Proper Technique for Shooting Semi-Auto Pistols

There is a Right Way to shoot…

Going to the gun range in the Wildlife Management Area or the local chirt-pit is always an interesting experience. You never know what you’ll see. Sometimes you see Military veterans who are an excellent marksman with their long-distance rifles. Sometimes you see older men teaching their grandchildren with .22’s putting holes in pumpkins. And sometimes you see good ol’ boys having a great time shooting shotgun casings off of the fence post. Everyone I have met there is passionate about gun safety, conservation, proper land management, and our constitutional freedoms.  But something I have learned from watching his vast array of people – proper shooting technique is critical if you want to shoot well.

We have all seen the YouTube videos of people getting knocked down when they shoot a gun. This is all because the shooter didn’t know what they what they were doing. They are using improper shooting technique, so the force of the felt recoil knocks them off balance. This doesn’t have to happen.

I love to watch trick shooting competitions. Gerry Michalek makes it look so easy. Watching the competitions is not only awe-inspiring, but it is highly educational. I can’t do much yet, but I can shoot the Annie Oakley Trick (standing backward, shooting over your shoulder, holding a hand mirror) with a .22 revolver. One day I’ll be able to do more.  Until then, I’ll keep on reading articles about technique, watching the Great Marksmen, and practicing.

Please keep in mind, these recommendations are for target shooting, not necessarily the same tactics used in defensive situations. I can’t recommend enough the value of defensive shooting training. If you carry to protect your loved ones, get the training. It’s an invaluable tool that can keep your loved ones safe when every second counts.

Safety First

Always assume the gun is loaded. Everyone needs to be taught gun safety – even children. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to shoot; make sure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Never put your finger on the trigger until your ready to shoot.

Keep your eyes and ears protected. Always.

While practicing the correct grip and stance – its best to go ahead and be standing at the range and facing downrange. Make sure the gun is empty. Remove the magazine – no, it’s not a “clip” –  and pull back the slide a few times to ensure that the chamber is empty. Lock the slide open and reinsert an empty magazine. Release the slide so that it can go forward. Now you’re ready to dry fire!

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Body Position

Breathing is one of the most underutilized aspects of shooting. Learning to breathe slowly, and deep. Timing your breath with your heartbeat and at the stillest moment in your body, pull the trigger. That respiratory pause is a moment when your chest muscles are completely relaxed. Remember, tension anywhere but your wrists and hands will ruin accuracy. Some trainers will tell pistol shooters to inhale as they raise their pistol to the target, hold their breath as they squeeze the trigger, and exhale during the follow through. I’ve tried both, but I prefer shooting during the natural respiratory pause – this method will carry over rifle shooting, shotgun, and archery.

There are three main standing shooting stances, the Isosceles, the Weaver and the Modified Weaver. From what I’ve seen in competition shooting, most of “the Greats” use the Isosceles. You should stand comfortably, your shoulders relaxed. You won’t shoot well being really stiff or tense in your shoulders. Keep your arms fully extended, when possible, but not locked.

Some trainers will tell you to stand a little sideways with one leg way out in front of you – but you will actually hinder yourself if you do this. It limits your range of motion. Stand squarely facing your target. One foot can be slightly in front, but not much. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your knees can bend just a little – don’t let them lock up.
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Your shoulders need to be forward. Its a fairly natural stance. Don’t hunch your shoulders up or duct your head down. Stay relaxed and lean forward slightly. Keep them in front of your hips. Never lean backward. Shooting properly with a pistol requires you to stand slightly leaning forward. Your weight has to have a forward bias in order to counteract the felt recoil. If the felt recoil throws off your balance, lean forward a smidgen more. This allows you to have more control over the gun, to prevent muzzle rise, and to get back on target.

You’ll want to bring the gun up to your dominant eye. Don’t turn your head. This needs to be as natural and automatic of a stance as possible. If you don’t bring the gun up to your dominant eye, you’ll hunch your shoulders or tilt your head – and that’s altogether just too much movement.

A Firm Grip

Proper grip is key to making sure the muzzle stays pointed at the target. The more upwards rise in your muzzle, the more time it takes to get back on target. Also, if your muzzle rises while your bullet is still exiting the barrel, it will throw off your accuracy.

The grip is another one of those areas that a great many shooters will disagree with. Judging from experience as well as from listening to numerous YouTube interviews of competition shooters – some grip techniques are better than others.

Keep both hands on your gun. This will give you tighter groupings as you have more control over the gun. Don’t use your non-dominant hand to brace your wrist, or hold the bottom of your gun grip – that’s called Teacupping and it serves absolutely no purpose at all. Your non-dominant hand serves as a vital stabilizer. If your non-dominant hand is not pretty tired from a long day on the range, you’re not using it enough.

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Make sure the center of the frame of your gun lines up along the center of your arm – along with the Ulna bone. This helps the recoil to be centrally and directly back so that it is more easily managed and you stay on target better.

Your non-dominant hand is to cover as much as the exposed area of the side of the grip as possible. This is very important. Recoil moves along the path of least resistant – so the more control you have over the movement of your gun, the less felt recoil and the more accurate you will shoot. Your non-dominant hand is slightly more forward on the gun than your dominant hand.

Your elbows need to be relaxed, but not floppy. Not locked either. They need to be secure. Hold your pistol with a very firm grip – a little stronger than a good strong handshake. This is not a death grip. There is no need in holding it so tight that your hand shakes. A firm grip reduces the amount of movement your non-trigger fingers will have – which is better for accuracy.

Your wrists need to be locked over center, and you press inward with both hands holding your gun in place. Like Gerry Michalek says, “Don’t noodle” – the front of your gun can’t wobble. You need to be aware of, and in such control of each movement, your gun makes that it is like an extension of your hand. This comes from pressing from your wrists to hold the gun firmly on target. It feels awkward at first – keeping very firmly on center without tensing up in your arms and shoulders.

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You’ll want your thumbs to be on the same side as your non-dominant hand. Your thumbs will point generally towards the target. They don’t really do much, just sit over there out of the way.  Your non-dominant fingers have a bit of wiggle room too. They can be over or under the trigger guard – this preference can vary between the way various pistols fit your hand. Whichever one ensures you have a solid grip, one that allows you to naturally hold the gun on target.  Do keep your thumbs still – if you tend to rotate your thumb as you pull the trigger, it will cause you to miss your target in the direction you rotate your thumb. This grip error is called thumbing.

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Grip your gun so that the webbing between your thumb and trigger finger is as high up on the grip as possible. The lower in your hand the action sits, the more straight back into your arm the felt recoil will travel. This helps to control muzzle travel and reduces the snappiness of felt recoil. This interesting rule of physics is one of the main thoughts behind the design of the pistol called the Rhino. Ugly gun – but great engineering.

Aligning Your Sights

“Aim small, miss small” is the mantra my Grandaddy said when he was teaching me to shoot. Don’t just aim for the large red bulls-eye. Look at the center speck in that bullseye. Aim for that.

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Sight Alignment is dependant upon your firearm being properly sighted in. If you are shooting really tight groupings at the 5- yard line, but then at the 20-yard line they are significantly off center – it may be wise to talk to your local gunsmith.

Just to clarify, sight alignment is simply the relationship between the front and rear sights of the handgun. If the top of your front sight is not perfectly level with the top of your rear sight, then you will be shooting either too high or too low. And if your front sight does not have an equal amount of air-space on either side showing through, then you will be shooting to the left or right of your target.

These two variables lined up correctly creates an accurate Sight Picture. If you are shooting and the target is just littered with holes and you really can’t tell what you’re doing wrong – your probably focusing too much on the target instead of the front sight. When you are focused on the front sight, the rear sight and the target will be slightly blurred. This blurring of the target throws off a lot of new shooters.

Pulling the Trigger

Pulling the trigger is different from mashing or squeezing the trigger. A controlled, deliberate, methodical, straight back pull is what you need to do. If you mash or squeeze, you will move your gun and throw off your sight picture.

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You will need the center part of your index finger to be centrally on the trigger. Not the tip. Not the first knuckle as shown in the photo above. The padding directly under your nail bed is what needs to be centrally on the trigger, which is parallel to the gun’s frame. This portion of your finger is called the Distal Phalanx. If you are off center, your gun will pull to the left or right.

If too much of your finger is on the trigger, it’s called snatching. It will cause you to hit to the side of your target. If you’re right-handed, you will hit to the right of your target. If too little of your finger is on the trigger, it’s called pushing. This will cause you to hit to the other side of your target. Another common issue is heeling. This is when you squeeze the bottom of the grip too hard as you depress the trigger, sending it slightly forward. This will cause you to hit slightly above your target.

Don’t anticipate the recoil. Allow yourself to be surprised by the sound of the gun firing.  If you anticipate the recoil, your front sight will drop as you depress the trigger. Stay focused on your front sight as you depress the trigger.

Follow Through

Follow through is critical. It is what allows the projectile to completely exit the muzzle, and remain faithfully on target. It is allowing the bullet to exit the muzzle – a pause after you pull the trigger. You maintain sight picture during follow through. Any jerking motions can cause the muzzle to shift as the bullet is exiting and throw off your accuracy.

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It is hard to know if you have any subtle movements – so having a friend stand just outside of your arch of peripheral vision and watch you is helpful. If our friend notices that you have to readjust your gun back into position instead of the gun falling into a natural point of aim.

Trigger reset is what happens when after a shot is fired, the slide has slid back, the spent cartridge ejected, the slide comes forward, a new round is chambered and the trigger moves back to the front. On many firearms, the trigger may not have to go all the way forward in order for it to be reset and ready to fire. Some Glocks reset just shy of being all the way forward, you’ll know it when you feel it click.

If you hold your finger just forward of the reset, you’ll have a shorter trigger pull and can fire off the next round much faster – and in competition shooting, timing is crucial.  Dry firing will help you learn where your trigger break is.

Follow through allows you to be ready to accurately fire a follow-up shot. You are already on target and don’t have to waste valuable seconds correcting your sight picture. This is vital to not only competition shooting, but for self-defense purposes. It is impractical to anticipate that ONE single shot will stop whoever is attacking you.  You have to be diligent and prepared – and a big part of that is correct follow through.

Conclusion

When shooting, keep it simple. It all boils down to remain relaxed, have a proper sight picture, pull the trigger, and follow through.

So why not head on over to your local gun range and practice? Practice is the only way to improve! Don’t just shoot to burn through ammo – make a conscious effort to make each motion be deliberate, each shot a learning experience.

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Five Dog Breeds that Rock at Hunting

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Hunters and their dogs have an amazing bond. When in action, they partner together in a smooth and seamless dance. Each one reading the motions of the other to function smoothly.

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Watching a dog perform the work that he was bred specifically to do, a dog who had those dominant traits honed in with precise training – it’s genuinely a beautiful sight. Every fiber of that dogs being is engaged and devoted to not only hunting but ENJOYING it. And ultimately, that’s one of the reasons why we hunt with dogs. They live for it just like we do.

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There is really not much of a way to determine which dog breed is the BEST at hunting – it’s like comparing apples to oranges. There are many breeds that excel at hunting certain game and there are breeds that are good at working in certain environments. It’s best to research the dog best for whatever type of hunting you plan on doing.

Hunting Dog Breeds

English Springer Spaniel

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The English Springer Spaniel is a small compact dog with a beautiful shaggy coat.  They grow to about 20 inches tall and weigh up to 45 pounds.  Springers have a lush, double coat that is white and brown. The field-bred in this breed differs from the show-bred in that the field-bred tends to be slightly smaller and have more white in their coat. The AKC considers them the very same, though the gene pools have been segregated for over years. The field-bred also tends to have a shorter coat, shorter ears, a more pointy nose. While both are great at hunting, the field-bred will out hunt the show-bred.

Spaniels originated in Spain. There are even accounts in Welsh law documents in 300 A.D. where spaniels were mentioned. There is artwork in the 16th-century artwork of hunting scenes with spaniels that closely resembles the English Springer Spaniel. Then, the spaniels were used to flush out the birds from the dense brush so that the hunter’s falcon could catch the prey. It wasn’t until 1903 that the England Kennel Club had a classification for the breed.

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These dogs were bred with the endurance to enjoy long days in the field. English Springer Spaniels are high energy dogs, but they are not typically considered hyperactive.  This means they don’t make very good house dogs, but they do good with children. They need room to run. When in the field they run across it in a zig-zag pattern with a smooth stride.

They received their name from the way they “spring” at game – flushing it out of hiding. That’s where the Springer Spaniel really shines: flushing out birds that prefer dense cover such as pheasants, bob-white quail, ruffed grouse, and woodcock. They can duck hunt, and retrieve open country birds, but the English Springer Spaniel is phenomenal with pheasant hunting.

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Springers are easily trainable and considered people-pleasers. They love company and participating in family activities. Designed to hunt at close range, typically no more than 30 yards, they do need to be trained on a few command words. English Springer Spaniels can be just as stubborn as a Chesapeake but most tend to be very eager to please and happy to be helping. English Springer Spaniels need a gentle hand in training and they have a tendency to sulk. But like many other high bred hunting dogs, they are known to reach a point in their life where they will test you and in such times a more firm response is recommended. Thankfully, this isn’t often a situation you’ll see a repeat of. But just like other spaniels – they bounce out of their bad moods quickly.

English Springer Spaniels are also used frequently as therapy dogs because of their compassionate eyes and disposition to please. They are great therapy dogs especially for the sick and elderly. My grandparents had an English Springer Spaniel named Champ who was extremely intelligent and loved dove hunting. It was always amazing getting to watch him run.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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Chessies are affectionate, sensitive and stubborn. They can get up to 26 inches tall and up to 80 pounds. They are known for their distinctive coat: wavy and oily to the touch. This oil slick helps them to shed water and be able to tolerate cold waters. Their jaws are strong enough to carry heavy game birds and they can be gentle enough to carry an egg. They also have webbed toes. This is an ideal combination for a duck hunters companion. Chessies come in three colors, Brown (of the chocolate variety), Sedge (a reddish brown), and Deadgrass (tan). Their eyes are bright amber.

Chessies are very trainable, but they have a mind of their own so training may take longer with them than with other breeds. They are not overly friendly to strangers and are extremely protective of their owners, which makes them great watchdogs. Chessies are highly intelligent and courageous. Training requires a gentle hand as they surprisingly get their feelings hurt pretty easily.

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Many trainers say that Chessies have to understand why they are doing the task before they will do it – or else their independent streak will take over. The key to training a Chessie is consistency. They are good with children and other animals. Chesapeake Retrievers are determined dogs – they work hard and are quite powerful.

The breed originated in 1807. The story goes that a pair of Newfoundlands were found in an English shipwreck near the Chesapeake Bay. These two dogs bred with other retrievers, English Otterhounds, Irish Setter, etc. After a couple of years, the Chesapeake Retriever was created. in 1878 the breed was recognized by the AKC

Appalachian Coon Hound

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John Byrne of Virginia is the man most responsible for the Appalachian Turkey Dog. Mr. Byrne passed away in 2012. Just over 40 years ago, he bred several great hunting dog breeds and came out with a dog that is considered one of the best dogs for hunting turkey in the world, especially for fall turkey season. The Appalachian Turkey Dog may have feathering on their hindquarters and tail that they inherited from the English Setter. It got its genes for tracking, barking, and chasing from the Plott Hound and has the drive, speed, and stamina from its Pointer ancestors.

Boykin Spaniels and English Setters are often used for hunting turkey, but for many hunters, they can’t hold a candle to an Appalachian Turkey Dog. Though the Appalachian Turkey Dog is not officially recognized by the AKC, it is still worth considering when looking into a hunting dog. The American Wild Turkey Hunting Dog Association does recognize them. Since it isn’t an “official” breed, there are not a lot of stats on the dogs size, but generally they are smaller dogs.

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Turkey Dogs cast ahead, keeping an eye on your position, and find flocks of turkey. When the dog finds the turkey flock, he flushes at them, getting them to scatter. As the dog is getting them to scatter, the hunter sets up where they were gathered. Then the dog comes back and waits patiently while the hunter calls the turkey. Turkeys are social creatures. They want to be in a group and will call one another in an effort to locate each other. The hunter calls and lures the turkey towards the blind so that they can be harvested.

So while the Appalachian Turkey Dog may not be on the AKC registry, if you are an avid turkey hunter, you may do well to consider one of these for your hunting companion.

(Thank you Turkey Trot Acres for the picture of dogs Shot and Kelly!)

Bluetick Coon Hound

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Blueticks are beautiful dogs with a musical baying bark. They are fantastic hunting dogs that do well on nocturnal hunts. They can grow up to 27 inches tall and weigh up to 80 pounds. They got their name from the “ticked” or mottled black and blue coat pattern.

The breed began with General George Washington. He recieved 5 hounds from the Marquis de Lafayette. These dogs were Grand Gascon Saintongeois and Grand Bleu de Gascogne. They bred and then later were mixed with the fast running English Foxhound to create what we know as the Bluetick around 1900. It wasn’t until 1945 that they were recognized as a breed by the AKC.

Blueticks excell at night time hunting with thier sharp eyesight. They can track in bad weather just as good as pleasant weather. They have an unshakable tracking instinct. Though slower than other types of hounds, their determination and instinct to chase stands out. The Bluetick is fantastic at finding game on trails thought to have “gone cold.”

Interstingly Blueticks not only bay when they tree their prey, but they bugle throughout the hunt. Hunters can learn what each of their distinctive calls mean to know how to partner with his hound better when hunting. Blueticks are aboslutely fearless and will even pursue bear.

When training a Blueetick, they are headstrong and a little obstinate like other hounds – so strong consistency is key. They are highly intelligent and are good at figuring things out. All hounds have a bit of a sense of humor – they can be slighly clumsy and always want to know “what’s in it for them” during training. But the Bluetick on average is less clumsy than some other hound breeds. Blueticks are deeply devoted to thier owners and are quite affectionate. They tend to be wary of strangers but do well with children. They tend to not do well with smaller pets. Like all working-dogs, they need to have their energy used or else they find ways of getting into trouble.

German Short-haired Pointer

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German Shorthaired Pointers are often called regal looking. They have friendly dark eyes and their coat can come in Liver, Black, Roan with white. They can grow up to 25 inches tall and weigh up to 70 pounds. They were bred with a great deal of endurance, and speed. They are extremely loyal dogs who develop a deep bond with thier owners.

The breed developed in the 17th century in Germany. They are a cross between German tracking hounds, a Spanish Pointer, and an English Foxhound. They have an extroidinary keen sense of smell. in 1925 Dr. Charles Thornton brought the breed to American and began breeding them.

The German Shorthaired Pointer makes a great family pet. They do well with other pets, children and even do well indoors – as long as they received daily excersize to burn off thier high energy levels. They learn fast and are relatively easy to train. German Shorthaired Pointers have a strong prey drive and retrieve well. They also point beautifully.

An all around versatile hunting dog, one that is said to almost “hunt straight out of the box.” They remain one of the main dog breeds in various hunting contests. It will hunt upland gamburds, waterfowl, and even rabbits and other small game. The German Shorthaired Pointer is quite brave and will track wild boar, fox, and even a wounded deer.

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A Guide on Plants Poisonous to the Touch

Plants can ruin your day

Spending time in the woods is a wonderful way to help eliminate stress. There is not hardly anything so peaceful as the cold earth under your feet and the first light of dawn peaking over the ridge and through the trees. One horrible experience for many hunters is to get good and nestled in a hide of undergrowth waiting on a buck to walk by and to leave with only a terribly itchy rash caused by unidentified poisonous plants. This guide is meant to help you prevent that from happening. The old adage of “leaf of three let it be; hairy vine no friend of mine” can be helpful – but if you go solely by that then you’ll be avoiding many safe plants needlessly.

Poison Ivy & Poison Oak

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are plants that are often confused. They are both a part of the Toxicodendron genus and Anacardiaceae family. Both have three leaf sets that join together at a central reddish point and alternate on either side of the stem. The middle leaf is often slightly longer (this is more noticeable in Poison Ivy) than the two side leaves. Poison Oak is not quite as common as Poison Ivy as it prefers sandy soil. It seems to be most common in the East and Northwest.

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Poison Oak’s leaves can sometimes have rounded lobes – those that look rather similar to an oak leaf. Poison Oak leaves are not always lobed like oak. They can also be rounded, or scalloped, or toothed. Sometimes they are shiny and other times dull.  Sometimes serrated and sometimes not. Poison Oak can grow like a shrub, on stalks close to the ground, or on a vine. It’s not hard to see why this plant is so easily misidentified. These toxic plants will imitate the leaf shapes of the plants around it. If the plant gets full sun, it tends to grow like a shrub. If it is in the shade in the woods it tends to be a vine or on short stalks.

Poison Oak also has hairs on both sides of the leaves, whereas Poison Ivy only has hairs on one side. It can grow six feet tall and can have yellow, white, or green berries. In the fall, the leaves turn bright red and in the winter the leaves fall off. Poison Oak has leaves that are 2-8″ long and  1-5″ wide.

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Poison Oak and Poison Ivy lack thorns – which is a key feature in distinguishing it from wild blackberries (which can have three to five leaves per stem.) The vine can get up to 2″ in diameter and 40 feet long. The vine appears “hairy” from all the tiny roots sprouting from it. They are also often confused with the Box Elder. The Box Elder has leaves that are arranged opposite each other along the stem instead of alternating like on Poison Ivy. Climbing Hydrangea vines are also hairy, but their leaves only have a couple of shallow teeth or are smooth. The Climbing Hydrangea also has leaves positioned opposite on the stem.

Poison Ivy grows in all the US states except Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and California. It can grow 4′ tall as ground cover on stems or as a hairy vine. Its berries tend to be a greyish white. Poison Ivy can grow in shady areas but tends to prefer more sunlight, so you’ll find it more often on the edges of the woods. The leaves can be 1-4″ long, but in great conditions can double that. Poison Ivy’s leaf shapes are just about as variable as that of Poison Oak.

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Poison Oak and Ivy Plants actually have quite a number of useful purposes. It can survive in fairly toxic soil that can’t sustain a lot of other plant life. This provides habitat and brush in which to hide for small critters and bugs. Over 50 native bird species use Poison Oak and Poison Ivy for shelter, nesting materials or the berries for food. Many insects consume the stalks and leaves. Deer, bear, elk, raccoons, horses, rats and squirrels will eat the leaves.

Many Native Americans utilized Poison Oak and Poison Ivy Plants. The Chumash Indians consumed the leaves, stems, and roots. They were able to do so by building up an immunity. Only 15% of the population is immune to the Urushiol Oil, their T-Lymphocyte cells simply do not recognize Urushiol. I built up an immunity to it over the years too. However, many people are extremely allergic to Urushiol, so I don’t recommend you trying to become immune. Many people report the opposite effect – overexposure causes them to be more sensitive, their T-cells recognize it very quickly and formulate an immune response quickly.

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When the skin comes in contact with Urushiol, it causes a chemical reaction with your skin that can develop into an allergy response. This can be as simple as redness or a patch of tiny, itchy, clear, blisters. For some, this goes away in a couple of days. For others, it can become a problem for weeks. These lesions can pop up within minutes to up to 21 days after initial exposure. Severe reactions include fever and difficulty breathing and occurs in 10-15% of individuals and these reactions require medical treatment usually in the form of steroids.

When you come in contact with Poison Oak or Poison Ivy Plants a great way to prevent an immune response is to remove the Urushiol. Changing your clothes and washing with dish soap (scrubbing for several minutes) and then rinsing with rubbing alcohol removes a great deal of the toxic oil.

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If you start to notice a bit of redness, then you can apply Lavender Essential Oil. Jewelweed (also known as Impatiens or Touch Me Not) is a native plant whose juices neutralize Urushiol. The Homeopathy remedy Rhus Tox in is made from extremely diluted Poison Ivy and can be helpful in alleviating the rash. Also after the rash sets in witch hazel can help in drying up the blisters. Aloe can help heal the damaged skin and apple cider vinegar can help alleviate the itching.

Poison Sumac

Another Toxicodendron is Poison Sumac. It grows like a small shrub or a small tree and branches out at the base. Poison Sumac Plants prefers wetlands and higher pH soil. It has berries that look similar to Poison Ivy’s, that are greyish white. Its leaves and bark are smooth. Poison Sumac has 7-15 leaflets per stem. The leaves are oblong with pointy tips and have red veins. It is a very pretty leaf! Each leaf is 1’4″ long and up to 2″ wide. They are arranged in pairs along the stem.

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Many people confuse Virginia Creeper with young Poison Sumac. While people who tend to be highly sensitive to Toxicodendron may find themselves slightly sensitive to Virginia Creeper, the Virginia Creeper is not generally considered a toxic plant. There are non-toxic varieties of Sumac. These prefer well-drained soil and have red berries in the fall.

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Poison Sumac berries grow in clusters at the base of the stem that hang down like grapes. Staghorn Sumac and Winged Sumac have red berries that grow at the tip of the stip in clusters that point up. Poison Sumac also has smooth and hairless stems whereas the non-toxic varieties tend to be fuzzy.

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Poison Sumac has very high concentrations of Urushiol and many people consider it one of the most toxic plants in America. Its prevention and treatment are the same as with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. It is not as commonly found as Poison Ivy or Poison Oak because of its preference for wetlands. There are connections between certain food allergies to severe Urushiol allergies. So if you have a bad reaction to pistachios, mangos or cashews, it probably would be best for you to avoid Toxicodendron!

Poisonwood & Manchineel

Is not a tree that is very often encountered by hunters – unless you’re in southern Florida. It is in the family Anacardiaceae, which is the family to which Sumacs and Cashews belong. The Poisonwood Tree is an evergreen flowering tree that produces Urushiol oil like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

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Poisonwood Tree grows to be 25-35 feet tall. The tree has a short trunk with long arching branches.  Its bark can vary in color from a greyish hue to dark reddish-brown, depending on the age of the tree and the habitat. Older trees tend to flake off the bark in patches. Poisonwood Tree bark also looks like it has oily patches, which is actually sap. The leaves are green and very glossy with the underside being duller. Each leaf has a bright yellow central vein. They grow in groups of about 5, but the number can vary a bit. It grows a cluster of yellowish orange fruit that hangs. This fruit is food to a large number of local and migratory birds. The endangered White Crowned Pigeon particularly seemed to be fond of this fruit.

Even the rainwater dripping off the leaves can contain enough Urushiol to cause an allergic contact dermatitis. In fact, only one billionth of a gram of Urushiol is sufficient to cause a reaction in most people. The Urushiol content in the Poisonwood trees leaves, bark and sap are 100 times more potent than other native plants like Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.

Another plant native to Florida is the Manchineel Tree, also known as Beach Apple. It’s also known by the Spanish name manzanilla de la muerte, which translates to “little apple of death”  Ingesting the fruit can be fatal. Every part of the tree is highly poisonous.

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Manchineel is in the family Euphorbia, which makes it related to the Poinsettia. The Poinsettia is toxic to consume, but the Manchineel is toxic even to touch. Many Outdoorsmen have mistakenly walked under this tree and the leaves simply brushing against their face was enough to cause temporary blindness. The milky white sap leaves burns on the skin. Hippomane mancinella, which translates to “little apple that makes horses mad.”

It grows amongst Mangos and its root system helps to stabilize the sand erosion. It can grow up to 49 feet tall. The leaves are about 2-4″ long and are shiny green.  Unfortunate individuals claim that the fruit is very sweet, but soon after swallowing it starts to burn your throat until you feel your throat starting to swell. Interestingly enough, the black-spined iguana is able to consume the fruit where many other birds and animals are not able to. Even more baffling, the iguana is not native whereas the native species are unable to consume its fruit.

Though there are no deaths recorded in modern literature, historically there are numerous accounts of the fatalities from this toxic tree. The Caribs were known to poison the water of their enemies with the leaves from the Manchineel tree. Famous explorer Ponce de Leon supposedly died from an arrow coated in Manchineel sap.

Parsnips & Hogweed

plants

Several plants mentioned in this section closely resemble one another. Wild Parsnip, Queens Anne Lace, Giant Hogweed, Poison Hemlock, Elderberry, and Angelica plants all have wide leaves with a tall stem and a cluster of pale flowers. Most act as biennials – meaning the first summer is spent growing their leaves and the second is for flowering. Several of those plants can be seen here.

Wild Parsnip, Cow Parsnip, and Hogweed plants are very toxic and very problematic when they come in contact with your skin.  Their sap contains toxins that cause severe burns when exposed to sunlight.  Giant Hogweed has the most severe reaction of the three and can even cause blindness.

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Wild Parsnips are found in most of the United States and are the only one on the list that can have yellow flowers. It is an invasive species. It prefers sunny areas and calcareous soil but is easily adaptable to the environment. The stem is grooved and hollow. Its leaves have saw-tooth edges and resemble celery. Parsnip is a root vegetable closely related to carrots. In fact, Parsnip looks like a pale carrot. It becomes very sweet if left in the ground until after the winter frost.  Parsnip root can be consumed raw or cooked and is very high in minerals particularly potassium. Wild parsnip can have yellow or sometimes white flowers in rosettes. It can grow 2-5 feet tall and has hairless, grooved stems. Great care must be taken in harvesting – proper identification and wearing gloves.

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Cow Parsnip, or Common Hogweed, is endangered in the state of Kentucky and is considered a special concern species in Tennessee. It can grow typically between 4-10 feet tall and has fuzzy, grooved stems. Cow Parsnip has thorns along its stem. Its leaves grow to be typically 1-1.5 feet wide and serrated. The palm-shaped, fuzzy leaves radiate at the end of the stalk in a semi-circle and are divided into three segments. Cow Parsnip blooms in May. It has white lacey flowers that grow in a flat top cluster and can be nearly 1 foot wide. There will be 15-30 rays per cluster of flowers. For most people, just touching the leaves of the Cow Parsnip will not result in any blisters – it takes getting the “juice” of the stems and leaves on your skin.

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Giant Hogweed is an invasive species that is native to Asia. It grows regularly to 6′ tall and can reach up to 18′. The stems are thick, hollow, have ridges and purple spots. Contact with the leaves causes phytophotodermatitis, which means burns and blisters when the area is exposed to sunlight. Its leaves can grow up to five feet in width. The smooth leaves have deeply incised lobes. Giant Hogweed has umbrella-shaped flower clusters that can grow over two feet in width. There can be 50 or more rays per flower cluster.

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The other plants that look very similar need to be mentioned. Angelica is not toxic to touch and is only toxic when consuming extremely high doses of the root or essential oil. Its stems and roots are edible. It actually is very helpful medicinally for menstrual issues as well as digestive and respiratory, but great care needs to be taken in harvesting since it so closely resembles Poison Hemlock. Angelica can grow up to 9 feet tall and has a smooth, waxy, purple stem up to 2.5″ in diameter. The leaves are compound and can be up to 2 feet wide. Angelica has softball sized flower white flower clusters.

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Poison Hemlock is deadly even if only a small amount is ingested. Its toxins can suffocate the victim in as little as 15 minutes. Native American’s once used Hemlock to poison the tips of their arrows. It typically grows between 3-8 feet tall and has a hollow, hairless, waxy stem. The stems have many branches and have ridges and purple spots. Poison Hemlock smells musty, almost like a mouse. Its leaves are bright, shiny and fern-like. Poison Hemlock leaves can be a foot long and 4″ wide. The white flower clusters are loose and lack the purple heart at the center. They are flat topped and are on all branches.

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There are a few varieties of Hemlock. Spotted Water Hemlock grows about the same height and has smooth, hollow stems. It also can have purple spots or stripes. Water Hemlock has toothed, oval leaflets. Its white lacey flowers branch off the main stem.

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Queens Anne Lace is an invasive species. Some people are sensitive and have similar burns and blisters as with the other species mentioned. Queens Anne Lace is very toxic when consumed. It grows up to 4 feet high. Queens Anne Lace has feathery leaves with fine hairs on them. Its stems are branched and hairy. Its dense, white flowers can be 5″ across. What is most helpful is locating the dark “heart” at the center of the flower cluster. This helps to differentiate it from Poison Hemlock.

elderberry

Black Elderberry looks much more like a woody shrub than any of the others. It too has a white cluster of flowers. These flowers can grow up to 8″ across and the shrub can grow up to 8 feet high. The leaves are compound and can have up to eleven elliptical leaflets. Syrup made from the berries is a phenomenal tonic and immune booster. Its leaves are serrated and form on opposite ends of the stem, unlike the alternating leaf pattern of the Water Hemlock.  The berry clusters droop where they connect to their woody stems. This is helpful in differentiating it from the Dwarf Elderberry whose berry clusters stand upright.

Nettles & Stinging Flowers

The Common Nettle (also known as the Stinging Nettle)  and the Wood Nettle are two other native plants to look out for. The leaves and stems are covered in tiny hairs. Many of these hairs are soft and do not sting. But these Nettles also have many hairs whose tip breaks off and acts as a needle injecting multiple chemicals into the skin causing a painful sting. The beautiful green leaves can grow from one to six inches long. They are widely oval with coarsely toothed edges.

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Nettle grows up to 3-4 feet tall in the summer and dies down in the winter. Stinging Nettle tends to be slightly taller than Wood Nettle and is found throughout the US. Its flowers can be yellow, green, white, or purple. Stinging Nettle has leaves that are opposite each other whereas Wood Nettle has leaves that alternate. Wood nettle has flowers on the top of the plant and Stinging Nettle has flowers on the sides of its stems.

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Nettle is a frequently foraged herb. It tastes very similar to spinach and is high in nutrients such as Vitamin A, C, Manganese and can be up to 25% protein. By soaking the leaves in water the stinging chemical are removed. They should not be harvested after the plant starts flowering as it changes chemically and can cause digestive issues. Medicinally, Stinging Nettle has been harvested to treat kidney and cardiovascular issues among other things.

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The False Nettle, Snakeroot, and Clearweed VERY closely resemble Stinging and Wood Nettle but lack the stinging hairs. Being able to tell the difference is very important when you are out in the woods.  Their leaves are very similar in shape. Clearweed is more smooth than Wood Nettle, False Nettle, or Stinging Nettle. And Snakeroot is somewhere in the middle as far as roughness.

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Later in the year, the stem of Clearweed becomes rather translucent and flexible, which makes it more easy to distinguish it from its counterparts. Snakeroot has flowers at the top and Clearwood and False Nettle have flowers along the sides of the stems. When the Snakeroots flowers are fully opened, they resemble actual flowers much more so than any of these – but before they are fully opened it can be a little hard to tell!

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False Nettle, Snakeroot, and Clearweed lack the stinging hairs and their leaves are paired in opposites along the stem. False Nettles leaves are slightly fuzzy and have a rough appearance. Other plants that rather resemble these are Self Heal, Marsh Hedge Nettle, Horehound, White Deadnettle, and Hemp Nettle.

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Scorpionweed is found primarily in desert regions. It is a beautiful small purple flower. It got its name not because of the sting it leaves, but because the flower is top heavy and curls over much like a scorpion tail. Poodle-dog Bush is found in California. It stinks, but it has really pretty purple flowers on a long stalk. It also has tiny hairs that cause stinging blisters. Stinging Lupine also grows along the coastal region in California. It has tiny purple or dark pink flowers shaped in a whirl and stiff hairs that sting the skin. It will also cause birth defects if eaten by cattle.

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Tread-softly, also known as Finger-rot or bull-nettle, is primarily found in Florida but is all over the Southeast. The beautiful white five-lobed, trumpet-shaped flower sits on stalks covered in large spiky hairs. The seeds come in small spike covered pods that bob-white quail and other songbirds love. Its leaves are lobed and similar to an oak leaf. The roots are edible – but they can be four feet deep underground.  The leaves too when cooked are edible. They are harvested for many uses: insomnia, scorpion stings, brain function, diabetes etc.

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Alabama Forestry Commission: An Interview with Robert Brown

First published here

By M. Ashley Evans

Conservation is a Lifestyle

As a kid, I dreamed of being a writer and an artist when I grew up. Now, I am very blessed to be able to stay home with my kids, write about subjects I am passionate about, and sell my art. I only know of one other kid I grew up with who was able to become what he wanted to be back then – and that person is Robert Brown, who now works for the Alabama Forestry Commission.  Recently, Robert and I sat down to discuss a topic that we are both passionate about, the vital role of hunters in conservation and proper land management.

Robert is the Etowah County Forester. He graduated in 2009  from Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Science where he got a Bachelor of Science in Forestry, later he took an exam to become a Licensed Registered Forester.

Robert Brown

“I grew up in Valley Head, Alabama on a 2,500-acre farm where we specialized in growing timber and wildlife via hunting leases on our property. This is a 2,500-acre tract of land that runs north from Valley Head through the railroad valley and alongside Lookout Mountain towards Chattanooga, TN is where it all began for me. Being fortunate enough to grow up on a farm, hunting since childhood, developed a deep love of the land the way I did sparked a fuel inside me that ignited the drive to choose my career. A career that is far more of a lifestyle than a job.”  Roberts family was so passionate about land management and educating others that one year in elementary school, he brought enough pine seed for every kid in class to grow their own tree and we were able to learn a little about tree farming, pine crop, and reforestation.

This little corner of Northeast Alabama that he talks about is one of the most special places in the world to me. Not only is it full of Appalachian countryside beauty, but my family, like his, were some of the first settlers there – so our love of that valley is many generations deep. This farm he spoke of is stunning – his sister Mandy and I explored the woods and fields as kids. We grew up picking wild blackberries; fishing in the creek; exploring the old mining caves; watching the beavers, deer, and inevitably finding a snake on every trail in the woods.

Valley Head, AL

The Alabama Forestry Commission is a state ran organization that differs from the Federal Department of Game and Wildlife and from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In Alabama, the AFC primarily helps private landowners. They also manage the three state forests: Choccolocco, Little River, and Geneva. The AFC’s motto is Protect, Sustain, and Educate, and really, it should be the motto of every hunter.

Alabama Forestry Commission

“The first of these three areas is Protect. We strive to help Alabama’s forests from all harmful agents. The most apparent and one of our main focuses is wildfires. If you have ever been burning leaves in your backyard and it got away from you and then caught the woods on fire you have likely crossed paths with our organization. Becuase the person operating the dozer to suppress the fire is one of our wildland firefighters. As wildfire suppression is one of the major parts of protection we also conduct annual aerial surveillance flights for southern pine beetles and help assist landowner’s with invasive species problems on their property.”  The southern pine beetle is one of the most destructive pests for pine in the southeast. They kill pine trees on a massive scale and spread rapidly.

“The next area we can touch on is sustain. This is the area where we directly help forest landowners conduct responsible forest management on their property. This is done on different levels which may be as simple as a stand management recommendation or as complex as a forest management plan for their entire property. Where our entire focus is based on multiple use sustainable forestry practices. We also like to promote and recognize landowners that are excelling in managing their properties through certification programs such as Tree Farm, Stewardship Forest, and TREASURE Forest Award.”

Tree Farming is not just about cutting down timber – it’s about proper stewardship of the land and sustainable production and reforestation. The Stewardship Program requires the landowner to meet numerous stewardship principals, maintain 10+ acres of land, and actively practice proper land management.  To actively manage a forest means providing sustainable timber crop with reforestation, providing wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and other practices. Getting landowners involved in protecting the land by using it wisely ensures that their forests will remain intact for future generations. TREASURE is an acronym for Timber, Recreation, Environment, and Aesthetics for a Sustained, Useable, REsource and characterizes the multiple-use ethic.  To be a TREASURE Forest Owner is a title of honor, it only comes through dedication to proper land management and a lot of time invested.

About 45% of the forestland in America is privately owned. It is imperative that the land is properly conserved for future generations. By getting landowners involved in these programs helps to ensure that their forests will remain intact for our children and grandchildren.

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“The last area that we can touch on is Educate. This is the area where we educate the general public about the value of our forests here in Alabama. This can be from conducting Smokey Bear programs in schools to landowner workshops and tours. We try to help educate all ages of the general public in several different ways.  Most people have no idea what I do on a daily basis and to be honest, when I took this job I had no idea what I would be doing from day to day. I just knew that working to protect the land for future generations was important to me. Educating the general public about the importance of the Alabama Forestry Commission and all the wonderful services we offer is very important. Being able to conduct interviews like the one you and I are doing right now is a great way to reach a different portion of the public that probably did not know that our agency even existed or let alone what services we provide.”

The Forestry Commission is here to help landowners. Invite them out to your property – they can assess the value of your timber, help you farm timber more sustainably, and help you create the ideal environment to bring in more game species.

Are you interested in a career with the Forestry Department? Many schools with a focus on agriculture and biology have a Forestry degree. They also have entry-level positions such as Forester, Forest Ranger/Technician, and Police Communications Officer.

Conservation

“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.” Hunting is not only a thoroughly enjoyable pastime, but it is a very effective wildlife management tool. Hunters provide information that the wildlife managers need and also help to promote healthy species.

Robert said, “Sad isn’t when a hunter takes the life of a deer – sad is when you have hundreds of deer in an area, riddled with disease, and starving because of overpopulation.” By wisely harvesting game species like deer, hunters are protecting the land. In 1900, only 500,000 whitetail deer remained. Due to hunters conservation work, today there are more than 32 million.

Hunters also provide the bulk of the monetary resources for land preservation. Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay around $796 million a year for conservation programs.*

Data gathered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its most recent (2006) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, show that only five percent of Americans—which is about 12.5 million individuals—consider themselves hunters today, this number is down from nine percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1996. Only 5% of the US are paying for the bulk of the upkeep of the state forests, that citizens get to hike for free.

It is vital that we pass down the sport of hunting and therefore the love of proper wildlife and land management to our children.  My family hunts – does yours? Are you doing your part to pass down the forests to the next generation?

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financial info via America’s Sporting Heritage: Fueling the American Economy (January 2013) & Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation (January 2013)

What are Duck Bands?

First published here

One unique treasure for duck hunters is the duck bands. It as much trophy to wear on a lanyard as it is a badge of status. Not only does it show off your harvest, and possibly earned you a monetary reward, but it also shows you played a vital role in waterfowl conservation.

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Duck Banding

Duck banding started back in 1899. Hans Mortensen placed aluminum rings around the legs of a few different species of ducks, including Pintails. He carved his name and address on the ring so that the birds would be returned to him. This system of banding is almost identical to how ducks are banded today. In 1909, Jack Miner banded a mallard to see if he could learn how far it flew during migration. All his duck bands were also inscribed with his Canadian wildlife sanctuary address as well as a verse from the Bible. Five months later, this mallard was discovered in South Carolina. This event went down in history as the first ever successful duck banding. Jack banded over 90,000 ducks and geese in his lifetime. His descendants still band birds from the same sanctuary – and the bands are considered collectibles.

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In the United States, the bird banding is primarily the responsibility of the Bird Banding Laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, in Laurel, Maryland. It is a joint effort between our Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, various state wildlife management agencies, and nongovernment research organizations such as Ducks Unlimited among others. And they don’t just band ducks; many species are banded using a variety of bands, collars, and even GPS trackers.

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In order to participate in banding, you have to have a federal banding permit since banding laws are controlled by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In late summer through early fall, migratory waterfowl are captured and banded. Their species, gender, age, and location of banding are recorded. Each bird is outfitted with an aluminum band that has a unique number assigned to each bird as well as the phone number for the laboratory in Maryland. However, many organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and California Waterfowl Associations offer volunteer opportunities for their banding projects.

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Duck Conservation & Hunting

On rare occasions, a hunter will be lucky enough to harvest a bird with a double band – one regular aluminum band and one colored. This most often signifies that it is a special reward duck. The monetary reward is typically anywhere from $25-100, and in rare cases even higher. These are usually placed on species that are being specially monitored. The hunter will call in and report the band, and he receives a certificate with the bird’s information and occasionally a check too.

The information gathered from hunters has proven to be of tremendous value. Monitoring the migratory bird’s flight patterns and population numbers is a daunting task – especially when you consider how many thousands of miles these birds travel. Biologists analyze the information gathered, such as the timing and distribution of the bands. This shows a more complete picture of the health of each of migratory birds species. The wintering areas and exact migration routes are able to be pinpointed with greater accuracy. These numbers not only help the biologists to know more about how to ensure healthy breeding populations but also helps to determine the bag numbers for each species every year.  This will safely ensure the health of the species year after year.

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Many hunters refuse to report the band information because of false beliefs that it guarantees the government to put greater restrictions on waterfowl hunting.  But this simply isn’t true. The more information that is collected, the more the biologists are certain of the accuracy of the data and the sustainability of the species, and this can actually lead to longer harvesting seasons. So please, report your bands. An easy way to do this is to go to www.reportband.gov

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20 of the Best Hunting Quote of All Time

First published here

A good quote resonates in your soul.

It sticks with you. Some of these quotes are from people you have heard of, and some will be from names new to you. A few of the names are repeated, as they are from individuals who had a plethora of knowledge about the outdoors that is worth remembering. I have gathered a list of great hunting quotes that every outdoorsman should know. They speak to the art of hunting, the deep commitment to conservation, the love for proper land management, and the respect for the animals harvested that non-hunters will never fully understand.

20 of the Best Hunting Quotes of All Time

  • Henry David Thoreau – “When some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, whether they should let them hunt, I have answered yes – remembering that it was one of the best parts of my education – make them hunters.”

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  • Aldo Leopold – “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
  • Donald Trump, Jr. – “Hunting forces a person to endure, to master themselves, even to truly get to know the wild environment. Actually, along the way, hunting and fishing make you fall in love with the natural world. This is why hunters so often give back by contributing to conservation.”

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  • Saxton Pope – “The real archer when he goes afield enters a land of subtle delight. The dew glistens on the leaves, the thrush sings in the bush, the soft wind blows, and all nature welcomes him as she has the hunter since the world began. With the bow in his hand, his arrows softly rustling in the quiver, a horn at his back, and a hound at his heels, what more can a man want in life?”

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  • Archibald Rutledge – “It has always seemed to me that any man is a better man for being a hunter. This sport confers a certain constant alertness and develops a certain ruggedness of character… Moreover, it allies us to the pioneer past. In a deep sense, this great land of our was won for us by hunters.”

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  • Henry David Thoreau – “You must not only aim right but draw the bow with all your might.”

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  • Theodore Roosevelt – “The great body of our citizens shoot less as time goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes…”

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  • Pete Dunne – “When I was young, I was a hunter, walking wooded hillsides with confident steps and a gun in my hand. I knew the blur of wings, the rocketing form, and the Great Moment that only hunters know when all existence draws down to two points and a single line. And the universe holds its breath. And what may be and what will be meet and become one – before the echo returns to its source.”

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  • John James Audobon – “Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I know not, and cared naught about them.”

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  • Henry David Thoreau – “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
  • Fred Bear – “Nothing clears a troubled mind like shooting a bow.”

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Women in Taxidermy – Part Three

As first published here

Amy CarterAMY CARTER OF AMY’S ANIMAL ART TAXIDERMY

Taxidermy has interested Amy since she was 13. “Now, I had never been a girly-girl, and had always had unique interests and hobbies as a kid growing up, so picking up taxidermy as hobby came as no great shock to my family. It all started one day while out on the family farm, I came across a dead King-snake. I thought the pattern of the hide was so interesting I wanted to turn it into a belt.”

Amy was home-schooled, which equipped her to be great at learning whatever she sets her mind to. She went straight inside and researched how to tan a snake hide.

“While I was researching, I came across taxidermy websites and instantly realized that taxidermy was something that I wanted to try. Early on, I practiced on whatever I could get my hands on, particularly road kills, and rat that I raised for my pet snake’s food. As I became more involved, I made friends with other taxidermists who began to donate better specimens for me to practice on.”

Taxidermy was just the right fit for her as a kid to get started in. The price for a license varies from state to state – and where Amy lives it was only $15.

“As a kid starting out, I had very little funds and was able to use as many common household supplies for my taxidermy, as well as making my own bodies for small animals out of things such as newspaper and tape. While these days I don’t advocate doing it the archaic way that I started out, it was fun and making my own body forms from scratch forced me to learn a lot about animal anatomy.”

“Many taxidermists are open to taking on apprentices, and that can be a great way to learn. The optimum way would be to take a taxidermy course with a qualified teacher, which can range anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks long depending on which course you choose.”

Amy Carter - Alaskan Wolverine

Amy’s Alaskan Wolverine

Amy has come a long way from using newspaper and duct tape – now she is dedicated to educating others. “I recently began teaching my own taxidermy classes, and they have been very popular, especially among women who may feel safer or more relaxed learning from another woman. I would also suggest joining your state taxidermy association and attending their annual convention. There you can meet other taxidermist, attend seminars on a wide variety of topics, and view some beautiful examples of taxidermy.”

More and more women are showing interest in this art form. When Amy first got started there were just a few women taxidermist in the field. “In my experience, I received nothing but kindness from male taxidermists I met. They saw me as a bit of a novelty, yes, but were eager to help me learn more and I owe them for where I am today. I also get a great amount of respect from my customers, many who come out of state to bring me their trophy. I attribute this to the quality of work that I do, not just because I am female. Several customers have mentioned their trust ‘of a woman’s touch’.”

“People do tend to see a female taxidermist as a curiosity and I believe this helps me in a very positive way… I have a large following on social media, more so than many of my male counterparts. I’ve sensed a bit of jealousy in this area, from other taxidermists – even though I want to be known for my talents and not my gender… but if it helps promote my business, I won’t complain.”

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Amy’s Bobcat Taxidermy

Amy is indeed talented. Her bobcat head mount with his tongue sticking out is absolutely remarkable. Most tongues that I have seen in taxidermy are so fake looking they are laughable, but this looks very much alive.

Amy used to do pet taxidermy. She has chosen to no longer accept any, due to the close connection people have with their pets, and the sensitive emotions surrounding their death. “I had one fellow call me one night and tell me that he was brining his dog to me. As I went to hang up the phone, he said ‘I’ll be there just as soon as I can dig him up’. Sure enough, the dog had been buried for a day before they decided that they just couldn’t let go!”

She had a lot of really funny stories. “I had a lady who wanted her cat turned into a rug, and the remains shipped back to her, all the way to Hawaii. From what I heard, there was a lavish ceremony with music and rose petals, and they tied rocks to the carcass and threw it into the sea…. And there’s always the occasional call for someone asking if I’ll stuff their Grandmaw.”

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Amy’s Perching Bobcat Taxidermy

Her art goes beyond traditional taxidermy. She makes fur pillows; upholstered stools; antler carvings; jewelry made from bone, teeth, and claws. “I support any form of taxidermy – after all, it is preserving an animal that would otherwise just have rotted. There’s something really cool about that!” Her style tends to be mainly traditional, but a lot of her woodwork and habitat bases lean towards the modern trend of less-is-more. “I like to showcase the animal and not necessarily clutter the scene with too much grass or other material.”

Amy has had her share of trouble from animal rights activists, who seem to love to give her bad ratings on Facebook anonymously. She responds to them kindly, by asking logical questions but never gets a response. “There will always be those that don’t agree with hunting, and the taxidermy that comes from it. To me, I see it as a beautiful way to use EVERY part of the animal. Ethical hunters respect and use as much of their game as they are able to.”

And it definitely takes someone who respects wildlife so much to be able to stuff them in such detail that they seem full of vibrant life. And the bobcat standing perched on a log – it looks like it has just paused a moment to watch its prey. It’s hard not to hesitate a moment, almost half expecting it to complete its step.

“I’d say the hardest part of taxidermy is properly preparing the hide. Most people think that laying the hide over the body from and sewing it up would be the most difficult – but that just isn’t true. That tends to be the easiest part for me. Many more hours go into skinning, fleshing, thinning, and otherwise preparing the hide to go on the form. Each new piece presents a new challenge for me, which is part of the fun. I try something new every time. For my first mountain lion, I carved the foam from scratch using a large block of foam. It was the largest form I had ever made by hand and it was a pretty big challenge.”

Several of her pieces have award ribbons hanging from them; testimony to just how great of an artist she is. “I go to a lot of taxidermy competitions. In fact, I’ve been competing since I was 15 years old. I’ve been to most of the state shows in the southeast, as well as nationals and world competitions over the years. My top awards have been National Champion (NTA 2003), North American Champion (Big Rock Taxidermy Competition 2015) and a second place ribbon at the World Championships (2015)”

Amy’s art is just incredible. She really is one of the very best in this field. “I encourage women to explore their interests, and not be intimidated to jump in and get their hands dirty in a male-dominated field! You just might find that women have that extra special touch.”

CONCLUSION

It has been a remarkable week getting to learn about these amazing women. They are wonderful artists to look up to, not only because of their talent – but their character, dedication to their business, and drive to educate others. They each have noted that being female isn’t a hindrance, but can offer a unique perspective in this field, and that the Woman’s Touch is a beautiful complementary addition to the world of taxidermy. After hearing about their journeys, I can’t wait to practice on a critter myself.

Women in Taxidermy – Part 2

First Published here

WOMEN IN TAXIDERMY

There have been a great many studies on the differences between the male and female brain. In general, women are much more meticulous, creative, and detail oriented. Which, when coupled with artistic talent and a love for nature it is a wonderful recipe for creating award-winning Taxidermy!

BECKY MARTINMAAS – OWNER OF MEAN WOMAN TAXIDERMY

Becky - working

Becky is in Orient South Dakota. She is a fierce competitive shooter who is equally fierce about her loyalty to family. Mrs. Martinmaas is astounding when it comes to the art of Taxidermy.

She very well may be one of the most determined women you will ever meet, “I got interested in taxidermy because of the wait times we were experiencing with the taxidermists we had been using. Often it was years before we would get our trophies back. My husband and I love to hunt and it was so frustrating to have to wait so long – sometimes we even forgot what we were waiting for!”

Becky was great at explaining how to get involved “it can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. You can be full service or specialize in one category. There is even a lot of good information you can get with self-help courses and videos, but I would highly recommend going to school or working with an experienced taxidermist. Oh, there are so many little tricks and fine points that you just can’t learn without actually seeing it done. I went to school and took all the available courses: game heads, mammals, birds, fish, and habitat. It doesn’t have to be very expensive – you can start small and work your way up.”

She, like all outdoor sportsmen, are extremely responsible and encourage that same respect for the laws and authority of your state, “I carry a state license issued by our Game and Fish Department, it must be renewed every year. I also carry a federal license issued by the US Fish and Wildlife that is required for waterfowl, etc.”

“Really, it is not surprising that Taxidermy is a predominantly male dominated field. After all, is extremely physically demanding.” Becky explained with an air of understanding. The big game carcasses are extremely heavy and many women are unable to lift that much, of literally, dead weight. “It is messy, smelly, and at times things come into your shop that is already in decomposition. It is not pretty sometimes,” Becky explained.

“It is much easier to do a good mount if you know the animals in their natural habitat, so being a hunter is a big advantage. Well, it was not hard for me to break into the boys club as I already had the reputation of being an avid hunter and shooter. I hunt and do a little range shooting also.” A little? I think she was just being modest.

Becky as talented of a marksman as she is a taxidermy artist. Her bear looks like it is about to lumber off.

becky-bear

“After being taken seriously as a hunter, being female in taxidermy was an advantage. Women tend to be more artistic and quite a bit fussier about details… Also, most men have to get permission from their wives to display their mount at home, I am a big help there by making them a work of art, not just a dead animal.”

Becky’s art is fantastic. Her crouching coyote really looks as if it is about to pounce on its prey. The male pheasants she preserved engaged in a sparring competition are just breathtaking!

“Yes, there are a lot of different styles to taxidermy. I call myself a Working-Man’s Taxidermist. That means I try to stay affordable and I keep my turnaround time as short as possible. So, I do a lot of game heads, birds, and mammals. I love doing small scenes to show off the animal in its natural state. What I love most about my business at this point is how much people trust my judgment and let me run with a project knowing that it will be something to be proud of.”

Becky - Coyote

She seems like a woman who doesn’t put up with a lot of bull surrounding wildlife management, “All I can say about those that have negative things to say about hunting and taxidermy is that they are very uninformed.” Very true Becky! There is a lot of false propaganda out there, and we have a duty to educate others about the outdoors.

“We farm for deer and pheasants because we want a healthy population. Those naysayers have never seen a pack of coyotes steal a baby calf from its mother or seen an animal starving due to overpopulation.” Yet even with such a heated topic, Becky was trying to be polite, “but everyone has their opinions and they are entitled to them.”

Becky used to enter taxidermy competitions at state conventions. “But a competition piece takes a lot of time away from my customers, and they are my main concern. People know my work and I don’t need ribbons on my wall. I am glad that there are those that do it as I have learned a lot from studying other people’s work and methods. You know, the most difficult thing in my business is getting people to come and pick up their mount in a timely fashion!”

Becky - Moose

My favorite thing she said was “I would highly encourage other women to get into taxidermy as it is a great stay at home business. You can be as big or as small as you want. You can set your own hours and goals.” What a great way for a woman to who wants to help her family financially, raise children, maintain her passion for hunting and have a creative outlet. It really sounds like a fantastic option.

“I love looking at a finished product and knowing that I made that animal come back to life and that I saved someone’s hunting memories forever.”

CHERI GUINN

OF CHERI’S TAXIDERMY

Cheri Guinn

Cheri is the daughter of her local Duck Club’s President, so she grew up hunting duck each weekend during season and even pheasant hunting too. She remembers as a teenager carefully studying one of her father’s mounts and wondering just how the taxidermist preserved it.

So, being the determined self-starter that she is, Cheri went straight to the library and got a book on taxidermy. She got started in her parents basement, and eventually her dad set up an extra garage he had for me by putting in a sink and supplying me with all my tools. Cheri hasn’t looked back these last 37 years in the business.

She didn’t have these great videos and classes then. Her excitement was tangible “Give it a try and if you are interested take a class and learn all the tips and tricks! If I were to do it all over again I would first watch videos and read magazine articles on how to mount a bird!”

Cheri explained that even after you do all that – it takes a considerable amount of practice. “If you’re lucky enough to find a taxidermist that needs help and has a lot of patience, then an apprenticeship could be an option.”

A lot of taxidermist in her area didn’t like mounting birds, so she was welcomed within this particular niche. “I like making the bird look ALIVE again! Action poses are my favorite and minimal habitat. I wasn’t trained in doing water scenes or habitat so I am limited in what I can do. Habitat is an extra cost, and most of my customers don’t like the extra expense that goes with it.”

Cheri Guinn - Wood Duck Preening

You don’t have to learn how to mount every type of animal to be successful in this field. You just have to have a passion for your art! “What I like most about my art is seeing what other taxidermist come up with – it inspires me! The best part of my work is seeing the customers’ faces when they come and pick up their bird”

Cheri is an enthusiastic supporter of Ducks Unlimited. She believes that we all have the right to hunt and it is through conservation that we are able to manage wildlife and to help keep the ecosystem in balance. “And if there wasn’t hunting, I would be out of a job!”

Cheri Guinn - Mallard Ducklings

Her Barred Owl is one of my favorites – posed as if it is swooping down to catch some prey. She also has preserved some specimens I have never seen mounted before – a flamingo and mallard ducklings. Each one looking like it is about to fly away at any moment.

Cheri Guinn - Barred Owl

“My most favorite bird I ever did was a Flamingo who was owned by a man who sold exotics. The bird was the matriarch of the flock and died when she was 42. All the scales on her legs fell off when I was wiring the legs and a lot of feathers fell out when I washed her. She ended up turning out great and I brought her along to an outdoor show I was in and boy she was a hit! The owner actually has it in his will that when he dies I get to inherit her!”

Cheri Guinn - Flamingo

 

Cheri is in this business because she loves the art, “I would encourage women to do what they are interested in and don’t listen to people that say you can’t. Nowadays you can practically learn anything online. Be patient with yourself, remember your life will constantly change, so just go with it and enjoy it!

Coming up next is Part 3!

 

Women in Taxidery part 1

Women in Taxidermy

by M. Ashley Evans

First published here: https://henoutdoors.com/blog/women-in-taxidermy-part-1/

This past week I have had the privilege of interviewing several amazing women who have beaten the odds to become some of the few female taxidermists in the country. Taxidermy is almost exclusively an art that men gravitate to – but these women have proved that their creativity and unique perspective sets them apart.

History of Women in Taxidermy

The art of preserving animal specimens has been around since animals were embalmed in Ancient Egypt. Even in the Middle Ages very crude methods of taxidermy was used in creating displays for apothecaries and astrologers. In the mid-1700’s birds were being preserved for the study of natural history.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that hunters began hiring upholsterers to sew up animal skins stuffed with cotton and occasionally rags. This is where the label “stuffed” originates. In the Victorian era, artists would sculpt clay, plaster and wire cages as the frames for the animal skins. Taxidermy mounts became a popular item for home decorating. Even Queen Victoria was an avid collector of taxidermy birds from all over the world. During the late 19th Century, artists would sculpt animals into anthropomorphic displays. Both the natural display, often called Classical Taxidermy, and the more whimsical displays, or Rogue Taxidermy, continue today.

Martha Maxwell

Pioneer in Taxidermy

 Martha Maxwell - this photo also from national cowboy musuem

Martha Maxwell was born in 1831. Obviously, I wasn’t able to interview her, but she is certainly worth talking about. Martha was the first female naturalist to obtain and taxidermy her own specimens. She built elaborate displays that greatly influenced some of the major figures in taxidermy, such as William Temple Hornady (hunter, zoologist, conservationist, and taxidermist – famously known as the man who saved the American Bison from extinction due to his taxidermy displays) and Carl Akeley (known as the Father of Modern Taxidermy).

Her displays set the precedent for the future of taxidermy – by arranging the mounts in lifelike poses and displayed on items from their natural environment. Martha was the first to find and identify the Colorado Screech Owl – and it was named in her honor, Scops asio maxwellae. This was the first time a woman had a subspecies named after her.

Martha attributes her love for nature to her Grandmother. They loved going on long walks with grandmother through the woods where they would identify the wildlife they encountered. Martha’s father passed away in the 1830’s and her mother remarried right away. The new family left Pennsylvania for Oregon as Christian Missionaries to the Native Americans. Much to Martha’s sadness, her grandmother did not survive the arduous journey.

The trip proved to be much more difficult, so for the sake of their health the family settled in Wisconsin. Martha was unable to finish her schooling due to finances, so in exchange for board and tuition, she agreed to be hired by a widower to chaperone his two children at a local college. Less than a year later, and despite the widower having 6 years and being 20 years her senior, Martha married James Maxwell. James soon learned that Martha was a very determined woman and a go-getter if there ever was one. Less than two months after her marriage, she was arrested for her involvement in the raid of a tavern in support of the Temperance Movement.

The Maxwell’s had a baby the year that the fell into financial ruin, so they traveled west, prompted by the Gold Rush. Young Mabel stayed behind with Martha’s mother so she could attend school. Martha was determined that she would prove to be an asset to the team – she cooked for all six and even took her turn driving the team of mules. James mined for gold in Pikes Peak and Martha baked pies and mended clothes. She soon sold enough pies that she was able to purchase a boarding house as well as some mining claims and even a one bedroom cabin on the plains outside of Denver.

Martha Maxwell - photo from national cowboy museum

But tragedy struck again in the 1860’s – Martha’s primary method of income, the boarding house burned down and a squatter was trying to lay claim to her cabin. Even after winning the lawsuit, the squatter refused to leave. So Martha watched him and when he left the cabin to run errands she removed the door from the frame so she could enter her home – and what she found was lots of crude taxidermies. She became busy and set everything outside so she could claim her home. She was mesmerized by the preserved birds that she saw – and wrote to her family asking them to send her a book so she could “learn how to preserve birds and other animal curiosities in this country.” Shortly after, while in Wisconsin again for a short stay to take care of her ill mother she found a local taxidermist and was able to learn a little about preserving from him.

Martha Maxwell - photo also from national cowboy musuem

When she returned to Colorado, Martha feverishly got to work in creating elaborate taxidermy displays. By the fall of 1868 she had over 100 mounts – including hummingbirds and eagle chicks. The Colorado Agricultural Society asked her to display her work with them. Everyone was amazed at how lifelike her taxidermy was. She was awarded a diploma for her talents.

In the 1870’s Martha opened the Rocky Mountain Museum in Boulder, Colorado to display her mounts and to educate others. Her museum later was moved to Denver. She expanded her collection to include mammals – including the Black Footed Ferret, a very elusive species that had been recorded by John James Audubon but had never been seen by scientists. Martha became an avid hunter and collected most of her specimens herself. She traveled all across the west to study and to harvest specimens – she braved poor conditions and rough weather and didn’t seem bothered by them. Martha often brought her daughter with her on hunts. By 1869, Martha had over 600 animals in her collection.

Her first step in skinning the carcass was taking very specific measurements of all aspects of the body so she could replicate it exactly. She later hired a blacksmith to craft a thin iron frame, she then would cover it with cloth and then stretch the skins over it. This approach was much more advanced than any of the taxidermy methods used at the time such as filling the skins with clay or plaster. Her collection included a six foot grizzly, a pronghorn antelope, and snakes. Many of her rare items she sent to the Smithsonian for display. Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey said about her museum “it excelled every other in the West” but the museum struggled financially and James was not working.

Her display was featured at the Colorado’s exhibit for Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exposition. Her landscape included mountains, plains, a cave, a stream that fed a lake filled with various creatures. There was puma posed as if to kill a deer, a doe nuzzling her fawn, fox, bear, sheep, buffalo, elk, pronghorn sheep – and a postcard that read “Woman’s Work”. Everyone was amazed that this 4’11” had killed and preserved the animals and created this massive display unlike anything ever seen before.

Martha Maxwell - photo from alchetron

Unfortunately, after the display was taken down improperly in New York mold set in and every item was ruined. There is not a single specimen left from Martha’s elaborate museum. She died in 1881 of ovarian cancer. It wasn’t until after her death that Mabel came to admire and appreciate her mothers work. But now, her methods are the standard practice for taxidermy all over the world.

Kiernan Hull

Owner of Oregon Taxidermy

Kiernana - Impala

She, like Martha, is defiantly a determined lady! Kiernan also owns Phaded Acres Colt Starting and Performance. This former Miss Rodeo is talented in multiple areas! At age 17, just after high school, she and a friend dropped off a buck at a taxidermy shop. By the time she walked out she knew she was going to be a taxidermist. So the very next month Kiernan moved to Montana to begin schooling. “I have never looked back since!” she said.

There are many ways to learn to be a taxidermist – schools, internships, books, dvds, etc. Kiernan recommends working with a few good artists along the way regardless of the educational path you choose. And each state has its own licensing laws and regulations. I was amazed to learn that there was so many tools involved – each with its own special purpose. Kiernan stresses that the most important skill is actually money management –there is quite a bit of overhead with opening a taxidermy shop.

 Kiernan - Turkey

“At first no one took me seriously, especially being 17… I really started gaining respect around 20 or 21 and now I’m at 24 and I no longer deal with people not taking me seriously. Everybody around here knows who I am now and that I am not just here to mess around. Being female did hinder me at first – between that and my age, nothing was going for me. But now, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had come to me just because I am a woman and they know that gives me a natural eye for detail. I have had so many people actually tell me that they will never go to a male taxidermist again. Which is a huge compliment being in such a male-dominated industry!”

Kiernan’s passion for this art is so evident “Being female is an advantage in this industry for sure!”

Kiernan - Bird of Prey - Copy

“In the summer of 2016, I had about 50 hours into my competition piece of a life-size Badger when my candle that was about 10’ away caught the fumes from my foam just right and my table and Badger went up in flames! Poof!! It felt like an eternity – but really it all happened in about 20 seconds. After scrubbing off his black hairs and fluffing him up, my badger went on to win the Highest scoring Open in Oregon and Best of Category.” Her badger looks like it is going to walk away any moment.

kiernan badger

“I defiantly go for the Alive and Peaceful look with mine. I have the utmost respect for animals and I want them to look natural and presentable for everyone. My biggest fear is someone thinking I don’t have respect for our wildlife when it is the complete opposite. We as hunters know it is our duty to help manage wildlife and their habitat so we have them around for future generations to enjoy. Taxidermy is respectful and educational. Hunters are the #1 contributor to wildlife conservation! It is just as simple as that!”

I really enjoyed looking at a picture of an Elk she preserved. The veins and wrinkles on its muzzle were so accurate – it was mesmerizing.

“I’d say the most difficult part of Taxidermy for me is how physically demanding it is. I rarely get to sit behind a desk (thankfully) but that also means I spend most of all day every day physically hands-on with some oftentimes heavy pieces – having to wrestle them around. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a struggle occasionally and that I wasn’t sore. The most challenging piece I have worked on has to be the Kudu. They have so much extra skin and their skin is super thick. The African Kudu is built so differently from our North American deer varieties. I had to do several of them before it became any easier!”

Kiernan - Elk

Kiernan has entered many competitions and has won many awards in Oregon and Idaho. “Competing is one of the best ways to gain knowledge in this art. The judges give feedback and you are surrounded by other passionate artists” Kiernan was an absolute joy to get to know!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

______________

Sources:

https://americacomealive.com/2014/04/05/martha-ann-maxwell-1831-18881-maturalist-taxidermist/

http://www.historynet.com/colorado-huntress-wildlife.htm

https://siarchives.si.edu/history/featured-topics/stories/william-temple-hornady-saving-american-bison

https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/explore/kill-em-all-martha-maxwell-colorado-huntress/

http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/martha-maxwell

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxidermy

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha/Maxwell

https://alchetron.com/Martha-Maxwell

Leading the Way: Five of the Best Female Hunters

By: M. Ashley Evans

My article was originally published here: https://henoutdoors.com/blog/leading-the-way-5-of-the-worlds-best-women-hunters/

Historically, hunting was a male-dominated sport. For decades, women hunters were marginalized in the Outdoorsman arena. The number of women hunters is growing rapidly – and is the top trend in hunting sports today. That is in part thanks to some amazing women who have won some of the top awards available in this sport. There are a number of awards that can be given to world-class hunters. The Weatherby Award is the world’s most coveted and prestigious hunting award because it is one of the most difficult to achieve. Not only is the quality of each animal harvested judged, the number and variety of species are considered, the more difficult-to-hunt species are a heavy consideration, and a requirement that game from every continent is included. Conservation is a majorly important factor. Not only has each nominee supported conservation by spending hundreds of thousands in purchasing the licenses/fees/taxes, etc. for each individual hunt – but there have to be large donations to specific conservation programs. These programs are focused on protection and propagation of endangered wildlife. Each nominee has to be highly involved in educating the next generation of hunters through school programs, 4-H, scouts etc.

The Weatherby Award nominees also have to show exemplary character and sportsmanship in the field – a life of integrity, commitment to fair chase, strong ethics, and a solid reputation. Each year only 6 nominees are considered, and the highest point total in all categories is chosen for the recipient of this most elite of hunting awards. The Weatherby Foundation’s newsletter once printed “What’s It Take To Win The Weatherby Award: It is easy, climb a few million feet, walk a few thousand miles, spend years away from home, family, and work, usually in a foreign land. Travel for days on icy, gravel mountain roads in old jeeps or SUV’s full of other people’s cigarette smoke. Endure hundreds of searches in airports, borders and military checkpoints. Get sick or hurt, lose luggage and suffer delays too numerous to mention. Sound like fun? It is. It is a passion and way of life for a few very fortunate people.”

These female pioneers have not only beat tremendous odds in learning and mastering their skills, but they have exhibited such a drive for conservation and for educating others that they without a doubt should be heroes, not just for women, but for everyone who has a passion for hunting.

1) Suzie Brewster

Suzie Brewster photo courtesy of NRA News

Suzie Brewster is a remarkable lady. She did not have the privilege of growing up in a family who hunted – but her husband did. As the years passed and their family grew, the Brewster’s developed Day-After-Christmas Hunting Tradition. Bill and the children hunted and Suzie enjoyed traveling with them. One year, flight schedules were rearranged, the children had to board a different plane home. Tragically, their plane crashed. Suzie realized that for her husband to heal and be able to love his beloved sport again – he would need a hunting companion. So, she jumped in with enthusiasm, determined to be her husband’s very best partner.

Suzie and Bill have traveled the world going on a total of 37 safaris. She has hunted on 6 continents, in 34 countries, and has harvested more than 220 species. She still loves to shoot turkey and quail near their home in Marietta or in the fields of Texas. Suzie became a pro in the field. She has won the Dallas Safari Club Outstanding Hunting Achievement Award – the highest award given by the organization. Suzie has also won the NRA’s Sybil Ludington Freedom Award, which honors achievements in education and promoting Second Amendment Rights at a national level as well as SCI’s Diana Award. Suzie is the only woman to have received all three of these awards. While on safari, Suzie and Bill participate in as many humanitarian activities as they can. While traveling from village to village, they love to bring clothing and toys to children. Educating the next generation of Outdoorsmen has been a primary goal for the couple. Bill served in Congress and on the NRA Board of Directors. Suzie helped found the Washington Women’s Shooting Club and co-chair of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum since it began over 10 years ago.

2) Barbara Sackman

barbara sackman

Barbara Sackman is another woman of great renown amongst hunters. She has 191 world records in the SCI Record Book. And she won the 2015 Weatherby Hunting and Conservation Award – one of only two women to ever have received it. She has also won the Diana Award, SCI Conservation Award, Magnum Villamanin Award, ORVIS 20 Award, Capra Super 20 Award, etc. Interestingly enough, her husband Alan has also won the coveted Weatherby Award – which marks the first time ever both a husband and wife have won the award.

Barbara and her husband, like many avid hunters, only harvest older specimens of each species – which is great stewardship and helps with conservation. Older males will dominate over the younger ones in their chance to mate. But in order to ensure a healthy new generation, it is wise to use younger, more vital, males with healthier genes. Barbara is passionate about conservation – she was once interviewed and said, that she was “almost embarrassed to say how much (she) paid to harvest that sheep (in Nebraska), but every red cent goes to conservation and the welfare of the sheep herd. That means an awful lot. The hunter is a huge conservationist, more so than anyone else.” Big game hunts, like sheep in Nebraska, can cost well over $100,000, which is a wonderful contribution towards the health of that sheep species. Barbara is a skilled hunter and has harvested Kudu, Roosevelt Elk, Polar Bear, Nile Crocodile, African Lion, and Leopard.

3) Caroline Pruitt

Caroline Pruitt photo courtesy of Outdoorlife

At age 12, she went on an African Safari with her father and shot an Impala – and she was hooked. On that hunt, she was able to harvest 9 animals – most of which was taken with the first shot. Only four years later, Caroline Pruitt won the 2010 Youngest Hunter Award from SCI and Cabellas. Only two teenagers in the world are chosen for this award each year. At age 14, she had 18 entries in the SCI Record Book and had harvested over 50 big game specimens including Leopard, Wildebeest, and American Bison. She hunted the American Bison with a .44 Magnum. Caroline has hunted with various other weapons including a rifle, muzzleloader, crossbow, compound bow, and longbow. She is the only woman recorded to hunt a Gredos Ibex and a Muskox with a Longbow, which has become her hunting weapon of choice since 2011.

Caroline is passionate about hunting – and strives to be a great example to others. She has not let her busy schedule in traveling across five continents neglect her education – she maintained high grades. Caroline has a heart for helping others, whether it is training new hunters at Meadow Ridge Archery and Gun or donating the meat from her hunts locally and abroad. Hunters all over the world watch in eager expectation to see what the years have in store for this prodigy.

4) Renee Snider

Renee Snider photo courtsy of the Conklin Foundation

One of the most accomplished hunters in history – who has received an astounding number of awards, is Renee. In 2006 she was the first female to win the Golden Malik Award for taking “free range and on-foot” all big game species found in the South Pacific. She won the 2012 Diana Award. 2013 was the year that Renee became the first woman to receive the OVIS Award. In 2014, the Weatherby Award had its 57th anniversary. That year Renee Snider became not only the first female recipient of the award – but she had the highest number of big game animals harvested by anyone who had ever won the Weatherby. That same year, she won the Ullman Magnum Award for collecting European big game species and she was the first woman to be inducted into the highly prestigious Mountain Hall of Fame from the Wild Sheep Foundation. In 2015, Renee won the SCI World Conservation and Hunting Award. In 2016, she was the first woman to earn the Pantheon Award from SCI and GSCO. 2017 was the year that she won the International Hunting Award from SCI, Super 40 Capra from GSCO, as well as the Super 39 Ovis from GSCO. That same year, Rene won the Conklin Award from SCI. This award is “for the dedication of pursuing big game in the most rugged terrain under the most difficult and demanding conditions while maintaining the highest standard of ethics, adhering to the rules of fair chase, and showing a true conservation stewardship for the big game animals of the world.”

Renee has raised millions to aid disabled and disadvantaged children. She has been on the board of directors for the Help-A-Child Foundation, River Oak Center for Children, Conklin Foundation and the Weatherby Foundation International. She makes every effort to use each hunt as a venture in not only conservation but in humanitarian efforts. She loves to bring medical supplies and administers first aid – in many villages she has been the only source of medical aid they had ever seen. Renee is an amazing lady who goes above and beyond when it comes to trying to make a difference in the world.

5) Brenda Valentine

Brenda Valentine photo courtesy of Tuskessee Outdoor Expo

Last but certainly not least, is Brenda Valentine, the “First Lady of Hunting.” Brenda is down to earth and passionate about conservation and introducing women and children to the sport. She is from Tennessee, where hunting and being in the woods is a way of life. She is proficient with a large number of firearms and has won dozens of national and regional 1st place awards in archery competitions. She is an award-winning speaker, author, photographer, and TV co-host. It truly seems like there is not anything that Brenda doesn’t excel at. She is the National Spokesperson for the National Wild turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors program, the only woman to receive the Knight Rifle Master Hunter Award, a member of Bass Pro Shops’ RedHead Professional Hunting Team, Paris/Henry Co. Sports Hall of Fame, Women in the Outdoors Leadership Award, AMVETS Silver Bayonet Award, etc. In 2012, she was the only woman chosen by the Department of Defense to take part in the Outdoor Legends Tour II. This was a great honor, as it is a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation to active troops in southwest Asia and in Afghanistan as well as those military members who were hospitalized in Germany.

Even with all these accomplishments, Brenda remains humble and eager to help others. She hosts hunts for the disabled, supports wounded veteran projects, and loves to teach women and children about hunting and the outdoors. Brenda has designated hundreds of acres of her land to be a part of a Mossy Oak Gamekeeping project. She stays very busy with public speaking and loves to speak on the importance of conservation, land preservation, wildlife management, and patriotism.

Anything Is Possible!

These are remarkable women who have excelled in their art. Not only have they become phenomenal outdoorswomen, proficient in marksmanship, and excellent at tracking and pursuit but they have excelled so far as to win many awards that historically only men have won. Several did so while raising a family and while making a difference in their communities – their success is amazing. These women should be held up as mentors – to show others that anything is possible, even succeeding in the most difficult of terrains and winning the most elite of hunting awards. All while using their talents to focus on the gravely important task of conservation and education.leading-the-way_

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