Women take to the field to change 'men'tality of hunting
RURAL BROWN COUNTY — When most think of the opening weekend of pheasant hunting season, they likely think about the thousands of bearded men who flock to South Dakota.
But one couldn’t find beards on the hunters at Royal Flush Hunting Lodge Saturday.
For the second year, the lodge hosted Ringneck Rally, a women’s-only hunt on opening day.
It wasn’t anywhere near a first hunt for the woman who knocked down the first bird. Many of the women had hunted before — deer, bear, ducks, geese — though some had never shot a pheasant.
The first bird fell just minutes after the season opened — on the first trip through the first field.
At the end of the walk back through that field, Joey Whittaker, 66, of Hayden, Idaho, would go two-for-two on pheasants flushed under the early afternoon sun.
They were her very first pheasants.
“That was awesome,” she said, carrying both pheasants around their colorful necks.
Whittaker joined 11 other women, a handful of guides and a few others for the hunt.
In total, the women would knock down 14 birds in that first field, trudging through thick grasses and battling cattails.
A dog would point, the group would hold and then the magic moment presented itself.
“Rooster!” someone would yell.
Gunfire would follow.
Fallen birds were met with cheers and, more often than not, retrieved by the handful of dogs.
The camaraderie among the women began the night before as each found her weekend home at the lodge near Stratford and gathered around tables for supper, conversation and a drink or two.
There was the typical “lady banter.” And then there was talk about types of guns, scopes, lengths of barrels, shopping trips to Cabela’s and hunting memories.
Recipes for deer bacon, bearballs (think Swedish meatballs, but with bear meat) and white pheasant chili were discussed.
And then there was the obvious.
They were all women who loved to hunt — something that, in their opinion, could be more common.
That’s what lodge owner Charlie Tveit began advocating for when he started the women-only hunt last year.
“I just love these hunts. You don’t ever see too many women out there,” he said.
There were seven or eight women at last year’s hunt, three of whom returned this year.
One of those was Shantel Wittstruck, 38, of Lennox.
There’s a different feel hunting with a group of women when compared to being a woman with a group of men, Wittstruck said. Women tend to be less competitive and care less about filling daily limits, she said. But put a woman in a group of guys and the woman will try to out-shoot and out-bird the men.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love to win,” she said.
There’s a little more independence with women, too. Usually a man knows exactly where he — or they — will fish, hunt, et cetera. But give a woman the choice and she’ll make it for herself.
“Sometimes it’s fun to be outside the box,” Wittstruck said.
“We can get out there and do just as good as the guys and be who we are when we’re done,” said Ann Erhard, 45, of Dalton, Minn.
It was her dad who taught her to hunt, and being one of two daughters, she carries on his legacy.
Still, “My dad/uncle/grandpa/husband taught me how to hunt” is a mentality worthy of change, she said.
Instead, the ladies want to hear “my mom/aunt/grandma/wife.”
And they are well on their way to making sure that happens, even though it comes with tackling a stereotype or two along the way.
Megan Robinson, 26, bought her hunting dog Beau five years ago with one thing in mind — hunting pheasants in South Dakota. She drove all the way from west-central Indiana with her mom Sandy Robinson, 54, and friend Marybeth McDaniel, 21.
Megan Robinson had been to South Dakota one time before — for snow geese. And it was cold.
“I remember laying in the blind freezing, wondering when it was going to be over, and I never think that about hunting,” she said.
But under a warm October sun, several birds flushed and fell just within a few minutes and steps into the second field.
“There’s always birds in this field,” Tveit said.
He opened Royal Flush about four years ago. It was previously a hunting lodge, but sat empty for a few years, he said. Oct. 20 was just the first of many busy days to come, as the lodge is booked through the rest of the season.
This weekend, though, it’s just the ladies and their dogs making memories, connecting and learning from one another.
“This is the kind of thing I love, exactly what I’m looking for,” Erhard said. “And I’m navigating it.”
Royal Flush Hunting Lodge
Address: 39497 145th St., Stratford
Facebook: Royal Flush Hunting Lodge
- Ann Erhard, Dalton, Minn.
- Shantel Wittstruck, Lennox
- Karla Dahms, Mora, Minn.
- Marybeth McDaniel, Boswell, Ind.
- Megan Robinson, Veedersburg, Ind.
- Sara Urman, Lonsdale, Minn.
- Sheri Brengman, Lino Lakes, Minn.
- Teresa Henn, Plymouth, Minn.
- Suzi Schmidt, Oak Grove, Minn.
- Lanna Zobel, Big Lake, Minn.
- Joey Witthaker, Coeur D’alene, Id.