It's a little after 5:00 am and I am getting ready for my first hunt. I arrived at She Hunts Skills Camp the day before and met 15 other girls that are here to either learn how to hunt or to hone their skills. The reality of the day begins to set in. How will I feel when I pull the trigger I wonder? I'm a regular shooter, so shooting is fun and exciting. But what will I feel about my target. How will I feel? Contrite and overwhelmed with sorrow? Or will I be elated, full of excitement, ready for the next hunt? I have decided on a management hunt. This is an animal that is in need of culling from the herd. I meet a cheerful Terry on the porch with my gear and a hot cup of coffee and we wait for our guide Steve to pick us up. Time will reveal the answer to my questions. She gives me tips on what to expect and when I should do this or that. Terry is an experienced huntress and helps to initiate me with little trouble.
Steve pulls up in the Jeep and we load our gear and head off into the surrounding topography You would believe you were deep in Africa if you didn’t know better. The Texas rain is thick and the air is even thicker. We begin our search high and low through the dense brush and shade of trees. We circle calm lakes and through lush valleys and atop hills to no avail. Due to the heavy rainfall, my deer is hiding in the thick cover this morning. We head back to camp for a hearty breakfast, but make plans to return for an evening hunt. Without my knowledge, Shannon and Brittany pull Steve aside and made him promise we weren’t on a fool’s errand.
After a delicious dinner, we once again we head out to find the elusive Rusa. The girls back at camp have given him the nickname “unicorn” as they are unsure he really exists! He has been sought after by many a hunter and huntress for the past several years. Once again, we glass the hills and valleys and inspect the dense foliage only to wonder if he’s really out there.
Terry spots an antler shed and it’s from a Rusa deer, that’s good luck they say. We continue to diligently search. As dusk begins to creep on the scene I wonder if it will happen tonight. We decide to pack it in and as I carefully unload the rifle, something tells me as I do it we'll see him. I lay the unloaded rifle on the floor of the Jeep between Steve and I and sure enough, moments later we spot him! He’s up the hill grazing as if he became bored awaiting our arrival!
We slowly unload ourselves from the Jeep and Steve as grabs the tripod and his binoculars. He notices me fumbling excitedly with the ammo, struggling to press it down from the ejection port into the magazine. He offers assistance as I get to the last round. I quietly place the forearm of the rifle into the cradle of the tripod and get set to take my shot. The “unicorn” is in my crosshairs but he’s not broadside. He starts to slowly graze to the left, still unaware that he has company, and I lean into the rifle and exhale.
I disengage the safety and place my finger gently on the trigger but I don't have a clear shot just yet. I straighten my finger and wait for him to turn all the way and stop so I have a clean shot on his left shoulder. It's getting darker as dusk is creeping in but I can't rush through this. Steve has taught me the importance of an ethical hunt, if it's not a clean shot, wait until you have one. Just as I think I am going to pull the trigger he travels into the bushes. Steve and I look at each other and my heart sinks a little, but I just know that I am going to be successful. I put the rifle on safe and we stalk him from the brush below and get reset. We are now about 50 yards below on a service road waiting for him to saunter out of the bushes.
The night is threatening but there is still time. Just then the “unicorn” appears from the right and strolls out into the open about 45 yards in front of us. I drop the safety and prepare for my shot again. Taking in a deep breath I exhale and Steve makes a noise to get him to stop and look at us. I take the shot! I've made a good shot on his left shoulder, to confirm he rears in disagreement. I feel no emotion it’s all business. He takes off to the left and we pursue quickly on foot. We don’t want to risk losing sight of him with the light waning. As we crest the hill we see he has realizes that something is amiss. He’s turned the other direction so I place another shot into his right shoulder and he quickly concedes onto the dirt.
We are quite a distance from him yet, so the reality of it all still hasn’t set in. We approach and he is still moving. Still no emotion except that I can see that I need to end this quickly. I will have to take a close up shot to dispatch him respectfully. He is put to rest. I feel a little sad but only briefly. I realize for the unicorn, it’s clear he has outlived his usefulness on 777 Ranch. His antlers are worn to nubs and it appears his diet is lacking as his muscle mass is modest. I have done a good thing today. I am pleased with my hunt and I now know that I am a capable huntress.
As we approach, all the ladies are out front waiting to congratulate me. I start to feel some emotion and get a little tearful as I begin to grasp the support of all these women I’ve just met. The adrenaline is still coursing through me and I am smiling from ear to ear as we pull up to the lodge with my first hunt under my belt. Brittany and Shannon are proud to have been part this opportunity and are excited to hear my reaction. I am still feeling a little numb almost, but also excited. After we talk for a few minutes Brittany quietly says to Shannon, “Are you going to do it?” Shannon comes over and dips her finger into the spilled blood of the deer and then paints a stripe across each of my cheekbones with it. I smile and they say it is now official! I am a huntress.
Will I hunt again? A day or two later I once again set out, only this time I want something that I can hang on my wall.
This time I decide on a Catalina Goat.