The Other Side of the Uplands: New Beginnings

b787a12b-fbb0-43a3-ba12-18ca3f9e5fc7 Story and photo by Marissa Jensen
 
For many, the start of something new can challenge the core of who we are, filling us with hesitancy, frustrations, and self-doubt.

When I began hunting, I experienced this and more, but eventually would find myself on the other side of the uplands with an unshakable sense of clarity that I never experienced anywhere else. However, acceptance and belonging weren’t always part of my story.

I have spoken frequently about the many challenges I encountered along the way to becoming a hunter, because I think it’s important to be reminded that failure is part of success and we all have to start somewhere.

Making the conscious decision to become a hunter as an adult was not easy for me. I had little to no experience with a shotgun and I craved guidance from a mentor. Local opportunities seemed to always fall on days that didn’t work as I juggled motherhood, a full-time job, and well, life. So I looked for a personal mentor to show the way.

I spent more than a year asking those around me, men whom I knew hunted, to take me along. I heard everything from “That’s my guy time. No offense, but we don’t want to ruin that,” to even being shut down because “women shouldn’t hunt,” among a litany of other excuses.

Stray comments such as these, and missed opportunities of belonging hurt, some more than others, but my decision to learn was resolute.

I was beginning to doubt the likelihood that I would ever learn, when a favorite cousin finally took me out for my first hunt, chasing thunder chickens in the timber. It was a transformative experience. Although we didn’t get to hunt together as much as I would have liked, I wouldn’t be where I am today if he hadn’t provided the social support I so desperately craved.

After that initial introduction, I continued to hunt, mostly on my own. Hunting by myself allowed me the freedom from stereotypes, differences of opinions, and expectations. Instead, I was embraced by solitude and the quiet acceptance one finds when alone in the uplands.

For many of us, the uplands can and should provide a sense of belonging and community, even if you prefer to navigate them alone. Inviting someone along or offering to mentor is a great start, but it shouldn’t stop there.

It’s important for everyone to recognize that each one of us is unique, an individual, with different needs, expectations, struggles, and goals. There is no such thing as “all” men or women. Thankfully, we just don’t work like that. Our individual uniqueness helps us grow and learn from one another, allowing us to develop bonds that are strengthened by our many differences.

To this day, I practice patience when a poorly thought-out comment is thrown my way, or when I’m looked at with a sideways glance and cautioned that I “won’t be able to keep up with the men.” I try not to feel angry when I’m told my breed of bird dog is “too intense a dog for a woman.”

Instead, I push on, walk farther, and hunt harder, to prove to others that I can, and as a constant reminder to myself that the uplands are truly for everyone.
 
I have no doubt that many of these comments were spoken with the best of intentions, a misguided attempt at chivalry, perhaps, or at least I hope they were, which is why sharing stories like this feels important.

We have an opportunity as a community, to share our love of the uplands with someone new. To treat each new hunter as an individual and learn from one another, walking the beauty of the prairies together and learning the diverse intricacies of the individual spirit.

A new season is on the horizon, and with it, opportunity for new beginnings. Let us each strive to extend a hand, welcoming someone new, who maybe walks a different path than our own. Remember, that we cannot and should not survive as a monoculture, after all, diversity is what truly makes us stronger.
 

Marissa Jensen is Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever's education and outreach program manager.
 

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enoyed it and would like to read more great quail content, become a member today!