Story and photo by Nicole Meier, Vermont Fish and Wildlife
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared as a blog post published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Northeast Region.)
Who is a hunter? How do we identify ourselves as hunters? Is it how often we go out or how often we harvest an animal? Is it how we talk about hunting and the outdoors? Is it living on a dirt road and loving country music? Do those things make or break my status as a hunter? My answer is this: you are a hunter if you want to be.
When I first moved to Vermont, I asked a co-worker of mine if he would take me hunting. I was a new hunter (I had only been out hunting once, despite fishing almost my whole life), and didn’t know Vermont at all. My vulnerable request for help was met with a resounding “no.” Ouch. I was discouraged to say the least. This co-worker also told me that he didn’t expect me to do very well in the woods, and insinuated that I should just stay home.
I barely knew anyone in the state, and after the rejection I encountered, didn’t feel like making another vulnerable request to anyone else. I certainly didn’t feel like a hunter, and didn’t feel like I could go out there on my own. So, I didn’t, and in the process, I realized that I let someone else define who I was, and let me feel like I wasn’t capable of being in the woods on my own.
After that fall, I resolved to myself that I would do a little more hunting each year. It was a fun task. With each passing year, I have felt increasingly confident in myself and my ability to go out in the woods. My confidence has increased so much that I recently spoke on a panel of female hunters. During that panel discussion I expressed my distaste for “hunter pink.” I despised it, and I let everyone else in the room know it. I felt that hunter pink was patronizing, condescending, and shallow. Women who are serious about hunting wear real hunting clothes, I asserted.
A lot of people remember me for that rant, and I regret it. Women who wear hunter pink are no less a hunter than anyone else. Who am I to say that anyone isn’t a true hunter? What matters is getting outside, and how you feel when you’re out there. I will offer this about hunter pink – manufacturers of hunting clothing need more female designers.
Identity is deeply personal, and it shouldn’t be defined by the people around us, but it should come from within. I define being a hunter deeply in my relationship with the landscape. It isn’t about filling a tag, or even filling the freezer (although that’s a big part of it for me, too!), but about connecting to my true self. When I’m in the woods, I am connected, and I feel a sense of belonging and mindfulness – I am acutely aware of myself, the place and other beings I am interacting with.
Who has the power to decide whether or not you are a hunter? Only you do. Only you can define who you are, what a hunter is. Hunters don’t have to be hulking, bearded mountain men who are out in the woods every single day. I am a hunter – in every fiber of my 5 feet.