Sept/Oct 2019Lillies of the FieldBy Corey Hunt
Once young girls draped in oversized camo, today's outdoors women are the tech-savvy guides of the future.
For as long as I can remember, an oversized camouflage hunting shirt has hung in my closet. My dad passed it down to me when I was about five years old. Since then, I was up before sunrise every Labor Day weekend, picking up breakfast with dad and heading to the dove field. I would wind up my long hair under a camouflage hat that was several sizes too large and take my spot next to JoJo, our Brittany spaniel. Dad was in charge of the shooting; I was in charge of the retriever.
Most mornings, I was the only girl in the field, and I did not know another woman who loved the outdoors as much as I did until I was in my mid-twenties. This season, as I take my spot in the field, I look beside me at my four-year-old sidekick. She, too, has her long hair folded under her hat and is wearing a camo shirt that is several sizes too large.
While I waited for the birds to fly, I reflected on past hunts and became sentimental, and hopeful, for the next generation of female hunters. I wondered what lessons needed learning and what the field might look like when my daughter is old enough to shoot. Without an understanding of the challenges women have overcome through the years, it's hard to appreciate these two spots reserved for us in this dove field.
Women today have more opportunities to learn about hunting and the outdoors than in previous decades. Through social media and access to different outdoor websites, information is readily available at the touch of a button. But it was not always this way. Not so many years ago, mentors were hard to find, and many women attribute their love for hunting to their dad's willingness to take them along into the field.
Tes Jolly is one such person. She has been a mentor for many women, especially in the fields of outdoor media and archery. Tes is a wildlife and nature photographer as well as an outdoor writer located in Alabama. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Gamekeeper, Quality Whitetail, Turkey Country and many more regional conservation publications, books and calendars. She began hunting around age seven, several decades ago.
Tes joined her dad and brothers on many hunts and was almost always viewed as "one of the guys" when it came to camaraderie in the field, almost. When Tes was nine, her family moved to a farm in Florida and her dad joined a nearby hunting club. The first morning of the hunt, Tes got dressed in her army fatigues and was ready to go when she learned of a club rule: women were only allowed at the hunt club on Thanksgiving and Christmas. She was heartbroken and began to cry, but her dad had a plan. Now knowing how badly she wanted to hunt, he told her that if she wanted to hunt that badly, they would find a way. They devised a plan that included her putting her short hair in a cap and instructed her not to smile, in case her dimples gave her away.
Tes told me, "My family referred to me as Harvey, after the invisible rabbit in a movie," and only close friends of the family knew their secret. Tes rode on the boxes with the dogs on the way out to hog hunt and rarely spoke to anyone at the club, for fear of being found out. This ruse was successful for two years, but eventually her secret was discovered, in part because she smiled at one too many of the hunters' sons.
Her dad, who was normally a stickler for rules, apologized to the club members for their actions. The next year, the members concluded this rule was unnecessary, and it was redacted. After the legislative change, three more daughters joined Tes at the club to hunt, and many an eye was opened to the desire of women to hunt and gain a knowledge of the outdoors.
Today, women continue making strides into the outdoor world and breaking barriers, some more quietly than others. I recently had the opportunity to meet a young lady who is the only female employee in the archery department at the local branch of a national outdoor chain. Kari Dailey has been working at the store for three years, and like many other women, attributes her love and knowledge of hunting to her father.
Kari grew up in the Upstate of South Carolina and began shooting a bow at age five. She was fourteen years old when she harvested her first deer, and several years ago she had the opportunity to bag the buck of a lifetime with her recurve bow which, for her, was "a feeling like no other." She admits that being a female in a male-dominated industry is not without its challenges. She frequently gets questioning looks from customers when they find out she is the bow tech on duty. She takes these looks in stride and wins the customers' confidence with her knowledge of both shooting form and product information.
One of Kari's favorite parts of her job is teaching and sharing her knowledge of hunting with others. She has recently seen more women and families come into the store to purchase bows.
"It isn't just about individual accomplishment," she says. "It's something to be shared and can be a bonding experience."
Both Tes and Kari agreed that mentorship is the best way to learn more about hunting and the outdoors. For these women, their fathers provided mentorship that was irreplaceable. But for other women, a mentor can be hard to come by, leaving them unsure of how or where to start learning more.
In South Carolina, the S.C. Wildlife Federation meets this need for mentors with the women's outdoor retreat. In late September, about 175 women gather at Hickory Knob State Park for a weekend of workshops and classes on subjects ranging from backpacking, knot tying, fish cleaning, wilderness first aid and skeet shooting. This weekend is designed for women sixteen and older, and registration opens in June. The instructors are all experts in their field, and any needed equipment is provided by local outfitters. The average age of the attendees is sixty, and a majority of participants have attended multiple years. Support and mentorship are important while learning new skills, and this weekend can unite women and forge new friendships that will be cherished for years to come.
Women may still be a minority in the dove field, but throughout the last several decades, strides have been made in and out of the hunting world to eradicate gender inequality. Females in their teens are the fastest-growing population in the hunting industry, and more opportunities are available for these girls because of women like Tes Jolly and Kari Dailey. Social media has been successful in bringing women together with similar interests into a newfound sisterhood. I am encouraged by how this sisterhood is evolving and by the support and encouragement women have received that allow them to further their knowledge of the outdoors.
One day, my sidekick may be able to look back and tell her daughter how far this sisterhood has come, and what a joy it is to be an outdoors woman.