It was the morning of my first hunt, and the sound of gobbles cut through the silence. The mix of emotions I felt was a rush. My heart was pounding, and I didn’t seem to notice I was ill equipped for 30-degree weather. Sitting there under a tree half shivering from the cold and half from excitement, I wondered how it would all pan out, if I would be able to tag my first hunt as a success or come out empty-handed. In the end, months of preparation and more than a year of contemplation would lead to just that – a hunt with no harvest. But I learned someting about a “successful hunt.” A “successful hunt” is about more than just the conclusion, it’s about the journey and lessons learned along the way.
My journey into becoming a hunter seemed to be a natural progression over the course of many years. I grew up in a non-hunting family. Instead of chilly early morning hunts and deer camp memories, my childhood was full of memories made camping, hiking, and fishing. I have always loved the outdoors and felt deep a respect and fascination for all things wild.
I made a firm decision. If I was going to be a meat eater, I would do whatever I could in my power to obtain that meat myself.
Unfortunately, there were periods of my life where seemingly endless packed schedules and other commitments pulled me away from the outdoors. By the end of college, I was equipped with a better-defined set of priorities, and since then I have been fortunate enough to take backpacking trips in breathtaking and rugged landscapes throughout the country. With refreshed insight, I wanted to do more to be a steward of the outdoors.
During this time, I was simultaneously beginning my career as a food safety professional. One day during an inspection of a meat-processing facility, the sounds and sights of the slaughter operation hit me with an inconvenient truth – I was still uncomfortable with the thought of taking a life for my own nourishment. I had always been aware of the disconnect between the meat I saw on retail shelves and the process required to get it there, but experiencing that process firsthand confirmed it was time to change that. I made a firm decision. If I was going to be a meat eater, I would do whatever I could in my power to obtain that meat myself.
Based on the timeline that followed my hunter safety certification, it seemed logical to start with spring turkeys. However, the barrier of entry felt so overwhelming. I had zero experience with firearms and even less hunting experience. How do I load a shotgun? How can I tell the difference between a hen and a tom? What’s the difference between a 12 gauge and a 20 gauge? When should I take a shot? What if I miss and injure the bird? The questions felt endless and at times silly, and my deep respect for wildlife made me feel anxious about potentially making a mistake. Not only was my lack of firearm and hunting experience daunting, but the lack of connection I had with the hunting community was another reality. Many people have been hunting since they were young and are taught by family members and close relatives. Being an adult-onset hunter without those traditions, I felt intimidated. Luckily, my introduction to the hunting community through QDMA has been full of positive experiences and encouragement.
I couldn’t necessarily accomplish what I wanted solely through hard work, grit or strength. I had to sit, be still, and wait – a task that was rather foreign to me.
My boyfriend grew up hunting and was an excellent and patient mentor. He gave me confidence and reassurance that this was something I could do. I started by shooting clays to get comfortable handling a firearm. I then purchased a spring turkey license and familiarized myself with the rules and regulations. In the following weeks, I patterned my shotgun and purchased all the necessary gear like camo, decoys, and calls. We scouted private property and public land, and I took a dive into podcasts and online videos that would give me insight into the behavior of wild turkeys and how to call them in. One challenge I faced was the overwhelming number of resources that exist on the internet, some of which is conflicting. Despite these challenges, I did my best to filter through it and prepare for my first hunt.
The weeklong season was a rollercoaster of mixed emotions; excitement, anxiety, peace, and frustration… a lot of frustration. I knew this was all part of the experience, that nothing was given, and I had to earn my harvest. I have always found fulfillment in taking on new challenges, from collegiate athletics, solo backpacking trips, international travel, powerlifting, and CrossFit. The process of learning, handling failure and success, and trying again is something I’ve always been drawn to. However, this was a new type of challenge; one that involved patience and perseverance. I couldn’t necessarily accomplish what I wanted solely through hard work, grit, or strength. I had to sit, be still, and wait – a task that was rather foreign to me.
I wish I could give the NDA community a first-time hunter’s story of “success,” but despite coming out of this turkey season with an empty freezer, hunting has given me so much more. It has given me a deeper respect for sportsmen and women, for wildlife, and a new challenge that I look forward to trying again. Whether you are a lifelong hunter, an adult-onset hunter, or even someone who is looking into trying it for the first time, I hope you can take something away from my story. I know that my journey as a hunter doesn’t end here, it’s only just begun.