Women’s Weekend, With Guns

Women's Weekend, With Guns
The author and the other women hunters at Broadfield in Woodbine, Georgia, which offers hunts designed for new women hunters.

I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, but that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to learn how to hunt and shoot as an adult. Fortunately, women like me, who might find it intimidating to learn the sports with a crew of seasoned hunters, can go on a weekend trip geared especially for them.

Such weekend escapes, which teach shooting basics and include experiences such as upland bird hunts, are growing in popularity. Many are designed for women who are interested in hunting from a food standpoint, which is why I decided to learn how to hunt with a bow a few years ago. I’m part of a trend, too--according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, women are the fastest growing demographic in the hunting sports. The number of women who hunt increased 25 percent between 2006 and 2011, and currently make up 11 percent of all U.S. hunters.

I recently attended one of these women weekend hunting getaways myself at Broadfield in Woodbine, Georgia, a property and lodge that's part of the Sea Island Resort complex. Broadfield's 5,800 sprawling acres, carved from the grounds of one of the South's earliest hunting clubs, are a mix of manicured lawns, carefully managed quail habitat, trapshooting, and pistol ranges, as well as historic buildings that have been relocated to the grounds.

Women's Weekend, With Guns
The lodge at Broadfield.

Driving past metal gates that quietly closed behind me, I felt the tires of the SUV sink into the soft dirt road that was rutted after weeks of rain. Spanish moss was dangling from oak trees next to my new home for the weekend: a rustic-looking cabin with a working stone fireplace, pickled pine ceilings, and modern amenities—definitely a far cry from your typical hunting camp.

I shared the space with three other women—two from New York City and another from New Hampshire. I was the only one with hunting or shooting experience. Kat, a fashion magazine editor, spent the trip dressed in black leather and mink and wielded her shotgun like a pro despite being an amateur like the rest of us. Melissa, a social-media strategist, approached the trip with interested caution. Pam, a thoughtful soon-to-be grandma, was surprised when she hit her first clay. Through the pursuit, we all became united, and constantly encouraged each other throughout the experience.

First Shots

“Hello ladies!” Chuck Dean said as we approached the shooting range. Shotgun shells rattled in his vest pocket as he shook each of our hands enthusiastically. “What we’re going to be shooting today is this shotgun.”

Chuck held up an over/under Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon shotgun.

Women's Weekend, With Guns
A trainer helps the author get accustomed to holding and using a shotgun.

“How many of you have ever shot a gun before?” Chuck’s voice boomed as he reached into his pocket for bright orange foam earplugs, handing two to each of us. I raised my hand because I’d shot a .22 that summer and my single barrel 20-gauge shotgun a few days before.

Chuck only had the one gun, which meant one of us would shoot individually while the others watched on the sidelines. This would give us all the chance to observe each other’s instruction and to listen to Chuck’s careful coaching without the stress of being the one who had to shoot.

I went first. Chuck handed me the shotgun after showing me it was empty. “Always treat a gun like it is loaded,” Chuck cautioned. A skilled instructor, Chuck went over the proper way to hold the shotgun, with the butt braced against my shoulder and my cheek flush against the stock.

“Do not focus on the end of the gun,” Chuck instructed. Focus on the target.”

The gun was still unloaded, but Chuck had me aim and pull the trigger as I guided the gun to follow the arc of a claybird that he’d launched from a trap machine by pressing a button on a remote control.

He smiled. “You ready?”

He slipped a shell into the gun, adjusted my position, and said, “When you’re ready, say ‘pull.’”

We started off with single shots at clay targets launched from shooting houses before moving onto the more difficult report pair. To my surprise, I ended up knocking most out of the air—they shattered in little orange explosions.

We took turns shooting, and I noticed that the energy had changed. Now, each of us stood in anticipation, ready for another chance at shattering the clays. “You all did a great job,” Chuck said as he dropped us off back at the lodge where a table laden with classic southern-style food awaited us for lunch—fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried cornbread, and sweet tea.

“I’ll meet you ladies after lunch for your first quail hunt!”

Women's Weekend, With Guns
Quail hunting with a dog is an elegant and traditional style of Southern hunting.

Bobwhites and Bird Dogs

The drive to the quail field was brisk even in the bright February sun. Part of that was due to the unseasonably cool weather for Georgia. Of course, we were also in a customized open-air “bird buggy” outfitted with dog boxes, gun racks, and plenty of seating. In the distance, I could hear the symphony of another quail hunt—the distant shots put anticipation and excitement in the air.

Perched in a basket attached to the front end of the vehicle was an 8-year-old black Lab named Sport. He and an English pointer named Cruz accompanied us on our walk through the dusty brush. Kat and I went first, suiting up in blaze orange shooting vests, pockets loaded with shells. We flanked Chuck, each assigned a side for shooting so there would be no crossfire during the hunt. The three of us followed the dogs, watching Cruz dash in and out of bushes, searching for birds. Melissa and Pam followed at a distance to observe and cheer us on.

Cruz whipped through the grass, dodging burrs and trees as he caught whiffs of the first covey of quail. His body quivered as he froze and pointed. I yelled, “He’s got one!” We raised our shotguns to ready position, nervous with anticipation.

The seconds seemed like minutes as we stayed in ready position, waiting for Chuck to give the signal for Sport to flush the birds. Finally he did, and the birds flew. I fired, then fired again and saw an explosion of feathers. My first quail went down about 50 yards from where we stood.

Sport trotted out to retrieve the quail. Chuck smiled and congratulated me, saying, “We’re gettin’ birdy now!”

Later, after everyone had a chance to shoot, we returned to the bird buggy, ready to head back to the lodge for dinner. As Chuck gave the dogs water and put away the shotguns, safety vests and extra shells, he shook his head and said, “Quail hunting is organized chaos.” After the hunt, I knew exactly what he meant.

Women's Weekend, With Guns
The author, with Sport the black Lab, holds her first upland bird.

How to Find Your Own Hunting Escape

You can find out more about Sea Island's hunting trips at Broadfield on its website.

They don’t market a specific package for beginners; instead, they cater to the requests of small or large groups, and prices vary widely. Other locations purposely create packages for beginners or even women. Here are a few other places to check out for a hunting/shooting adventure getaway:

Also contact your local fish and game department, because many states are now hosting “BOW: Becoming an Outdoors Women” programs that provide a sampling of various outdoor activities.