Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Women hunting: A beautiful sight

Of the 742 photos I took this weekend at California Waterfowl's 2010 Women's Hunting Camp, I think this one is my favorite. Not because it has any particular technical or artistic merit, but because - more than any other - it captures the mood of the day.

These women are exhilarated and filled with a confidence borne of achieving something that society doesn't expect of them. And these are just the first of many emotions they'll get to savor as they become more and more deeply involved in the pursuit that is more ancient than civilization itself: hunting to put food on their tables.

It fills me with both a maternal sense of pride in them and a sisterly desire to offer a welcoming embrace.

But enough with the sappy stuff. Let's talk about what happened here:

Ten women attended the weekend camp at Birds Landing Hunting Preserve and Sporting Clays. Two of them already had hunting licenses, but eight were there to complete their hunter education, learn to shoot shotguns, get their licenses and go on their first hunt.

I was on hand all weekend to assist, educate and generally butt in a lot, which everyone tolerated generously. But lest you think this was all about philanthropy, let me set you straight: I was hungry to watch the transformation that would take place in them, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Everyone arrived Saturday morning looking a little quiet and unsure as we handed out their hunter ed manual and blaze orange caps, courtesy of Prois. During the hunter education sessions, they listened to instructor George Oberstadt intensely, stopping him occasionally to grill him on the finer points of ammunition, or safety, or ethics. It was very, very serious.

After lunch, we had some hands-on sessions. I manned the "weapon familiarization" table, where I illustrated the differences between three types of shotguns and two rifles. I loved explaining the autoloaders to them: "Check out how hard you have to press this button to chamber the shell," I said, handing them my own personal shotgun, Sarah Connor. "See? They're made for man hands. They're not delicate."

Then there was testing. Again, the mood was very serious.

After that, while George graded the tests to see who would pass and become a licensed hunter, a bunch of us volunteers took the women out to the sporting clays course to take what was, for most of them, their first shots with a shotgun.

Some struggled. Some got it fairly quickly. Carole, though, was a total beast - I think she hit her first three shots in a row, which had all of us hollering like teenage boys at a strip club.

God, how I always wanted to be like Carole - a prodigy! Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in this case, I wasn't, so I had authentic words of advice for the rest: Don't worry if you're not amazing now. With practice, all of you can become good - way better than average.

One of my favorite moments after that was watching Monique, who really struggled at first. She's cross-dominant - left-handed, right-eye dominant. She tried shooting right handed, but hated it. She switched to left and felt more comfortable, but still wasn't hitting targets. Our instructor, another George, had her do an exercise that involved pointing her right index finger as if it were the barrel of the gun. Like magic, something clicked, and after that she started slamming clays.

Relief! And joy. We were all smiles.

After shooting practice, we retreated to the blessed shade of our patio classroom, where George handed out prizes for the women with the two best test scores - Girls with Guns gun cases (uh, yeah, use that link - if you just Google them, you'll get some weird, kinky stuff), courtesy of the Tackle Box, a hook-n-bullet store in Chico (which, by the way, is gearing up to stock some women's hunting clothing from Prois).

Can I get three cheers for Rachel (right) and Sarah (left - the wife of the Darren I hunted with on closing day of duck season in January)?

Notice the smiles? Good Lord, every single one of them was sporting a huge grin as she first got her hunter ed certificate (yes, everyone passed), and then got her license. I mean, teeth, gums, everything - they were happy as hell! And I remember how it felt - you study hard, but you're filled with uncertainty, and passing that test is a big deal.

Then we sent everyone home to get a good night's rest - or at least to try - before the morning's hunt.

We started trickling into the Birds Landing parking lot at 7 a.m. Sunday, and I watched their faces, remembering vividly my fist hunt - also a planted-bird pheasant hunt, way back in 2006. You've read the materials, you've listened to your mentors, you've pulled the trigger a few times, but you have no clue what it's going to be like when a pheasant lifts up in front of you.

We split into three groups, and in my first group was Lori, with whom I'd been emailing with back and forth for a little more than a year. The dog got on birds right away, and the first flush happened right in front of Lori.


One shot, bird down!

Lori was one of the women who was already licensed, but this was her first pheasant and she was ecstatic. And seriously, I get a little teary, being so proud of her in that moment.

As the morning went on, I toggled between groups, watching as the women faced one of those challenges peculiar to planted bird hunts: These birds did not want to get up - they just ran and ran and ran.

And all of them wanted so much to be good sportswomen that they waited - often in vain - for the birds to take flight. Personally, for the price of admission, I would've sluiced the buggers. At least one of them.

When the sun got too high and the parched dogs began to wear out, we finally had to call it quits. Some got birds, others didn't, but whether they realize it or not, all of them learned something - I could see it as the morning wore on, the attentive way they monitored the dogs, guns at the ready.

Whether they realized it or not, their instincts were kicking in. Watching it was like learning it all over again - delicious.

For Renee Viehmann - the second woman from the left in the bottom row of the last photo above - these moments must have been especially sweet. Renee was a graduate of last year's CWA women's hunting camp, and she subsequently helped start the Bad Ass Girls Club. She volunteered with her Weimaraner Roxie this weekend to help introduce the next batch of women to hunting.

When the hunt was over, there was lunch. George grilled duck and goose and burgers, which we all devoured gratefully. We all talked about what it was like, about the surprises everyone encountered. We talked about what they needed to do next to pursue the kinds of hunting that interested them.

I dumped about 90 percent of my women's hunting clothing collection on a table and let everyone plow through it to see what they liked, and to try on some pieces to get a feel for fit. And can I just say that regardless of the type of clothing, chicks still dig going through another girl's closet? Totally fun.

We all stood there chatting about what we wanted to do next, then, one by one, drifted away.

But it's not over. It looks like Monique might accompany me on a deer/bear hunt in a couple weeks. Carole said she's really into trying duck hunting now. I know Sarah is going to join her husband Darren out at the waterfowl refuges, and learn what it is that got him completely obsessed last year.

Kirsten, who works for the Department of Fish and Game, is going to dive into the pursuit that her agency regulates. Raquel, who is a reporter, may write a story about this weekend, and we're going to try to hook her up for a pig hunt, which is what captivates her most. Lori is putting in her season-long application for reservations for waterfowl hunts. Angela plans to hunt turkeys with her husband.

And those are just the plans I know about. But no worries, we've all got each other's email addresses. I'm pretty sure we'll all be seeing each other again.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Janna said...

Holly, thanks for the awesome account of a fabulous weekend!

I'm one of those whose plans you don't have yet - I'm also one who didn't really know any hunters until this weekend. Well, for a start, I sent in my app today for a few of the DFG women's heritage game bird hunts, so we'll see if I get a spot, I'll keep you posted, and see if I can find anyone who wants to join me if I do get a spot. :)

I roasted my pheasant on Sunday night when I got home, and the satisfaction of eating that bird, and feeding my husband too, was just awesome. I can't wait to do it again.


Holly Heyser said...

Janna, I'm sure you will not have any problems finding someone to join you, and if you don't get drawn, I'm sure you'll have other opportunities.

I hope you enjoyed your pheasant! They are a challenging bird to cook, much like a chicken, only without the generous layer of fat. I think I was too terrified to cook any bird I killed for the first two years I hunted, so you're already more brave than I was.

See you out in the field, Sistah!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Great post, Holly. Raising a big cheer for you and all your hunter sisters!

murphyfish said...

Excellent post Holly,
That first picture says so much and captures the mood really well. Thanks for sharing.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holly -- I felt like I was there! Your pictures and description capture the mood beautifully. As a woman going into her first hunting season (and coming off a less-than-stellar session at the range yesterday), I'm glad to know I'm not alone.

Shewee woman said...

Holly, great photos. I particularly like the one where she is shooting in the box and you can see the shell flying out of her shotgun. My second fav is the one in the field where you can see the wad and shot flying out. What a great weekend for these ladies. Maybe next they will try duck hunting!

benedict1 said...


As you know, seldom am I at a loss for words. The accolades would take pages. Let's just say that if there was ever a counter-cultural event of more substance and just plain good stuff, I've not heard of it. I just wish I could have been there to help out! This is just wonderful. Thank you. Every newspaper in the country ought to pick this up, and a bunch of magazines too.


benedict1 said...

PS--I forgot. Congratulations to all the new huntresses! They are a welcome addition to a tradition in need of new blood.


Phillip said...

Congrats to the ladies, and kudos to Holly, the CWA, DFG, Prois, and anyone else involved in providing the opportunity and logistical support to make this happen.

I totally get how challenging it can be for a woman to break into this sport,and opportunities like this camp are still too rare. Between the women's camps and the kids' camps, this is probably one of the biggest ways we'll keep the hunting heritage alive.

kirstie pike said...

Awesome job, Holly!!

Holly Heyser said...

Tovar: Thanks!

Murphyfish: It's a real treat to participate and feed off of that energy.

Tamar: You are definitely not alone. All I can say is practice, practice, practice. This summer is the most I ever practiced with skeet, and it really paid off during dove season.

Shewee woman: Thanks for noticing the wad and ths shot in that field photo - I was pretty excited to see I'd caught those. And we'll definitely be seeing a bunch of these women in a marsh this winter.

Walter: Countercultural - I like how you think! I want to do everything I can to make sure Cal Waterfowl can keep doing this event every year (and to my readers of means, I'll say this: Cash donations would help. And the women definitely appreciate the goodie donations).

Phillip, we need to connect with Raquel, who lives in SoCal and is interested in pig hunting. And I know what you're thinking because I'm thinking it too: the JHO Tejon pig hunt in May.

Kirstie: Thank you, and thanks (from everyone) for the hats! A lot of the women tried on and really loved your new shooting shirts too. It was hot as hell this weekend, so that breathable technical fabric was a hit.

Phillip said...

Holly, definitely let's chat with Raquel. I might have a better plan for a Tejon hunt... and we may not have to wait until May. Let's look at winter/spring schedules and go from there.

But first, let's get to next weekend and see if we can't put a couple of these mythical blacktail bucks in the freezer first!

Stacey Olson said...

Congrats girls.. looks like you all had a very fun and memorable day~ I commend each and every one of your for having the courage to get out there and try something new~
Bravo ladies.. bravo

Anonymous said...

I have never seen so many women with guns! I LIKE IT! Great to see you enjoying the sport!

You might want to check out the new hunters journal AKA Hunter's iJournal to record your hunts?

It allows you to include former years hunting season data entries, together with your latest hunting details. This lets you to see and completely comprehend the critical facts that determine the principal effective hunt locations, time periods plus conditions to any successful hunt. You can likewise share images from the hunts and pertinent details with your friends via email, Websites like myspace, Facebook, Digg etc. Therefore, other than simply calculating out the facts, it really is incredibly cool to present your winning prize with all of your friends!!

Angela Kingshill said...

I roasted my pheasant after de-feathering it and skinning and used the simple herb rub with beef broth and it came out deliciously!! There was nothing left of it. I gave my german shephard the heart and he took the tail feathers. I would love to go on a big game hunt with you Holly and any of the other ladies from the weekend. I've got a Ruger ranch rifle and a 7mm remington mag just waiting for me to use them. I also plan to use my long bow for some hunting, but please Holly keep me in mind, thanks.
I had a great weekend and met some wonderful women!

Quackity Gal said...


Thanks for the great write-up! I'll admit I was a bit jealous of the gang that took hunter's safety together! It was a completely different atmosphere from when I took mine with a bunch of kids (being the 23 year old female in room of prepubescent boys is intimidating!).

I'll be putting in for my rezzies at Yolo today, and will keep everyone informed of any openings I have in my hunt schedule! (Or maybe we can plan a sweatline party just for fun!!)


Angela Kingshill said...

Holly I had an awesome weekend. I hadn't had any female time for myself and it was great to meet other women who share an interest with me. I hope that you keep me in mind for some big game hunting as well. I have a Ruger Ranch rifle that my husband bought for me and a 7mm remington mag that he'll let me borrow as well. Did you get my email?
I roasted my bird and it was delicious! Take care and hope to see you again soon. p.s. thanks so much again for the jacket!!

Anonymous said...

I was so proud to be a part of this day and to help these women on their first pheasant hunt. I plan to be there for future years as well.

Ladies, if you want to hunt pheasant this year, Roxie and I will take you out!

For the record: I was a co-founder of the Bad Ass Girls Club after meeting two other women on a DFG hunt last year. :)

Camp Wild Girls.com said...

Love hearing stories about gals getting into the shooting sports! Way to go gals!

Katherine Browne said...

Great job ladies! Here at Prois we are very proud to have been involved in this event. It is incredible to be able to enpower women in the outdoors through hunting and learning new skills. You ladies are badasses!

Holly Heyser said...

Phillip: Amen. And I can't wait for the deer hunt.

Stacey: Thanks! I hope these women get a chance to meet you some day. (Ladies, Stacey is an archer and raptor rehabber and has an excellent ethic about hunting.)

Anonymous: Thanks for stopping by, Brian! Looks like the link didn't come through, so I'll add it here: Click here to check out Hunter's iJournal.

Angela: I'm so glad to hear the bird came out well! And your dog is a lucky boy - heart is awesome. My cats really love the pheasant tailfeathers too - they go nuts for 'em. And you're welcome on the jacket. Now I have room in my closet to get EVEN MORE STUFF!

Quackity Gal: So great to see you there! And I just mailed in my resi app yesterday. Good lord, I can't wait for duck season to finally be upon us!

Renee: It was especially fun watching your group, because you yourself are still new to it, but there you were helping out the next group of new hunters. You still have a lot of that great fresh energy, which was apparent in the first shot in this post.

Wild Girl: Thanks! And ladies, check out her website - she sells lots of cool women's hunting stuff.

Holly Heyser said...

And Katherine, thanks for your help getting those special-order hats to us for this event! Ladies, be sure to check out Katherine's story of getting her general falconry license this year.

Loriambrosino@comcast.net said...

Holly had a blast. All I wanted to accomplish was one bird. After making my first shot. I was completely relieved. I could hold my head high as I went home with my bird. My boyfriend would be proud of me. I was proud of me. I mailed my resi list today. Now I am completely stoked about this season. Thanks again for sending me the email about this weekend-- looking back I would have hated to miss this even though it was 95 degrees ;) so much good information!
Email me if you want to hunt!

Holly Heyser said...

You're welcome, and I was TOTALLY proud of you.

And boy is this weather ridiculous or what?

Peebs said...

Oh great now I'll have even more trouble getting into Del. you keep it up and soon I'll just have to quit there will be to many people. Really keep up the good work there can never be to many I love the smiles I seem to remenber one on your face last year. I have the layout on Del there is a ton of ducks a good number of Speks and a few Snows there already and they had less than 1/2 water.

Barbara Baird said...

Thanks, Holly, for taking us along again on another outdoor experience. Congrats to all the women who were so fortunate to be mentored by these outstanding women, like Holly and others at the weekend workshop. Welcome to the sisterhood of hunting. Your lives will never be the same.

SimplyOutdoors said...

To share the hunting experience with someone else for their first time is definitely an incredible feeling - it is like you're staring over again yourself.

Kudos to you Holly for getting out there and helping out. I truly know how good it feels.

My hunts usually involve first time hunts with young hunters, but I'm sure the feelings are exactly the same, regardless of age.

Too cool!

Holly Heyser said...

Oh Charlie, you know darn well this means you're going to push me out of the nest and start taking all these new huntresses out instead!

And thanks, Barb. Wish you could've been there - you'd've loved it.

Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee said...

Hey, Holly, this brought back great memories for me of last year's class and the women who got their licenses. It was awe-inspiring to watch their transformation to hunter and see the skills come together. And, I cannot forget the beauty of those dogs and how well they executed. Congratulations to everyone from this year's class!

hooter said...

Great posthynes, Holly. There are nothing as good as memories of experiences in the field and around a hunting camp fire.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Cathie! Last year I wasn't there for the first day, so I missed that whole transformation. It was so vivid.

And thanks to you, too, Hooter. It looks like this weekend will be the first of many for these women - they all seem very driven to get out into the field again.

Richard Mellott said...

Definitely a big round of applause for getting these women not only involved, but active in their first hunt. I can't wait to move North, and see all of these places for myself. I am going on a pig hunt in November, near Lake Sonoma, and I think they'd accept a couple more hunter/huntresses. For $400, the fee opens up 22,000 acres.
In any case, Good to see the commercial aspects of these hunts take a back seat to the pursuit of kindred spirits.

slm313 said...

Thank you Holly for encouraging me to do this! It's not a huge surprise to most of my family and friends that I wasn't particularly thrilled when Darren told me he was going to start hunting, BUT it was a huge surprise to everyone (especially Darren) when I said, "I want to take that class". I'd never fired a gun prior (well, unless you include the shooting range at Disneyland) and I refused to know where he kept the guns in the house.

But after this weekend, it's like a light switch turned on. It was so empowering! I met such wonderful women, as well as a very tolerant George, Randy, and Clint who I'm sure were questioning their sanity when they handed me a gun. Darren is super excited that I'll be heading out hunting with him, and my friends have all been asking when they can take the next class!

Thank you thank you thank you!

Holly Heyser said...

Well, Sarah, you went through that process WAY faster than I did with Hank. I wasn't upset when he took up hunting, but I definitely didn't understand it. It was a good four years or so before I followed suit. I'm thinking you'll be glad you didn't wait that long - it's an amazing experience.

And Richard, thanks for chiming in! Do you have a link to information about that hunt?

Jamie Cameron said...

Great, great post Holly.
Could you detail the finger pointing fix that helped your friend overcome her cross dominant eye? My wife has the same thing and it's been frustrating (for both of us) when I've taken her shooting.

Holly Heyser said...

Jamie, he had Monique stick her right hand out (if your wife shoots right-handed, it would be her left hand) and point her finger, and follow along with the clay. I think what the exercise does is show the importance of treating the gun as an extension of the body.

Also, Monique is shooting left-handed when she's right-eyed. If your wife is shooting with her dominant hand, she needs to cover or shut her dominant eye.

Also, don't underestimate the need for a gun that fits properly.

Personally, I'm right-handed but started shooting shotguns left-handed because I knew I was left-eye dominant. I STILL have to shut my right eye, because it battles with my left eye (not pretty seeing that barrel wag like a puppydog tail).

It ain't easy. But maybe investing in a couple shooting lessons would help. Also, shooting OFTEN is huge - it can't be a sporadic thing.

loriambrosino@comcast.net said...

Here's an update for you! I got home last night and my boyfriend comes in the house with the look of fret on his face. He says, "I've got some bad news for you." I'm like oh my what could have happened, he just had come in from the garage. I'm think the freezer is out and all my homemade lasanga is trashed, not to mention the ice cream or maybe the dog shredded my clothes? Nope, he says "Your pheasant tail feathers didn't make it!" Sammy (The red rocker)(Yellow Lab) aka Crazy Girl had free roam on the garage due to the hot weather and she did a little pheasant hunting of her own. Oh well I said, I guess I'll need to get another bird. Can't fault her for going after a pheasant smell! It's in her nature.


Peebs said...

Yes thats probably ture but I'll make sure to keep you up to date on my bird counts (snicker}. We will have to set up a hunt with Hank though and you'll have to show him around freeroam. If any of the huntresses want a guided trip out you know I am willing.

Holly Heyser said...

Lori: Great attitude! My kitties are currently savaging my lovely arrangement of pheasant and turkey feathers in a lovely alabaster(ish) vase. Fortunately, I killed another turkey this spring, and I have a bag full of feathers in the garage.

Peebs: Don't make me block your texts!!!!!

Longbow Lass said...

Holly how have the irish setter ladyhawks rate now that you've had them for a couple of years?

Holly Heyser said...

They're holding up fine, Longbow Lass, though I don't use them intensively - too hot to wear for general use, so I reserve them for serious hiking where I need the ankle support.

My only complaint has been that they started squeaking something fierce this year. Then I realized it was my SuperFeet inserts that were causing it, and I put a little talcum powder where the underside of the inserts meets the unfinished sole of the shoe, and that did the trick.

Loba Outdoors said...

Always fantastic to see women hunting, having fun and sharing in nature and the sense of community. We're so proud to be a site that caters to the woman who loves the outdoors, and see the numbers growing every day.

Thank you for covering this great event!