, and everybody can wear blaze pink," Milroy said. "This isn't something that's specifically tailored for specific sexes or ages or whatever."

Despite the objections, the bill passed the Wisconsin legislature and was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker in February. Soon after, legislators in Minnesota, Louisiana, New York and Colorado all introduced blaze pink bills.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Blaze orange hunting gear at Cabela's

In the US, it is often the case that a slew of similar bills on an issue can pop up in multiple states at the same time.

The country saw dozens of so-called "bathroom bills" recently, which aim to prevent transgender men and women from using restrooms of their preferred gender identity. Similarly, bills that dictate voter identification rules or impose increasingly restrictive guidelines for abortion clinics have come in waves, according to Michael Gerhardt, professor at UNC School of Law.

"It's important to try and pay attention to this, and be able to track, 'Where do these legislation proposals come from?'" Gerhardt said. "Legislators are often saying, 'This is what our constituents want.' Well, is that true?

"Whether it's coming from the right or left, it's important people know the source."

Some political or ideological groups, or lobbyists do peddle model legislation from state to state. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council gained notoriety for its promotion of "Stand Your Ground" laws, which say that individuals have "no duty to retreat" and can use deadly force to defend their homes.

However, it is highly unlikely that blaze pink has its own lobbyist. Some legislative concepts simply begin trending.

"The pure meme notion would exist, too, especially with some very simple concepts, which this may be," said Ronald Levin, professor at Washington University School of Law in St Louis. "You hear about it on the news and say, 'Sure, I'll write a law.'"

That seems to be the case for the blaze pink bill in Colorado, Minnesota and Louisiana.

"I think I found it online," said Colorado Representative Kerry Donovan, who wrote the blaze pink bill for her state. "When I was growing up hunting, I very literally wore the hand-me-downs of my brothers. There was in this clear message that as a young girl, I didn't belong in hunting."

Malinda White, the representative in Louisiana who introduced their blaze pink bill, is also a hunter and said she didn't consider the concept sexist.

"It also will generate commerce - I guarantee there are sewing machines going off right now," she said. "If it does interest women in some way, and I don't know if it will, there's nothing better than that."

Image copyright YouTube MNHouseInfo
Image caption Representative Tom Hackbarth discusses his bill to legalise blaze pink

Lawmakers in Minnesota also found out about the concept from news reports out of Wisconsin, though it became considerably more contentious in the politically divided legislature. One female lawmaker told a committee debating the bill - several wearing bright pink hats and shirts - that she heard from a constituent who told her "only a man could've come up with something like this".

"Nobody's forcing anybody to wear pink," Republican Representative Dan Fabian responded. "The reality is is that in today's world, there are lots of women who like to wear pink."

In the end, the Minnesota lawmakers ended up discussing blaze pink three times - but was unable to pass a massive omnibus bill that contained money for roads, bridges, and water and sewer infrastructure.

"I don't have anything against pink," said Barb Yarusso, a Democratic representative who voted against the bill. "We did get a number of things accomplished, but we could have done better wrapping up the session."