I was sitting in my car outside of the radio station wondering what I had gotten myself into. Did I really have enough experience? And more so were my experiences worth talking about? No matter how I felt at that moment, we were about to find out. I had been nervous for days, and it was at a boiling point.
Wow, I really should not have worn the fleece vest. But it was my favorite camo vest. I wore it when I got my turkey in the spring; I wore it when I got the deer in the fall. It was my lucky vest. I felt like I needed all the luck I could get.
I slowly opened the car door, one foot out, the other. Here goes nothing.
Once I entered the studio, I felt right at home, a little small talk, some basic instructions, and we we’re off. We taped two 5-and-a-half minute segments that day, and it flew by in a flash. I realized I had much more to say, my experiences are full of, well for lack of a better word, experiences. They are stories of failures and successes; of questions and discovery; of learning and teaching and of frustration and satisfaction. You might even call it a love story; it’s not your typical love story. Usually love stories are about two people, but my story is of a woman, who with the help of a wonderful man, fell in love with the outdoors, with animals, with the chase, with camouflage and with guns. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, I found my passion.
“Tell me how you became a Huntress.” Seems like a good starting place. My husband, who was not when this all began, had been hunting for years. There are stories he would tell, about fishing with his brothers through the wooden bridge with hot dogs tied to a string, of hunting rabbits after school with his faithful companion Rex, of his father dropping them off on one dirt road to make a push through the woods where he would meet them on the other side. From the way he tells it, I pictured Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer running through the hillsides of the family farm, in overalls and bare feet. I was so envious; this was not the childhood I had. I grew up in the “city”, or more like the suburbs. South Burlington, in the heyday of IBM and Digital, I think everyone in our neighborhood worked there. It was very much “keeping up with the Joneses”; if someone bought a new car, the neighbors did shortly after. If the guy across the street upgraded to vinyl siding, you can bet others on the street would follow suit. The closest I ever got to the woods was the insignificant walk through them on the short cut to school. The closest I ever got to guns was when I was dating my first husband and we did some target shooting with .22 rim-fire rifles. I was pretty good.
I had thought about hunting for a long time. I knew many men who did, and many who didn’t. Most of the men who didn’t hunt really thought I was crazy, and most of the men who did thought I really didn’t want to do it. It was the “Men’s Club” and the last thing they wanted was a woman in there whining because she was too tired, too dirty, too bored. And what? You want me to shoot that cute little thing. Comedians have made many couples laugh discussing this subject, take Bill Engvall who does a great skit about he and his wife when they decide to strengthen their marriage by doing things together, he goes antiquing with her and hates it. Then he takes her hunting. She hates the whole experience, complains the whole time, and when the deer finally comes out she screams at it to run‼ This is the image I was up against when I told “Tom Sawyer” I wanted to hunt. I was going to have to prove myself. And it was going to be painful!
First up, was the Hunter Safety Course, I did the hybrid course, they send you a book and some practice tests, you then have a field day and take the “big” test. I passed. Once I passed, my husband got a little nervous, you could see him thinking “she’s serious.” This is when my real training began. Hunting School 101, my instructor, “The Warden,” a family nickname my husband has. He certainly was true to it.
First off, guns!
If you can’t handle the recoil, or you can’t run the actions, or you’re not comfortable shooting, it’s not going to happen. Afternoons on the deck at camp: lever action, bolt action, pump. Running the actions over and over. That darn model 94, which I hated, and still will not use. I found my favorites too. I love the shot gun – 12 gauge Model 500 Mossberg, pump action. Makes me feel like Linda Hamilton in the Terminator. I also liked the model 70 Winchester, 7mm. I liked it a lot. Yes, it lets you know you shot it. It lets you know big-time, and I loved it. Until I found out it was a “she” and She had a name: Maggie May. She also gets some pretty special treatment during hunting season. She’s the other woman, but it could be worse at least I get to hunt with her once in awhile. I shot many times; I got a nice moon shaped mark over one eye, and learned to never get that close to the scope. I passed, with flying colors. What’s next?
I don’t remember much of this time. It was tiring. I was a city girl after all. I never complained, well, I probably did but I don’t remember it. We did a lot of walking, I did a lot of listening, and The Warden did a lot of teaching. And I wished I had a note pad. We spent the better part of the summer teaching me about trees, how to tell them apart by their leaves, what they produce, and what likes to eat them. Which offer the best protection from the elements. Which ones turkeys like to roost in. We learned about tracks, deer, moose, turkey, and how to tell the difference between the males and females of each species. I learned about scat. Deer, Moose, Turkey, Coyote, Bear – the key players. The trees sometimes still throw me a bit, but in the end I passed Field Training, too.
I remember one time we were out looking for deer sign, the season was approaching, and it was going to be my debut! We found some, a few trees rubbed, a fresh scrape and it had been raining a bit when we started out. The sun was out now, and getting hotter by the minute. The Warden saw the deer below us. To me the buck looked huge; he was a 6-pointer, just wandering the meadow. If he looked up he would spot us for sure. All I heard The Warden say was “Follow Me” and when I looked at him he was crawling across the meadow, on his stomach. So I did the same. About 50 yards across, the adrenaline I felt doing that surprised me. I didn’t want to get “caught” by the deer, when we got to the other side and to the safety of the pines where we could stand, I asked, “Why did we have to do that?” The answer “We didn’t, but it’s nice to know you can.” I figured that was a pop quiz. There was only one real test left, so I got my license and started to count the days until Deer Season.
I got my first hunting license shortly after that day, I remember the day well; It was late-summer, fall seemed a lifetime away. Without ever firing a shot, I became a Huntress. For it was already a part of me. It was the part of me that always seemed to be missing, but I could never put my finger on exactly what it was. Now I knew, a love of the outdoors had been born, in a girl from the suburbs. A girl who grew up in dresses and bows; who was the princess in her family and a girly-girl. A Huntress was born, and she could not wait to put on her camo, scent down and get out in the woods in search of the elusive whitetail deer. ~Christine Duffy, Vermont
Thank you, Christine Duffy, for your heartfelt story of finding the huntress within yourself. If you have a story you’d like to tell us, please let us know.