It was an awkwardly familiar feeling, something I quickly deemed normal, and clearly couldn’t comprehend at the time. I didn’t even realize then what I was doing was outside of the so-called “norm”. I was at hunting camp, so were a lot of people, so what?
As a young lady tagging along as my dad’s hunting sidekick, I knew I was the only girl in camp among a rowdy and red-blooded group of men, and I suppose a few boys. But I never stopped to consider why I was the only girl, or that even then, over 20 years ago, it was not a typical thing to see a girl in deer camp. I have to interject, with my now much more mature, and cognizant mind to say, I’m still the only female in my hunting camp, but times have most definitely changed.
I will never forget driving down old camp roads, jostling around, bracing for the bumps and curiously staring out the window into what I thought back then was the true wild outdoors. Has anyone ever been here before? Is there something waiting out there to eat me? Where do I pee? My younger, and then inexperienced self, shared both an untouched passion and naive curiosity for being in the outdoors and experiencing firsthand the exact thrill-filled events my dad would come home and share with me.
We pulled into camp just before dusk which seemed to be timed perfectly as everyone made their way to the campfire and began their hunting stories, that seemed to never end. I must have had the same look on my face as everyone standing around the fire because although I was staring at the faces of grey-haired, stubble-faced men, I felt how they looked… dazed.
I couldn’t figure out why they were looking at us that way, “why isn’t anyone saying anything? Dad, are we in the right spot?” My unsettled heart raced with a sure sense of being out of place until the silence shifted to the shout of, “Good, you brought the camp cook and dishwasher!”
Similar to who I am now, my nervous and stiff demeanor quickly shifted into a confident and sarcastic superhuman, they must be talking about my dad – but, clearly, they were not. The night faded and although I don’t remember for sure, it’s safe to say we all stood around the campfire, listening to well stretched stories of monster bucks, close calls, and their unforgettable record book hunts. Outside of tagging along with my dad on his hunts since I was 5 and watching him harvest what I thought then was a freakishly big mule deer buck, I didn’t have any stories of my own to forcefully interject into the discussion. So, I sat there quietly wondering why the heck this was one of the most anticipated trips of the year.
The next morning came, and without conversation, my dad, my dads’ friend’s son, and myself loaded up into his pickup and began what I assumed was the hunt – as much as sitting in the front of a pick-up staring out the window can be called hunting. Hours passed by, we got out, scanned mountains and covered fields wondering when we would see deer. We drove some more, ate all the snack we could find, and waited for something to change the direction of the day.
I was as bored as I could be, stuffed in the middle seat of my dad’s old Ford and clearly wondering why on earth I thought hunting would be an enjoyable experience. All I really knew up to this point is he came home smelling like he’d been lost for weeks, looking shaggy and unshaved, tired and sore but he recalled his stories to my sister and I so vividly I could almost feel exactly what he experienced. Up until today most of my time spent with him hunting was taking walks to what I called the ‘frog pond’ and selling him pinecones from my storefront we made from Ponderosa Bark and downed branches. But around midday, we spotted a herd of mule deer grazing at the timber’s edge, and that’s the moment things in my world began to shift.
Both the kid who tagged along and I had no clue what to do; how to move in on the herd, that what the wind was doing mattered and what would happen next. We were as green as we could be and oblivious to the events that were about to unfold.
In true dad fashion, he walked the boy through getting set up, talked him through the process of a clean and ethical shot, and before you knew it the ringing of his rifle filled the air. “I missed”, he shouted immediately. My face, I can imagine, set the bar for what one day would be the baffled emoji -you know, the one with the bulging eyes, and slightly surprised expression, yeah that was me. What just happened? Why did the deer run off? My dad was such a great hunter, I always thought that when someone shot something died?
We cautiously walked over to where the herd was standing, keeping a close eye out for any deer in the area, searching for blood as my dad patiently guided us through following up the shot, and explained the ethics and reasoning behind it. There was nothing but dirty snow, and tracks – no sign of blood. In the midst of scouring for blood I looked up and saw the deer again, there they are! I whispered forcefully. Dad helped him calm his nerves, get a solid rest, and again coached him through the shot. I put my hands over my ears and watched so intensely I could hear my heart beating. The rifle cracked, and I jumped almost forgetting for a second that there was anyone else around but me and the deer. A warm surge filled my body and I was quickly reunited with reality when I was abruptly brought back to the sound of, I missed again!
I don’t envy the poor boy, not even for a second. He was my age and seemed sure of himself until the last 20 minutes rolled by and left him frustrated, and I can only imagine, embarrassed. I know everything in him wanted to head back to the truck and forget the whole thing even happened until again I spotted them wandering farther back moving through a small window in the timber.
There they are, they’re still here! I was eager and excited and more than anything I wanted to see the end result of a shot fired and a filled tag, much like I was anticipating from the start.
“Make her do it,” he furiously shouted.
I will never forget how grounding those four words were. Being in the hot seat was an instant game changer, and my first touch with the powerful, and raw emotions of becoming the hunter. It meant a lot more than those two minutes would allow me to feel, but I was up for it.
We quickly and quietly moved into position and my dad helped me get a solid rest against a tree. He spoke so calmly, and with such authority, I had no choice but to follow his guidance and walk through the steps he was relaying to me, “Take a deep breath. Look through your sight. Make sure you have a clear picture. Do you feel comfortable?”
“Yes, I’m good,” I nervously whispered as I carefully placed my finger on the trigger of his Winchester .270. I patiently watched as a deer passed through my sight in the small opening between Juniper branches. Then another, and another, and another. “You good? Are you on them?”, my dad asked as he lowered his binoculars to see why I was letting them pass by.
BANG! I squeezed the trigger almost forgetting what would happen at the end of the pull.
Time stopped – not for everyone, but for me. Someone punched me in the face. My ears rang so loudly the only sound I could hear was the noise of the shocking high-pitched ringing, as I braced my face in total shock of what just happened.
“Did I get her?” I shouted. Halfway eager to know if the severity of my gun scope nearly knocking me out cold was worth it, but mostly to fill my need to have shown up my male counterpart.
“I don’t know,” my dad said, “Just as I pulled down my binoculars you shot, I didn’t see what happened.” He was no doubt as shocked as I was when the rifle went off. “Let’s go look,” he said.
Still trying to clear the fog, and ringing from my head we made our way toward where she was standing. We scanned the ground, and methodically kept an eye on the horizon in hopes of seeing her, and we did. Just beyond the Juniper trees where she was just moments ago she lay expired.
I’ll never forget the flood of emotion I felt as I saw her laying on the ground. My selfish need to be the first in camp to fill my tag and prove my worth was so far out of my mind, all I could feel was the unanticipated emotion of what just took place. I was a hunter, and I was forever grateful for the life, sacrifice, and opportunity that took place at that moment.
Even today as I thumb through the old photo album from that hunt, or when I try to convey the emotion and experience of those moments I can’t help but give thanks and gratitude for the pivotal moments that began to mold me into the hunter I am today – and of course thankful my dad paved the way to opening my eyes to what lies beyond the city streets, and so-called “norm” to what has become, “Her Outdoor Journey”.