Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hooked: Ten novice hunters get a taste of duck hunting

I knew it had been a great weekend when we got to the end - the part where we take group photos.

Ten women had gone through Delta Waterfowl's first California Women's Duck Hunting Weekend for novice hunters: two days of waterfowl instruction, followed by a mentored hunt in one of two sweet private clubs in the legendary Butte Sink.

It had been a slow hunt day. Participants had gotten anywhere between zero and three ducks apiece at clubs where limits by 9:30 a.m. are the norm. There wasn't much shooting going on anywhere in the region. But at the end of the hunt, everyone seemed excited and giddy anyway.

So when I was taking the obligatory group shot at the end of the day, a bunch of them mooned me. It was hysterical.

You didn't think I was going to show the whole picture, did you?
We need a lot more of this going on in hunting. Not the mooning, though I do think that takes the camaraderie to a higher level. I'm talking about intensive programs to train adult novice hunters.

If you're not born into a hunting family, you lose out on an awful lot of steady instruction, mentoring and example-setting that can only take place over many years in childhood. Adults who want to start hunting - and I don't know about where you are, but in Northern California, there are a lot of them - need help to get up to speed as quickly as possible to get them hunting regularly.

There is no reason this can't be replicated anywhere in this country, so after the slideshow below, I'll explain what this involved, and whose help made it happen. Take the bull by the horns, hunters. You can make this happen where you live too.

What the weekend entailed: A wild-game dinner; instruction in firearm safety, shooting, public land hunting, duck plucking and dressing; and a mentored duck hunt. And how could I forget the swag? There was beaucoup swag.

Who provided the framework: This event was part of Delta Waterfowl's First Hunt Program. (In fact, here's how it came about: Last year I read about a women's First Hunt in Delta's magazine, which is my favorite waterfowl magazine, and I emailed my friend Tori, one of the editors there. I said, "Hey, if you ever want to do that in California, I'd be happy to help." Bam. Done.) Click on that First Hunt link if you want to see some of the outstanding materials Delta provides.

Who deserves major credit: Hands-down, Judy Oswald did serious heavy lifting to make this happen. Judy's got a lot of experience with mentored shooting and hunting events because she's founder of Kids Outdoor Sports Camps. The folks at Delta knew Judy, and once we all got connected, the planning was carried out by Delta Director of Waterfowler Recruitment and Education Scott Terning, Judy and me.

The people who made it happen and what they brought to the table (in the order they appeared)

Red Bank Outfitters: Red Bank is a giant lodge on an even more giant ranch just outside of Red Bluff at the far northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The facility is gorgeous. The women felt like they'd checked into summer camps for grown-ups when they explored the main lodging room, with beds all over the place on the first floor and in the loft, a giant wood stove and a lounge area. Red Bank is owned by Brian and Shellie Riley, who were terrific hosts.

Ric Gould: Ric is the cook, manager, guide, repair guy and shooting instructor at Red Bank. He wowed the women with a wild duck dinner on the first night, kept us well-fed all weekend, and even hauled in a flat-screen TV for me to use for a PowerPoint presentation I did on public-land hunting.

Il Ling leading shooting session
Il Ling New: Il Ling lives in Northern California and teaches at Gunsite in Arizona. She ran the firearms safety session and shooting instruction and the women loved her. Case in point: Do you remember Rachel, the woman who wasn't sure she liked hunting after going through a weekend of hunter ed followed by a pheasant hunt? She is a lot more sure now, and she credits Il Ling's excellent instruction for that change.

Jake Hampton and Josh Null: Jake and Josh are guides and shooting instructors at Red Bank, and they helped out with the shooting instruction.

Jeff Smith teaching duck ID
Jeff Smith: Jeff is the hunt program coordinator at Cal Waterfowl, and he ran the waterfowl ID and waterfowl calling sessions. You'll see in the slideshow above that the women got a big kick out of his waterfowl calling lesson. Can't imagine what he said to make 'em laugh like that.

Karen Fothergill: Karen is a California Department of Fish and Game environmental scientist who oversees the dove program and the Game Bird Heritage Program. I met Karen two summers ago at a training session required for people who want to band mourning doves, so it was great to see her again. She ran the plucking-and-gutting demonstration, which the women really appreciated. When you've spent a lifetime buying cellophane-wrapped bird parts, you really need some help figuring out what to do with an intact animal.

Larry Gury's swank duck palace.
Hunt club owners Jim Yost and Dave Steiner of the Little Dry Creek Farms duck club and Larry Gury of the Closed Zone Farms duck club, and hunt mentors Mark Koller and Eric Pack. These guys went above and beyond to provide a great hunt for all the women. After they hunt they fed us and gave us tours of Gury's club, and even served us cake that Eric had made just for us!

And let's not forget the swag...

Huge thanks to:

SHE Outdoor Apparel, which donated a pair of its new women's waterfowl waders, which were given to the recipient of a random drawing of participants. SHE also provided hunting fanny packs, hats and Hot Mocs beanies and scarves. SHE President Pam Zaitz was a super enthusiastic supporter.

Cabela's, which sent $20 coupons and hats.

Judy's KOSC, which donated waterfowl backpacks.

Cal Waterfowl, which donated duck calls.

And of course, Delta Waterfowl, which donated hats, calls and duck identification and First Hunt handbooks, in addition to providing organizational support.

* * *

See? Isn't it amazing what happens when you bring together a bunch of people who are passionate about hunting? Because of all these contributions of time and goods, ten women walked away with training, experience, useful gear and some fantastic memories.

As we all went our separate ways after the hunt, two of the women followed me to get to the highway they needed, and I reveled in the scenery on the drive, knowing that they were seeing it with new eyes, just as I had  five years ago: Scanning the skies to examine every bird; looking at the land and seeing not "farm" or "weeds," but "habitat"; doing a double-take or three when passing that rice farm that's ALWAYS covered with ducks, geese and swans in the winter.

With any luck, we'll do this with a whole new batch of novice hunters next fall.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Barbara Baird/Women's Outdoor News said...

Nice. Very nice, and what an impressive lineup of women. Thanks, Holly, for all you do to promote the tradition of hunting.

Holly Heyser said...

It is so fun to do, Babbs. I know it's technically "volunteer" work, but it really just feels like fun.

ASLEvans said...

I would love to see a program like this in Eastern PA!

FowlHuntress said...

Eek, technical difficulties with my last comment!

I had the BEST time!! Thanks a million to everyone - it was really an amazing weekend with an amazing and FUN group of ladies.

I ordered a pair of the Cazadora waders too - they should be in next week. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Holly Heyser said...

ASLEvans: Is Delta active there? Delta was great to work with here - they really let us drive the bus, but with lots of guidance and support.

Fowlhuntress: Me too! Despite the fact that I had a nasty headache for the first two days, I have a lot of happy memories from that weekend.

Ian Nance said...

Looks like a fantastic time!!

ASLEvans said...

I haven't heard much about Delta at all locally and from the website, doesn't look like a lot in the way of activity out here. I'm involved in slowly building up more women's shooting activities around here though (I've personally taught 3-4 Women on Targets in the past year or so), so they sound like a good place to ask for help. I appreciate the pointers towards resources I get from reading here, even if I don't really comment!

Holly Heyser said...

If not Delta, how about DU? I haven't worked with DU as a volunteer, but I'm guessing they have comparable programs.

That's fantastic that you've taught Women on Target classes - it all helps.

One thing I didn't mention here was the synergy between California Waterfowl's Women's Hunting Camp in September and this event. In September, Cal Waterfowl offered women a chance to complete hunter education, get shooting instruction and go on a pheasant hunt all in one weekend.

Three women from that event came to this duck hunting weekend, which tells me you can create social networks around the participants of all of these women's shooting and hunting events, and women can keep coming back for more instruction ans support, which is really vital to keeping them involved.

I tell you, the women from the Cal Waterfowl's hunting camps stay in touch via Facebook, and they always let each other know about special hunt opportunities and go hunt together. In essence, they create the hunting families that most of these women didn't grow up with.

Hunting Videos said...

Well written article. Looks like these novice duck hunters had a great time. Always good to new people out there and enjoying hunting.

Anonymous said...

This is really cool, your blog and store. I am a 26 year old chica and live in Houston, TX. I recently became interested in learning how to hunt. I hope to take the Hunter Education soon that is required for my state. I don't know any cazadoras, but after finding you through your bf I wont feel so alone lol

Holly Heyser said...

Hey chica from Houston, just find any hunting friends you can get - it helps so much to have mentors. But I know there are lots of women hunters down your way - two women's hunting clothing companies that I know of are based in Texas.