Moffat County women are in the hunt
Deep connections to the land and to family motivate three local women to carry on big game hunting traditions
October 1, 2016
Craig — Increasing the number of non-traditional hunters, including women, may be vital to the health of Colorado's wildlife and understanding the motivations of women who already hunt may provide ways to encourage others to join the chase.
"When mothers and daughters hunt it open the experience up to entire families," said Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the Northwest region.
Deep connections to the land and to family and family traditions motivated Jamie Skidmore, a fifth-generation native who works for Bureau of Land Management, to take up the sport.
"I started when I was 12 years old. I made my dad sign me up I was so excited to get my hunters' safety done," said Skidmore. "He was the guy who started it all."
Skidmore uses a .25-06 rifle to primarily hunt deer, but that wasn't always the case as she was required learn how to hunting using a family heirloom.
"My first hunt I had to use the family rifle, a 30/40 Craig that didn't have a shoulder strap. It's like sending your 12-year-old daughter out with a cannon on her shoulder, but that was the tradition, to hunt our first deer with that gun. It was my grandfather's gun," Skidmore said.
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Skidmore has been bagging mule deer most of her life, but a recent hunt was one to remember.
"In 2014, I got the big one. It came off the tail end of a bummer deal. The deer I was going to shoot was a five-point buck and I misjudged the distance. It was cold and I got impatient and shot too fast and too soon," Skidmore said.
She kept at it, and on the last day in the last hours of her hunt her persistence was rewarded.
"It was the most immense buck that I have ever shot in my life, so that is the highlight so far," she said.
Skidmore cherishes the trophy and the memories of the hunt, but even more important is putting meat in the freezer.
"I grew up in a family who hunted, and that's how my parents fed us and it was a big deal to get that meat."
Hunting is for girls
Mandy Sanders is a young woman following her family's hunting traditions.
"This is my fifth year. Our whole family is into hunting. I've been going hunting with my dad since I could keep myself quiet," said Sanders who is a G.O.A.L. Academy student and helps with the family business.
Sanders hunts using a .270 Tikka rifle and hopes to take up archery this next year.
Sanders not only hunts, she's one of the expert game callers in the family.
"I call in the animals for others to shoot. My sister first started calling, and I sat back wanting to learn how. I started with one of the small Primos calls, it sounded terrible at first. Once I got it, I got better and better," she said.
Connecting with her father is a big reason Tiana Nichols is motivated to hunt.
"I wanted to be like him. Fun to go out with him, hunt in the evening," said Tiana Nichols, an eighth-grader at Craig Middle School who has been hunting with her dad since she was 3.
Nichols goes after big game with her bow and her rifle.
She likes "knowing that if I do shoot something it will be an accomplishment. I use a Mathews Craze compound bow and shoot 40- to 45-pound draw with 100 grain gold tip broad heads that are two blade, Magnus Stingers that cut on contact," said Nichols.
One of her most exciting hunts was for her first mule deer buck.
"When I shot my first buck, all that tension released. I was shaking. It's hard to remember the details, it was so exciting," Nichols said.
Fashion in the field
Earlier this year, the Colorado State Assembly passed as bill written by Colorado Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Edwards, that allows hunters in Colorado to wear fluorescent pink hunting garments along with the currently required "blaze orange" hunting wear.
"The option had women in mind," Porras said. "For us, it's all about safety. If it does encourage women to hunt great, it is an option for the upcoming season."
Blaze orange, florescent pink, or classic camouflage, these three women who hunt in Moffat County don't care what they wear as long as their targets are in sight.
"I didn't believe it. I mean pink isn't really my favorite color. But I would like to try it out," Nichols said.
Sanders already wears pink and is considering taking advantage of the new law.
"I think I need to get some bright, florescent pink pants. My dad says if I do that he's not going to take me out hunting. Maybe I'll find a huge bright ones to wear," she said. "Seriously, I think that if you want to go hunting, I think that you should like hunting no matter what color you wear.”
Skidmore is also considering the new color.
"I am not a blaze orange fan, and I might just swap over to pink. I think it's a great encouraging tool. I'm in a profession that promotes and gives information about hunting. I don't think there are enough of us out there," she said.
"The average hunter in Colorado is a 55-year-old white male. They make up the majority of the hunting public. The demographic is changing and aging, many of these hunters are likely to stop in the next 10 to 15 years and it's important to encourage the non-traditional hunters including women and youths," Porras said.
Taking care of the business end of hunting
These ladies are not afraid to get dirty and bloody for their sport.
"At first I didn't want to gut it out, but now I am kind of wanting to. I don't really get bothered by the gross stuff," Nichols said.
Bone Head Boiler, the Sanders family business, prepares deer heads for display by removing skin and flesh by boiling the skull to expose bone.
"I skin the heads. I sit out here and wait and once the pots are done I prep the pots by filling the pots with water. I haven't learned how to hang them up and get all the meat off, yet, but I am sure I'll get there," Sanders said.
Skidmore didn't have much help early on so she learned to manage every aspect of hunting on her own.
"When I started hunting, I was by myself and I felt that I could handle a deer by myself,” she said. "When my kids were young I was a single mom, and that's how I feed my kids. I didn't have to depend on anyone else. I've hauled deer in the trunk of my Neon. I processed game on my own for first 20 years."
There are valuable lessons to be learned by hunting
Hunting teaches valuable life lessons, builds confidence, patience, self-expression and offers fun along the way.
"I have never lost a deer, but on my son's first hunt, I taught them this was a way to support themselves and feed their families, we got a four-point deer, a beautiful big buck. He had put a good shot on it. We did our victory dance," Skidmore said. "I went to get the truck, and when I returned my son and deer were both gone. The deer had got up and shook it off and ran like a rocket and my son ran after. We looked for that deer for eight hours. We must have knocked the deer cold."
Women who are interested in learning to hunt, but that don't have family or friends to mentor them are able to learn through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
"Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides education and mentorship in programs including our Women Afield. Essentially, we are trying to teach the skills and experience to a non-traditional audience," Porras said. There is a growing interest in a lot of women. We see more now than we used to and we certainly encourage more women."
The hunters value the life lessons from their sport.
"I'm learning confidence. It takes a lot to go out and kill something to harvest. It also takes courage, you get a lot of confidence and you feel proud of yourself," Nichols said.
They are also contributing to the future of Colorado wildlife.
"When people hunt it leads to the responsible management of wildlife as hunters fund wildlife manage and the associated fees and license," Porras said.
Plus it's fun.
"Hunting can be good way to express yourself and have fun. You don't have to get a big animal, it doesn't matter what you get as long as you get something and a good story comes with every hunt," Sanders said.
These women take the expression "got game" to a new level.
"Being able to hunt and get your own game is a great survival tool. I fed my kids with a $25 deer tag. I think it's really important, especially for someone who doesn't have that ‘man’ to take care of them to get out there and do it themselves,” Skidmore said.