The first wave of unfamiliar vehicles bearing out-of-state tags started rolling in on Thursday at noon. Each one piled high with boots, bows, and the usual conglomeration of hunting gear plus a few non-typical items, such as makeup bags and curling irons. It was the time of the year when women from every corner of the country converge into west Tennessee to attend the Brenda Valentine, Ladies Bowhunting School. The first two weekends of October were selected for the 2002 events. It was the expectation of glorious autumn weather and the anticipation of plenty of whitetail activity that decided the timing for the unique events.
Spunky outdoor gals from Montana, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, and Arkansas gathered to further their outdoor knowledge and bowhunting skills. Each brought with them a varying degree of experience and an assortment of goals and expectations. The idea of making new friends with similar interests and sharing time with other lady hunters was as important as the hope for an opportunity to take an animal.
Each enrollee seemed as anxious as a first grader when they entered the classroom and found their nametags marking their position at the large table. It was soon a Christmas morning scene as each woman dove into her heap of complimentary, hunting products including new camo outfits. Carbon Express arrows, Redhead shirts and pants, GameTracker safety harnesses, Knight & Hale grunt calls, Savora broadheads, Wildlife Research Center soaps, scents & scent killers were but a few of the hunting necessities provided to every student. RealTree tote bags and license plates, Whisker Biscuit arrow rests, and all kinds of LimbSaver bow silencing accessories were hurriedly being opened and examined.
The International Bowhunter Education program formatted the classroom exercises. The NBEF approved anatomy charts and various shot placement demonstration material was stressed and studied intensely for everyone knew that this is a major key to successful bowhunting. Treestand safety is a major issue, one that can never be over emphasized. Treestand safety videos were given to each participant, furnished by the Gorilla Treestand Company . Along with the full body harness, falls restraint system which is required gear any time a student is off the ground. The NBEF treestand safety video was shown and discussed in class before everyone did the actual climbing practices. It is the portable climbing type stands which always seem to intrigue the ladies most. I expect it is the fascination of mastering a new skill that most had previously felt incapable of even attempting.
Classes do not stop at dark at this intense training camp. Local bow technician and Browning Archery pro-staffer, Dennis Redden, assumed the night class which was designated to learning bow set-ups, fitting, tuning, and basic bow maintenance. Each lady learned by doing as they took their place at the work bench. Using the high speed saw each cut their dozen new Game Tracker carbon arrows to the correct length, glued in inserts, and assembled new Contender 100 broadheads to use later in the week. It was with heads burning with new information that the women finally trudged off the bunkhouse for a short nights sleep.
Paper tuning arrows, weighing bow and arrows, chronographing arrow speeds and figuring each persons' kinetic energy was done systematically. Each student's shooting form was studied, skill level established, and effective hunting range determined. The marked distance range was used to set sight pins and work on shooting form and tighten arrow groups. Gradually, each person graduated to the newly constructed, 3-D, range with an elevated shooting station. Things got really serious during the 3-D tournament. The course was set-up to simulate actual hunting situations as closely as possible. A custom-made hunting knife by the Lakota Knife Co. was awarded to the highest scoring archer.
It requires some skilled and dedicated help to assist each individual with their particular shooting needs. My staff of guides, instructors and range assistants included, Dennis Redden, Debbie Carter, Tim Lacy, Jake McElroy, and my husband, Barney. The heart of any hunting camp is the kitchen and this one is no exception. Meals were plentiful and delicious thanks to Melissa McElroy and Liessa Beecham. To everyone's delight, a licensed massage therapists was on hand to give each lady a full hour of relaxing treatment. Taunt sore muscles from the extreme exertion of the previous days were soon totally forgotten as the therapist worked her soothing magic.
After dinner activities included more bow shooting fun with the Smart System by Trophy Ridge, a revolving shooting game, along with the inevitable campfire story sessions.
Blood trailing is an often underestimated skill but not at this school. Every student found this to be one of the most difficult areas of the course. The woodsman ship and game scouting classes were considered by some to be a fresh discovery of nature, much of which they were previously unaware. Each lesson was a practice for the actual hunting experiencewhich was to follow before weeks end.
Twelve and sixteen foot tall, Gorilla ladder stands had been placed in strategic locations weeks previously for the hunt. With confidences brimming, the camoed ladies were each assigned a guide and escorted to their stand. For some students this was their first hunting experience of any kind. Due to the liberal TN bag limits and high deer density of the area, everyone was encouraged to harvest does as well as bucks. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency hunting laws and game regulations were to be honored and strictly adhered to.
Call it beginners luck or fate, but the first hunter to tag a whitetail was Kim Vickory from Michigan. This was the very first time Kim had ever gone hunting in her life and the very first afternoon in the treestand she shot a cow-horned spike buck. Her cell phone bill surely skyrocketed that night as she called friends and relatives to tell of her success. Soon the game pole was hanging heavy as other arrows found their mark.
Not everyone was as lucky as Kim but as most experienced bowhunters will attest, it is the outdoor experience and the heart throbbing anticipation of a close encounter which is the real rewards of bowhunting. Every lady bowhunter that attended either session of this school has now felt those rewards. Each newly certified bowhunter departed to their respective homes with newfound friends, honed hunting skills and a wealth of outdoor knowledge. Perhaps the greatest thing gained from this experience is the self-confidence to defy convention and plow headlong into new adventures throughout life.