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Who's who is at the bottom of this post.
Who's who is at the bottom of this post.
I had no idea what to expect last Thursday as I hauled my butt out of bed at 4 a.m. to catch a plane to South Dakota for the inaugural Team Huntress Outdoor Adventure Clinic. "Shooting" and "spa treatments" were the keywords of the event, and having always been a tomboy who could live without things like facials, I really wasn't sure how these activities would mesh.
One, massages, facials and foot rubs after long days of shooting and outdoor instruction were, of course, heaven. They allowed us to be just a bit girlie - which isn't so bad - while delving into an overwhelmingly male sport.
And two, shooting and spa treatments became almost irrelevant when I finally realized what this event was really about was sisterhood. Read more...
But I should back up for a second and explain how this worked, since it was an unusual event.
Jane Keller and her brother Dave Olsen decided they wanted to do a women's outdoors clinic at their Pheasant Phun ranch near Hitchcock, S.D.
The idea was to bring together a bunch of outdoorswomen (like me, the newby of the bunch, and people like Barbara Baird of Women's Outdoor News) to help teach shooting and other outdoor skills to women who were mostly new to the outdoors, like Janice, a local doctor, and her daughter Marin, a med school student. (Marin, it turned out, would become probably the most amazing story of the weekend.)
Sessions included wildlife identification, gun safety, archery, eagle-watching, handguns, ATVs, GPS and shotguns. And on top of that, every day started with yoga, and there was at least one spa service each day - facials, massages, manicures and foot massages.
The night we arrived, all the huntresses in the group began to bond immediately.
I had already met Kirstie Pike, owner of Prois Hunting Apparel (pronounced PRO-iss), at the 2008 SHOT Show, where she debuted her clothing line. But this was my first chance to meet Barbara, who'd been emailing back and forth with me for months.
It was also my first meeting with Anne Vinnola, who owns a taxidermy school in Colorado; Terri Lee Pocernich of Camp Wild Girls; and wildlife photographer Stacey Huston - all names I already knew from Twitter and the blogosphere.
I'd never heard of Lynn Pankey, an avid duck hunter who works in marketing at Realtree. But we introduced ourselves on the way onto the plane from Minneapolis to Aberdeen, and we quickly became bunkmates (because even in a gathering of huntresses, you still don't find many fellow duck hunters).
I'm blessed in California to have a pretty good group of women friends who hunt, but for many of the women there, most of the hunters in their world are men, so it was a treat for us all to discover each other. Ever see how little kids act when they spot another kid in, say, the grocery store? That's how we were. Look! Someone else just like me!
But this wasn't just about us - it was about people who were new to the outdoors. As we sat outside the first night sipping cocktails and listening to the sound of wild pheasants cackling, I met Marin and her mom Janice and quickly learned that Marin had been a vegetarian for two years.
Hmmmm, I thought. How's she gonna feel being immersed in a group of people who not only eat meat, but kill it themselves? Better figure this out right away...
"Hmmm," I said. "What made you decide to become a vegetarian?"
"Health reasons" was the answer - her father had run into heart trouble and she decided she should be smart about her own diet to keep the same thing from happening to her.
"Oh, OK," I said. "I would never try to discourage you from being a vegetarian, but I do want to tell you that wild game is very different from store-bought meat - very lean and healthy."
And we left it at that.
As the weekend progressed, I think all of us - even the most experienced huntresses - learned something.
I got to try archery, which I've been dying to do. I'd gotten hooked on it as a child when my parents bought me a plastic kid's recurve bow, but had never shot an arrow as an adult. Stacey and her husband Mike Hawk Huston ran the archery session, and they quickly got me set up on a novice (i.e., low pull weight) compound bow, which I loved.
I'd been thinking compound was the way to go, but Stacey and Mike got me to try the longbow, and I loved it, even though the 65-pound pull was way too much for me to draw fully. I know longbow is way tougher than compound, but I think I'm going to get one anyway. Even if I'm never good enough to kill a game animal with it, I think I'll enjoy learning to shoot it and practicing with it.
Besides, I kept remembering that picture I had back home of my grandpa and grandma posing on a rock in the Malibu Mountains in 1926, Grandpa with his longbow and Grandma in her cute little outfit. The longbow gave me a sense of connection to that.
Later that day, Barb, bless her soul, got me to try handguns.
Now, nothing against all you handgun fans out there, but I hate them. They just scare me. But I'm a big believer in soaking up as much knowlege as I can get, so I forced myself to try it out, first learning the proper grip and stance, and then taking shots at paper plates about 15 yards away with a Beretta semi-auto .22.
And I'll be damned if I didn't kick ass! I fired probably 35 or 40 rounds, and made mincemeat of my plate.
I still don't want to buy a handgun, but I know now if for any reason I need to pick one up some day, it won't be quite as intimidating.
And bonus points, I got to take a fun portrait of Kirstie through a particularly big hole in my plate:
The next day, Hawk - who's into all things primitive - set up a little impromptu demo of knapping with Jane's daughter Kasen, and in no time he had her making a knife blade using old glass. Kasen is an absolute fiend about knives, so she was totally into it. And it turned out she was a natural, flaking chips off the glass about as perfectly as you could ever want.
"Can I try?" I asked.
Of course I could. I began working a shard of glass and quickly learned that I was no Kasen - it was harder than I thought to flake the glass, and though I did OK, it wasn't long before I'd broken my shard into five pieces.
But luck was on my side.
Stacey and Hawk had explained that you need old glass to use for knapping, because it's thicker than modern glass, and has often been tempered from years of exposure to the sun.
And wouldn't you know it, there was an ancient, rusty Ford pickup in the ranch's automotive graveyard, and there in the bed of it was a bunch of perfect old glass. Hawk picked out a few shards for me, and now I have something to work on at home.
After all this fun, it was finally time for me to do some teaching. My session was shotgun skills.
Now, those of you who know about my raging insecurity about my own shotgun skills are probably laughing your ass off about this. But it wasn't as strange as it seems: I've taken quite a few shotgun lessons, and observed many as well (I always go with my friends when they get their guns fitted with gunmaker Dale Tate, and he always includes a lesson in the fitting). It's hard not to pick up some teaching strategies from all that - especially when you teach for a living.
My first victim was Marin, the vegetarian. She's left-handed and close to my height, so I wanted her to be able to use my gun, which would probably fit her pretty well.
I set her up - gun goes here on your shoulder, cheek on stock, swing through, lead the clay. "When you're ready, yell 'Pull!' " I told her.
The clay flew. She followed it, pulled the trigger and smashed it into pieces!
A cheer went up behind us. We had a natural!
Marin spent a lot of time on that gun. When she got tired, she took a break. But every time we were ready for someone else to come up and shoot, there she was, with this incredible grin on her face. She loved it!
Everyone was having such a good time with the shotguns that we didn't want to head in for dinner. But when we finally did, we found a crew of women from Arbonne in the mudroom with tubs set out on the floor. Yep, you got it: After a long day in hiking boots, we were all getting foot massages. And the men, bless their souls, brought us cocktails. What a heavenly way to end the day.
On Sunday, when all the women were packing up to go, Jane told me we had a plan for that night: They were going to have a friend open up his gun shop for us, because Marin wanted to buy a shotgun!
Stacey, Marin and I talked about it as we stood in the parking lot, saying our good-byes.
"When I get my gun, I think I'm going to shoot rabbits in my dad's field," Marin told us. "And if I get one, I think I'll eat it."
Marin. The vegetarian!
That was pretty much everything you could wish for from an outdoors clinic. Marin came in never having shot anything, and she left with confidence, and a desire for more. She had joined the sisterhood.
We never did hook up with the gun shop folks that night, and I worried that the momentum would leave her. But there was nothing to fear. Jane emailed me yesterday:
Marin and friend came out and shot her new Winchester Super X2 12ga semi-auto with Dura Touch armor coating. Named him Charlie! I just left "Charlie" off to get transformed into a lefty. Get some rest - all is well!
All is well indeed. I'd arrived at PheasantPhun nervous and unsure, and left with new skills, new friends and a new huntress in our midst.
Now we all can't wait to get together again. And rumor has it there may be another Team Huntress event hosted by Terri Lee in Wisconsin this August. A sisterhood has been born.
* * *
Who's in that photo at the top of this post? L-R, top to bottom: Lynn from Realtree; my first experience with a .22 semiauto handgun; Dave from PheasantPhun and Barb from Women's Outdoor News with Julie in background; Terri Lee from Camp Wild Girls; Janice, Kasen and Marin; Jane from Team huntress, Jane's mom Annie and Jane's daughter Kasen; Anne from Annie Got Her Gun; Dave; me; Kirstie from Prois; Dave and Barb; a proud girl with her Shoot-N-C stuck to her butt.
© Holly A. Heyser 2009