My 2018 Colorado archery elk season is now complete. Out of the 30 days available, I was able to hunt 11 of those days, and 8 of them were solo. Being an authentic, and scientifically tested extrovert, I don’t think I can recall a time that I spent 8 days alone in my entire life. They were not consecutive, thank goodness, I might have gone crazy. Many times I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway, talking aloud (or in whispers). I gave myself pep talks when things were challenging, I spoke words of amazement when cool things happened and I gave myself tough love when I did something foolish. While being alone is not favorable to me, I was able to draw on my last four years as a hunter to create just what it is I desire in a hunt and a hunting partner.
I know that I desire a tribe--a group of hunters that share common interests: hunting for food, preservation, conservation and the personal challenge.
Where to Look
Virtually speaking, this is easy. Scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, one can be cyber connected with a tribe immediately.
The moment I made a social media post of my first harvest, I became connected instantaneously. I found out many of my already established connections were hunters and I began seeking people with the same lifestyle. I started with some big names that I considered role models and exciting women to follow--Eva Shockey, Sarah Bowmar, Melissa Bachman, Julie McQueen and Christy Titus. Each one of these amazing women have a unique niche in the industry and I found it very easy to relate to them. I had to be honest though, these women would never really be my tribe. They were the Taylor Swifts of the hunting world. As much as I dream of hunting with them, it will probably never happen.
I came across a page titled Huntress View with the tagline "Hunting from HER point of view." It was here that I saw a team made up of successful, beautiful, knowledgeable, “regular” women. And by regular, I mean not Taylor Swift. There were gear reviews, stories and recipes, but the biggest draw was the warm, authentic feel. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it!
Fortunately for me, shortly after I saw this, there was a call for women hunters who had a desire to share their experiences on the Huntress View website. I applied immediately and have been a part of the team ever since. Currently the Huntress View team consists of about 35 women with a variety of hunting knowledge and preferences. We are located in all areas of the United States and there are even two members in New Zealand. While I have only personally met 2 of the team members, I feel blessed to have a supportive, diverse and talented virtual tribe of women hunters!
With a virtual tribe intact, I find myself longing for a palpable, tangible tribe of women to actually hunt with. I take delight in being around people and one of the most enjoyable things about hunting is the camaraderie and warmth of camp. I love to enjoy drinks and a meal and hear of other hunters stories and adventures.
When searching for an in-the-flesh tribe, there are some great resources. Archery shops and shooting ranges are a safe bet for striking up a friendship with another hunter. There are several 3D archery shoots and leagues to join and ladies nights are popping up everywhere. The Sisterhood of the Outdoors actually books ladies-only hunts. Many parks and wildlife organizations have women-only classes and events that can provide you with information and experience in a non-threatening environment.
Women are “experience seekers” and women with strong social circles are living longer, happier and healthier lives, than those who lack connections. Choosing a hunting tribe can be difficult, but you will never find one unless you ASK someone to go hunting!
Once you have established an opportunity, there are several important factors to consider when hunting with others, especially women.
Everyone has a unique personal connection to hunting. Hunters vary in skill and experience and have different expectations for a hunt. Some are looking for the next Pope and Young and some are looking for their first harvest. It is important to establish a line of open communication so you have an understanding of why each person is there.
This is important when you are team hunting and you both have a tag. Make sure you have come up with a fair way to determine who is up first. It could be as basic as a quick game of rock, paper, scissors, but definitely have a plan.
Know your Limits and Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Communication is also very important if you are uncomfortable, unfamiliar or just inexperienced in a certain area. For example, when hunting from tree stands, it is important to know if a hunter has ever been in one. Safety and basic tree stand protocol (how to get your bow up, where to hang it, where to hang your pack) are things that can easily be take for granted but leave a new hunter terrified.
When I went on my bear hunt, I was not afraid to ask for guidance. I had never been around bears and did not feel comfortable going alone the first time. I was not familiar with telling the difference between a sow and a boar, nor did I have a reference on the size.
On my 2016 cow elk hunt, I told my guide that I was not comfortable shooting anything farther than 200 yards. Any guide will respect your limits and do their best to get you to where you are comfortable and can give you the best chance at success. Traveling to and from stands or back to camp in the dark is a common fear of hunters, especially women. I have gotten better over the years, and taking precautions such as carrying a GPS and firearm has helped, but it is important to share this information. By leaving earlier or having a solid meet-up plan, everyone can feel more comfortable in the dark.
It is a Hunt, not a Competition
I will be the first to admit that I am almost as competitive as they get! I have toned it down as I get older, but I still love the idea of a good ole head-to-head match. I hope that everyone I am hunting with is there for the same general reason--to harvest an animal. However, perceptions and situations are purely individual. The standards for an archery elk for me will be dramatically different than someone else. I consider timing (morning or evening), size, weather, available help, distance etc. when thinking about shooting. It took me a couple of years in the field and many experiences to figure this one out, but when you are hunting with others, it is imperative that you conduct yourself like you are on a team. As in golf, each hunter will go out and “play their round”, but at the end of the day, it is the team score that matters. Even if you did not play well, you are genuinely happy for your teammates who did!
Ride or Die
This phrase has been around for a while but has recently gained popularity as an expression of true teamwork. "Ride or die", aka "with me until the end", is the mindset we need to acquire when hunting with a partner. As previously mentioned, if a hunting buddy comes back to camp or sends a message that she shot something, it becomes all hands on deck. Hopefully you are as thrilled and excited about her success as she is and if you aren’t, pretend! No, really, that may be a deeper problem for you evaluate later, but be prepared to put yourself aside and get ready to do whatever is needed. The situations will vary depending on location and type of animal, but being helpful is always appreciated. Tracking, photos, field dressing, and packing out are all easier with the help of others. It could take an hour or it could take all night. When you commit to hunt together, you commit to be each other’s ride or die.
We all know hunting is challenging and even when nothing goes wrong, there can be adversity. However, inevitably, something usually goes wrong. When travel is involved, transportation can fail, tires can go flat, parts can break and fall off, things can get stuck, etc. etc. Anytime we are outside, weather can be a factor, not only for our personal comfort but the results of the hunt--full moon, heat, cold, wind, you name it. Hunting in the backcountry can affect us drastically both mentally and physically and often, positivity can be the difference between success and failure or even life or death.
One of the biggest challenges for me as a bowhunter has been dealing with a wounded/lost animal. Nobody ever wants to go through that, but it is a risk we take every time we hunt. You will never understand it and how you prefer to deal with it until you go through it. If you do have to experience it, take notes. Try to understand yourself and how you like to get through it. If you prefer time alone or need a shoulder to cry on, then communicate that to your group. If you are the other partner, respect her preferences and be supportive. As in life, try to be the hunting partner who brightens camp when you enter and not when you leave.
I recently returned from a hunt I organized with these guidelines in mind and I can honestly say that my life was changed! It was beautiful to me that each of us had experienced something different that motivated us to begin looking for a tribe. I was able to use my few years of experience and connections to switch roles from rookie hunter to mentor. I listened to a story of tragedy and grief and the need to take accountability, and I witnessed a first harvest from someone who never would have pictured herself here 2 short years ago. Our reasons were all very different, but the result was the same. The hunt was perfect. There was personal connection, great food, comfortable accommodations, awesome weather, huge learning opportunities, laughter, tears, good whiskey and wine and great hunting success. The 2018 Nebraska Diva Doe (and bucks and turkeys) Bowhunt will go down in the books as one of my most memorable and emotional hunts!
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who have her back.”
Follow all of Erin's adventures on Instagram at @eaglediegel.