By Lyna Matesi

Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Last year my good friend and strength training coach recommended that I read Woman the Hunter by Mary Zeiss Stange. I’d asked my Facebook friends for recommendations of new books or genres—anything that was different than all the journal articles, trade press, and books I read for my work as a leadership educator. I wanted a break from my usual diet of reading to teach. Stange’s book drew me. The bold image on the front. The provocative reviews and quotes. I dove in. And then something happened. I fell into the narrative.

Stange’s story began weaving in and around and through me. Reminding me that I am strong, that I have always been a strong and powerful force. One night, I scribbled a note in the book’s margin, “Shit Bill, I am going to have to learn to shoot, or hunt, or something.” Mary Stange’s words became a kind of invitation into another world. A wild place somewhere between blue skies and muddy trails. A place where I could recover the power of being a woman. “Women who assert themselves as equal in skill and power to men, who take men’s equipment into their own hands for their own use are perceived….as intensely troubling. Perish the thought that women might take up arms, become skilled in their use, and become thereby simultaneously able to defend themselves and to fend for themselves. Woman the Hunter….is a profoundly unsettling figure, her wildness a force to be reckoned with.”

Fast forward a few months. I’d read the book at least three times. Some passages far more. Bill was thrilled. He asked me and a few others to join him in an online and in-person learn-to-hunt group for the turkey season. Several of us said yes, and Bill invented a learn-to-hunt podcast. I’ve loved developing new skills with these women and men. Our conversations are deep, funny, and informative. We’ve brought different turkey hunting perspectives and experiences to our conversations. We’ve cultivated our own turkey vocabulary about the romance, biology, and tactics of turkeys. It’s been a blast. Most of the time. For me, the journey into becoming a woman who hunts has also been wildly unsettling. In a good way. I think. At 53, I am learning a technical skill that requires a new level of physicality.

I’ve checked several firsts off my hunting list. First camo purchase. First pair of mud boots. First time walking a trail with a shotgun in hand. First time hearing a gobble. First time hearing Peggy make up a story about what a close, but not close enough, Henrietta and Tom were discussing. First time slowly walking a muddy trail with a loaded shotgun stopping every few feet to purr, cluck, and call.

We’d spent several hours in a luxury blind where I’d decided that hunting was about that one beautiful oak leaf dancing in the wind. You know the trope. Nature is beautiful. Hunting is being in nature. It all really cool. True, right? But not all true.

I must have been a bit too content because Bill suggested that some, as he called it, “run and gun” practice would be fun. We left the comfy wood shack and headed toward a pretty little bridge. I liked the bridge. And I hated the muddy trail just beyond it. I hated the way it grabbed my boots and provoked my pervasive fear of falling. But I gave it a shot. The whole time my thoughts were racing with pictures of tripping and recriminations about being so fat, so out of shape, so stupid scared. My compulsion to be immediately skillful at hunting was quite strong. It turns out that hunting in forest and field is an act of wildness calling to wildness. While I didn’t harvest a turkey this season, I did yield a deeper understanding of the difference between hating myself and hating the mud.

That’s it. My lesson learned. Always blame the mud. If the hunt isn’t going well, it all about the mud. And you know what, as I stop the loop of “I am not good enough” I am learning that I can stand up to the mud.