“Mistakes have the power to turn you into someone better than you were before.”Anonymous
Lessons I’ve learned as a female hunter are my inspiration to help other female hunters.
“Colorado Outdoors” has always been an important part of my life. While growing up, camping, hiking, fishing, orienteering, rock climbing, rafting, and skiing were activities that I did with my family and friends. However, I had never hunted, and I was intrigued to try it. Eventually, I sought as many opportunities to hunt as I could. In fact, it was at this time, while a student at Colorado State University studying Natural Resources Management and Fishery Biology, that the lessons I’ve learned as a female hunter began.
While learning about Colorado’s natural resources and wildlife, I joined many school clubs and frequently volunteered in the community. In fact, the goal I had in mind was to gain more knowledge and experience in responsible conservation and hunting.
My first hunting trip was organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife CPW when a District Wildlife Manager, DWM, put together a dove hunting trip for youth. Additionally, Colorado Parks and Wildlife provided the hunter’s safety, firearms, and ammunition course. As well, the DWM acted as a guide to hunt dove on public land. This was an amazing resource offered by the State of Colorado to educate youth on responsible hunting.
Hunting Mentor – Self Mentor
Real lessons began after a few years of small game hunting and acquiring some of my own hunting gear and experience. During this time, I met my hunting mentor, Shaun. This was an important stage in the lessons I learned as a female hunter. In fact, it was Shaun who introduced me to big game hunting. The next three lessons I learned as a female hunter were valuable. One, being mentored was very helpful. Two, Shaun was excited to teach me his skills and the art of the hunt. Also, his enthusiasm was important and encouraging. Three, Shaun taught me how to look for animal sign and how to track. Not to mention how to field dress an animal after a successful shot. Moreover, I have valued this last skill the most.
Having a mentor is having a teacher there to help guide you step by step in the process. In all honesty, this is exactly what Shaun did for me. By this point, I had gained some of the necessary skills I needed to hunt on my own confidently.
Although having a mentor is a huge help, I had many more lessons to learn as a female hunter that I would have to learn from personal experience and making mistakes. Finally, I have now graduated to the self-mentoring phase of my hunting journey.
Lessons I’ve learned as a female hunter and the characteristics of my unsuccessful trips leading to more lessons I’ve learned as a female hunter:
- One thing that I have learned is that I am a predator hunting for prey. Secondly, even with great gear and equipment, I am often not as good a hunter as natural predators. For example, if you observe predators’ movement, they are quiet, and they have slow movements when stalking their prey.
- Additionally, while I am coming upon a herd of elk with only two eyes to find them, they, on the other hand, have dozens of eyes looking for me. Often, I only see the elk once they have heard a snapping branch below my feet. By this point, they are alerted and running away from danger. Therefore, one of the first lessons that I learned while actively hunting for elk is to walk quietly, slowly, and to pause often and listen. My main point is that hunting is not a race; it requires time and patience.
- Another point to mention is wind. You will find wind as a definite factor in a successful hunt. I once had an encounter with a bear sow and her cubs on a day-old elk carcass. The sow knew I was there as she stood on her hind legs with her nose stuck high in the air catching my scent. This was not a situation I wanted to be in, so I made sure to leave before the sow investigated further.
- When you are hiking in the mountains, the sweat you create produces an odor, which animals with a greater sense of smell will notice at greater distances. So it is best to be aware of the wind and approach what you are hunting from downwind.
Preparing for the shot
- I have been in several hunting situations when I have had a deer, elk, or pronghorn in my sights, and I have an opportunity for a shot. Many times, I have not taken the shot because of an earlier, unfortunate experience. For example, I had been on a hunting trip for a pronghorn buck in eastern Colorado. I had snuck up on the pronghorn behind a hill and had the Buck lined up in my crosshairs. Unfortunately, I was anxious and did not have much time to prepare for my shot. As a result, I ended up shooting and injuring the buck. For this reason, I had to follow the Buck another half mile and shoot it again to put it down. Since that time, my goal is to always shoot to kill without making an animal suffer.
- Although this story ended with a kill, that is not always the case. So I always make sure that I am calm, collected, and confident before I take a shot. My mentor, Shaun, has wisely told me, “It’s ok not to shoot,” and I have to remind myself of this in situations where “I” am not 100% confident in my shot.
After the shot
- Once while hunting deer in eastern Colorado, I shot a doe. It dropped immediately, and I was so excited that I walked right up to where the deer had fallen. Unfortunately for me, the deer jumped up and ran off, leaving a trail of blood that I had to follow to find the deer. This was another unfortunate but important lesson about being patient and taking my time. Of course, I made sure to ask my mentor later about this scenario. In this case, the advice I was given is to wait for 5-10 minutes after making the shot, and the animal drops. This gives the animal time to expire. If the deer runs off after I approach it, I wait for longer (to avoid driving it off further). I then follow the blood trail while walking off to the side. If I lose the trail, I can always find it again. This year, I followed this advice while deer hunting. After about 10 minutes of taking my shot, I walked up on the deer and got no surprises.
- Field dressing is one of the processes that I still need more practice with. One important thing that I have learned is to have a good knife with replaceable blades or a sharpener. In short, using a dull knife makes a difficult task more difficult. Therefore, investing in a quality sharp knife is a must. Check out the Colorado knife company Outdoor Edge who makes some excellent knives that don’t break the bank.
- After field dressing, I take my animals to a local wild game processing center. They will process your meat into various products ranging from brats, sausage, jerky, or burger. I have even processed some of my own meat using their recommendations. With some trial and error, my dishes have turned into some pretty tasty recipes. Whenever I share a meal with my family using the meat from animals I hunted, there is an appreciation for the animal and its life.
Recipes from the MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook
Although I have come a long way in my hunting journey, the mistakes are fewer, and I have become a better, more thoughtful hunter.
When people ask me, “Do you like hunting?” my answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Generally speaking, my answer is, “I do not enjoy killing animals, but I do like the process and challenge of hunting.” I continue to learn the landscapes, habits, and nature of the animals that I am hunting. Furthermore, this gives me greater insight into Colorado’s diverse wildlife and the conservation efforts to keep the ecology in balance. In closing, you must put time into research and practical skill-building to become an ethical hunter. This is challenging for many, necessary for all hunters, and not for the faint of heart.
Author Ali Dowd