During a cold hunting season one day in 2000, Lisa Thompson stopped for lunch in a small Colorado mountain town.
“There were tons of hunters in there. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent were men,” she recalls.
Then she saw someone take off a hat.
“And her long hair comes out. I go, ‘Oh my gosh! There’s a female!’”
It was Donnelle Johnson. And ever since, the two have been close friends and colleagues, searching for game big and small every season while developing detailed hunting maps and encouraging women everywhere to join the sport. The two were at the Colorado Springs Sportsman & Boat Expo last weekend, talking about Hunt Data, their product illustrating herd sizes across the state’s backcountry.
For their success — Thompson has scored 10 six-point bulls in the Rocky Mountains, and Johnson’s latest big elk came last year by bow — they credit their maps, the basis of a good strategy.
“Design your hunt,” they’ll tell listeners at the expo.
“Design is more of a female term,” Johnson says from her home in Franktown. “You know, we’re trying to find ways to appeal to ladies.”
Hunting, she says, shouldn’t be the sport she believed it to be as a child in Oklahoma. Her dad and brother went out, “but nobody ever invited me.”
Not that she was bitter. “It really was the norm. The norm was, the boy went out with the dad and mowed the lawn, and the girl helped mom in the kitchen.”
Not for Thompson. In Montana, she was expected to venture with the men, hunting and fishing for food to put on the table. At 16, the family moved to Colorado, where she was recruited to play Division I basketball. She was the starting point guard all of her four years at the University of Wyoming. But all along, she missed her first sport.
She got back into it alongside her old boyfriend back in Montana, now her husband of 28 years. They live in Littleton.
“The city is where I live, but the mountains are my home,” Thompson says. “I don’t feel like I’m gonna get lost, I don’t feel scared of anything out there. I never feel that way in the woods. I just feel like I’m home.”
But few women can say that, she’s learned.
“The fear comes from they’re not (feeling) good enough,” Thompson says, repeating the stereotype: “It’s not for women; it’s for men.”
So she and Johnson are advocates, having formed a group, Hunting Divas, to empower and initiate the uninitiated. They’ve been criticized by fellow women.
“Women are caretakers. We’re mothers,” Johnson says. “It’s like, how can you take another life? That’s the question I get asked the most.”
And she explains the benefit of raising her children on organic meat, the gratifying process of harvesting. She and Thompson remind that they’re not necessarily out to shoot. They’re out to enjoy the mountains, the rivers, the sunsets and sunrises.
That’s what they try to show women. Earlier this month, they spent the morning and afternoon on grassy flats with seven others, some who’d never picked up a rifle. In the summer, they’ll take ladies along for four days and nights in the wilderness.
“Actually,” Johnson says, “we’re at the point where we’re mentoring people who are mentoring other people.”