Kendall Jones, the former Texas Tech cheerleader and internet hunting sensation, is harnessing her influencer status to create new opportunities for young women in the outdoors.
By TRISTAN SCOTT
Growing up in the heart of Texas as a big-haired competitive cheerleader with a passion for hunting, Kendall Jones divided her extracurricular activities squarely between stunt-and-tumble routines on the gridiron and father-daughter safaris to Africa, where she first learned to chase exotic game as an 8-year-old girl.
The contrasting passions might seem sharp, but for Jones, a diminutive blonde who’s as comfortable donning high heels as she is dressed head-to-toe in hunter’s camouflage, it was just part of being her father’s daughter.
“My story is a little different than most hunters, because I grew up as an only child hunting with my dad, but it wasn’t until he took me on one of his big trips to Africa that I fell in love with it,” Jones, now 26, said. “I decided I wanted to hunt, but we didn’t bring a gun small enough for me, so he promised we would come back. When I was 13 he took me back and that is when my hunting adventures really began.”
Although Jones’ interest in hunting continued to develop back in Texas, where she pursued native species like white-tail deer and went on hog hunts, her social media posts of the exotic wildlife she shot on the annual trips to Africa with her father ignited a media controversy that drew global attention.
Through it all, Jones was unfazed.
“When the media firestorm occurred, I actually became more passionate about hunting, because I knew there was a lot of misunderstanding,” she said. “I started learning more about hunting game in the U.S. and I continued to learn from my dad.”
In 2016, Jones’ father, Cody, died tragically in a car accident, and her grief catalyzed an even deeper devotion to hunting, and to sharing her passion for the outdoors with others.
“When my dad passed away, that reinvigorated my passion for hunting and it taught me to be more independent,” she recalled. “He taught me all of these skills, but he was always by my side. I realized that if I wanted to do this, I needed to be able to take care of myself.”
"I became more passionate about hunting, because I knew there was a lot of misunderstanding."
In the past five years, Jones has done more than just take care of herself, elevating her brand as a social influencer in the outdoor industry to reach over 1.2 million followers across multiple platforms. She’s focused on educating her followers on conservation, hunting and the 2nd amendment, while disrupting stigmas and breaking down stereotypes about women in hunting.
As it turns out, Jones’ message is well-timed, and it’s resonating with scores of young women across the country.
Numerous industry groups and wildlife agencies rank women as the fastest-growing demographic of hunters in the U.S., during a time when overall participation has declined — just 4% of Americans hunt, the lowest share in three decades, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As recently as a decade ago, women made up a mere 11% of all hunters in 2011. By 2013, however, that number had jumped to 19%, according to a report by the National Sporting Goods Association.
Meanwhile, the National Shooting Sports Foundation pegs female participation as increasing 59 percent from 2010 to 2019, and says women today make up 22 percent of all hunters.
“I do see a lot more women getting into hunting and the outdoors, but I also have husbands and boyfriends reach out to me all the time about what they can do to be better hunting partners,” Jones said. “I tell them, ‘don’t get mad, don’t tell her to be quiet all the time, bring snacks.’ You want someone’s first experience in the outdoors to be fun, not a boot camp. Sure they might spook something, but it’s all about the memories and having a good experience so they’ll keep coming back.”
To that end, Jones launched her “Pass It On” campaign to inspire future generations to get outside and develop the skills to become ambassadors of their own.
“What really inspired me to do this campaign is hearing from parents who reach out wanting to know how to get their daughters started hunting,” Jones said. “For the past four years I have been working as a guide and camp leader for this youth hunt organized by a nonprofit in Texas called Trinity Oaks, which helps young girls under the age of 17 get their licenses and learn to hunt. One year we got them all their own turkey calls and their parents called afterward, like ‘Oh my God the girls won’t shut up with their turkey calls.’ They loved it.”
“The goal of ‘Pass It On’ is to mentor girls and grow our passion for the outdoors,” she continued. “If it wasn’t for my Dad I probably wouldn’t be into hunting. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I think you need to have a mentor, and I can help provide that.”
As Jones has matured as a young woman, she said one of the most important lessons she’s learned is to not be dissuaded by critics, but rather to carve out her own path.
“Our job as hunters should be to pass our knowledge down to the next generation so our cherished traditions don’t die,” she said. “I’ve noticed a lot of infighting among hunters and it’s discouraging. There’s so much criticism about different styles of hunting, but it’s to each her own. Some people hunt from blinds, some people spot and stalk.
We should be supporting one another, not dragging each other down.”
For Jones, breaking down barriers has been part of the gig for as long as she can remember, first as an 8-year-old in Africa, then as a cheerleader at Texas Tech, and now as a woman with a penchant for makeup as well as camo face paint.
“I’m a girly-girl with a lot of tomboy too,” Jones said. “As a cheerleader, I did the hair, the makeup, you name it. ‘Big hair, don’t care,’ we used to say. The bigger the hair the closer to god. Tease it to the heavens. But I really want to break that stereotype that just because you’re a hunter doesn’t mean you can’t be a girl. Just let me be me and I will still bag a bigger buck than you.”