Sunday, November 4, 2007

The real challenge

What's more challenging: A woman becoming a hunter in an arena dominated by men, or learning to hunt in middle age?

The chick thing, right?

I used to think so, too.

I've always been one of those girls who loved hanging out with the guys, who loved talking as tough as the guys, who loved fighting with guys when I was earning my black belt in tae kwon do, all because it made me unusual. When I fired my shotgun for the first time one year ago today, I was absolutely sure that the gender barrier was the one I was going to have to kick down at every turn. And of course, that was what I wanted, because I knew I could prove people wrong.

Turns out I was the one who was wrong, big time.

That's not to say being a chick is never an issue. Try finding hunting clothes for a woman's body. I'm a waterfowler, and I can tell you that waders are made for men with big fat bellies, not for a girl like me with sturdy hips and a big padunkadunk. And sporting goods manufacturers, spare me the pink, OK? It doesn't fly in the field.

Then there are those jerks - thankfully rare - on the Duck Hunting Chat who go on and on about how they love hunting because it gets them away from their nagging wives. Trust me dude, your wife loves getting your charming butt out of the house too.

But really, how could I have ever thought gender was going to be my biggest obstacle?

The real challenge is that hunting is hard. Non-hunting people think having a gun makes it so easy. Especially a shotgun, with all those little projectiles spreading out to a circle 40 inches in diameter by the time they reach the target. How could you not hit what you're shooting at?

Turns out it's really easy to miss, and this came as a huge surprise to me. I mean, I have great eyesight, I practice and I took shooting lessons. But I miss all the time. When I went hunting with my boyfriend and two other friends on opening weekend this year, they bagged limits; I came home with one. I should be better than this!

But here's the problem: Most hunters grew up hunting, and that's how they got to be good at it. I didn't. My dad hunted for food when he was a kid during the Depression, but he'd stopped hunting by the time I was born in 1965. And if he had still been hunting when I was a kid, I really don't know if he would've taken me with him. I'd like to think he would, but who knows?

And what if he had? It occurred to me recently that there still might be a fundamental difference between me and all the guys I see out there in the field - one that actually ties back to gender.

I was hunting with a friend at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge last weekend when he told me how he learned to shoot as a kid: by shooting at anything and everything.

"That is such a boy thing," I told him. "I hated boys like you when I was a kid." I loved all the animals that lived in the irrigation ditch where I used to play growing up in Tulare County. But every once in a while I'd get to the ditch to find some poor bullfrog belly up on the water with his guts spilling out of a hole in his belly, and I'd get so mad.

I knew exactly who had done it: The neighbor boys. Damn them.

Turns out they were practicing. One of my friends from the duck chat recently advised me to do the same. Go out to the desert and just shoot at birds he said. "Nah, I can't do that," I said. "Can't shoot at something I don't plan to eat."

I shoot skeet, but skeet ain't ducks. Clays are predictable. Ducks aren't.

So where does that leave me? It leaves me shooting at ducks and geese on the refuges, missing far more often than I hit, because that's the only way I'm willing to practice. And it reminds me what I like to forget: that even a girl who can hang with the best of the guys still has to be humble.

One year into my journey as a new huntress, that's where I am. Stick with me and find out what I'm going to become.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Prof. Bonilla said...

Very nice to see change happening, a sorts of evolution within one's lifetime. It will be nice to be the spectator of what you become.

Marian Ann Love said...

Both are a challenge...but I did 44 I had never picked up a gun and for the last 22 years have hunted with men. Got right in there with them and my husband would rather hunt with me than any guy at the camp. As far as hunting clothes..I wore his hunting clothes and it worked out OK. The shoes of course were a smaller size. You can buy men's clothes in small, med., large, extra large, etc. Did try a ladies brand by the name of Dame-o-flage but went back to wearing men's hunting apparel. You need to go to a gun range or area where you can pratice shooting at a target (paper target) with a bullseye. I use a .270 ruger featherweight to hunt deer. It takes practice, but you can do it. You may want to practice with a .22 rifle to start with and move up. I did not like the shotgun...but different strokes for differnt folks...Good Luck and Good Hunting to you Holly! :)

Anonymous said...

Good for you. My wife and I both hunt. That's it. ; )