Jennifer Drake is Michigan’s first (and only?) female hunting guide. She owns and operates Drakes Guiding Services in the northern part of the lower peninsula. She is dedicated to teaching Michigan kids traditional hunting skills with her unique hunting lesson program.
She Guides is sponsored by Remington Outdoors
My dad started taking me trapping when I was little and I just kind of just fell in love with it as a child. It was such a big part my childhood being out all the time in the woods. Then, as I got older, I started hunting with my stepdad and my uncle and my love for it just grew and grew. When I was 16-years old, I got to go deer hunting for the first time. After that, I was hooked, that was it for me. I passed on small game for a few years and focused solely on deer hunting, scouting and preparing all summer. I love hunting everything now; every season that I can be in the woods doing something is a season of fun for me. That little town area is pretty much where I spent my whole life. I did live in Florida for about 5 years. I missed Michigan, so I came home. It’s not the same down there. You know, I’m not saying that ocean fishing wasn’t fun and the hog hunting sure was. But, it just wasn’t the same as deer hunting in Michigan.
You see a lot of guys do that … they drive around down the 2-track until they find animals and then the hunter gets out, walks down the road 50 feet and gets to shoot an animal. To me, that’s not hunting. I was taught that you put the time in, you put the effort in; you worked hard for the animals to be honored with them. It makes the harvest in the end that much more worth it. That is something that I’ve passed down to both my kids. My son, he doesn’t like hunting very much, but my daughter sure does; she loves it. It’s funny … because i named my boy Hunter and he’s really not a fan of it and I laugh. He loves shooting, just not hunting. My daughter, she loves it and it has become her obsession as well. Her goal this year is to get her first bow kill.
I dropped down to about 87 pounds and I looked like a skeleton. Finally, they figured out that I had cervical and ovarian cancer. Twenty-six days later I had a hysterectomy. Shortly after my recovery from that, I was starting to gain my weight back and starting to get healthy again … and I had a horse fall on me. I herniated disks in my neck, blew my rotator cuff in my right arm and completely severed my bicep tendon. I had to go in and have surgery and they couldn’t reattach my bicep tendon so they considered it a failed surgery. They couldn’t operate on my back or neck because the risk outweighed the benefit. I couldn’t work anymore – doing ranch work which was my passion. That was taken from me, so I didn’t know what I was going to do for a career. I was worried about how I was going to make money to take care of my kids. I’m a single mom with 2 kids, so I had a lot of responsibility while not being able to do much with severe limitations. You know, that didn’t leave a whole lot of options.
He said, “Just do that and ask people for money. You can make money doing that.” I laughed and said, “Oh, no. People aren’t going to pay me to do that.” He said, “People pay people to do that all the time, you’d be surprised! Why don’t you go out and try?” So, I looked into getting a license and it was a pretty easy process and wouldn’t you know it, I actually got a phone call that first year from a fellow and his nephew. They’d both gotten elk tags. They were hunting with a friend of mine, Vern. I knew where the herd was and they were having trouble finding them. And so, they called me up and asked and that was actually my first paid hunt. Within 15 minutes of getting them out there in the morning, they had both of their animals on the ground. It was just a beautiful hunt. After that, things just kind of started progressing right along.
She works for the Detroit Free Press, but she was one of the first female outdoor television women. So, it was very cool to have her call me up and ask me if I would take her son and her daughter out deer hunting. She loved the idea of helping out another female like that, so she gave me the chance. After the hunt, she asked me if she could do an article on me and I thought that was just the coolest deal ever. Boy, after that things really starting going and I was getting business left and right and I’ve been booked up ever since. It was amazing thing she did for me. I think it’s important for women to support each other. I am proud to be sponsored by Buck Baits, a women-owned company here in Michigan. They are a big supporter of mine and it just happens to be hands-down one of the best products I’ve ever used.
They had read one of my articles and called me up and asked if I’d be willing to take them out. They just needed that experience of how to better hunt so that they could better protect their own property and their herds. I do lessons for any kids that want to learn to hunt. I only charge 50 bucks a day to take them out. I walk them around the woods, I teach them how to track animals, how to identify tracks and scat, on how to find their runways and their food and water sources. All things that just help them be more successful hunters as they grow up. I teach them a little bit more of a traditional hunting style. You know I feel like some of that kind of has been lost. People rely too much on electronics and not so much on the actual skill of the hunting soul. Likewise, a lot of people just solely rely on baiting. I get a lot of kids whose parents want them to learn how to hunt and they just don’t have time because they’re busy working and you know it helps the kids out. They really enjoy it.
It’s not like hunting out West at all, because there’s just not the same number of elk, so it’s a little bit harder. There’s a core area where they like to try to keep them in and the early August/September hunts are just to try to push those animals back into that core area. Then, for the December hunt, most everyone gets “X Zone” tags, which means they have to hunt the outside perimeters of the area and then only a few tags are given for the inside zone. I’m not sure the exact acreage of what their core area is but it’s thousands and thousands of acres and only 800+ animals. They claim that there’s 2000 animals, but I don’t think that’s a true count because there’s no way to truly count them. When they do the aerials, they have to do the count in sections over a few days. So they might fly over an area and then another day they fly over another area and a lot of times you’ll end up recounting some. Hunting elk in Michigan is good, it just makes it a lot more difficult when there are a lot less animals.
I don’t know if any other ones have started or not, to be honest with you. If you’re looking to get into guiding, make sure you read up on all your rules. Make sure that you build a good relationship with all your conservation officers. The more private land that you can gain access to, the better for guiding. I’m not saying that state land’s hard to guide on, it’s just there’s a lot more pressure on state land. Definitely focus on more of old-style hunting methods rather than the new hunting methods. You still have a lot of people that really would rather hunt the “right way”… rather than … I don’t know how to phrase this properly without sounding mean. I’m not against people using electronics and stuff, it’s just, so many more people want that authentic hunt. They don’t want to be riding around in a truck, and they don’t want be following a GPS. I offer something for everyone. I have horses for pack trips. I offer the camping experience where everybody can come and they camp right at my property, hook up to electricity and I cook out for them. That’s my signature thing for my hunts; I cook some kind of big wild game meal for everyone. We all have a big dinner and a campfire and everything before the hunt.
I took her hunting when she was 9-years old and she’s 13 now. We went out to one of my favorite fields out back behind my house on some state land. We were sitting in the morning and she was so excited. She was sitting on my lap in the blind and we’re watching and watching and then, all of a sudden, this little buck comes walking up over the knoll. She was so excited to see him and she asked if she could shoot him. One side of his rack was all goofy, he was a little 5-point and I told her she could. She was actually using my Remington 6mm rifle, which I shot my first deer with. I told her go ahead and pull the trigger. It’s the funniest thing … I closed my eyes when she pulled the trigger I don’t know why! I opened my eyes and instantly thought, “What was I thinking?!” I didn’t see him anymore. I thought she missed. I said, “Kaylee-bug, are you sure you hit him?” and she said she was sure. I asked, “Are you positive, which way did he go?” and she said, “I don’t know. I closed my eyes!” So, I went out there. I walked to the knoll to look for blood and there he lay. She dropped him in his tracks. He was at 125 yards. I think that’s just pretty awesome that she used that rifle for her first deer kill and it was my rifle for my first deer kill. That meant a lot to me.
I always carried my Remington Model 788 (manufactured from 1967 until 1983) in 6mm. It was given to me by my uncle who was one of the ones that taught me how to hunt and it was the first deer rifle that I ever shoot. I was taught how to shoot a deer with that rifle and how to shoot far with that rifle and I’ve carried it with me ever since. It comes on every single hunt with me, it’s always my go to-choice for anything except for small game like squirrel and partridge. I just absolutely hands-down rely on that gun to be dead flat shooting. It’s so easy and smooth and that’s one of the older models. Fun fact: I named one of my pack horses Remington!
Drakes Guiding Services
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Courtney Nicolson is an outdoor writer, hunter, and angler based in Denver, Colo. She is an active member of numerous conservation groups and is passionate about empowering women in the outdoors. Courtney is the senior producer/editor for Outdoor Sportsman Group Networks. View all posts by Courtney Nicolson