Normally I spend this time of year reading a lot of newspaper stories about women hunters - women alligator slayers, women elk hunters, women who take record deer. You know, 'tis the season.
But this fall has been special for me, because for the first time, I'm hearing from women readers who are starting to dive into hunting, and they're sharing the stories of their firsts with me. The themes won't surprise any hunter who's a regular here: a little bit of happenstance, a lot of determination and some very well-deserved success. Read more...
The first was Dawn, who works with SheWee (ladies, if you'd like to be able to pee standing up so life in the woods is a little less problematic for you, check out the website).
Dawn's already done some upland hunting, but she's been trying for some time now to get into duck hunting back in Pennsylvania. She got a goose last spring, but was having a harder time getting onto any ducks. She went out on the opener in October but came home empty handed. Finally, she hired a guide to take out her and her son to hunt a creek near Lock Haven.
When she met the guide, she discovered he'd brought a helper with him "because he wasn't sure what a woman would be like. Turns out he was surprised that I said I wanted to hunt since the weather was calling for heavy rain all morning. He never met a woman waterfowler. Knowing that ducks like foul weather, I was up for it."
Her dream for the day was to get a drake woodie, but she would be happy with anything.
They motored up to an island and set up. "It was still dark but we could now legally shoot. We watched and waited. A flash of white and brown zipped past us on the left."
"Was that a duck?" Dawn asked.
"Yup, that was your trophy woodie drake," the guide responded.
"Crap, I never saw one before," she said. "I'll be ready next time."
An hour later, a duck came flying down the right side of the creek.
"Wait, wait, bang. Dropped it right there. My first duck - a woodie hen. I was so happy!"
Later, a blue wing teal zipped by and her son dropped it.
They kept hunting as the rain kept pouring down and the creek kept rising until their island was somewhat submerged. Later, a mallard pair flew by.
"I watched the ducks as the guide started to call them and they slowly turned and circled toward our decoys. I waited 'til they came into range and bang, dropped the drake and my son dropped the hen. It was picture perfect.
"After we gathered the ducks and gave high fives, we decided to get back to dry land, as the creek had now risen over two feet. It was a day I will always remember."
The guide told her he'd never gone out with a mother-son team before, and he was not only surprised they stuck it out, but impressed with their shooting - four ducks with five shells.
Definitely impressive. Congratulations, Dawn!
That very same weekend, Renee went on her first successful hunt ever.
I met Renee in September at that terrific California Waterfowl event where women could pay $150 to take shooting lessons, complete hunter safety training, get their licenses and go on their first hunts.
Renee's situation was a little unusual: She began hunting because of her dog, Roxie. "Roxie's puppy contract came with some conditions. The breeder wants to breed her, and in order to do so, Roxie needed to be proven and earn at least two titles in something."
She thought field training and hunt tests would be interesting, so she tried that. "I had no interest in hunting recreationally," she said. "I just wanted to train and let other people shoot the birds."
She worked with some folks in her local Weimaraner clubs and the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association and Roxie earned a Junior Hunter and NAVHDA Natural Ability title.
Contract fulfilled. But Renee?
"I met a lady at NAVHDA who asked me if I ever thought about actually shooting for myself and I said, 'Nooooooo, that's not for me.' She just kind of shook her head and said that if I gave it a try, I would love it.
"That comment stuck with me and eventually ate away at me and I broke down and attended an NRA Women on Target shotgun clinic in May of 2008. I really loved it and decided to go buy a gun."
For a while, she didn't do much more than go to the shooting range occasionally.
"Then this summer, while working with the trainer, he asked me if I had a shotgun and told me to bring it to training. We shot a couple of clays, and then he asked me if I wanted to shoot. I said YES! And he was shocked."
He told her normally people say no, and the fact that a women said yes so quickly was surprising.
Somehow she stumbled on some information about the Cal Waterfowl women's event and knew it was her chance to get licensed. She completed the training and went out on a pheasant hunt, but returned empty-handed.
Not long after that, she got the opportunity to go on another pheasant hunt - a special two-day women's pheasant hunt at the Nelson Slough Wildlife Area near Yuba City.
The first morning came and went without her getting a bird. "I wasn’t disappointed in the least. I was just happy with how Roxie performed and felt comfortable that I could hunt while she did her job."
But she wasn't ready go to, and decided go out again in the afternoon. (I totally get that! Ask my friends. I never want to leave a hunt.)
That too was unsuccessful. One of her hunting partners talked about coming back the next day, but Renee was beat and said no way.
"I went to bed early and slept late," she said. But when she woke up and started looking at pictures of the hunt, she just had to go back for more. She did, and because participation was down that day, she, her friends Lindsay and Trisha, and Roxie got a field all to themselves.
Roxie flushed a bird, and Trisha got it. More birds flushed, and everyone missed. Then Roxie went on point again in the same area and Renee thought it was old scent, but a bird flushed - straight at her.
"I shot and hit! Woo Hoo!! I got it! I got it!!! Roxie retrieved and we were happy! I immediately got the camera out for my photo op."
Later, Lindsay hit her bird too, and while it sailed way out of the way, Roxie eventually found it for them. Three women, three birds. Life was good!
So, congratulations, Renee. I don't have a dog like you do, but I know exactly how it feels to be so driven to keep trying, and how sweet it is when you meet success. If you'd like to congratulate Renee on her own block, click here.
Finally we come to Su.
I've never met Su before, but she's another woman who's come to hunting later in life - at the age of 55.
She's always wanted to hunt but never had anyone to mentor her until she got divorced (from a game warden, of all things!) and met someone who'd help her out.
Now she's been plowing through hunting opportunities. Her first kill was a grouse in Idaho this September. "Fortunately, no one laughed at me when I held the little grouse and paid an homage to it. I just needed that moment, and then I was good to go."
I'm glad no one laughed too. I think a lot of women feel reluctant to take a moment to recognize with some solemnity what they've just done, thinking they're supposed to be tough. But I've heard from so many hunters, men and women, who've made it clear that can be the right thing to do, if the spirit moves you.
She went on her first duck hunt in Alturas in October and took three teal, a canvasback and two drake mallards "and was instantly hooked."
I was flabbergasted at this part of the story. Six ducks on her first hunt??? Lord, she must be a smokin' good shot. I didn't get six ducks on a hunt until my third season.
"I'm not really a smokin' shot," she assured me. "I just have a really good gun." A 3 1/2-inch Benellie 12 gauge, to be exact.
But really, Su: Guns don't kill animals. People do. You're a smokin' shot.
She doesn't have a photo from that first duck hunt - something about mud eating the camera - but she hunted a couple weeks later in Sonoma County, and here's how she did:
Clearly, she's tearing it up.
And more importantly, she's doing what Dawn and Renee are doing: Following through on her goals, and pursuing them with zeal. I can totally relate to that.
Welcome to the sisterhood, ladies!
© Holly A. Heyser 2009