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: Hide
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.”
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.
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.
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