"Come here," said the lady with the friendly dancing eyes and a personality with enough magnetism to spin a compass. I could not help but smile big as I stopped in my tracks and then approached her booth. This was the July 2002 Tennessee Deer and Turkey Expo in Nashville where she was helping Ravenwear at their booth. I had met this dynamic lady in passing earlier that day, and even in those first brief moments, I had felt some unspoken synergy with her and knew I would seek her out before the show was over. After a lengthy conversation with her, and her teenage daughter, Joella Bates invited me to a Fall women's Illinois whitetail hunt. I later spoke with the landowners who were hosting that hunt and found that Illinois non-resident tags were sold out, so I could not attend. Joella was quick to invite me on two subsequent hunts, and I eventually made my way to Mississippi in January 2003 right before attending the ATA (Archery Trade Association) show. There were eleven ladies in all, some familiar faces and many new ones. One thing jumped out at me when I arrived a bit late for the orientation, and that was the immediate sense of kinship, not only from the Tara Wildlife management, but from all the other women hunters too. And, I would later find out about Tes Jolly and her little known society of serious hunting women: The NHB's or Nomadic Hunting Babes. This group of women travels from near and far to hunt with each other every year. Each lady at the Tara Wildlife hunt was unique, but each had those same friendly dancing eyes that immediately made you feel welcome. I could see why Joella had invited them.
Tara Wildlife was like being in the land of "Narnia", from the trilogy "Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis. Not only was Quality Deer Management practiced as an art form there, but also the features and creatures of the land were staggeringly beautiful. I saw my first armadillo and enjoyed the ever-present antics of the black fox squirrels that seemed always to be warring with the larger gray squirrels. There were countless varieties of birds. Even the lodge had the ambiance of one's own hunting cabin, replete with a monstrous antler-lined stone fireplace and cozy semi-private sleeping accommodations. After the orientation, everyone shot a few arrows before heading out for the evening hunt. The request of our hosts was to only shoot Pope and Young animals, or does - and we were allowed to shoot one of each per day. The first evening I saw 21 deer and chose not to shoot. The 10,000 acres of Tara were dappled with food plots, groomed and marked trails, and countless twenty-foot high portable tree stands. Mississippi in January is not cold by Minnesota standards, but definitely required layering and hand warmers. It was the last hunt of the season. The whitetails were somewhat educated and bit jittery, bit I still had many shot opportunities. I used my can call and brought in bucks and does on numerous occasions.
I felt lucky the third morning in the pitch dark when I got quietly to my stand and looked up to see a million of glimmering stars. As soon as the woods took on some light, the dew point produced a pea soup fog that descended like a shroud. I could not even range the distances around me, but heard whitetails stirring in all directions, as well as ducks chuckling on the pond a hundred yards away. The barely imperceptible wind swirled in a maddening fashion, both for the deer and for me. I had no idea which direction they would come from, so I opted to stand up so I could have more shot options. I slowly turned my can-call over 4-5 times, toward my jacket so the sound would be ambient and less detectable. 30 seconds later, I saw a buck 80 yards in the distance, skirting some bramble brush and looking for the girlfriend he thought he heard. It was the second rut in Mississippi, and bucks were chasing does with a passion, but with the does mostly disinterested, bucks seemed to respond to calling more than usual. This buck lateralled away from my stand, so I let go with the can-call one more time, then put my release on the bowstring and got ready. The buck did an about face and made his way toward me through the trees, heading for a shooting lane 30 yards from my tree. I went to full draw and waited. He stopped broadside and looked right at me. I held as still as a statue. He was a nice eight pointer with tall tines, but certainly not a booker. I could feel the sweat gathering on my temples and trickling down my back. The Tara guides had indicated that if we shot less than P and Y, we would get an asterisk by our name. If we shot a second lesser buck, we would not be invited back to hunt again. I understood and appreciate the Tara Wildlife dedication to Quality Deer Management. I stood there vacillating whether to chance the dreaded asterisk, or pass on this beautiful animal. I was beginning to tremble at full draw, and the buck caught the movement, perked his ears and stamped his hooves. He turned slowly to walk back the way he came, his tail straight out and eyes darting back and forth. I let back on my draw and my screaming muscles quivered in gratitude as I sat down and let out a heavy sign. Several more does and small bucks arrived and wandered around under my stand until 10 a.m. All of the other gals saw many deer as well. The next day our hosts indicated we could shoot any deer we wanted, but I didn't have a shot opportunity after that.
During one of our roundtable discussions back at the lodge, we all exchanged histories and hunting stories and I was introduced to the NHB's or "Nomadic Hunting Babes". Tes Jolly hunted with several other women in her area of the country and they had coined the name, with one member of the group even making pendants and other things, bearing the "NHB" logo. Their group had met at a Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop years before, and had hunted each year since then. Her hunting partners came from various places near and far, to hunt, enjoy each other's company, and to have "hen parties" as Tes called them. By the end of the Tara hunt, I was unofficially inducted into the Nomadic Hunting Babes as their first member from the North. I'm not sure what that means, but I guess I will find out at the hunts that are planned for 2003. A couple of ladies made unsuccessful shots and Kathy Butt was after a big buck that left many trees shredded to pieces. She never had a shot at the big guy, but did arrow a doe the last day. We all said our farewells and exchanged e-mails. Our hunting group at Tara ranged from younger (Karen Roop with NWTF) to older ladies (me!) from all walks of life, including Sheila who hunted from her wheelchair in a ground blind.
From Tara, I traveled directly to the Archery Trade Association show in Indianapolis where I saw several of the same ladies from the Tara hunt. Shortly after ATA, Joella Bates accepted my invitation to join our ProStaff at WildTech, which will provide more opportunities in the future to hunt with this world-class archer, very classy lady and fellow Nomadic Hunting Babe.
JOELLA BATES, full time hunting professional and five-time world archery champion with a Masters Degree in Wildlife Biology, has conducted seminars before millions of people all over the United States, where she shares her shooting and hunting secrets. Joella has earned the respect of the hunting industry for her dedication, experience, tenacity, professionalism and infectious positive attitude. The first woman ever to arrow an African cape buffalo (pulling 85 pounds), Joella does workshops, hunting clinics, schools, video and seminars on both large and small scale.
For booking information, contact WildTech Corporation at www.firetacks.com.
TARA WILDLIFE, located near Vickburg, Mississippi in the Eagle Lake Community and has more than 13,000 acres of hardwood forests and intermingled agricultural land designated for bowhunting only. More than 200 Pope and Young bucks have been harvested from the Tara properties. Tara also has the largest wetland ecosystem in North America with 20,000 acres of well-managed lakes and forests that are abundant with wildlife. For information call 601-279-4261.
© February 2003