When people learn I work for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they assume I hunt. In fact, I am often asked where I hunt, what animals I hunt and more. Often they are surprised to learn that while many Park Rangers hunt, I do not. That is, I never hunted until a few weeks ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I am very much pro-hunting. I know well the value it brings to conservation and wildlife management. I simply didn’t choose to hunt for many reasons (some of which were lousy excuses rather than valid reasons).
To begin with, hunting is often a family tradition and I didn’t grow up in that environment. None of my relatives hunt. I believe the act of sharing a hunting experience is just as important as the outcome of the hunt. It’s a family event and I never had that opportunity. (Weak excuse, I know.)
Then I admit I was intimidated because of my lack of knowledge of hunting. Over the years I was invited to join a couple of waterfowl hunting expeditions. It sounded like fun. But I did not want to be the beginner in a group of veteran hunters and hold back the rest of the group. (Another lame excuse.)
Finally, I didn’t have any of the gear required to go hunting.
While I believe it’s true that family tradition is a great way to start a life of hunting, it shouldn’t have stopped me or anyone else from taking up the sport. I can start my own family hunting tradition.
And I never should have feared I might ruin my friends’ hunting trips due to my inexperience. Heck, my friends knew I had never hunted and still they asked me to go. They must not have been too concerned.
As for the gear, how hard is it to borrow or pick up the basics needed for a hunting trip? Not that hard.
So what finally got me over my phobia?
CPW gave me the opportunity to go to a conference called “Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow.” The weeklong session was full of conservation and wildlife managers, environmental planners and a host of other professional titles from across the nation.
The one thing we all had in common? In order to qualify for the conference, you must never have hunted. There would no more excuses for me not to give hunting a try.
The West Virginia location was gorgeous and full of colonial history. The days were long and every aspect of hunting, fishing and trapping were discussed and all of our hundreds of questions were answered.
We had firearm training, regulation, ethics and the biology of hunting as a management tool classes. The instructors were biologists, wildlife managers, college professors who teach wildlife and conservation classes and even a retired CPW region manager.
What did the instructors all have in common? They are all avid hunters. On the last full day, we knew we would have the opportunity to participate in a pheasant hunt. It was not required and many said they would watch but not actually hunt.
I told myself before attending that I was going to hunt to just prove to myself that I could and because pheasant is delicious meat.
On the day of the hunt, we were taken to a private bird hunt facility that was located on a Civil War battlefield. We were hunting in pairs and my partner was Olivia Braun, an environmental planner in Pennsylvania. Olivia and I were assigned instructors to mentor us during the hunt.
My mentor, Gordon, was awesome and I knew he was only watching me and keeping everything safe. We went with a guide named Bubba and an English Pointer named Mickey. Before we left, Olivia said she was going to take her gun for a hike and not actually hunt. We were both nervous and excited.
We set out through the tall grass field with Bubba and Mickey between us and watched the dog go to work. It was not long before Mickey stopped, his tail went straight out and the right foot came off the ground. Bubba stepped ahead of the dog and flushed a rooster pheasant, but Mr. Chubby Rooster did not get high enough off the ground to take a shot.
This happened again with a hen.
Then a rooster went up, I saw blue sky and pointed my shotgun at the bird and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened due to a gun malfunction. Gordon fixed that issue and we continued across the field.
Then it happened. Mickey and Bubba flushed a hen that flew up. Olivia and I both took shots and missed. (So much for Olivia “taking her gun for a hike!”) After taking shots, we both relaxed, Our “first shot jitters” were out of the way.
We turned around and came back across the field and Mickey searched and searched for a bird with no luck. Then, as we neared the end of the field, Mickey stopped, his nose went up in the air and he started slowly going back and forth.
Then his nose went down, his tail went straight and one paw came off the ground. Bubba walked to the spot but no bird flew. He told Mickey to show him the bird. Mickey stood like a statue.
Suddenly, Bubba stopped and looked down and exclaimed: “I just stepped on it!”
Yep, my first pheasant was harvested by a boot, not a gun.
I cleaned the bird, packaged it and brought it home.
A highlight of the hunt was watching the dog work, having a mentor like Gordon to help me and sharing the hunt with Olivia. Neither of us was sure we could do it, for completely different reasons. But we took a shot and felt great about it.
Will I do it again? Absolutely. I still don’t have the gear, but now that I know what I need, it is less concerning.
If you want to try hunting, CPW has a program called the Rookie Sportsman Program in Colorado Springs and it’s exactly what my experience was in West Virginia, but more detailed. Many conservation groups such as Wild Turkey Federation, Colorado Bowhunters and many others offer mentored hunt programs.
I fully intend to pheasant hunt again as soon as I can, and hopefully not need Bubba’s boot to bring home a bird.
Written by Darcy Mount. Mount is a Senior Ranger Cheyenne Mountain State Park.