Women in the Woods

Women in the Woods
It’s game on for these outdoor enthusiasts

By Brantley Snipes
Photography by Tom Beck

When the topic for this article came up, the adage, “It takes one to know one,” kept playing in my mind.
   Being that I usually have a loose turkey call floating around my purse, and at least one piece of camouflage floating around my Tahoe, it’s safe to say I am one who knows some. At least now I do, thanks to this article.
   I tend to be the odd “lady” out in my group of friends, as one who doesn’t mind getting up at 5 a.m. to be in the woods sporting camo or spending my weekends in a tree stand instead of a spa. Hunting is my hobby. It’s part of who I am, and it has been a part of my life since I can remember.
   Hunting, for me, started as a chance to ride around with my dad and eat Cheetos with corndogs, washed down with Gatorade (or our pick of beverage from the gas station cooler). When told I couldn’t go, on the rare occasion, I think I was most upset to miss out on the Cheeto opportunity, as my mom was insistent on homemade goodness when we were growing up.
   Over time, the sport clicked and ignited a passion and a love that has shaped my career path (landscape architect), location of where I decided to settle down (our land is thirty minutes from where I live), my breed of dog (beagle), and has influenced more life decisions than I can even tally, if even in the smallest of ways. Many of my greatest life memories and stories come from hunting trips or tales associated with them.
   In the early hunting (and Cheeto) years, my dad and I focused on the whitetail deer, and while that infatuation still exists, we have shifted our attention, or rather our obsession, to the wild turkey. We’ve traveled the country in pursuit of the bearded, horribly ugly, yet beautiful bird that can make you feel like you are an animal whisperer one moment, and a complete and total idiot the next. Fellow hunter Kim Rogers relates turkey hunters to hopeless romantics who returned “to the woods for weeks, talking and buying the turkey gifts; they may come out once, but they may not, but the next day [we] do it all over again.”
   Yet, despite how the turkey makes you feel, being alive and totally present as the spring woods come alive in the morning is a taste of heaven. Nothing on earth can make you feel closer to our Creator than the sun rising, the whip-poor-will’s last verse drifting away as the chorus of forest birds begins, and life entering the stillness of the woods. The woods, during a hunt, are the last true place one can escape in this data-driven, constantly connected world. To me, hunting is not about what animal is harvested; it’s about being in communion with the natural world and connected to forces so much greater than I.
   I’m thrilled to introduce you to some other women of the Delta who feel the same way. Ladies, who like me, struggle to find a flattering fit of camo, reside in the minority of a sport, and probably have missed a few momentous life occasions (such as a dear friend’s baby shower to work on completing a single season turkey grand slam—she’s a dear friend, she understood). You’ll soon understand that hunting is part of our fabric, who we are, and what we live to do. So without further ado, I give you the ladies of the hunt…

KIM ROGERS
   For Kim, duck hunting is “not the green head piles, which are nice, don’t get me wrong, but having special moments afield with family and friends.” All of Kim’s memories of hunting, whether it is deer, duck, or turkey revolve around time spent with those closest to her. Whether it is time spent with her dad, brothers, or husband, it’s the moments spent in nature that have shaped her love of the sport.
   Kim and her husband B. C. took their love of the hunt and created a waterfowl and upland game gear company, Wren & Ivy, founded out of a common love for the field, rooted in the traditions and ethics of the sporting lifestyle, and proud of [their combined] hunting heritage. Wren & Ivy combines classic styling with modern functionality in the gear they create.
   Kim got her start hunting with her father and brothers, who expected her to “hold her own” in the woods and she was given all the same opportunities as her brothers. Special relationships between all of them were kindled through shared hunting experiences and shared time together in the woods. The same rings true today with her husband’s family, who are all avid outdoorsmen and women. According to Kim, her mother-and sister-in-law will outshoot you, and then serve you hot chocolate before you ever blink while in the duck blind.
   Kim’s love of nature drives her pursuit of the sport today. Like her grandfather, Kim feel’s closest to the Creator while in his creation. To her, watching the sunrise over the cypress trees or as it crashes like glass into the break, the wind carries his voice and once again it seems her grandfather is sitting next to her. She’s instantly transported back to his front porch and the time spent with him. Spending time in the outdoors is a spiritual experience, a time when all worries dissipate into the natural environment as a flight of mallards enters, or a turkey begins to gobble, or a deer rustles the leaves around her stand.
   Growing up in the industry, Kim was always treated as an equal in the sport. She’s been blessed with a family where hunting and thriving in the outdoor environment is a way of life. Even though Kim has never felt like the “odd lady out,” she understands the need for some women to overcome certain stereotypes as hunters. But Kim’s philosophy is to just “Do the work. Educate yourself. In the offseason, pull back your bow, shoulder your gun, fill feeders, ask questions and find your answers. I believe if you feel you belong, then you probably do, regardless of what other people may think.”
   One of the real beauties of the woods is that judgments don’t reside in nature; judgments live only in people. “A duck doesn’t care if you are a girl, a deer doesn’t care if you are tall or short, and what a beautiful lesson. If only people could be more that way, as God intended.”
   Kim would love to get more women involved in the sport and believes it comes down to simple encouragement, invitations, and even making sure they have the right gear. Having newcomers comfortable and adjusted to the natural conditions is a must. Not everyone grows up as Kim did in a hunting family, but she and her husband both try to show as many people as they can what wonderful people make up the hunting community.

MOLLIE VAN DEVENDER
   Mollie’s hunting passport is something truly remarkable for any hunter, but especially for someone who took up the sport at age thirty-three. Mollie has traveled the globe pursuing her love of the sport with these experiences: Taking the Big Five (Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, and Cape Buffalo) in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa; taking an up-close elk with her bow; moose and two bears in Canada; boars in Hungary; and a Boone and Crocket whitetail in Mississippi. Each experience can bring her to tears just reliving what special moments that have created in her memory.
   What started as an escape for a mother of three, turned into a lifelong passion that has become a family legacy. Mollie spends her time hunting in Mississippi at Tara Lodge outside of Vicksburg. It’s there where her family has created so many hunting memories gathering for holidays and special occasions. All four of Mollie’s children took their first deer with her, as well as her friend’s children. Her granddaughter, Mollie, just harvested her first doe with her this past deer season.
   Not only is hunting about creating memories and passing down a legacy, but before Mollie joined the sport, she carefully researched how hunting is a conservation technique as deer become over- populated in areas. To this day conservation is an essential part of who she is, as she owns The Onward Store, which celebrates America’s greatest conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt, and his first bear hunt.
   Actively pursuing hunts throughout the world, Mollie loves the “adventure and the fair chase of pursuing an animal.” Mollie shares, “Being quiet and in sync with the habitat God has provided for all of us on this earth is amazing. We are all adapted to our habitat and animals in the wild are no exception. To be able to pursue game in their natural habitat and take a majestic trophy is unmatched.” The guides, challenges, friends, and memories are woven into the very fabric of who she is.
   Participating in a male-dominated sport doesn’t bother Mollie one bit. She believes that if you truly love something like she does hunting, then you follow your heart and become the best you can be. “To ignore a pursuit at something that is woven in your heart and soul is wrong. One must find what gives them joy and go for it whether on a small scale or full-blown.”

STEPHANIE MCGARRH
   Stephanie McGarrh doesn’t know life without hunting. Growing up with a hunting club on her family property, she’s been hunting since the age of five, having harvested her first solo deer at age eleven. It’s been a lifelong passion ever since. Today, Stephanie hunts at Merigold Hunting Club. It’s her absolute favorite place.
   For Stephanie, the woods are the greatest part of hunting and bring an indescribable love and appreciation to her life. They teach her something new every time she hunts.
   Stephanie is involved in all aspects of the hunt, such as the maintaining and putting up stands, planting food plots, cutting limbs, battling the mosquitos, the snakes, poison ivy, the briars, and the sweat of working in the woods in the July heat of the Mississippi Delta. Her greatest challenge of being a hunter is to balance her role as mother, her profession as a full-time nurse, complete the family grocery shopping, clean the house (and hunting cabin), and preparing meals with work that comes with hunting—the scouting, putting out cameras in pre-season, finding time to shoot her bow in the off-season. Women may have a harder time being able to dedicate as much time in the woods as the guys, but to Stephanie, the hard work is what makes the sport so rewarding.
   She was well into adulthood before she realized she was the minority in her sport, as hunting was just a way of life for her family. Friends in college would be shocked, amazed, and confused when they learned about her passion for hunting. Others thought she was just doing it to impress the boys or be cute, but that didn’t sway Stephanie from the sport. Once people really got to know her, they understood, and to this day, she doesn’t hunt for approval or recognition from the boy’s club–it’s about personal growth and her passion for the sport she loves.

MACI FLAUTT
   Maci Flautt’s greatest hunting memory involves taking some vegan co-fellows from California on their first deer hunt in Mississippi. Not intending to shoot anything, but provide her friends with true hunting opportunity, a buck walked out, and Maci dropped it at 275 yards. Not only did Maci have a trophy buck on her wall, but she had provided an experience that her co-fellows continued to talk about when they returned home.
   Maci says, “I never intended on harvesting anything that trip because I was going to let them take a doe if one decided she wanted to try. All of a sudden, we saw a big buck coming across the pasture. I asked the girls if they minded if I shot. Both said they were excited to see me shoot. I dropped the buck at 275 yards with one shot. It wasn’t until we got up to the deer that I realized he had a drop tine. We were all so excited! They were on an adrenaline rush from what had just happened, and I was thrilled with my new trophy! Because I knew this experience was new for them and they were vegan, I offered to drop them off before I dressed the deer. They wouldn’t have it. So the three of us dressed the deer ourselves.
   The sport of hunting has meant different things to Maci throughout her life. As a child, it meant spending time with her father at the local hunting club. As a teenager, it meant sibling rivalry. As a young adult, it meant escaping city life back in the woods of Mississippi. As an adult, it means escaping life’s demands for an afternoon. As a wife, it means spending time with her husband, and as a mother, it means passing down a family tradition to her daughters.
   Maci’s earliest hunting memories are being at the hunting club, playing with her friends, and then taking part in dog running hunts. The excitement had her hooked—all the men talking in radio code names and rushing from spot to spot trying to predict where the deer and dogs would cross. Their hunting club was never one “for guys only.” Children were welcome to hunt and take part in the action, regardless of their gender.
   Throughout her hunting career, taking risks and experiencing new locations in places such as Colorado and Texas has taught Maci a lot about herself and helped her grow more confident in her hunting abilities, despite her own perceived expectations. She believes it’s these experiences that shape future (and current) hunters.

ESTHER VIRDEN
   Hunting for Esther started as a bet with her husband after his muzzleloader misfired at thirty yards. Once the expletives of a missed ten point had cleared the stand, Esther insisted she could have dropped it, and her husband invited her to try. From that point on, “It was game on.” Esther dropped her first buck on her first hunt, and she’s now been hunting for eighteen years trying to go at least twice a month during deer season. People often ask how she got involved and she loves to tell the story!
   Esther has traveled the world hunting and it is a family affair. From those experiences, her most memorable harvests are a wildebeest and a waterbuck, both taken in Africa. “The wildebeest is special because it was my first large animal in Africa and the waterbuck just appeared right in front of me!” Another one of her most exciting hunting memories is watching her son take a Gemsbock in Africa. But of all her travels, her fondest destination hunt has been in South Africa, where it’s just as beautiful to visit, as it is to hunt.
   Arriving a tad later to the sport, Esther has never felt marginalized as a lady hunter. For her it’s just a great escape into the peace and quiet and she believes that aspect, along with a good book, is one of the most appealing things that would attract more women to sport.

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