Girl Hunter Adventure

In September my husband gave me the best milestone birthday gift I could have hoped for: a Girl Hunter Adventure Weekend.  I flew off to Montana solo and united with about a dozen other ladies to learn how to shoot a shotgun, pheasant hunt, field-dress a bird and cook it, commandeer an ATV, ride a bad horse through a stream and up hills, cast a fly-fishing rod, and reward a Harris hawk with raw meat in my gloved hand to encourage it to come to me of its own free will on a quail hunt.

photo by Jeff Gordinier

My beautiful friend Kaci, who designs hats at Stetson, also provided us each with a custom-fitted hat (she's top right, I'm center bottom row).

We stayed at the Ranches at Belt Creek outside of Great Falls and the scenery was breathtaking.  Here you see deer just moseying around. 

We started off with a nice little ATV ride. By "nice" I mean incredibly rigorous and rather dangerous. And by "little" I mean hours-long up the sides of cliffs and to a mountain top.  

They kicked me off of mine for going too slow.  Mea culpa!  I love living and not driving off the side of a cliff.

Jenny the Horse Wrangler (laughing here) did a wonderful job of pairing us each with a great horse and taking us on a trail ride, even through a stream.  It's not her fault that horses hate me and that I make liars out of people who claim that the same horse behaved with them.  

I was gripping the saddle with white knuckles, pulling "Smoke's" damn head out of the grass, begging him to not splash me with his giant hoof in the stream and calling for Jenny to help me after he spooked.

Next up was learning to shoot a shotgun.  The way our mentor Mark described it, in trying to prepare me, was that it would feel like a good strong punch in the shoulder. This was all too true!

  photo by Cara Wehcamp

The test was to use our shooting lessons to hunt game.  Pheasant hunting midday was much harder and hotter than I thought it would be, especially during the last hot day of the season and in knee-high brambles while carrying heavy shotguns.  The more seasoned hunters I had the pleasure of hunting with - a Canadian named Cara and a Texan named Noel - taught me, most importantly, which shots NOT to take - whether they be too low/near the dogs or too far outside the arc of a good shotgun swing.

photo by Jeff Gordinier

This is Laurie and John, daughter and father. These are their dogs, and they've owned this land for many moons. They have boundless energy too, which forces you to find it in yourself.

When I wasn't struggling to keep up with the pooches, I so enjoyed watching them search.

I got one!  Not with my bare hands... the 20-gauge shotgun is out of the picture here.  

I think I was in shock for a while.  As someone who has stalked birds only to photograph them, I later felt such sadness to have been responsible for the death of one of these beautiful creatures.  Then as I prepared it for cooking, imagine the conflict of seeing it increasingly as food - and good-looking food at that?  Surely experienced hunters find the scale slide much more toward seeing the meal in front of them, and I could feel it happen within me too.

photo by Jeff Gordinier

Back at the ranch, we learned from Georgia how to clean a bird for cooking.  My "first kill" was also celebrated by putting a little of the pheasant's blood on my cheeks.  

This was an emotional rite of passage and I was grateful to have the likes of Georgia and my new Montanan friend - a photographer named Cathrine - there with me share their own hunting experiences.  

Next up: a lesson in falconry. Heather (holding the perch) trains falcons and Harris hawks to fly away untethered, capture prey, somehow relinquish it to her, and allow themselves to be re-tethered simply for some meat reward.  She does this by constantly monitoring their weight so that when it's hunting time, they are hungry and motivated. 

She also uses these little hats to keep them from killing each other.  They are like little acorn fairy hats! Except these fairies might kill something if their little hat comes off.

Sometimes they prefer the "perch" on the top of a car.

For vicious killers, they really are quite beautiful.

I managed smuggle my cleaned pheasant into a tackle box through TSA at Great Falls airport, packed in ice, to bring home to my children for dinner, who loved the sweet taste.  The only complaint was that they wanted more!  So that's what I'm working on... hunting locally.  As soon as my gun's waiting period expires!

You can read a more about this adventure by Montanan hunter Erika Fredrickson here:  Shoot to Thrill  ...
and the New York Times T Magazine article on the same by Times writer, Jeff Gordinier, here:
Food Matters | The Professional Women Who Hunt, Shoot and Gut Their Dinners (online preview) .
Check out Georgia's take on the adventure here:  Oh Montana!


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