Tag Archives: outdoors

Women in the outdoors give hunting a shot




On a warm autumn Saturday, three women gather together at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge with their crossbows and archery equipment. Reminiscent of Katniss Everdeens’ from the Hunger Games Trilogy, these women may also inspire more youth and adult women to take up bow hunting. Mikalia, Maria, and Tanya are participating in a Women in the Outdoors hunt, and members of the refuge staff and National Wild Turkey Federation are ready to guide them in the field.

The three women are novice or inexperienced bow hunters, and the dedicated refuge hunt for women, by women, offers a unique opportunity for them to ask questions and get hands-on experience with experts. It is the second annual Women in the Outdoors hunt at the refuge, offered through a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wild Turkey federation.



The refuge is closed this day to everyone else. In the quiet, Refuge Law Enforcement Officer Mike McMenamin looks for signs of deer. Like a biology detective, he points out a broken branch where a buck rubbed his scent, hoof scrapes on the ground, and other places where deer had left a mark.

Chelsea Utter, wildlife refuge specialist and a National Wild Turkey Federation hunt mentor, sits patiently and quietly with Mikalia. Chelsea explains the sounds to listen for to track deer. The women will spend hours through the afternoon until dark in the blind.



For a Women in the Outdoors hunt, each participant is paired with a more experienced mentor. This one-on-one allows for a strong personal connection and comfortable relationship for learning. Mentors provide guidance on all aspects of the sport, including hunting safety, wildlife tracking, taking a first shot, and processing a deer for food.

Chelsea was a mentor for the first time the previous year. Her first mentee aimed her bow and her arrow hit her mark, a buck. Chelsea confessed that after hunting for six years, she had yet to have a successful hunt. The hunt was a proud moment for both women.

Sitting this year with Mikalia in the blind, Chelsea hopes that today she might experience that feeling of accomplishment again. Mentoring has become her favorite part of the women’s hunt program, and she hopes that her mentees might become mentors themselves some day.

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Tanya is an example of how this unique program can foster a love of hunting. On the recommendation of a friend, Tanya decided to try out the Women in the Outdoors hunt in 2016. She loved the event so much, she’s returned this year. Today, her hunt will prove successful…a milestone!



Wanting to share her newfound pastime with her son, Tanya encouraged him to enroll and participate in the refuge’s youth hunt. “It can be difficult for new or non-hunters to gain access to the knowledge, guidance, places and opportunities to gain the confidence and experience to safely, ethically, and successfully go into the field. The women’s mentored hunt provided all of those resources openly and wholeheartedly to me. The refuge hunts are special opportunities that are appreciated so much more than the mentors will ever know,” she says.

Chelsea says there’s nothing better than seeing the excitement of the participants and their eagerness to continue hunting. She says that she hopes that after participating in the program women aren’t as intimidated to get out into the woods by themselves, become part of a community of hunting enthusiasts, and feel comfortable with all stages of the hunting experience. She hopes to share with others how hunting can be a favorite pastime, an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and a way to provide food for your family and friends.



In recognition of their hunting programs, Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge was recently awarded the Robert E. Eriksen Conservation Award by the board of directors of the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Access to the Outdoors for All

Fall is a season of change in the Northeast United States. The weather cools, the leaves begin to turn, and birds begin migrating south for winter. Some dive into holiday traditions, carving pumpkins and drinking apple cider. Others spend time becoming one with nature and scouting out the perfect landscape for hunting. While everyone has their favorite fall traditions, it’s our hope that people of all abilities are able to access the outdoors this season.

Our goal is to help provide access to nature for everyone interested in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. Adaptive hunting and recreational activities are available in many states and often provide expertise, gear and camaraderie to enhance outdoor experiences. The programs listed below are among several available options for people of all abilities and background to find accessible hunting areas and programs.

Through these and other great programs offered by states and partners, the opportunity to hunt and explore nature can be available to all. Find a program in your state that suits you and get outside!

Dad and I sitting in the treestand.

From the desk of a novice sportswoman

This is the story of my first white-tailed deer hunt. 

“Take the shot,” he whispered. “Take it!”

I shook, blood rushing through every vein in my body.

Through the scope I spied a deer in a clearing about 75 yards from where my dad and I sat in a treestand.

I put my finger on the trigger. Questions flooded my mind. Would I make a good shot? …Did I even want to shoot a deer? …Why did I even climb up here to do this?

In that instant, I swiftly moved through the lifelong steps that brought me to this moment—this moment where for the first time I aimed to take the life of an animal. I saw myself as a child sitting by the wood stove in my grandpa’s kitchen on mornings when he and my dad would head out before light to hunt in the Virginia woods. I always stayed back with my grandma, playing in the yard alongside her guineas, chickens and pigs.

I saw my younger self, who noticed that my mom would rather stay in a hotel over a tent any day, and eat salmon over venison any meal. I played with Barbie and American girl dolls, and soon shifted focus to makeup and boys. Being a sportsman was clearly a guy thing.

Mom and me.

Mom and I sporting our faux-fur hooded vests. I drag her outside every time she visits these days.

I saw myself as a college student studying journalism and English, with a growing curiosity for what hunting was all about. At home during fall school breaks, I’d follow my dad into the woods wearing my younger brother’s old camouflage. No gun, just ears and eyes alert to any movement in the trees. I’d carefully place one foot in front of the other, avoiding dry leaves and sticks that could call attention to my presence. We followed deer trails to a treestand that could fit two. We’d climb up, sit side by side, and blend into the woods, the songbirds and owls in the trees and the wood ducks in the swamp soon returning to their normal business.

Dad and I sitting in the treestand.

Just hanging out 15 feet up in the tree. Sorry for cutting half your face off, Dad.

There’s something about being a part of the woods, moving so little that you become like a branch of that oak tree swaying with the breeze. Coyotes and red foxes cross underneath, and turkeys peck at the ground across from you. Large fox squirrels of black and silver chase one another from bound of pinestraw to bound of pinestraw.

I saw a young professional whose recent camouflaged adventures infatuated me with the idea of being an outdoors woman, of living a little closer to the land. I graduated from college in North Carolina and moved to Massachusetts, enrolling in a hunters’ education course where I would find myself one of few women in the room. I soaked up the history of hunting in North America and learned more about being a safe and ethical hunter. A rifle revealed itself in a pile of Christmas gifts that year. Trips to the shooting range helped me feel certain of the shots I might take one day.

But pulling the trigger to take an animal’s life… It didn’t quite sit right. I’m the kind of person who lets the spiders live in the corners of my home.

I saw a novice gardener who’d decided to live closer to the land with baby steps. My first garden brought me plenty of sunburns; my tomatoes got the blight and my peas dried up. I learned a lot—and I was hooked. Our gardens in years since have flourished and produced food that we eat year-round, and our chickens fill our egg cartons daily.


You can’t bring home day-old chicks without snapping at least a photo or two. Here I’m holding one of our chickens on the day I picked up my order of chicks from the local farmer’s supply. You can see some of our vegetable starts behind me in the greenhouse.

How did I get from gardening to being in that treestand that day? Encouragement from the hunters in my life—from my dad, my partner and brother. But that alone wasn’t going to do it. I wanted to prove that I, a woman, could not only grow my own veggies but could also help provide my own meat, or at least appreciate the reality of what it means to eat meat.

I saw myself in that treestand—saw the deer through my scope.

I held that gun tight, took a deep breath and exhaled.

I pulled the trigger.

A loud crack filled the woods. The deer swiftly disappeared into the trees.

I’d shot at an animal.

We climbed down to check. Questions again swirled through my mind. Did I do the right thing? Was it worth it?

Blood marked the spot and led out of the clearing. Just a few trees in, the deer lay in the brush.

As I walked toward it, I felt my heart torn between gratitude for what the deer would provide and still shame for taking its life myself.

I knelt beside it and held that conflict close as I whispered to the deer: thank you.