By Russ Bate.
Let me preface this article by saying that I have nothing against spending a cold, wet night clustered around a campfire with a bunch of friends. I have done my fair share of lying in a swag under the stars listening to a cacophony of snoring and other bodily noises from those same mates.
Those ‘weekends with the boys’ were the standard format of our fishing and hunting trips through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
But by the ‘90s, things had started to change.
Hunting and fishing trips still involved the same blokes with whom I had been sharing those experiences for many years, however, now with our kids off our hands, our wives were increasingly part of the group. How this happened and the effect it has had, good and bad, are my reason for this article.
Those of us, male and female, who have a partner who enjoys the same things we do will know what the benefits are. Arguments about the cost of a case of shells, a new gun or a fly rod become few and far between. Any guilt you once felt (or were made to feel) when you left your partner at home while you disappeared for the weekend, becomes a thing of the past.
Sure, there is an economic downside as the cost of equipment doubles now that you have to provide two of everything, but my experience has been that the investment is worth it. To spend an evening together planning your shooting and fishing trips for the year is a real pleasure.
To have someone with whom you can share the experiences and the memories of these trips only adds to the enjoyment. So how were a few of us able to achieve this nirvana and did we really have anything to do with it?
There is no doubt that, in our hunter-gatherer society, women have always been cast as the gatherers and men the hunters. Shooting and fishing were always for the blokes and this belief is still pretty widely held. However, now that we no longer hunt with rocks, spears and bows and arrows, there is no physical reason women can’t enjoy the hunting role. Getting wives and partners to accept this change is part of the battle and it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight.
In putting this article together, I have taken the input of four women who are passionate about the outdoors, who enjoy hunting and fishing and who came into these sports for a variety of reasons.
Debbie Meester and Angela Kloppenborg are well known to many FGA members through their various roles with the organisation. Rochelle Hunt and my wife Jacqui round out the group.
Deb’s article in the last issue of the Field & Game magazine is a good starting point as it pretty clearly defines one of the principle reasons many women want to become involved and the problems they often face. In Deb’s case, she was motivated by her love of the outdoors and a desire to spend time with her partner; her problem was that her lack of a firearms licence and a WIT test were seen as insurmountable problems by all concerned. I suggest the problem actually didn’t exist, but more of that later.
Rochelle’s story is similar. Her motivation was essentially the same as Deb’s: a desire to spend time with her family. Although she was always keen on fishing, her early involvement was limited to filling the occasional empty seat in her husband Steve’s boat. Her involvement in shooting took a little time to develop and she was generally content to leave it to ‘the boys’.
However, when her son Bill took up shooting, it became more of a family affair and Rochelle, like Deb, took up clay shooting. From clay shooting, it was a short step to duck and then deer hunting.
Today there are few weekends when Rochelle is not chasing some form of game. To her it’s about putting food on the table; she loves venison and in her own words “can do anything with it”.
Her move to duck hunting came comparatively late in the piece and her involvement is a reminder that some of the old beliefs are hard to lose. To this day, Rochelle leaves the night before the opening to the boys. Steve and his friends gather around the camp fire as they have for the past 40-plus years but Rochelle heads for home. She joins them the next day before sunrise and in time for the opening of the season.
As I say, some old traditions are hard to lose (or perhaps it just her preference for her own soft bed rather than a swag and the company of a bunch of snoring old blokes).
Angela and her husband Chris are great examples of the benefits of sharing your passions. Today, in their retirement, they travel widely, shooting and fly-fishing and often visiting some of the great gun makers dotted around the globe. Angela puts her involvement in the worlds of shooting and fishing down to “if you can’t beat them, join them”. After accompanying Chris and some other friends on various duck hunting trips she decided that, if it was going to be a regular event, she had better learn to shoot. Like Deb and Rochelle, her next step was to take up clay shooting and today, like them, she can be found in the wetlands during the duck season.
The Kloppenborg’s other passion, fly-fishing, was the result of a trip to New Zealand, with both taking up the sport with equal enthusiasm. Angela was quick to point out that fishing and shooting have been, and continue to be, the basis for a lot of their travel and that they have been able to see some fantastic places as a result.
My final conversations on this topic were with my wife Jacqui. Now in our 50th year together I suppose I should have asked her why she became involved a little earlier. Let me say from the outset that she doesn’t shoot and to the best of my knowledge has fired a gun once.
Despite this and as those who know us will confirm, Jacqui has spent more time in the shooting field than many keen bird hunters and is a passionate fly fisher. Importantly for me, her answers tie together the input from Deb, Rochelle and Angela and in addition, provide some valuable guidance for those of you who are keen to develop these shared passions with your partner.
For the first half of our married life, it was business as usual. She looked after the house and the kids while I went away chasing pigs, roos and ducks with the boys. In the mid ‘90s and with our kids off our hands (or at least out of the home), we were lucky enough to become involved with a shooting syndicate in the UK. For the next 15 years we had the privilege of shooting driven pheasant, partridge and grouse throughout the UK, a unique opportunity admittedly made easier by my work-related travel.
It was during these trips that her interest was aroused by the ‘mechanics’ of driven shooting. She was given dispensation by some of our hosts to join the beaters and to see the incredible work carried out by them, the pickers-up and their dogs. Talks with gamekeepers gave her an understanding of their lives and challenges and of the incredible value that shooting brought to them, their teams and their communities.
Her time in the UK had also developed her interest in the actual shooting side of things and to this day, if we are engaged in any form of driven shooting, she stands with me at the peg and loads for me. As the correct term for someone who loads for you when you are using a single gun is a ‘stuffer’, it is important this is clearly explained to any audience before you introduce your wife as your stuffer.
So, looking back on my conversations with these four ladies, the common ground is apparent.
Many wives and partners are looking for an opportunity to share more time with their spouse. Many enjoy the outdoors and are prepared to rough it as required. Most will be happy to give shooting and fishing a go if encouraged to do so and given the opportunity in a supportive environment. Many may actually become just as committed as their spouse and in some cases, go on to be as good or better.
Importantly, there is one thing we all need to be aware of and that is that you don’t have to pull a trigger to enjoy a morning in the wetlands or stalking deer in the bush. Whether or not your partner has a firearms or game licence or can cast a fly should not preclude them from joining you for a weekend and should never be a pre-condition for their involvement. There is so much to enjoy in the worlds of hunting and fishing and so much to appreciate in the rivers, wetlands and forests in which we pursue our passions that pulling the trigger or reeling in the fish can almost become secondary.
I am pretty sure I speak for Debbie’s sons, for Steve and Chris, and certainly for myself when I say their chance to share their time and loves with those four ladies has been worth whatever effort it has required.
Last, but by no means least, comes another very important benefit. As you will see from the photos accompanying this article, our wives have a wonderful capacity to involve their children and grandchildren. If we are keen to pass on our traditions, they can play a key role.