Deer hunting is for women, too
Gone are the days when deer hunting automatically meant the burly men would trudge off into the woods while the women folk stayed home to do the cooking and the ironing.
Today more women are strapping on the blaze orange, picking up the guns and heading out for the kill.
According to statistics from the Minnesota DNR, at the turn of the century, women made up 11 percent of hunters in the woods during the November firearm season. Last year that increased to 14.4 percent.
And those numbers could very well be skyrocketing in the future, as the percentage of youth deer licenses and tags handed out to young girls has gone from 17.4 percent in 2000 to 29.7 percent last year.
According to some local women, once they took a shot at deer hunting, it was in their blood.
Guts and blood do not faze Nikki Caulfield.
“A lot of times when I’m out there my hands are freezing, so it actually feels kind of nice gutting the deer because it’s nice and warm inside,” she laughed, cognitive of how raw she just sounded.
Caulfield, a seamstress in Detroit Lakes, grew up watching the women in her family hunt, and although she didn’t get into the sport until her mid-20’s, she hasn’t missed a season in seven years.
“I like to have my own supply of venison,” she said. But she admitted that she isn’t exactly a sharpshooter.
“I’ve hit more deer with my car than with my gun,” she said, “but even if I don’t get a deer, I’m still content just sitting out in the woods for a day… or four.”
Caulfield won’t be enjoying the woods alone this year, though.
“I’m bringing my 89-year-old grandma out,” she said, implying the scenario isn’t quite as sweet as it sounds.
“Grandma gets pretty cranky if we go and check on her in her stand too much,” she said, “She’s like, ‘Get out of here, you’re scaring the deer away,’” she laughed, adding that when her grandma had a stroke this year, everybody figured she would have to miss deer hunting.
“But the first thing she started talking about when she came out of it was how she’d be fine to get out to her deer stand,” said Caulfield, “so we’re bringing her.”
In fact, there will be four generations of women out with Caulfield this weekend, helping to make up a deer camp of eight women and four men.
“Yeah, I know, we’re a little atypical,” she laughed, “but we like it.”
Growing up in Detroit Lakes, Lauri Bowers understood the simple significance of hunting.
“It was our food supply,” she said, “duck, pheasants, deer … it’s what we lived on.”
Both her parents hunted on land outside of Audubon, as did she and her brothers — it was a way of life she grew to love.
“It’s solitude,” said Boers. “You go out to your stand and you can think about anything and everything and just watch all of the wildlife.”
Bowers says although she took a break from deer hunting for a while as a young woman, she’s made it a ritual again for the past 30 years.
And while she doesn’t mind processing her own deer, there is one thing she won’t do.
“I won’t shoot a doe,” she said. “It’s a sentimental thing, because babies can walk with their mamas and I think … I can’t shoot your mama … but I get lucky because I get a buck almost every year.”
From the deer stand her husband built her, Bowers hunts from sun up to sun down, just the way her father taught her.
“And my mom hunted until she was 80 years old,” she said, adding that even while her mother was sick and going through chemotherapy treatments for cancer, she still snuck out, got herself a deer license and went hunting.
“You couldn’t keep her from it,” said Bowers. “Out of 58 years, she missed maybe three years while she was pregnant with us.”
Bowers embraced her parents’ motto of “A family that hunts together, stays together,” so today as they now both rest in the cemetery near their old hunting land, Bowers will help keep the family tradition alive.
Her kids hunt, and now her granddaughter will join them as well for her second year.
“I think when the women in my family grow up seeing their moms or grandmas hunt, it gets them excited to do it, too. It’s a good tradition.”
For the past 16 years, Krysta Lipton has looked around her hunting party and realized one thing.
“I’m the only girl,” she said.
Her grandpa, his brother, her dad, his brothers, her brothers, their cousins — she is always the lone female in a big herd of men on her grandfather’s land near Mahnomen.
“When I was young I told my dad I wanted to go with, and so he gave me a shot — he made me go through gun safety training — we all had to,” said Lipton, who ended up hitting a deer with her car that year. Her dad used that opportunity to show young Lipton how to gut it.
“So then when I shot my first deer he handed me the knife and said, ‘here ya go.’”
Since then, the men in her deer camp have not treated Lipton like a helpless girl, but as a hunter.
“I’m expected to do everything they do,” she said, adding that’s how she likes it.
Although her husband doesn’t deer hunt, Lipton says she looks forward to teaching her stepson and the baby son she just had in August how it’s done.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I’ll be a hunter for life.”
For the first time in her 27 years, Paula Schwarzrock of Detroit Lakes will be trying her hand at deer hunting.
“I always just kind of figured it was a guy thing, said Schwarzrock, whose father and two brothers had always brought home enough meat from land 15 miles outside of Frazee to last all year.
“I love venison — steaks, jerky, sausage … all of it,” she said. But once her brothers moved away, Schwarzrock realized how quickly the meat she loved would be eaten up.
“My dad’s one deer last year just didn’t cut it,” she said. “So I thought, well, I’m going to have to go out and get my own.”
Schwarzrock says she’s wondering just how cold it’ll be hunting throughout the weekend as she bunks up in a camper with her dad and uncle, but she’s also curious about the thought of getting her first deer.
“Just the rush of actually killing the deer is something I’ve never experienced,” she said, adding that her dad will likely make her deal with the aftermath.
“I know he’ll say, ‘You killed it, you gut it,’ and I’ll try,” said Schwarzrock. “I don’t know how that’s going to work, but I’m excited to go.”
Growing up the only girl in the family, Annie Squires remembers watching her dad and two brothers as every single November they’d head out in their blaze orange in search of the big buck.
“They’d go out to the cabin on Tulaby Lake, and I’d stay home with mom,” said Squires. “It was just kind of a guy thing, and they never asked me to go with.”
What they didn’t realize is that young Annie always secretly wanted to go.
Once she reached adulthood, Squires was able to indulge her interest in firearms when she joined the Minnesota Army National Guard.
Deployments overseas in war-struck areas gave her some expertise in weapons, and when she returned home she began deer hunting with friends.
“And my dad said, ‘What? I never knew you were interested in hunting,’ and I said, ‘Well, you never asked me,’” said Squires, who was then promptly invited to the men’s’ deer camp.
In 2003, she got her first chance to hunt one-on-one with her father, Leroy Squires, whom she says she always adored.
That year Squires got her chance to show her father that she was no schlup when it came to her hunting abilities when she shot a nice-sized spike buck.
“When we were processing the meat, I asked my dad if he had saved my spikes and he said no. But he was fibbing me, because for Christmas he gave them to me … he had felted them and routed a plaque himself,” said Squires, who didn’t get the chance to hunt one-on-one with her dad again until last fall.
As it turns out, it was a doozy of a year for her when, for the first time, she truly felt like a hunter.
“I was sitting up in the stand by myself when this big buck started walking towards me,” she said, feeling the excitement rush over her. “I got him in my sights, but even though I was so excited I had to tell myself to wait ... let him get closer,” said Squires, who had to slowly breathe her way through the agonizing moments before finally taking a single shot at 50 yards away.
“He ran maybe 10 yards into a pile of leaves and then I heard a ‘woof’ — and he was down,” said Squires, who stood there shaking and stunned at what had just happened.
Leroy Squires brought a tractor down for his daughter and her big kill — a 13-point buck.
“He took a look at it and said, ‘Wow! That’s a big one … bigger than what I’ve ever shot,’ and then he gave me a big hug and told me he was proud of me,” she said.
Tears welled up at the memory, now bittersweet for Squires, since her father died last summer.
As she gears up to head back to her father’s land for the first deer hunting season without him, she arms herself with items of sentiment — her father’s knife, his old, orange hunting shirt and the rifle he bought her.
“It’s going to be so tough being there at his place all by myself without him,” she said.
But the peace and serenity of her father’s woods will give her the chance to just sit there, she said, talk to God and remember her father and the good times they had together hunting.
“And I know he’ll be there with me … not physically, but he’ll be there. I know he will.”