I'm a tough old broad. But as I watched my purse getting ransacked, and my cherished mini pocket knife getting confiscated, the lump in my throat rose and I cried inside. The inscribed knife was awarded after I successfully completed my NRA Certification as a firearms instructor over twelve years ago. It had been a permanent resident in my handbag ever since. I had not flown since the 9/11 tragedy and had no idea that this wee fixture was a no-no, and had quite forgotten it was there as we rushed late to the airport at 5am. After being searched, frisked and deemed harmless, my daughter consoled me and we proceeded to our plane. We were on the way to an all womens archery hog hunt at the Palmer Ranch in Florida.
This hunt in itself was unbelievable. In my article "Teach Your Children",I shared how my now sixteen year old daughter Liz had categorically rejected hunting, or anything related to it, since she was in grade school. I had been invited on this all womens hog hunt by North American Archery Group (NAAG) and was asked if I knew any young ladies who had never hunted before and who would like to give hog hunting a try. Expecting to be soundly rejected, I approached my daughter about it. To my astonishment, she agreed to go. I am sure the Florida part had a lot to do with her decision, but if thats what it took to get her in a tree stand with a bow, that was okay by me. NAAG sent Liz a crossbow due to the short time frame, and we went to Bwana Archery in the Twin Cities to get her set up. The owner, John Larson, took considerable time to build, adjust, and tune her archery equipment, and to provide personal instruction until she was nailing the bulls eye every time. Arriving in Fort Lauderdale, we were met by shuttle for the two hour drive to the ranch. NAAG provided camo bug suits and hats, and since Liz and I wear the same size, we shared all my camo clothing. Liz had just finished attending her first High School Prom the week before, and now she going to wear camo. I could hardly believe it.
Once at the ranch, we were introduced to the other nine lady hunters, and proceeded to gear up for the evening hunt. Our group included Chris Kinsey, Kathy Butt, Carolee Boyles, Brenda Potts, Deb Vanderbeek, Barb White, Julie Schuster, Ashley Palmer, Liz and me. We all had varying degrees of expertise, but both Deb and my daughter had never hunted before. The hunt was being filmed, and the hunt organizers had Ted Jaycox with "Inside the World of Hunting" accompany me on my first two hunts. My daughter had elected to hunt with NAAGs Marketing guru, Joe White. The afternoon temps were in the stifling high 90s, and besides having a great laugh watching Ted chase a herd of cows away from the hog feeder, the evening was uneventful. We were all excited for the next mornings hunt. With the weather so hot, the hogs again were not moving. We did see many turkeys, quail, squirrels, deer, sand cranes and other wildlife. Deb arrowed her first hog that morning and the rest of us were elated with her success. She was immediately and hopelessly addicted to archery hunting, but then we were pretty sure she would be.
Liz and Joe were the last to arrive back at the compound before lunch. As Liz walked up, she beamed and proudly held up a raccoon by the tail. "We didnt see any pigs in range, but Joe said I should take a shot and I got this raccoon with my first arrow!". Our hosts Charlie and Laura Palmer, had earlier announced a "Grand Slam" prize of $1000 for whoever took a raccoon, an armadillo and a squirrel. Being in competitive sports at the Junior Olympic level, Liz always likes a challenge, and I could see she was pretty pleased with herself. I could also see she was vacillating between being excited and proud, but still clinging to her paradigm of being grossed out by dead critters. However, she was quick to want photos with the coon and her archery equipment.
Inside my heart, I want to dance, whoop and holler like a banshee, and do cartwheels. I wanted to drop to my knees and kiss the ground and thank God that she was enjoying this hunt. But you know, we Moms absolutely NEVER want to commit the faux pas of embarrassing our teenage daughters by acting silly, at least not publicly. So, I just stood there being cool as my innards turned inside out with excitement. Just MAYBE.... Liz was going to like hunting.
The hunt organizers decided to send four of us ladies to another ranch for the Saturday evening hunt, with hopes that more hogs would be moving there. The camera crew left me and went with Brenda, and I took a box stand in a cluster of trees, surrounded by endless miles of fields latticed with dry water ditches. Grazing cows dotted the landscape in every direction. It was hot, dry and windy for the first three hours, but as the huge veiled yellow sun lazily sank and skimmed the horizon, the wind died and I could just smell that the magic hour had set in. Glassing the fields around me, I saw pigs about a quarter mile away, making their way in my direction. I figured they would get to me about 20 minutes before dark. Perfect. I was ready. Everything was going right.
Just as that thought escaped, I heard the swamp buggy engine in the distance. "Nooooo", I whined to myself. "They cant be coming now!". Alas, they were, and Carolee was already on board and looking as contemplative as I felt. I assembled my gear and climbed aboard. Apparently there was an event planned, and since the ranch was a half hour away, we needed to head out.
"I saw hogs coming my way, in the field ahead, and the wind is perfect", I said softly. The driver slowed the swamp buggy and glassed the field. Sure enough. Two herds of about 15 pigs each looked to be ten minutes out. He looked backed at us, and then at Joe White who was riding shotgun. "Girls get your bows ready, Joe lets grab our guns... were gonna do a spot and stalk.
A "Spot and Stalk"? I had never done that before.
Carolee and I looked at each other in disbelief and glee for a split second... and then we were on it like cats. A hedgerow atop a mile long berm stood between us and the pigs, as the four of us half walked/half ran about 500 yards. The pigs changed direction several times, which kept us skittering back and forth to get in position. My heart was going to beat 90 now, and between that and the heat, I was sweating wet from head to toe. I shinnied up the berm on a white sand hog trail, and crouched on my knees going to full draw for the shot. The lead hog was in range, but branches obscured a clear shot. When one of the guys said "shoot", in my excitement, I did so without thinking. The arrow glanced off a twig, and just took a little tallow and hair off the first pig. They sprayed in all directions. Dang, I blew that one. We all regrouped for Plan B as the second wave of pigs approached.
Plan B was to crawl up the berm, sneak over the top between the scrub brush, slither down the other side into a ditch, belly crawl up the ditch and wait for the hogs to get right on top of us. Carolee was shooting a crossbow and hit her shooting position like a soldier. "This is how we do it elk hunting", she grinned. Ohhhh boy... this is how I had never done anything in my life before, and I was excited out of my mind ! My heart was pounding in my ears like a bass drum. I crawled up the ditch, slowly poked my head up and saw the hogs about two minutes out. Ducking back down, we agreed that Carolee would shoot the lead hog, and I would shoot the second hog. We had to shoot together if we were going to both get a pig, so we had to give each other a signal to shoot simultaneously. Poking my head up again, I saw it was time to draw. I had never drawn my bow back kneeling and hunkered over, but adrenalin overcame that problem. Now at full draw, I oozed slowly upward, with that familiar predator in me replacing the adrenalin with a steel eyed focus on my target. At 20 yards, my hog went from broadside to suddenly coming straight toward me and the hair on Carolees hog was now standing straight on end. The pigs knew something was up. "I cant shoot, I cant shoot", I whispered to my hunting partner. "The minute hes broadside, give me a signal", she shot back. Bingo... Pig #2 turned for me. "I AM SHOOTING NOW. Right NOW!"...... I whisper growled the words, as both of our arrows leaped through the hot evening air and connected with our targets. Now I was soaking wet, weak kneed and shaking. I crumpled for a second, then leaped up to watch the hogs escape path. It was a double lung shot, with my bright yellow & orange fletching a stark contrast against the hogs black hide. All four of us tracked the hogs. I had to put another arrow into my animal. Carolees pig bolted into the thick brush and we lost him as night fell. The guys brought the swamp buggy around and we headed out in the dark.
I have been a tree stand hunter, duck blind hunter, and ground blind hunter, but this was my first "spot and stalk". And, oh yes, I think I like spot and stalk hunting a lot. I also think I have a lot yet to learn about spot and stalk hunting.
Carolee and Chris got hogs the next morning. While my daughter never had a shot at a pig, she was fearlessly hunting alone on stand by the end of the three days. She was very excited with the anticipation of harvesting an animal herself. She claimed that sitting on stand was boring, and that she did not get adrenalin from her bow shot. However, she has not ruled out hunting in the future. As for me, her very patient mother, mentor and friend, I have no expectations beyond my daughters ultimate happiness, and if its hunting or not hunting, that is up to her. I am grateful that she at least tried hunting and I hope that we can someday share the bond of the outdoors as hunting buddies.
In summary, and from my heart, I want thank Bwana Archery and owner John Larson for getting Liz excited and setting up her equipment. I want to thank the all the ladies on the hunt, both new and tenured hunters, for showing Liz how much excitement and camaraderie there is with our sport. And I especially want to thank Palmer Ranch and North American Archery Group/Jennings for providing both venue and equipment to bring new hunters into the fold, and for helping my formerly anti-hunting daughter to "see the light". I Just hope that I will be writing Part 3 of this saga some day, where Liz takes her first big game animal with a bow and where I am by her side to share the thrill of that experience.
Florida Lady Hunters at Palmer Ranch