Weekend of the (reluctant) hunter ... (pretty good article)


May 19, 2003, 08:55 PM
Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico)

May 15, 2003 Thursday


LENGTH: 1431 words


BYLINE: Story and Photos By Christine Barber

RATON - It sounds like the set up to a bad movie:

An anti-hunting big-city reporter gets sent to the backwoods of New Mexico with a bunch of gun-toting women to write a story about becoming a hunter.

Certainly, hilarious hijinks should ensue.

Of course, my hometown of Santa Fe isn't much of a big city and the NRA Whittington Center near Raton isn't exactly the backwoods, but you get the idea.

The gun-toting women were from Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop. BOW, in its 10th year in New Mexico, is a national program that's supposed to turn a girl like me into a woman who can shoot a turkey from 100 yards while making creme brulee over a campfire.

Not that I'm a slouch when it comes to the outdoors. I've been hiking and camping since before I could walk. But hunting is another matter.

My father took me hunting when I was 12. We shot a deer. I vowed never to hunt again and became a vegetarian the next day. In my family, that was worse than when I shaved my head during my punk-rock phase. My relatives didn't care that I wouldn't eat meat. But not wanting to hunt? That was something else. Hunting is religion to all my uncles and cousins.

I'm no longer a vegetarian, although I never did go hunting again. But I have a secret: A part of me longs to be a hunter.

I decided to go to BOW to see if they could make me into one during four classes over the course of a long weekend.

I could have opted to take workshops about nature painting or fly tying - or any of about 30 other courses offered - but I wanted to get immersed in hunting culture.

First class: Intro to firearms

Guns. I was surrounded by them. Shotguns. Rifles. Muzzleloaders. Revolvers. Automatics. On walls. On tables. On people. I counted five women carrying holstered pistols.

If I wanted to see how I felt about hunting, I was in the right place. And I was in the right class, which was a hands-on informational workshop about guns of every sort.

I sat down next to a woman named Betty, who was on her third tour at BOW and gave me all the gossip. She seemed to know almost all the 120 women who had come for the weekend.

As Betty talked, I took a good look around, checking out the other participants. I have to admit I thought I would be with a bunch of women from Clovis named Phyllis and Marge who'd say things like, "You smell real good." Or a horde of big-haired Texas ladies brandishing .45s and yelling, "Will this kill my husband ... I mean, an elk?"

They all looked fairly normal. They had nice-woman names like Melissa and Laura. They were smiling and gentle and funny. They really liked guns.

The instructor, Denny Peterson who is a rifle competitor, hammered home a few safety points to the class: Always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction; keep the action open until ready to shoot; and keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

What else I learned:

* You can use plastic shotgun casings as hair rollers.

* When people talk about shotguns, they like to use the word "smithereens."

* It's a really bad idea for a gun instructor to say, "You have to kill what you love." Then mention that his wife is out of town on an "extended" vacation.

By 7 p.m., I just couldn't handle any more gun chatter. Besides I wasn't in the mood for the entertainment portion of the evening - a cowgirl poet and Lakota the Wonder Dog - so I quietly ditched.

I was almost back to my cabin when I found an old campfire ring with a bunch of old logs next to it and some small branches that would make perfect kindling. Gee, what's a girl with a lighter to do in such a situation?

Soon 10 people were sitting next to my fire passing around a bottle of something called Hot Sex talking about .22s. More guns. Clearly the only thing to do was drink.

Second class:

Talk to the Animals

Saturday morning started off with a talk about animal sex.

When a buck deer goes up to a doe, he smells her butt and gives her a good kick. Then he gives a grunt that says, "Hey, baby." The doe responds by doing nothing, which means "How ya' doing, Big Guy?" or she walks away, which is pretty universal in its meaning.

Why I needed (or wanted to know this): to call game. A hunter can call elk, coyote, turkey or deer if the animal is interested in eating, sex or companionship, according to instructor Ed Sceery, who owns Sceery Outdoors in Santa Fe, a company specializing in game calls.

According to Sceery, an elk can make only one sound but changes the intensity depending on what it wants to say. When a mom talks to her kids, she makes a whale-song type of noise, which says "Get over here, it's time to eat."

I was having a perfectly lovely time in class, imagining a mama elk and her baby grazing in a field when someone piped up, "So, what's the best way to shoot 'em?"

What else I learned:

* Sceery said the best-selling elk bugles are the ones that are big and long. You figure out why.

* Women like to talk about men's elk bugles.

Third class: Archery

Apparently, in technical lingo, I'm what bow hunters would refer to as a "freak" because I'm right-handed but left-eye dominant, as opposed to the more popular genetic composition of right-handed, right-eye dominant. According to instructor Debra Peacock, that meant that I was going to have "some problems" learning to shoot a compound bow.

Within a few minutes, I figured out what my "problem" was going to be: I had a line of bruising hickeys going up my right forearm where the bowstring kissed me as I shot.

But I didn't mind. For the first time in a day, no one mentioned hunting as we tried to hit very non-animal-looking targets with our arrows.

But then, after some target practice, we headed out into the woods...

To shoot arrows at little foam animals.

The first one was a fox, placed in a particularly threatening position - sitting on its hind legs, like a happy house pet.

The first shooter hit it in the head. The second hit it in the chest. I earned the nickname "tree killer" after I mortally wounded several scrub oaks and castrated a juniper - but didn't hit the happy fox.

After some more missed shots at a fake javelina and raccoon, I was getting ready to wimp out when I hit my next mark: the head of a foam bear. Involuntarily, I let out a cheer. The other hunters cheered with me. We did an impromptu hunting dance in the middle of the woods.

What else I learned:

* I like shooting small foam animals full of arrows.

* No one looks good in camouflage.

Fourth class: Tracking and Sign Cutting

This class was going to be about hunting of a different kind: hunting humans. After a weekend where I was inundated with every bit of hunting know-how, this was hunting information I actually wanted to hear.

Our instructor, Charlie Pirtle, who was a tracker in the U.S. Border Patrol for 25 years, was a big man with a full white mustache. He wore his Wranglers tucked into his cowboy boots and wore a silver pocket watch that dangled from his shirt. It wasn't surprising when he told us he hated technology.

He gave us potato-chip cookies he had made as we settled down to listen about how to track humans. When a person walks, they leave a track about every 18 to 20 inches. That means they leave about 3,000 tracks every mile, Pirtle said.

He showed us how to make tracking sticks to measure foot and stride length. The sticks came in handy as we tried to follow signs that Pirtle had left for us over a mile of desert.

I now feel some relief knowing that if I ever get lost in the woods I should have no trouble finding myself.

I decided to ditch the formal farewells during lunch (first making sure there would be no more Hot Sex) and headed back to Santa Fe.

And my status as a hunter?

What I decided is this: Yes, I really like to track and lure and shoot.

Yet, what I said when I was 12 still holds true: I will never hunt.

But I'm a damn fine outdoors woman just the same.


If you go

The next Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop will be May 14-16, 2004, at the NRA Whittington Center near Raton. The weekend is primarily for women, however it is open to anyone over 18.

BOW offers more than 30 classes during the weekend. Besides workshops on handguns, shotguns, rifles and muzzleloaders, BOW also offers courses including self-defense, wild-game sausage making, painting gourds, camp cooking, basic fishing and geology.

The cost, which includes food and lodging, starts around $200. There are scholarships available as well.

For information on cost and registration, contact coordinator Coralie Carrier at (505) 382-9087 or safe@zianet.com.

If you enjoyed reading about "Weekend of the (reluctant) hunter ... (pretty good article)" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
If you enjoyed reading about "Weekend of the (reluctant) hunter ... (pretty good article)" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!