GRIT of the day, from left: Karen Haigh, Helen Van der Voort, Beth Hammond, Barbara Delorio, Lynn Nolan, Lisa Roberge, and the author, Jana Seitz
In the Company of Women
By Jana Seitz
I recently had the honor of going on an upland shoot with G.R.I.T.S., not Girls Raised in The South, but Girls Really into Shooting. The group was started about 15 years ago by a Virginian named Elizabeth Fennell, a member of both acronym definitions. The Hudson Valley chapter, with whom I shot, has a loose and laidback membership of some 40 women. No initiation required: no blood on the face if you’re successful or swirlie (your head flushed in a toilet) if you fail. If you’re interested in shooting, they’re a great resource. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to first take some lessons – make sure you like it, get working knowledge of the gear and game, then give them a call.
Shooting with a group of ladies is delightful. Women show up prepared, dressed in timeless classic shooting attire (think Orvis catalogue) and equipped with all the accessories for warmth and comfort — hand warmers, heated vests, shooting gloves. Neon orange is the color du jour, drawing the eye like the bead of a shotgun to the other hunters in a field of brown. Women also come prepared for the post-party. They bring delicacies, like caviar in crème fraiche, potted salmon self-caught in Alaska, and muffins hot out of the oven. Conversation flows freely, beginning with niceties to determine the newbie’s abilities. After all, they’re about to spend several hours with you walking around with loaded shotguns. They’re no fools. It’s best they know that you know what the heck you’re doing.
Women aren’t afraid to ask questions or directions. There is no shame in asking your guide about protocol, chokes, or muzzle mounts. And there is no judgment if you wait patiently to watch others before jumping in, guns a blazin’. Women politely wait for another to get her second shot in before firing off a first. They will never shoot over another’s head. They are kind and considerate. Women encourage each other and leave competition off the field. And when they are good, they are really, really good — and understated. You won’t know it until you see it, and you’ll never hear it.
Women talk more than men do. Walk, talk, and stalk. By the end of the day, I pretty much knew the basics of who, what, why, where, and when of all the players. The eight of us were from all walks of life — corporate America, small business owners, the arts, finance — with the common denominator being a love of shooting. We were moms and grandmothers. Some had started by shooting with their husbands, some grew up with it, and some started on their own.
I grew up with it, but shooting is a different ball game… more sophisticated and not as big a gamble. Each has different rules of engagement and protocol. Hunting is rooted in putting food on the table, whereas shooting is more about sociability. On a hunt, it’s just you and whatever Mother Nature throws your way. On a shoot, the birds are released and hide until you find them, like an Easter egg hunt. A shoot can be intimidating at first for a redneck duck hunter like me. I had an idea of what to expect as I had been on a grouse shoot when we lived in Scotland. Totally different, but each magnificent. On the Scotland shoot, “beaters” walked over hills and through fields of thistle to flush the prey our way as we waited and watched from a blind (called a butt). Bagpipes whined in the background (okay, I probably imagined that part). But in an upland shoot, it’s the shooters who walk through the fields. “Safety First” is always the mantra.
On an upland shoot, also called a walk up, a guide leads a small group of shooters and a dog on a long walk in search of birds, usually chukar and pheasant. When the dog finds one, it stops dead in its tracks staring at the hidden prey (pointing), then the guide prepares to flush the bird out while the shooters get in position. Our guide led our group of four with his dog Meg. We walked with guns loaded but broken open for safety, and took turns shooting in pairs. We walked in fields of post-harvest corn and sorghum, full of stalks and briars and shallow puddles of ice and mud. There wasn’t a moment in which I felt danger – only excitement. The thrill of the first bird taking flight, the adrenaline rush of the first shot. All in all, we bagged about fifteen birds, as did the other group of four ladies with their guide and dog. The guides dressed them out and bagged the filets for us to take home. And of course, the ladies shared fabulous recipes, as women do.
Orvis Sandanona (www.orvis.com/sandanona) 3047 Sharon Turnpike, Millbrook. 845-677-9701. Beginners are welcome and gear is provided. A shout out to GRIT Paula Moore who was recently hired as the first female Chief Shooting Instructor.
Mid-Hudson Sporting Clays (www.midhudsonsportingclays.com) 411 North Ohioville Road, New Paltz. 845-255-7460. Offers intro courses.
Private Instruction: Expert Tom Fiumarello (www.xcelsportingclayinstruction.com) or Keith Lupton (www.keithlupton.com) will meet you at an area sporting clay course for instruction and will provide gear. They are also proficient in wing shooting, and can help you with gun choice, fitting, and purchase.
G.R.I.T.S: Girls Really into Shooting (www.gritsgobang.org). Contact Lisa Roberge of the Hudson Valley Chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org. They host clay shooting at Orvis Sandanona the first Tuesday of every month.
Tri County Sporting Goods: 2656 NY-22, Patterson. 845-878-6084. For ammo and gear.
Garden & Gun Magazine: Cheesy title, but fabulous content. Trust me.