Children scamper around a room adorned with bows and deer mounts, while men keep a watchful eye on them and enjoy a football game on the TV in the background. Simultaneously, women in a nearby room, armed with bows and arrows, put their target archery skills to practice. This is what Ladies’ Nights look like at the Untamed Archery shop in Osceola County, Michigan, part of Working Class Country.
Untamed Archery is more than just a bow shop — it’s a hub for the archery community and hosts community events, provides 1-on-1 lessons, and organizes various leagues and tournament competitions. It is a welcoming place where bow hunting and archery enthusiasts come together to improve their skills and enjoy their shared passion. In the process, it is breaking gender stereotypes associated with archery and hunting.
Now, the shop welcomes customers from across Michigan, including Traverse City, Cadillac, and Houghton Lake. “I get a lot of customers from outside Osceola County,” said Brian Howers, one of the shop’s co-owners. “Overall, Osceola isn’t a tremendously wealthy county. Also, there’s only so many people that you can sell a bow to. Osceola County itself probably couldn’t sustain the business.”
Welcoming Space for Female Archers
The business has come a long way in a short time. Brian and Kaila Hower opened Untamed Archery almost five years ago after moving back to Marion, a place where they grew up and attended school. Brian developed an interest in archery when he went hunting with his father. He was only 12 when he shot his first deer with a bow. His wife, Kaila, has also been interested in archery for a long time and was on Michigan State University’s archery team.
Kaila started the women’s league called Ladies’ Nights to help women overcome the intimidation of participating in the male-dominated sport. As a woman and a mother of two young daughters, Kaila said it was important to break the stereotype that archery and hunting are reserved for men.
“I didn’t want my girls growing up thinking that guys were the only ones that shoot,” Kaila said. “We wanted people to feel comfortable and that they could have a night where they can come in and can ask all the questions they want. Without extra pressure.”
Samantha McCrimmon, an old friend of Brian Hower, is a frequent guest at the shop. She started bow hunting 10 years ago, encouraged by her husband. Participating in most of the leagues and events organized by Brian, she couldn’t help but notice the differences between coed and female-only leagues.
“I just think [Ladies’ Nights are] more a place where girls can come and shoot and just have fun, while winter leagues with the boys are more serious,” McCrimmon said. “I don’t care when I’m here on girls’ leagues. But when I have to step up with the boys, I feel like I have to prove something.”
Gender bias in archery is also revealed in the language. Women’s bows usually come in the same category as youth bows due to their lower poundage.
“That drives me crazy — ‘ it’s a girl bow, it’s a chick bow.’ Please don’t say it like that,” Kaila said. “Because really, anybody could shoot that bow. There’s no reason that a guy can’t pick that up and shoot it.”
A Hunting County
In Osceola, hunting is more than just a hobby. It is part of the county’s culture and identity. Osceola is also one of the state’s most active hunting counties.
In 2023 so far, a total of 1,238 deer were reported as harvested in Osceola County, which has a population of 23,105 residents. This ratio puts Osceola behind only Alcona, Lake, and Arenac counties for the most deer harvested in the state.
"There's not a ton of people that don't hunt,” said Brian Hower. “Firearm season is more popular. I'd say most people archery hunt and almost everybody rifle hunts."
"It's very much a part of how we grow up,” he said. “We get school off on the opening day of deer season. There's no school on November 15. And I think initially it was because nobody showed up."
Despite the county’s hunting culture, female hunters, like female archers, are often perceived as less experienced than men. Samantha McCrimmon and Kaila Hower are trying to change that.
"I like that my girls know that 'Hey, we can hunt too. And we don't have to go out with our boyfriends or dad,'" McCrimmon said. "My daughter shot her 8-point deer with me. Her dad did not take her, I took her. It was with a gun, but it was still cool because now she wants to hunt all the time."
Kaila Hower remembers that although hunting has always been part of her upbringing, it had always been men who were mostly encouraged to hunt.
"My church growing up hosted a hunter supper. So, the ladies in my family we were always cooking all day. I was usually watching kids," Kaila said. "So, they were cooking, I was watching kids, and the guys were out hunting."
This is part of a series of posts from students at the Michigan State University Journalism School. The students will be covering four counties around Michigan during the 2024 campaign for the Detroit Free Press working with the American Communities Project typology.