I haven’t killed any record animals or even any to boast about, really. But when I feel the temperatures dip and I watch the leaves turn, I get an indescribable feeling deep inside…a call to the mountains.
When it is time to pack away my shorts, like any woman, I can’t wait to get out my Fall boots and my cute sweaters; but equally exciting is pulling out my gear and buying my tags for the Fall.
I was born and raised in the mountains of the West and have never left. From my earliest memory, hunting has been a part of my life. My mom was a hunter.
I will always remember the smell of my mother’s “date night perfume” when she dolled up and went out with my dad. However, a memory just as vivid, is one of lying in bed and, in what seemed like the middle of the night, listening to my parents get up, get their gear on and fire up the Bronco as they headed out to hunt…together, leaving only the smell of the coffee that filled their Thermos behind.
I have as many memories of early mornings being carried out of bed in the dark and laid into the backseat of our Bronco to fall back to sleep, only to wake up on top of the mountains somewhere, ready to glass for the animal we would feast on together that year.
As I grew up, I began my own journey with hunting. After I took my Hunter Safety course, I began to wrestle with the concept of it all, questioning if this was going to be a part of who I was. Could I harvest an animal? Once in my sights, could I pull the trigger? This wasn’t just something you “did,’’ it was a greater decision than that, and it had to be made for myself.
Eventually my roots, where I came from and who I am came out full force.
I am a woman. I am a hunter.
I have been blessed with harvesting many animals and I have been blessed with lessons, memories and rewards from each one: From watching the hills burn around me as I stalked a deer just miles from my backyard, to nursing a baby on a bear hunt; from a romantic antelope hunt with the love of my life, to shooting my deer with my toddlers at my side. And of course, the elk hunt that was the hardest and most rewarding thing of my life…next to childbirth. From sunrises to sunsets; heat that would strip the clothes off of you to cold that makes your breath freeze as you exhale. And the laughter and tears through it all.
It is something that only another hunter could ever truly "get": Being surrounded in the dark with the elk bugling and cows calling all around you or watching a bear come toward you, totally oblivious of your presence. Belly crawling through grass to be within 100 yards of North America’s fastest animal.
The physical ups and downs: up the hill, down the hill.
The emotional ups and downs: the high of being on the animal, having stalked them for days, and the low of then coming over the final ridge to see that something spooked them from the other direction and blew the herd.
When I am on those ridges with my knees and ankles aching, my muscles Jell-O, and my hands and toes numb, I question myself. As I am loading a pack of meat half my body weight to carry out in sagebrush up to my waist, knowing this is only my first trip of many down... I swear I will never do it again.
I compare it to childbirth. The physical pain, emotional turmoil and exhaustion that seems paralyzing, in hindsight turns to sweet memories, and I can't wait to get up there and do it again!
I am a woman. I am a hunter.
I was watching a hunting show and heard a woman hunter say she was out there to “prove she could do what any man could and that the hunting world needs to look out because women are coming!” She was a first-time hunter out there to prove herself, earn respect, and to “become someone.”
I could not relate.
I am not out there trying to earn a man’s respect; quite the contrary, actually. Being in the field, hiking, sweating, freezing, shooting, gutting and packing gives me the greatest respect for my man who can out-hike, out-pack and out-shoot me (well, most of the time). It makes me proud to be his woman!
I have no problem getting my hands in the cavity of that animal; however, when I watch my husband do it for me while I sit bundled up, drinking all his water I am in awe with how natural it is for him. Truth be told, I make a better loaf of bread than I do elk quarters.
Many women hunters thrive on being told how tough they are; how great it is that they are out there “holding their own’’ with the men and that they can be “one of the guys.” Although I may hike for miles and days, stalkand shoot an animal, gut it and pack it out (OK, let’s be honest...he does most of the packing), I do not do it to “be tough”or to “be one of the guys.’’
I am not trying to “be one of the guys’’ because I am not. I am one of the girls. I am a woman. I hunt because I love it.
I have never seen my man cry when he watched the herd he had been stalking for days blow… I cried when it happened to me. I did not wipe away the tears in fear of showing weakness or to prove I was “man enough.’’ Because I am not. The tears fell. Because I am a woman. And my man? Well, he wiped my tears because he is man enough. Man enough to give of himself to me. And I am up there because I am woman enough; woman enough to stand at the side of my man.
I hunt because I love it. I hunt because I am able. I hunt because I want to feed my family the best I can. I hunt because I enjoy the mountains, valleys, peaks and game as much as any man… and I enjoy it the most when I am with my man.
When the meat is off the mountain, hung, processed and in the freezer, I will put my floral apron back on, wash the blood off my hands, touch up my nails and turn that meat into a warm, home-cooked meal for my family. Because I am a woman.
The greatest joy of hunting for me is to be with my husband. I love getting all dressed up for date nights in candle-lit restaurants as much as the next girl, but nothing beats being huddled up in my man’s arms, lying on the frozen ground, eating jerky for breakfast at 5 a.m., listening to elk bugle, cows call and coyotes howling all around us, awaiting the sun to peek up above the horizon so we can start our day…together.
My husband also grew up with a love of all things hunting. It is in his blood. It is who he is and what he does. Designed by his Maker as the greatest hunter I know. To be able to do life with and share in this love of the mountains that we have, together, has been an incredible blessing to me. And to be able to pass that down to our children is beyond words.
Some children will learn of God’s design by dissecting a frog in 8th grade science class. Ours? They have already learned the entire anatomy of both large and small game animals simply by standing at Daddy’s side in the hills as they field-dress the animal that we have harvested together.
Nothing beats holding my kids' hands as we pack out meat as a family…even if they can only carry one tenderloin right now.
I pray our son and daughters carry on the tradition that their daddy and I have shared with them. I pray that our heritage will become part of our legacy.