women hunting


women huntingI never would have imagined that I would own a gun. Growing up on the east coast, I thought guns were things that people used to rob convenience stores or impress other gang members. Guns were bad, I believed. Why would I ever want to shoot a gun?

Fast forward 20 years, and here I am, the proud owner of a rifle. What happened? After 15 years of being a quasi-vegetarian (the only type of meat I would eat is fish– there’s no word for that, although some people might call it “hypocrite”), I decided that I would start eating wild game. As long as it was not raised for consumption, in the so-called industrial food complex, then I felt less opposed ethically to eating it. I figured I should probably try hunting to see how I really felt about the whole idea of game. I had been fishing before. Could I hunt?

Hunting turned out to be sort of fun, at least the part about spending quiet, contemplative time outdoors. Field dressing (quartering and gutting the animal) was every bit as horrific as I’d imagined, but all in all, I decided I was OK with it. For me, the biggest challenge was shooting a gun.

So as autumn came, carpeting the ground in yellow and brown leaves, I realized I had to get my gun ready for hunting season. I needed to sight-in, to make sure that the scope was aligned with the barrel and that I was going to, in theory, shoot where I was aiming to shoot.

Yet, I was a little timid. The explosive force of a rifle knocks you backward. It can bruise your shoulder, and you can even get “bit” by your scope. (I have seen more than one person with a black eye and cuts from putting their eye too close to the scope when firing.) Not to mention that after watching the 60 Minutes story on TV about rifles blowing up when fired, I could never, ever get it out of my head. I decided to call in the troops, literally. My friend, an ex-Marine I will call “X” per his request (you know military folks like an air of secrecy), agreed to take me out. I know, asking a guy for help is not exactly the “girl power” move, but at least I knew I’d be safe.

Finding a place to shoot was no problem. X was used to trespassing across enemy lines, sneaking into places. Next, he pulled out an old, cardboard box and duct-taped a grid pattern across a piece of blank paper on one side of the box to make a target. Then he measured out about 85 yards in paces—how do guys do that? They seem so confident measuring out distances with footsteps, whether it’s the distance between bases or horseshoe pits. I can barely tell you how many miles it is to the highway from my house using my odometer.

Now it was go time. For X, not me. I wasn’t shooting it first, not when I had a gun expert to do it. So he shot it three times, tapping the buttons that adjust the scope ever so slightly until it was on target, then handed it to me. Deep breath. You want an elk, don’t you?

The screwy thing about shooting a gun is that it makes you so nervous that your heart pounds and your breathing speeds up—the very same three things that can mess with your shot and make you miss. And as counter-intuitive as it seems to try to find some Zen-like inner peace while you are aiming a rifle, that is just what you have to do.

It all turned out OK. All my shots hit in a nice little cluster around my X (the cross on the target, not my friend X). After the trial run, I feel a little more comfortable with the gun, and it was empowering to hit the target. The real test, though, comes next week when I am out hunting. Because unlike cardboard boxes 85 feet away across a clear field, elk like to move, in and out of the trees, behind hills and away from nervous hunters with pounding hearts and ragged breathing.

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