By Heather Shaw

March is a trying time for lovers of the outdoors in Michigan: winter is on its way out the door and spring tugs away at our need for sunshine and greenery. This year, I had a chance to welcome March with a new opportunity, as my Llewellin setter pup Chip and I were on our way to our first ladies hunt. Anxiously packing gear for the dog and I the night before, I realized that I had not had many opportunities to hunt with women who share similar passions in hunting and wingshooting.

Chip and I braved a fierce snowstorm as we left home in the northwoods. Although I questioned whether the bad road conditions were worth it, I had a feeling that this would be a unique experience that I did not want to miss. We were headed to Crooked Foot Upland Game & Bird Hunting Club in Owosso to meet a group of 14 ladies of varying hunting experience levels. Kim Capone, Crooked Foot club assistant, and Sandra Meyer, Mid Michigan Safari Club International representative, had invited me to join them on a ladies European hunt followed by lunch and a walk-up hunt in the afternoon — I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.

As we arrived, I let Chip out to stretch his legs, and a diverse group of bird dogs that participants had brought greeted him. I immediately knew that I was going to fit in with this group of girls and gundogs. After introductions, a safety discussion and an opportunity to brush the dust off of our shooting skills for the winter, we headed out for the European hunt. I had never participated in a tower shoot and was not sure what to expect; however, I was pleasantly surprised with the number of shooting opportunities followed by hoots and hollers from the ladies. I laughed the entire time while harvesting several pheasants and missing even more, thrilled to smell gunpowder again. The retriever work by the Crooked Foot team was nothing short of fantastic by both dogs and handlers — the majority of the retrievers were labs of varying ages and experience levels, and each of them was eager to get the next bird in their mouth.

Over lunch, our sponsors for this event were recognized and the list included Crooked Foot, Safari Club International, J&B Boots, the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Wealth Advisory Group. Sponsors provided prizes to be raffled, as well as scholarships which covered hunt costs for our new hunters. This was a great way to encourage participation!

Following a wonderful lunch, we split up and headed to the field for a walk-up hunt to pursue the birds which eluded us in the morning. I wanted to take this opportunity to train Chip on a few brazen pheasants and branched off with a new acquaintance Teresa Arnett who wanted to do the same with her English setter, Prim. I was very impressed with the way that Prim worked, as she had only been hunted a handful of times since Teresa brought her home as an adult dog — she was a natural. Walking through the switchgrass, we talked about training successes and failures while watching the dogs work independently from one cover to the next. It was obvious that the dogs were thrilled to be back in their element; there was a bounce in their stride and their senses were exploding with the scent of birds. It is important to note that Chip and I finished the grouse season last year hunting up to the last day in December, where to my dismay he had busted a few birds. We still have a lot of ground to cover with training, but I am confident in my adolescent bird dog’s drive and ability. That being said, I was hopeful that he would provide a solid point and an opportunity at a rooster following three long months of hibernation. Luckily, things clicked as we worked the edge of a swale. Chip slammed on point and Prim immediately honored! In the moment, all I could do was ask Teresa to take a picture while I “whoaed” Chip. Teresa and I walked away grinning ear to ear, knowing that we had harvested the best bird of the day for ourselves and our beloved gun dogs.

Following the hunt, the parking lot was full of ladies with birds in hand, laughing at my horrible jokes and telling stories while the dogs played around us. My heart was full; I had found my tribe.
When Kim Capone and Sandra Meyer envisioned this event, they aimed to provide a fun and comfortable environment for hunters of all experience levels, and it did just that. Kim Capone said it best when mentioning that 14 women, most whom had never met before, bonded immediately over their shared passion and interest for hunting. Six women, including Capone, had never hunted before, and I can guarantee that this will not be their first and only experience. Still, why was this hunt so different, why was I still glowing on the long drive home? Normally, I hunt alone, a soloist through and through. I have started to hunt with other friends when I can, and I am realizing that nothing compares to time in the field with good friends and bird dogs. At this event, we lifted each other up rather than cast judgment, we encouraged each other to be the best that we could be and earned our salt as female hunters. We welcomed those new to hunting with open arms and a day full of non-stop, wingshooting action. We shared a passion and bonded over our love for the outdoors. The hunting community needs more of that; we need to be better, and we can be better.

I walked into this event not knowing anyone and left with 14 new friends that I cannot wait to join in the field again. Cheers, ladies — until next time.

Heather Shaw is the Regional Wildlife Biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society in Michigan. When not working, she spends her time in the forests of northern Michigan with her Llewellin setter, Chip, exploring new covers and enjoying all that the northwoods have to offer.