s hunting becoming the past-time of old men? Is it destined to exist only as piece of historyÖ something from a bygone era commemorated in a Rockwell painting just as drug store soda fountains, doctors who made house calls, and barber shops have been? It wasnít that long ago when these were commonplace elements of every community across this nation. In recent times, however, these icons have been replaced with impersonal pop machines, med centers and franchised unisex hair salons.
Do we want to add hunting to that list... and see it replaced by video games? Look around. Itís already happening.
It is not just our sons who ought to be encouraged to develop an interest in hunting. We must not overlook our daughters. After all, they will someday become the mothers of future generations of hunters. However, if they are not included when sons are taught firearm safety and the seeds of our hunting heritage are not cultivated within them, they could fall into step with the those whose goal is to put an end to hunting and gun ownership in this country.
As I hunt grouse and woodcock on public grounds with my husband, Steve, I have yet to encounter another hunting party with either a member under the age of twenty - or a woman. My presence - carrying a shotgun and handling my own dog - is met with friendly greetings and a few raised eyebrows from the other hunters.
I know of other women who hunt upland, waterfowl, small game and deer. But not many. Why is that?
I believe that it is due in great part to a cultural mindset: hunting is a "guy thing". Itís generally viewed as a chance for the men to don their upland orange and tan, camouflage - or bring grand-dadís old, red and black plaid, wool hunting coat out of the mothballs. To load up the dogs, shotguns and assorted gear - then swarm into the farmlands, woodlands, wetlands... the wilderness... in a quest of winged game. Admittedly, I had the same preconceived notion before I began hunting.
Frankly, I donít believe that Steve would have ever been successful at sparking my interest in hunting, had it not been for our English springer spaniel.
Women have shouldered arms and put meat on the table perhaps as long as men have. In Heart Shots: Women Write About Hunting, edited by huntress in her own right, Mary Zeiss Stange, tales from as far back as 1900 appear. Some, excerpted from century old issues of Outdoor Life. Others were written by current day women. All are an enjoyable read.
In My Motherís Shotgun (2000), writer B. Jill Carroll reflects on outings into the cypress and beechnut woods as a young girl with her mother to hunt squirrel in September. And not with a .22 - as others did - but with her pawn shop shotgun. Carrollís mother was a woman who understood the nuances of the natural world. She excelled at hunting - be it squirrel, waterfowl or deer. "My mother and her shotgun were deadly. Everyone knew it and praised her for it, despite their good-natured jealousy.
When no one else got anything, she got a limit. When deer were hard to come by, she got a freezer full. When duck were shot up and wary at the end of the season, she got them in range and killed them." Carrol writes, "She rarely missed, and when she did, she brooded about it for days, going over what she did wrong, how she couldĎve positioned herself better, or waited a few more seconds, or gotten her gun up faster or with more percision. She was - and is - relentless. She is a hunting hero, my hero."
An experienced hunter, B. Jill Carrol carries on the tradition, shooting a limit of duck with her motherís shotgun. "I am my motherís daughter today, offspring of my hunting hero mother. I earned my place in her lineage. I earned her gun. I am walking in her footsteps, and her shadow stretches out before me."
This type of sentiment - having the opportunity to carry on a family tradition as a huntress - is a rare bond that few women are privileged to experience. It neednít be so. We may not be able to link back to the women of our past generation, but we can offer a link to the next generation: our daughters... and our sons.
Upland hunting with the family spaniel is an ideal opportunity to inspire an interest in other family members to become involved in the sport. A good place to begin is to simply encourage them to bring along a camera.
Women should not feel dissuaded from becoming hunters because of their unfamiliarity with firearms. Thatís one thing about shooting. Women can - and do - participate on a level equal with men. Keep in mind that finding a good shotgun that fits, learning how to shoot it properly, practicing to develop the skill - along with a healthy dose of persistence and realistic expectations - are required. Be patient. Few people - male or female - are able to hit a bird on wing when they first begin. But thatís OK. Hunting is not really about shooting
a limit. Itís about the journey - not the destination. How can one adequately describe the feeling and emotion welling up inside as I enter natureís cathedral - a towering grove of beech, maples, witch hazel, aspen, pines and serviceberries dressed in autumnís splendor? Squirrels chattering, songbirds chirping, the wind whispering among the treetops... wings beating the air as the timber doodle, flushed by a spaniel takes flight... voices blending together as a choir. Hunting is a breathtaking, rejuvenating balm for the soul.
Itís about creating the memories with those who are an important part of our lives - then sharing the stories. With each sweet encore, the recollections mingle in our thoughts with the identity of the storyteller. "The stories flow like the water of a river and Jeff and I are rocks in mid-current as the words bend continually over and around us. The air conditioner cools, and the hot sun wavers above, and the sound of his voice merges one dusty day with the others." Judy Clayton Cornell pens the
descriptive passage in Earl (2002) about her father-in-law - another of the vignettes featured in Heart Shots: Women Write About Hunting. "Climbing in and out of the truck, Earl makes small sounds of effort and pain which Jeff and I donít comment upon. We look for places to hunt that require neither a long walk nor much up and down. But the unseasonable heat, more than anything else, is defeating us."
"The sharptails go into the trees for shade in the sunís heat, but they wonít hold for some reason, and not one of us has ever shot a sharptail there. Still, Jeff wants to try it." Judy parks the truck. She and Earl unload their guns and the black labs as Jeff sweeps through the pines.
"Hunting is a breathtaking, rejuvenating balm for the soul."
"Earl... moves slowly, steadily across the cinquefoil prairie towards a likely patch of willow and buffalo berry. I wander in another direction to give Earl the best cover and some solitude. Discretely, at a distance, I watch him circle the brush without putting up a sharptail, and wonder where else we might go, as I turn and quarter away. Then the shot sounds. And a second one when I look and see Earl swinging hard on a sharptail that flies on without missing a wing beat. But he is calling Beta, and Iím sure I hear him say, "Give."
"So you got one," I comment, by way of asking, when I get over to him.
He stands up taller, then, and smiles. "Got two."
"Yeah. I kind of surprised myself. But then I tried to get that third bird, thinking I had the automatic." He grins - and is twenty years younger."
Itís about family. Take your wife, your daughters and sons hunting... or girlfriend - whatever the case may be. Kindle their love for bird hunting and create your own piece of history.