“Exploring uncharted waters can be rewarding, damning, and sometimes both. Yet you will never know unless you go.”— Melody Jean
As the pink of dawn pushed it way through the sky, the world that was once dark and intimidating comes to life.
A world of swamp and trees.
A world of water and wings.
A world where deception is the name of the game. Deception that we are ducks, we are here, and the birds need to join us.
Communication is at the heart of waterfowl hunting. It’s what makes duck hunting what it is. As hunters, we work hard to communicate to the birds that we are friends and they need to come closer.
As important as communication is, it is also the most intimidating part of duck hunting. There are world championships for duck calling where mostly men from across the country converge to convince a panel of judges that they sound more duck than human, with points added for flair and showmanship.
But today in the timber, there are no judges. There is no competition. There is only effort to convince the birds that they are amongst their own.
This group isn’t messing around. But these hunters might not be what you picture.
There is an unwritten designation in the duck hunting world that if you are a duck hunter, you probably have a big beard. You’re usually cold. You’re probably muddy. Oh, and you’re a man.
But there are waterfowl warrior women who are eager to break this stereotype. Three women— Cara Harper, former host of Ducks Unlimited TV, waterfowl guide Ashton Stockwell, and Kim Jensen Rogers, co-owner of Wren & Ivy heritage goods, look that ideal square in the eye and unequivocally point out “Oh okay, go shove your stereotype.”
These women never want to be seen as macho, or that they don’t need a man helping them, or that they go duck hunting without men. They enjoy hunting with their husbands, partners, and significant others. But this hunt was a demonstration of sorts: wading into a world that was not focused on them, but built on a broader stereotype that if they did choose to hunt by themselves, they were perfectly capable to do so.
Each of these three women represent the gradient of a typical group of duck hunters, with their own roles and backgrounds.
Ashton is an outfitter and guide who is exposed to the best duck callers in the world on a daily basis. She’s constantly judged as being just “the back of house” component of the outfitter, just the cook, she can’t call ducks. It all couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cara is a leading voice and face in the outdoor industry, one where she is fighting for recognition, fighting to prove herself, and almost sending a big middle finger to those that say that girls shouldn’t be calling in the duck blind.
And Kim….Kim is the business women. Put together, refined, happy to wear makeup to the duck hole. Kim believes that you make you a hunter. She does not bow to any pressure from anyone about who she is supposed to be, how she is supposed to act, and who she is representing as a duck hunter. Kim doesn’t call. She doesn’t need to. Cara and Ashton are the callers of the group.
The three women run their show. They decide where to set up, what hole to choose, the decoy spread and where to post up. They blow their calls, their mundo’s working on those high-pressured ducks flying across this endless swamp, breaking ‘em out high, setting ‘em up down wind, and talk ‘em into giving up. Their cut down call is unmistakable – loud, raspy, almost annoying, yet convincing. You would be forgiven to think that if you were posted 300 yards away in the timber on another hole that a raft of mallards had descended into those timbers. Their calling is unparalleled, as evidenced by the kazoo-like calls coming from a group of men in the next hole over. Their cadence, insistence, and interaction are all that is needed to convince the birds to come by and deploy their landing gear.
The skillful articulation of attraction, the calling of the shots, and the feathers that lie on the water are all the accolades that these women need. As they push their boat back out of the hole into deeper water, the timber can almost be forgiven for not recognizing the echoing of women’s unfamiliar laughter bouncing through the trees. It’s a sound they will continue to hear more and more.There are no trophies gathered. No applause from an esteemed panel of judges. There’s only a lifetime of memories, confidence, and the pride buried within their conscience that they have navigated uncharted waters.