A holiday mixed-bag hunt results in the proud harvest of a first deer and some much-needed inspiration
Back in December, when our lawmakers were ultimately unable to pass many critical provisions for sportsmen and wildlife that have seen bipartisan support in multiple congresses, I was disheartened about the future for hunting and fishing. As a government relations representative for the TRCP, I sit in many meetings with Congressional staff, advocating for policy that would improve sportsmen’s access, fund essential restoration projects, and support the outdoor industry economy. With lots of highs and lows in the final weeks of the year, I was relieved to get in the car and drive far away from the D.C. politics for the holidays and venture into the great outdoors.
It only took a few days in the woods of Tennessee and Missouri with a pretty special Christmas gift—a Ruger .243 from my in-laws—to rekindle my spirit for the work we do. I think you’ll see why.
First, we settled into “base camp”—a cabin my father-in-law built with his own two hands outside Only, Tenn.—and geared up to hunt chukars. These were pen-raised birds my father brought down from a hunting preserve in Indiana—it’s rare to find wild chukars and quail in the region due to the decline in ground cover habitat these birds need to survive.
I grew up hunting upland birds, and quickly settled into a rhythm with my English setter, Belle, as she followed the scent of chukars. We ended the hunt with six out of eight chukars that were ready to be plucked and eaten for our New Year’s Eve dinner.
Later that afternoon, I changed into my camo and quickly switched out my shotgun for my new rifle to sit in a deer stand until sunset. I sat only two crop fields away from where we’d spent the morning with the bird dogs, and though no deer appeared, it occurred to me how fortunate I was to have this special place all to myself.
The next morning, my husband, Hunter, his father, Paul, and my dad, Mike, drove about three hours to private land near Hornersville, Mo., where Paul shares the lease with 12 buddies to have access to excellent waterfowl hunting and keep costs down. It’s pretty typical for this region. The majority of cars on the road with us were from out of state and loaded down with trailers. Many local hotels were full of out-of-town cars, too. It was easy to see that duck hunting was the draw that kept these local businesses humming at this time of year.
Once we reached our destination, we walked to the middle of a flooded rice field in our waders and climbed into a dugout ditch. This was technically my first time in a duck blind. I’d only ever hid in the brush along the river before. After four hours, we didn’t get any ducks into shooting range, but we made plenty of jokes while we waited.
Back at the cabin, on the last day of 2016, I woke up early to make my way to a deer stand that Paul had picked out for me. It was raining and foggy, and I climbed up in the box stand a bit later than I’d planned, burrowing into my oversized clothes to keep warm. Growing frustrated with the lack of deer, I propped up my legs and leaned back to play Sudoku on my phone, allowing an hour to pass. I finally texted Paul to say that I’d head back to base camp within 15 minutes. At three minutes before eight o’clock, I sat up to gather my things and was surprised to see three does feeding on turnip greens in the field below. I slowly got into shooting position. One of the whitetails heard me and began trotting away, but I had my eye on another larger doe. I clicked the safety off, aimed for the heart, and BANG, the doe jumped, and then fell 10 yards away. The adrenaline set in and my hands were shaking uncontrollably to the point where I could barely text Paul to come help me field dress my very first deer.
It was the perfect end to my year—being at ease scanning for chukars, sitting in my first duck blind, and packing up 30 pounds of venison harvested from my first doe. These experiences reminded me how fortunate I am to have access to private lands where I can hunt three different critters in one weekend, and family alongside me to enjoy these traditions. Hunting over the holidays revitalized my passion for the issues we fight for here at TRCP and made a lot of the policies I read and think about much more personal to me.
As for the chukars we lost and the ducks we never saw, there’s always next season. Stories like mine need to be told to Congressional staff. I’m taking my refreshed state-of-mind into 2017 and the 115th Congress, where I plan to make sure our decision-makers understand the value of our days afield.