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A GREAT WEEK IN THE HILL COUNTRY

At first it was a bit like déjà vu, all over again. Last March, when the lockdown hit, I was at Tom Hammond’s Record Buck Ranch, expecting to stay on for daughter Brittany’s “She Hunts Skills Camp” the following week.

Well, that camp didn’t happen, along with a lot of other things that haven’t happened since then. In this case, postponed is the proper word so, in mid-October, I was back at Record Buck with Donna, awaiting Brittany and Brad and their trailer (complete with new baby), with their campers scheduled to arrive a day later. 

With postponement and rescheduling, this was a larger group than usual — 15 ladies with widely varying levels of experience, looking forward to learning a bit and having some fun. Donna and I haven’t made all of the She Hunts camps, but one or both of us have been there for most.

We do some of the seminars and this time Donna’s special duty was to help take care of grand-daughter Lillian Jeanne, just turning two months and on her first outing. It’s a fun week but packed with activities and instruction, including firearms safety and handling, rifle and shotgun shooting, archery, shot placement, wilderness survival, game care and cooking, hunting ethics and so much more.

As we know, women comprise the fastest-growing segment of gunowners, shooters and hunters. Whether a new or prospective hunter or extremely experienced, the point to the She Hunts Skills Camp is to enable women to be more competent, confident and independent hunters.

To that end, some of the seminars get into nuts and bolts that, honestly, we (mostly male) mentors often overlook when teaching our daughters, sisters and female partners. Things like scope mounting, sighting in, gun cleaning and the almost inexplicable gibberish of cartridge nomenclature. As Brittany takes perverse pleasure in pointing out, these are things I failed to properly teach her when she got started as a teenager. As an adult, she had to figure them out for herself.

Lillian Jeanne Jannenga’s first hunt (at two months) old: Brittany, Brad Jannenga and Craig with Brad’s awesome elk, taken with his bow on Record Buck Ranch after the conclusion of Brittany’s She Hunts Skills Camp.

Like the shooting sports, the industry that supports it is still male-dominated, but in a time when hunter numbers are declining and demographics are aging, the importance of recruiting (and welcoming) women is a no-brainer. To that end, the industry has generously supported Brittany’s She Hunts program with key sponsors including Krieghoff, Leupold, Weatherby and our own Safari Club International.

Between camps, Brittany spends much time building an amazing “swag bag” full of really good stuff, packed in an SCI Blue Bag duffel. On arrival, the first event is to go through the bag, almost like an early Christmas.   

Record Buck is a special place, with an amazing kitchen staff and comfortable lodge with 10 guest rooms with two full-size beds and private facilities. It’s also big, more than 20,000 acres with few interior fences and holding over 50 species of big game.

After the early Christmas and scope mounting, the final scheduled event of the first evening is a game drive, always fun at Record Buck: You never know what you might run into. Almost anyone with any level of experience is likely to run across animals and wonder, what the heck is that? Come to think of it, running around Record Buck, I’ve run into some animals that made me think hard and I’ve been immersed in this stuff all my life.

Aside from enjoying the ranch and its wildlife, part of the purpose of the game drive is allow the ladies to look around and decide if there’s an animal they might like to hunt. Some of the women who attend are seasoned hunters but, interestingly, many have never hunted or taken an animal.

Hunting is not required. That’s a personal decision. But, after the first range day early in the camp, both early morning and late afternoon hunts are scheduled with Record Buck’s team of genuinely exceptional guides.

Guide fees are included as part of the package, with trophy fees payable for game taken. However, Record Buck is in a part of Texas that’s overrun with feral hogs, so the ladies are welcome to assist with hog reduction. Also, because of the large variety of game, ranch manager Chuck Herndon usually has at least a short list of overpopulated meat or non-trophy animals available at modest cost. 

My experience over several camps has been that most of the ladies take advantage of the hunting opportunity, many taking an animal for the first time. Almost universally, they do it well. One of the classes, led by Brittany, assisted by Brad and usually Donna and/or me, is what she calls stickology. Setting up for field shooting using shooting sticks and also shooting prone, kneeling and sitting. For some, this is a refresher course, but until we go to the shooting bench to sight in, many attendees have never fired a centerfire rifle.

Of course, a terrible secret we men try to keep to ourselves is that women often shoot better than we do, with excellent hand-eye coordination and fewer bad habits to unlearn and a better willingness to listen. I’m always impressed by how steep their learning curve is and I can literally see confidence grow as they continually hit targets (and they will hit targets).

Some of the ladies arrive as confirmed hunters, others are determined to give it a try and a few are very uncertain at the outset. As I said, most go hunting and are successful, but not always easily. Some wind up getting up before dawn the last several days and a few are still out there trying almost until it’s time to leave for the airport.

At this October camp, one of the women wanted a blackbuck, a small, nervous antelope; another young lady was after a particular old, heavy-horned mouflon with one horn-tip broken. At Record Buck there’s plenty of opportunity but finding one individual animal is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. At least one of the San Antonio airport shuttles had already departed when both came back with their prizes and great, big smiles.

Brittany and family don’t hunt during the camp. This year, Donna and Britt, trading off with young Lillian Jeanne, didn’t get out much at all. But Brad had purchased a convention special Record Buck package at our 2019 convention, including a really big elk. So, we stayed a few extra days so he could hunt with his bow and while he was doing that, I snuck away with guide Houston and his brother Glen Erskine and sort of helped out with the pig problem. 

Honest, I thought that elk was going to beat Brad. We saw the targeted bull elk the very first evening, before the camp started, but the rut was winding down, really over, and he’d found a comfortable hideaway. It was almost sundown, last chance. Houston, Glen and I had just tied into a group of hogs when we got the call: Brad had his bull down, one perfect arrow. Pretty good finish to a great week in the Hill Country.–Craig Boddington

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