The Thrill of the Huntress

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To many non-hunters, hunting is a mysterious and macabre pastime, and the mere sight of a camouflage-clad individual carrying a gun brings to mind all sorts of unpleasant associations. But even among the urban-based, sustainable-eating, co-op-shopping crowd there’s an increasing awareness that hunting can be local, sustainable, and humane–certainly more so than eating a domesticated animal raised in a crowded barn, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and killed assembly-line style in a slaughterhouse. If you’re going to eat meat, the thinking goes, at least kill and butcher the animal yourself after it’s lived a natural life in the wild.

So I was intrigued to come across an interview in Sierra Sportsmen with a hunter who defies many hunter stereotypes and addresses these sorts of issues head-on. Holly Heyser is a Northern California-based writer who blogs as NorCal Cazadora and writes for some of the Utne Reader staff’s favorite foodie mags, including The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, and Meatpaper. (Coincidentally, she’s also an ex-editor at a newspaper where I once worked, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.) Her blog is a mixture of hunting stories, gear reviews, and intelligently opinionated commentary, and this excerpt from the Sierra Sportsmen interview offers a glimpse into the world of this self-described “huntress”:

What do you think women bring to the “traditional” world of hunting?

A lot. One of the most important things right now is credibility. Hunting’s biggest problem right now is that the non-hunting public doesn’t know much about hunting, and has terrible stereotypes of hunters–like we’re all drunken, lawless poachers who go on shooting rampages in the forest, cut off trophy heads and leave the rest behind to rot. Like all stereotypes, this one obviously has real-life examples, but it does not represent who we are. I live in a world of non-hunters–journalists and university professors–and when I tell people I hunt, their first question is almost always, “Do you eat what you kill?” Well, no shit, Sherlock. Do you think I’m going to spend eight hours shivering in a marsh to bring down a few ducks and noteat them? …

So why are women important? Here’s why: It’s easy to stereotype a male hunter, because once he’s in his camo, you can’t tell if he’s an insurance executive or an unemployed alcoholic. But when you see a woman out there in the field, it’s immediately difficult to categorize her, because she doesn’t fit the mold. Women are nurturing. Can you imagine a woman going on a shooting rampage in the forest and leaving everything but the racks to rot? No way! In fact, research by Responsive Management in Virginia shows that meat is the No. 1 reason women hunt, and hunting for meat has the highest level of acceptance by the general public.

This stereotyping issue is obviously unfair to men, but it presents a great opportunity for women hunters to be positive ambassadors to the non-hunting world.

Another thing women bring to hunting is our style of relating to one another. When I hunt with men, they’ll always rib each other for missing shots. When I hunt with women, we really cheer on each other’s good shots, and we coo soothingly about the missed shots. “Oh, that was a tough one–I don’t think I could’ve gotten that.” …

What are some of the things you learned about yourself while hunting?

The first thing I learned is that all that play I did as a child had purpose. When I was a kid, we lived on five acres near an irrigation ditch in the San Joaquin Valley, and I would spend my free time prowling around the property, examining plants and animals, hiding, seeing how close animals would get to me if they couldn’t see me. The very first thing I thought when I started hunting was, “Wow, this is just like play!” Not that taking animals’ lives is a game, but that my play as a child had a purpose, just like it does with puppies and kittens. This is what I’m wired to do.

I’ve also become much more aware of the food chain, and my place in it. On that five-acre farm, my family raised animals for meat, so I was no stranger to slaughtering and butchering, but going out and doing it myself makes it much more real. I actually eat less meat now than I ever have, and I never, ever waste it. I have so much respect for it. And I also see animals much more as equals. Anti-hunters think we’re animal haters, but we’re really not.

Being an active participant in the food chain makes me understand we are all equal occupants of this earth. Before I started hunting, I never apologized to a hamburger, but I almost always apologize now to the animals I’ve shot, and I express gratitude for the sustenance they give me. Vegans have told me that this is a sign of my guilt and I should just stop eating meat, but I disagree with that because I accept that I’m an omnivore whose body needs meat. What it really is is a sign of my respect for the life around me, and a reflection of my understanding that killing should never be taken lightly.

Read the full interview here.

Sources: Sierra Sportsmen, NorCal Cazadora

Image courtesy of Holly Heyser, © Holly A. Heyser 2009.

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