This isn’t about pheasant or quail. It’s not even really about deer although it starts with a deer hunt.
This past fall, Rachel Rackliff, 12 years old, shot a nice 132 lb. spikehorn just minutes before legal shooting ended. She took the deer as it moved slowly between the edge of our cornfield and a swamp that’s popular with our resident moose, resident bear, and a few dozen beavers. Rachel and her father, Henry, had hiked their way down to the field in the dark both Saturday and Sunday mornings of youth weekend, back in later each afternoon. On Sunday, in between hunts, Rachel had a soccer game.
When they called to ask if we could bring the ATV to help haul the deer out, it was hard to tell who was more excited, Henry or Rachel. Then again, they’d done this before. Rachel got a doe last year down by the same swamp.
Lit by the floodlight over our garage, Henry swung the deer into the back of his truck, and we told Rachel to hop on the tailgate and lift its head. That’s when I saw an image that said it all. She tilted the heavy head into her lap and grasped the narrow horns in her hands, her glittery orange Halloween nail polish sparkling in celebration.
Many of us agree that the future of hunting lies in the next generation and in getting more women and girls involved. Too often I hear that kids don’t have time, that peer pressure and school sports make it too hard to spend time in the woods or fields. I don’t buy it. With the right role models and encouragement – be that from parents, older siblings, friends, teachers or outdoor mentors – one or two trips afield will ignite the passion that fuels an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman for life. Girls can wear flashy nail polish and still take down a deer with the best of hunters.
By the way, last year, when Rachel saw I had Photoshopped out some blood dripping from the doe’s mouth, she laughed. I explained that it seems more respectful when sharing photos of the game we kill to present it in a dignified way, like when we smooth the feathers on a downed pheasant’s back.
“But that’s the way it really was,” she replied. She was right. My editing sanitized the truth, in some ways like meat wrapped cleanly in supermarket plastic. Hunters accept the reality of killing and eating what we kill, the connection to our food source and what it means. Thanks, Rachel.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.