I don’t think women are out to prove anything, this isn’t a competition of which sex can hunt or shoot better. I think women just enjoy hunting and shooting. It’s that cut and dry.
I got into shooting a few years ago, mainly with a shotgun and have recently joined the Scottish Ladies Shooting Club to meet like-minded people. My sureness started to grow, and I have met some wonderful coaches who have helped grow my confidence.
Recently I was lucky enough to stumble somewhat accidentally into a week of firsts. My partner, unfortunately for him, was away for work the evening that he was due to go and shoot ducks. Fear not, I will take your place, I replied, relieved that I could fit it in after a manic few weeks at work and most definitely needing some downtime.
So, off I set, nervous, under-prepared and worried about my performance. Leaving the dog in the car, deciding that I had enough to worry about without a crazy cocker spaniel adding to my nerves, I met up with my fellow guns. I’m almost positive they were unimpressed at my introductions, worried themselves that they had a bit more work to do this evening than in previous outings as a team.
We set off up to the flight site, hearing plenty of geese and snipe, got in tight and waited it out. As I loaded up, I had a quiet word with myself. “You’ve fired plenty of cartridges, you’ve hit plenty of quarry and you’ve spent a small fortune on lessons this summer, pull yourself together and make yourself proud”. “Note yourself, not your fellow Guns, not your partner, not your coach, yourself”.
This is the most important part of shooting for me. Respecting myself and my quarry enough to put the practice in, to put the hours of bad lessons, the hours of doubting and the few tears behind you when it matters and make sure I pull that trigger at the right time. To let a natural instinct take over and forget everything else.
We set off back to the cars in the dark, pride pumping through my veins, my faithful old gun tucked safely in my slip, my game bag a bit fuller than a few hours previous and a first. A pair of teal. Beautiful, bright and cleanly shot. “Had a wonderful night, managed to hit something, hope you’ve arrived safely” the text to my partner read. Perhaps not the biggest shooting experience, but to me, it was a milestone. Proof I can hold my own. Proof that I’m just as good as anyone else in my chosen field. Proof that my little old second-hand gun is a perfect partner.
I sat at my desk in the city the following day. Staring out of the window completely distracted by how far I have come with my shooting this summer whether it be clays or game. My phone buzzed, a friend wondering if I was free the following day for a bit of time on the hill. ‘Yes, probably will be, let me know times.’ Excited and now completely distracted, I tried to buckle down and get on with some work.
Morning arrived, the alarm didn’t even need to go off, I was awake. Clutching a coffee as I tied my garters and packed my bag, I was looking forward to my day observing. It was nearly the end of stag season, but just happy to be out on the hill watching. Meeting up with our friends, excitement in the air, a beautiful day after a few days of close fog and rain, we set off. I don’t mind admitting, I felt like a child on Christmas day.
As we neared the estate, a bombshell was dropped in the car. ‘You do know you’re going to be shooting today?’ Silence. Stunned silence. Excitement, fear, nerves and a bit of panic thrown in for good luck. I wanted to hug him and hit him at the same time. I don’t do rifle shooting, I’m not confident with a rifle, but I did have a very experienced stalker sitting next to me.
We set off up the steepest hill I have ever scrambled up. Nerves didn’t settle, my heart raced and my excitement for the day climbed faster than my little legs could keep up with. We sat watching a group of hinds with a mature stag, enjoying a respite from the relentless hills.
I’m not a particularly sentimental person, but something changed whilst I was up there. Watching something so beautifully wild and raw, I felt insignificant. The world going past me, deals being brokered, businesses being bought and sold, people being born and people dying. And yet there I was, perched on the side of a ridge, watching something that was mesmerising and so far from the world I spend my weekdays in.
We stalked off, deciding he was holding his own, to find another. Hours passed, the sun moving round the hill being the only indicator that time was moving. My poor breeks began to show their age as the dampness set in. Note to self, purchase new breeks before agreeing to mad adventures.
A few more groups stalked and lots of roaring heard. Frustration starting to show, dampness well and truly set in and beginning to feel a little thankful that today was just not my day. Adrenaline started to settle leaving me feeling hungover. Do we stay and climb back up to the ridge, or do we leave it? Roar. That’s our decision made, back up the hill. Suddenly he appeared. Perfect, magnificent, wow. I’m stuck, I’m torn and I whisper to my friend ‘you take the shot, I don’t want to miss’. He turned, gave me a very stern look and signalled to come alongside. I crawled, dampness forgotten, breathing erratic and my heartbeat in my ears. Adrenaline through the roof, I was in a moral dilemma.
I took control, I can do this, this needs to be done, it’s management, we are here to do a job and I need to be more rational. I gripped the rifle, steadied my breathing and got him on the scope. It’s just him and me, both looking for very different outcomes.
It is the first time I have struggled to pull the trigger. I looked up just as he dropped and my job was done. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I did in those few moments. Is this a feeling that goes eventually? Or is this a feeling that should always be present, a form of utmost respect and passion?
I’ve heard so many people say that your first stag will change you and I’ve never believed them. My week of firsts has had me doubting myself, doubting my ability and my passion. But I have changed, both as a hunter and as a person. I’ve grown, and I’ve learnt a few very important lessons.
1) Go, even if you’re scared, fight your own fight.
2) Grab every opportunity without doubts. You will succeed and if you don’t, you’ve learnt something that makes it worthwhile.
3)Respect everything and everyone.