Teresa Head always has loved hiking and being outside, even doing organized trail work when she lived in Alaska. The one-time vegetarian never had hunted or even held a gun until a few weeks ago.
So the Duluth-area resident was in for several surprises the first time she went deer hunting Saturday, Oct. 15.
Chief among them was her harvest of a 17-point buck in the waning daylight of that first day hunting. Many would consider her harvest the deer of a lifetime – it weighed 235 pounds field dressed and its antlers sprouted a 20-inch spread.
“I’ve never experienced being outside like we were that Saturday, where it’s so different than hiking,” Head said. “I’ve never sat still and quiet in the outdoors for eight hours. It was kind of an amazing experience.”
The Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources organized the hunt as part of its four-part program about how to hunt deer. Participants learn about deer biology, hunting safety, ethics and outdoor skills. They practice at a rifle range and meet with a DNR conservation officer, who answers questions and shares personal insights. The program culminates with an actual hunt in which participants are paired with a trained mentor.
“The program was just amazing and perfect,” Head said.
Head and her mentor sat in a ground blind for the whole day at Itasca State Park, located halfway between Park Rapids to the south and Bemidji to the north. She watched a mouse and saw individual leaves fall as finches and chickadees flitted from branch to branch.
“I saw all the little things that I’ve never in my whole life taken the time to look at. I thought, hunters – they’ve really got it figured out. They really know what they’re doing here,” Head said.
With daylight fading, mentor Naomi Walker was the first to spot the wiggling ears of a deer. The deer seemed to sense them but kept moving forward, finally stopping to browse. When it did, Head squeezed off a perfect shot from 40 yards, and the deer died quickly.
“I honestly felt like the way that animal went down was more humane than the way you buy beef and chicken in the grocery store,” Head said.
Head used a copper bullet, which prevented eagles or other wildlife from eating lead bullet fragments that can remain in the environment.
Walker, the leader of the learn-to-deer-hunt sessions, was honored to be a part of the hunt with Head. Walker herself learned to hunt through the BOW program.
“She definitely took her time to set up the shot,” Walker said. “She definitely paid attention to her firearms safety training and did everything by the book.”
Eight women participated in the weekend hunt in controlled areas of the state park and nearby La Salle Lake State Recreation Area. Only Head fired a shot. The state park also hosted a controlled deer hunt this fall for 75 youth.
Linda Bylander, BOW coordinator, said the stories generated by participants in the learn-to-deer-hunt program often inspire others to give hunting a try or become a mentor themselves.
“Female participation in hunting is on the rise in Minnesota,” Bylander said. “Many women, like Teresa, are going afield to harvest their own food, enjoy nature in a new way or spend time with their family.”
Bylander said BOW provides a valuable role in the process of becoming a hunter.
“Ongoing social support is at the heart of becoming and continuing to be a hunter,” she said. “We offer a friendly, safe and supportive environment, and that’s valuable because hunting isn’t an activity you normally adopt based on a single experience.”
For Head, other unexpected experiences from the hunt include a trip to the taxidermist and finding wall space for a mount. And she is excited about the new connections she formed during the program.
“I never in a million years imagined I’d have a mount in my house,” she said, adding that she appreciates the beauty of the animal and what she saw that day. “For me, it was just about feeding my family.”
For more information about BOW and its outdoor skills classes visit www.mndnr.gov/bow.