For the last two years I’ve spent the first few days of November somewhere in Montana, with a group of women hunters from across the country.
We sleep in wall tents, hunt for a variety of wild game, and develop friendships with people we would have otherwise never met.
How does a girl from central Indiana find herself living in a wall tent for five days, almost 1,200 miles from home, driving roads made of gumbo, and chasing Mule deer from dawn ‘til dusk?
Well, I’m going to tell you, and then I’m going to tell you why I did it again this year.
Nicole Qualtieri, a Montana hunter, put a post on her social media page in early 2018, asking if there were any women in the area looking for someone else to hunt with.
She figured since she was a newer hunter and hunting mostly alone, there had to be other women out there like her, and why not see if they wanted to hunt together?
When over 50 women responded, she was blown away. She took a chance and invited any woman who was interested to show up to a Women’s Deer Camp in the Crazy Mountains.
I learned about the camp from a mutual friend, and originally had no intention of going. It seemed like such a far-fetched idea to go all the way out there by myself, not knowing but one person, and camping in the mountains for the first time.
But I did go, and that experience changed my life. I discovered so much about myself and what I was capable of, and I made friendships that will no doubt, last a lifetime.
It was such a special experience, that I wanted to share it with my best friend, Sarah Burton.
Sarah and I met about 15 years ago, while we were both working at a retail, horticulture business in Lafayette, IN. She was a landscape designer and I managed the nursery.
We chatted when we crossed paths at work, but that was the extent of our friendship. We each took different jobs a few years later, but reconnected through social media about 7 years ago.
Sarah is a fellow avid hunter, who now lives in southern Illinois. She hunts White-tailed deer, squirrel, pheasant, and turkey–by far her favorite animal to chase in the woods.
We’ve turkey hunted a few times, including a road trip to Wisconsin where she called in my very first bird.
We have also hunted pheasant and fished a little bit, but never deer hunted together. We fixed that on November 1st.
By now you can probably tell we aren’t your typical girls, and this wasn’t your typical girls trip. We didn’t go to Vegas, Nashville, or a vineyard in Napa Valley.
There were no late-night clubs or early morning room service calls. No brunch, no spa, and no sand between our toes. Instead we loaded the truck with rifles, boots, our favorite camo, hunting packs, sleeping bags, and everything else we might need for four days of hunting and camping.
We headed to one of the most beautiful places in the country, eastern Montana, to chase Mule deer. Originally, this wasn’t supposed to be just her and I spending the first week of November in the great outdoors.
There should have been an additional 20 to 25 women joining us at Deer Camp, but Covid-19 forced Nicole and the other organizers of this year’s camp, one being me, to postpone until next year.
We didn’t feel comfortable bringing women in from all over the country during a pandemic, and putting the local community, or each other, at risk.
Back in August, after news broke that camp was cancelled, Sarah and I decided, since we already had our Mule deer doe tag, the two of us were going to head west anyway.
We figured you couldn’t find a place better suited for social distancing than the enormous, wide-open spaces of Mule deer country. We took everything we could think of to help limit trips to the nearby town.
Prior to leaving, we were both healthy and feeling great. The thing is, Sarah was supposed to go to Deer Camp last year, but her dogs had some health problems, so she didn’t make the trip.
She was heartbroken and determined to go this year, come hell or high water. Then Covid tried to stop her again, but to no avail.
This was Sarah’s first time hunting in Montana, her first time hunting Mule deer, and her first time sleeping in a wall tent. I, on the other hand, have been hunting Mule deer for the last five years between Montana and Wyoming. And I’ve spent some nights in a wall tent, but by no means does that make me a professional.
We rented a wall tent for this trip, so between the two of us, we had to get it together and livable before we lost light on that first day, which would have been interesting to watch.
I had some spots picked out where I saw Mule deer last year, and I had waypoints saved to the OnXHunt app on my phone, so I felt pretty good about navigating to the public land we wanted to hunt.
We knew there would probably be challenges, and honestly, we would’ve felt a little more confident if we had a camp full of other women to lean on, in case we get in a bind. That said, we’re both pretty determined, not to mention extremely stubborn. So we were all-in to make this happen on our own.
We’re also strong, independent women, and fairly experienced hunters. But we recognized we wouldn’t have the guys nearby to call if we got a Mule deer down at last shooting light, and needed help getting it out.
There wouldn’t be anyone offering suggestions on what other piece of public land to try if we kept coming up empty.
This was to be our trip, and our hunt, and we made the decisions, good or bad, all while learning more about ourselves, and our ever-growing friendship.
The preparation was complete. Only thing left to do was pack the truck, head west, and let the rest of our story write itself.