Why We Hunt: Belonging

The author (second from left) and friends, beneath the Casco Bay Bridge (sans power suits). From left to right: Jenn Curtis, Erin Merrill, Melissa Farrington, and Lorri Nelson.

Sportswoman’s Alliance

Think you’ve got Maine hunters pegged? One power-suited Portlander says think again.

By Erin Merrill / Photographed by Irvin Serrano
[O]ne of the biggest misconceptions about hunters is that we enjoy killing. The truth is, many hunters find that moment when they pull the trigger to be one of the low points of the hunt. What we enjoy is being out in the woods, among the animals that we’re hunting, observing nature as it is without the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For me, the hunt is about learning and respecting the animal that I’m after. It’s about hunting for meat, and if it happens to be a trophy, then that’s a bonus.

In the last decade or so, the popularity of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture has skyrocketed. People rightfully take a lot of satisfaction from being able to walk among the stands at the market, talking to the farmers who spent hours working the land to provide fresh meat and produce. The same principle is at work with hunting. It’s an organic way to put food on the table. Hunters spend huge sums and countless hours in the woods to put themselves in the right spot at the right time to have a successful hunt. When we sight our guns or bows and take that shot, killing an animal and removing it from the ecosystem, we are providing meat for our family to last us until next season.

There’s something wonderful about being able to serve a deer roast in January and know exactly how that deer was shot and butchered.

Hunting is the oldest and — if it’s done responsibly — one of the most sustainable ways to provide organic meat. Still, some of my friends and coworkers can’t understand why I would go into the woods in freezing temps when I could just drive to Whole Foods. Likewise, some of my hunting friends and other hunters in my social media groups don’t think of left-leaning urbanites as a part of Maine’s hunting family. I struggle to prove myself to fellow hunters who can’t imagine that a 30-year-old liberal living in Portland might be a passionate hunter. So many people have an outdated idea of who hunters are: old white men drinking beer at camp with their buddies. They don’t think of a thirtysomething in a power suit walking through Monument Square. The fact is, women are the fastest growing demographic in gun ownership, hunting, and fishing in Maine and around the country.

Women should feel comfortable to try out hunting and fishing without being judged or harassed, but sadly, it’s not always this way. Male hunters twice my age often ask, “Do you gut the animal yourself?” — a question I’ve never heard them ask one another. For every blog I post sharing my experiences as a hunter, there is pushback, sometimes even threats towards my family and me (“Why don’t you take your kids and tie them to a tree and shoot them instead of innocent deer?”). I’m regularly on the receiving end of bile from cyberbullies who think women should be in the kitchen cooking dinner, not out in the woods killing it. I’m also a mom who struggles with the guilt of being away from my son during long hunting days, and I’m a 30-year-old who is sometimes seen as too naive for an older generation of hunters to take me seriously. So negotiating my place in the hunting world has been a struggle.

Women are leading the way for the next generation of hunters. There’s something incredibly powerful about being able to kill dinner and cook it for our families. Add to that the satisfaction of really knowing an animal — the threats it may be facing (habitat, ticks, predators), what is working well to attract it. The fact that large numbers of women are joining me in the woods is a testament to where the outdoor world is headed, a sign that we’re not afraid of resistance and bullying. All that organic meat is just too good to pass up.