RAW AND REAL ROOTS
As a kid, it was pretty typical to see an animal on the tailgate of my parents early 90’ something GMC Jimmy. It was an unspoken rule, made up by my 4 year old self, that I got to pose with every buck my Dad ever brought home. I remember the anticipation of waiting for my Dad to come home from the farm, waiting to see if he got anything. It was always my plan that as soon as I was old enough, I would go through my hunter's safety course and I would get to do the same things my Dad had done.
Fast forward to me being 9 years old, I wore hand-me-down hunting gear that was way too big on me and I got to go into the woods with my Dad and Grandpa for the traditional Wisconsin whitetail gun season. I vividly remember sitting in what our family calls “Death Valley” with my two hunting buddies as a buck came running through within 30 yards of us before stopping. Neither my Dad or Grandpa took a shot, and I remember being angry at them because I wanted to see some excitement! Today, my Dad still claims it was a small buck, but in my little 9 year old eyes, it was a monster to me.
I passed my hunters safety course in the spring when I turned 12 and by fall, I had a little youth Jennings bow with pink and black arrows. I would spend nights on the couch with my Dad watching Realtree Roadtrips, with hearts in my eyes over Michael Waddell and anticipated when my time would come. September came and I waddled into the woods, still wearing hunting clothes made for a boy five sizes bigger than myself. I could tell my Dad was excited but unsure of how things would play out. He was nervous that when it came time for me to put my finger on the release, he wondered if I would be able to pull the trigger. If I did, he wondered how I would react to watching something die, because that was the part of hunting I had yet to experience. Our first night of sitting, the video camera was charged up and my Dad and I were set up in the same tree. Within a few hours, we had a deer come in and I was able to get a shot. Unfortunately, the poundage on my bow just wasn’t enough and I more or less poked it. I felt awful. I was so disappointed. I knew the deer would be alright, but my opportunity had passed. So the next day, it was back to the drawing board. We increased the poundage on my little Jennings, did some practice shooting, and we were off to the woods again. The second night, my thoughts were going back to the night before. I was nervous. I think part of me wondered if it was something I really wanted to do. After a few hours, we saw three does walking towards us. It took them awhile to get close and with the anticipation, my entire body began to shake. My Dad had the camera rolling and he started giving me direction. I stood up and and got ready to take aim.
As soon as the deer were within range, my Dad gave me direction to shoot the closest deer in the group. Looking back now, size wasn’t what mattered. He wanted me to see what it was like, to see if I would feel the excitement and again, see how I would react. I drew back and took a shot. The deer ran off about 30 yards. I could see my arrow lying on the ground. The doe just stood there flicking her ears. Slowly, she walked back in our direction with caution. I quickly and clumsily nocked another arrow and when she came into range, I let off a second arrow. She stood looking around. I missed. Again, feeling disappointed and now frustrated, I nocked a third arrow. I felt like crying with all the adrenaline rushing through me and well, I was a sensitive 12 year old girl. I waited for the doe to get closer and for her to be perfectly broadside. She was walking back from where she originally came now, past the tree we were sitting in. It was darker and I really felt like this was my very last chance. My Dad had the camera rolling, and I was nervous to disappoint myself again. Not only was I nervous to disappoint myself, but also to disappoint my Dad. In hindsight, that was a ridiculous thought to have because I know he was just happy I was even out there. I let off my third shot and the doe dropped. I looked at my Dad with tears in my eyes asking, “Was that a good shot?! Did I do it?!” He had the biggest smile on his face, also noticeably shaking, and said “You did it!” He reached down to give me a hug and stated he wasn’t sure if he got it on film. He said he had the camera on the deer but as soon as I shot, he moved the camera to the side to see for himself what happened! Luckily, he ended up getting it on film, as well as my statement, “I gotta pee somethin’ tremendous,” which to this day, my family still jokes about. I couldn’t wait to get out of the tree. Not only to go to the bathroom, but to finally put my hands on a deer that I could claim as my own.
When we finally walked up to put a tag on her, we realized, there was already a slit in her ear, and assumed that my very first shot was to pre-tag her. There were so many special things about that moment. Dad and I continued to celebrate, and I pulled out my hunting knife my Grandpa Berner had chose to give me (out of his 6 kids and 20 some grand kids) to cut slits into my first bow season whitetail tag. My Dad field-dressed her for me, so I could learn, but also so we could get to the cabin quicker. We loaded the doe into the trunk and down the road we went. Since then, I have been completely hooked. I have never missed a season and the passion has never died. My stand still rattles from my legs uncontrollably bouncing when I see a buck come in, and I can promise I’ve become a better shot.
I’m always faced with the question about how I got into hunting. I think some people assume a boyfriend got me into it or that I’m a fair-weather hunter, when in reality, my roots go deep into it. I’m proud when I tell people I’m a third generation hunter and I’ve enjoyed seeing the look on peoples faces when they see a picture or find that out. Even though I feel I’m not much different from any male hunter, I also feel incredibly unique being a female that enjoys hunting and being an outdoorsman. I love being a female hunter because I know that’s a rare and special thing, however, it’s incredibly exciting meeting other women that are into it as much as I am! For most of my life, I never had female hunters to look up to. I didn’t know any women that hunted, it never crossed my mind and I was never told it was something I couldn’t do. It wasn’t until high school when I met another girl that hunted. Seeing the numbers grow over the years has made me want to meet more women, and surround myself with more women that enjoy it as much as I do.
In my 17 plus years of hunting, I’ve discovered it isn’t even always about hunting. In those 17 years, the bond that's been cultivated between my Dad, my Grandpa, and I, is something I’m not sure many girls have. We’ve had a lot of laughs in the stand together but also a lot of serious discussions. I’m grateful for those two men each and every day, because a lot of who they are, has molded me into the woman I am. From my hard work ethic, to my smart alec sense of humor, they’ve given me so much of what I carry with me today. I’ve cherished every triumphant to frustrating moment with them.
Being a hunter, provides me with so much more than a “trophy” and organic meat to put on the table. It provides me with complete peace on the mornings when everything is quiet, the air is chilled and crisp, the sun is rising while sitting in a tree with a thermos of coffee in hand, and at end of the day, having a view of it setting from my stand. There is nothing quite as humbling as that. I realize just how quiet nature can be, and oddly enough, how loud it can be at the same time. I realize how fascinating and bizarre it is watching the deer interact with each other during the rut, and lastly, I realize, how grateful I am. As hunters, we see and feel all of these things on a regular basis, and some people go their entire lives without seeing and feeling those things. The raw and real emotions, triumphs, trials and tribulations, make being an outdoorsman worth it.
When I look to the future, I dream of bucket list hunts that I want to take my Dad on, how I want to continue to give back to my community through my service in hunting organizations, and owning my own land one day. I think about the kind of mother I want to be as an outdoorsman, how excited I am to have children that I can bring up into the world of conservation, and teach them what it means to be an outdoorsman and that it isn’t always about killing something. There is so much I want to see and do, and I can only hope I’m blessed enough to have some of the greatest hunting buddies by my side to do it all.