I grew up with hunters. From family to friends, hunting was all around me. Unfortunately, my experience through my upper teens consisted mostly of accompanying friends into the woods and waiting for a buck to come my way. My heart was in the right place, but my execution was, let’s call it, less than desirable…and that’s really giving me more credit than is due. A typical hunting day for me went as follows: Take hours getting ready, hit woods, sit for hours, finally see deer, fire and miss as said deer high-tailed it away in a taunting manor, repeat. It should be noted here, I am not the best shot. Part of this is a lack of vision in my right eye, causing a complete lack of depth perception. The other part is just a pure lack of skill. Again, heart in the right place…execution, undesirable. Despite my less than stellar marksman skills, I still couldn’t figure out why this equation wasn’t working for me. I love guns, I love the outdoors, I love meat…what in the world was I missing?
The single buck I managed to acquire throughout the years of my hunting attempts kept me holding on to a hunting desire until I graduated high school. A full college course schedule and bartending job that steadily had me posting more than 60 hours a week began to erode my ability to have a social life in general, let alone make time to go all the way home to participate in something that, let’s face it, I sucked at. Plus, as a young woman, hunting was not something most people thought about discussing with me…as a young woman completely blind in one eye, a gun was the last thing anyone wanted to put in my hands. The shot gun I had used around the horse farm as a child shifted possession to my mother, and my fire arm encounters became limited to the occasional back yard testing sessions when a back-woods friend would acquire a new toy. My focus became hiking, camping, snowboarding, cooking and essentially anything outside that didn’t involve aim. Then, came SportDOG.
Starting with SportDOG reignited my passion for hunting and all things shooting sports, especially shot guns. Coming up, a shot gun was only used to scare off varmints on the farm or shoot cans off the fence post (neither of which were my forte, but I liked the sound anyway and it always impressed my friends that I could even load one). Within a year here, I was the proud owner of my own, brand new, 12 gauge over-under, and was taking it on my first upland hunt.
Upland hunting is something I didn’t even realize was an option growing up. I was pretty much under the impression people shot deer, bear, turkey, rabbit and the occasional duck. Hunting with dogs, outside of beagles searching for rabbits, was also a different venture for me. Trekking the fields in search of quail and pheasants with some hardworking pointers guiding the way was a brand new world to me, and it was good.
The afternoon of my first hunt started off a little rocky. I was excited, but hesitant of hunting so close to other people. My group consisted of myself, another female coworker on her first hunt and a guide giddy with excitement about taking out his first all-girl group. Because of that vision deficit I referred to earlier, I made both stand to my left. I very much considered shooting a coworker to be a career-limiting move, and was going to take all precautions to avoid that possibility. Just as my apprehension had eased about going Dick Cheney on my field partners, I learned that shooting a dog had the ample cost of $5,000 for an injury and $10,000 for death. While this “you break, you buy” type policy is completely understandable, it really never occurred to me there was a possibility of shooting a dog. Plus, I don’t know how much you guys make, but I really can’t afford that much money for a dog unless it’s also going to clean my house, mow my lawn and take me back and forth to work. Needless to say, at this point, my goal was more focused on what I shouldn’t be shooting than what I wanted to hit.
Then, there was the first flush. It was amazing to see these dogs just run the field, but to see those pretty points really hit a happy place in my heart. We snuck through the field beside them and I heard that unforgettable hum of a quail flushing right beside me for the first time. I fired without fear of taking out our four legged accomplices and I hit…nothing. The coveys were very small because of the freak snow storm the night before, and I was not the gun slinger to hit the two small options in front of me, but I had an immense desire to change that.
This scene repeated several times. The dogs would do their work, and my partner and I would disappoint them. They’d give us that puppy-eyed look of overwhelming disappointment, and then we’d move onto their next find. Dogs, thankfully, are much more forgiving than people, and I think they sensed that I needed a victory here. Night began to fall on the field and we were forced to begin our journey back to the lodge. I had all but given up hope of returning with a trophy, when the dogs found us one more epically small covey for the night. All of my hopes depended on what couldn’t be more than three birds nestled in the darkening thicket. They flushed and one round fired. Nothing dropped but I saw one quail making it off into the distance. He was a good sixty yards out, but I was not going back empty handed. I aimed, fired and, much to my amazement, and that of my cohorts on this venture, the bird fell.
I turned drop-jawed to my guide and coworker who were equally amazed at this accomplishment. “I’ve never seen one dropped from that far” exclaimed my dumbfounded guide. I maintained my composure for approximately 3 seconds before erupting in cheers that would probably embarrass a seventh-grade girl. I absolutely could not believe I had actually gotten the bird. I swelled with pride as one of the pups brought back my tiny, tasty trophy. That was it. This was my sport. I was hooked.
I wore a goofy, ear-to-ear grin on my face the entire way back to the lodge for dinner, and through most of the meal (when I wasn’t stuffing my face). It didn’t take my coworkers long to figure out I had gone completely birdy. There wasn’t an expedition I wasn’t on for the remainder of the trip. In total, I came out with 17 quail and 1 pheasant. Not an impressive feat by any measure, but enough to make me know I needed more.
Since then I have set to the field for Dove and will try my hand at chukar hunting later this year. My shooting average has quadrupled from a measly 5% to around 20%. Still highly unimpressive, but comparatively I’m feeling like a pro. I may never see the day that I fall more birds than I watch fly away, but I’m still going to keep trying and enjoying every minute of it. There’s a lot of hunting to be done out there, and I intend to try my hand at all of it, but upland hunting will always be what transformed me from enthusiast to hunter.
Eleanor, El, Marshall is Assistant Marketing Specialist for SportDOG. She joined the team a little over 2 1/2 years ago. El is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with majors in Business and Communications. She is a die-hard UT fan, even through the rotten years. El lives in Knoxville with her beagle, Blitz, and her four year-old son. She is a proud momma who intends to educate her son in all things hunting as soon as he’s big enough to carry a shotgun.