Women aiming to be hunters hone their wingshooting skills
Somewhere in a tangle of chest-high cover, Meine locked up in a statuesque point. The Deutsch Drahthaar, a pointer owned by Meadow Kouffeld, was telling her that a pheasant was right under her scruffy muzzle.
"We have a point here," hollered Kouffeld, an instructor in the Ruffed Grouse Society's "Women's Intro to Wingshooting" class.
On a muggy Saturday in September, Kouffeld, of Grand Rapids, had three women from the class afield with her at the Old Vermilion Trail Hunting Preserve just north of Duluth. This pheasant hunt was the culminating event for the summer-long course taken by 24 women in the Duluth area.
"Move up closer," Kouffeld hollered.
Three hunters — Jennifer Madole, Mary Moline and Kathleen Neustel — moved up nearer Kouffeld. A showy rooster exploded from the cover just beyond Meine's nose and rose into the sky. Moline, 58, the hunter closest to the action, raised her shotgun as the rooster leveled out.
This was her moment. This was why she had taken this class — to learn to shoot at birds on the wing, to become a hunter. She touched off her 20-gauge over/under. The rooster folded in flight and dropped to the ground. Nobody was more surprised than Moline herself.
"Oh...my gosh!" Moline said.
Meine raced out to pluck the bird from the dense grass and returned it to Kouffeld, who presented it to Moline.
"Oh...my gosh!" Moline said again.
It was as if she couldn't believe it herself.
"I had this feeling — I felt like it was a good shot," she would say later.
The scenario was repeated several times during the day's shooting, as other hunters in the class bagged these game-farm birds. It was clear that their seven previous class meetings over the summer, with clay-target shooting after each class, was paying dividends.
Chandra Shoberg of Duluth had her chance at mid-morning and dropped a pheasant with a single shot from her 20-gauge.
"It raises your heart rate a little bit," she said. "It's a rush."
She had hunted grouse and woodcock before, but had never hunted over pointing dogs. She liked the anticipation that came with walking up behind a dog when it's on point.
"You know it's going to happen, and there's more waiting time," she said. "You're already excited before it happens."
Motivated to learn
Those who took part in the course ranged from their 20s to their 60s. They had different reasons for taking the class, taught mainly by Mark Fouts of Superior, who is director of member relations and outreach for the Ruffed Grouse Society. Kouffeld, a regional RGS biologist, taught a separate class for women in the Grand Rapids area, as she had last year.
Jolene Shult, 60, had a good reason for joining the Duluth-based class.
"I retired in February, and I figured it was about time I did more things with my husband," said Duluth's Shult, a first-time hunter. "It's been wonderful. It's laid-back. Nobody tries to be better than the next person. A lot of girls didn't have their own guns — you start from scratch."
Bailey Petersen of Two Harbors was already an upland hunter but wanted to learn more.
"Mainly I wanted to become a more consistent shooter — and a group of ladies is a lot more fun to hunt with than your husband," Petersen said.
The women worked to improve their shooting week by week, knocking down clay targets at Old Vermilion.
"In the beginning, they had some apprehension," Fouts said. "They were a little timid, worried about the shotgun's kick. Now they're out there with no fear."
They learned that hitting fast-moving clay discs sailing away from them wasn't easy.
"Initially, some of the women might have been been embarrassed that they weren't very good shots," Fouts said. "Now, there's none of that. They're not embarrassed, and they're better shots. They find out that not everyone hits everything."
He enjoyed teaching a group of women.
"I feel, on the whole, it's much easier teaching women than men or boys — because they listen," Fouts said.
Participants in the Duluth and Grand Rapids classes are likely to get exposure beyond their hometowns. The wingshooting classes that Fouts taught in Duluth and Kouffeld taught in Grand Rapids were recorded on video for Ruffed Grouse Society chapters across the country to use.
"We feel there's an opportunity to take it nationally," Fouts said. "We've had interest from RGS chapters in other states."
"It's been a wonderful class, a great class for learning the basics — gun safety, how to clean the birds, how to work with dogs," Shult said.
She missed her only chance to drop a bird during the hunt at Old Vermilion, but she's ready for her next chance in the field.
"Now I have the taste of it," she said. "I know what to expect."
The day was warming rapidly, and Kouffeld retired Meine, her pointer, from the hunt. She replaced her with Aix, another Deutsch Drahthaar. It wasn't long before he had a pheasant located in the grassy cover.
Kouffeld moved up on Aix, and Neustel took her place nearby. Her gun was already up. She was ready. A little earlier in the day, she had expressed her hopes for the hunt.
"If I get to shoot," she said, "I really want to get one."
The rooster burst out of the grass and began climbing. That's all Neustel needed to see.
"It was getting up into the sky," she would say later.
She squeezed her trigger, and the resplendent rooster tumbled to the grass.
"Wow," Neustel said softly. "Wow."
Aix delivered the prize, and Neustel slipped it into her vest with a smile on her face.