But this camp was really interesting because of three striking story lines among some of the participants.
I didn't help. During the hunter safety class on Saturday morning, I told a couple stories, one I'd read about, and one I was there for. The story I'd read was about an experienced shooting instructor who gathered with his pals in the shooting range parking lot after a shoot. He leaned his gun up against the car - bad idea, but hey, it was unloaded. Except it wasn't. It fell over, something hit the trigger, and someone died.
I could see Jamie recoiling. Had it been a mistake to bring it up?
But, hey, I was on a roll. The other story happened with a friend of mine. She was having trouble unloading her autoloader. Safety Measure No. 1 failed: The safety wasn't on. Safety Measure No. 2 failed: Somehow, she hit the trigger.
The boom was deafening and shocking. We'd stared at each other, bug-eyed. I looked at her legs, and at mine. Had either of us been hit? Were we bleeding? "Are you OK?" I asked. She nodded. I was OK too. But we saw where the shot had gouged the concrete in front of us.
My friend was pretty freaked. "Ya know what?" I told her. "You had the muzzle pointed in a safe direction." This is, of course, exactly why we're taught so many layers of safety - because you never know when the fail safes might fail.
Jamie looked green. Had I scared her in a bad way, or in a good way?
The next morning, when we all split up for the hunt, I ended up with Jamie first. We walked and walked and walked our field, Jamie with muzzle dutifully pointed up. The dog smelled birds, but they were running - we couldn't get anything in the air. At least not at first.
Finally, the dog scared up a rooster - a passing shot not too far in front of Jamie.
Jamie swung on the bird. Our dog handler ducked. Then Jamie eased the gun off her shoulder.
"Why'd you decide not to shoot?" I asked her later.
"Zone of fire," she said. There was a parking lot on the other side of the bird. It didn't seem safe to her.
"Good," I said. "That's exactly what you were supposed to do."
Before the day was over, I reminded her of her nerves on the first day, and asked her how she'd felt handling the gun. "Oh, it was fine," she said. Turns out guns aren't quite as scary when you know the rules for handling them. And follow those rules.
And oh yeah: Sometime after I'd left her that morning, she'd gotten one:
Tamar Haspel. Her husband hunts. She's interested in taking personal responsibility for the meat she eats. And she's not shy about asking questions that people more immersed in hunting culture might be hesitant to voice, like what's up with fair chase, and why does it matter? You're killing the animal either way.
The thing I said during hunter ed that took her off guard (I know, nice job, Holly) was that animals don't always just drop dead when we hit them; sometimes we have to finish them off.
"What do you mean? How do you do it?"
It felt like I was telling a kid Santa wasn't real, which is not to suggest that she's naive - I'd made the same assumption when I started hunting. I thought a hit meant death. I learned immediately that it doesn't always.
I didn't get to hunt with Rachel on Sunday. When I left Jamie's party, Rachel was too far out in the field for me to chase after her without running the risk of botching a shot by being in her zone of fire. But when she came in, I asked how she did. Turns out she got one:
I had to goad her to smile. Something was wrong.
I didn't ask. But I just rattled on about hunting. I don't know what I said - something about downing birds by breaking their wings, rather than killing them outright.
"That's what happened with this one," she said, grimacing. "He had to ..." She finished the sentence by making a fist and twirling it in a circle.
"Helicopter it," I said.
"That's the hard thing about bird hunting," I told her. You can't be precise the way you can with a rifle.
"If you want to hunt birds, you're going to have to get comfortable with that," I said. "And if you can't, you might want to stick with big game - things you can hunt with a rifle."
When we all gathered at the end of the hunt, she brought it up on her own. "They're telling me I might be a better farmer than a hunter."
"That's OK," I said. "It's not for everyone."
In fact, that's one of of the things I tell people is great about this women's hunting camp. For $200, you do it all in one weekend: hunter ed, shooting practice, hunt. You don't have to have a gun; you can borrow or rent one. And if you hate hunting, you're out $200 and two days of your life.
Rachel's fear is one of the most common ones with women: We have a deep aversion to causing pain. It can be a stopper.
Monique is one of last year's grads who came to the camp for a hunter ed refresher, shooting practice and the hunt.
While she has gotten some hunting in since last year's camp, I know it hasn't been enough. She wanted more.
By the time I caught up with her in a field parking lot on Sunday, she'd already gotten a bird, which she was more than happy to show me.
A bunch of us were standing there in the parking lot jawing, giving the dogs a rest, when someone else fired at a bird in a nearby field and missed. We all looked up - everyone had been instructed that you should always look to see if the hunter missed the bird, sending it where you might get it.
Sure as hell, the rooster sailed past our parking lot, just out of range. But of course, everyone was unloaded.
"Anyone got a gun handy?" I asked, watching to mark where the bird would land. He hadn't even touched down on terra firma when Monique walked past me with her shotgun, stepped out of the parking lot, loaded up, and said, "Let's go!"
We didn't get that one, but we marked a couple other birds that other hunters scared our way, and ultimately, one of the dogs flushed one in range.
Aaaaand, she got it:
It was nearing noon. "Tell me if you want to stop," Monique said, "because I could do this all day."
I'm not sure why I love witnessing that kind of transformation. Is it because she's now part of the sisterhood? Is it the fact that there's one more person in the world who understands how hunting can grip you in a way you never imagined? Is it taking pride in having played a small role in getting her to this place?
I don't know. I just know it was a beautiful thing.
© Holly A. Heyser 2011