A New Hunter’s Perspective on How the Old School Can Help
Erin Hutchison got into hunting with the help of experienced mentors
Erin Hutchison didn’t spend much time in the woods growing up. She was a competitive tennis player who loved the game so much, she woke up early each morning and hit the courts in suburban Portland, Oregon, before school. Deer hunting was the furthest pursuit from her mind. But after college, Hutchison took a job in media relations at footwear company Danner and LaCrosse and that opened the gates to the outdoors.
“The first day, I was sitting at my desk, and the sales guys came up to me,” she said. “They asked if I liked to hunt. I said that I would try anything once. Here I am years later and it’s completely changed my life.”
In 2017, Hutchison met photographer Nicole Belke at a deer camp in Kansas. It was the first time she had hunted with another woman. Belke had all kinds of advice and tips for her, and it was more comfortable having another woman in camp to share the experience with. Hutchison arrowed her first whitetail days later. The following fall, a friend canceled on her last-minute for a morning cow elk hunt, but she decided to go alone. With her experience level, Hutchison figured it would be a nature hike, but it turned into her first solo spot-and-stalk. She killed an elk and her friends returned to help her pack the meat out.
Hutchison has since traveled the world on duck hunts in Argentina and axis deer in Hawaii, with plans for an Alaskan drop-camp caribou hunt. She is still learning, and also trying to help others who want to learn to hunt. Whether you’re a traditional hunter or newbie, you should listen to what she has to say. Her insights will only help bring more hunters to the table.
Outdoor Life: Why did you decide to start hunting?
Erin Hutchison: I didn’t grow up around hunting and even had somewhat limited exposure to outdoor recreation when I was young. My family just wasn’t all that outdoorsy, but instead I spent many weekends training and traveling for sports. I was a competitive tennis player for many years.
My curiosity of the hook and bullet world began right after college, when I landed my first job in the performance hunting and fishing apparel industry. A few years later, I joined the marketing team at LaCrosse Footwear, Inc. Within hours on my first day, coworkers came knocking to gauge my interest in learning to hunt. Up until then, no one had ever offered before.
Fast forward a few months later and I was tagging along on an early-season whitetail hunt. The heat that week was sweltering, and I was crammed into a blind with a coworker I barely knew from sunrise to sundown. It was dead slow. Sounds awful, right? But I loved every minute of it. I had never shot a bow or gun before, and that week I got to shoot an air rifle and thought it was the coolest thing. I’m also super competitive, so that only fed the eagerness to beat the boys at target practice. But it was all so new to me and I was excited to learn. When I returned home from that first deer camp, I remember grabbing happy hour with some girlfriends and sharing my experience. I will never forget their baffled faces when I recapped my week. They laughed at the thought of me hunting and probably thought I was a little crazy.
OL: Tell us about your first hunting experience.
EH: I tagged along on hunts for about a year or so before I hit the woods with my own tag. Looking back, this was crucial to the early stages of learning to hunt: getting to observe and absorb the little things when prepping, tuning gear, scouting, and pursuing game.
My first kill was spring 2017 turkey season in southwest Washington. I was 27 years old. I was shooting a borrowed 12-gauge shotgun and remember being incredibly nervous about getting comfortable quickly with equipment I wasn’t used to. I am petite and mentally a 20-gauge was more my comfort zone at the time. But as soon as the birds started coming in, recoil was the last thing on my mind. It’s amazing how your instincts kick in during peak moments of a hunt. I made a perfect shot and got to celebrate with the same guys who first introduced me to hunting, and who since have become great friends and mentors.
OL: What were some of the road blocks as you tried to get into hunting, and who helped you navigate those?
EH: For many, hunting is a tradition that gets passed down from parent to child. Coming into hunting with no background or exposure to it growing up was incredibly intimidating. One of the things I love most about hunters, is how passionate they are. It’s not a sport, it’s a lifestyle. We live and breathe it every day. We are prepping year-round for elk or deer season and the chance to fill our freezers.
When I first started out, I didn’t know any other women that hunted. I’m so grateful for the guys that took me under their wings, but it’s just different having another woman’s perspective. I first met Nicole Belke in fall of 2017 on a whitetail hunt. Before then, I had never shared camp with another woman. Her simplest pieces of advice just blew my mind and were complete game changers for me in the field. I used to struggle with bow hangers in treestands and she introduced me to an easy option for the muscle-challenged. Simple, silly things like that made such a difference. Today, and largely in part through Nicole, I’ve met some amazing women who hunt that have become incredible friends and resources.
OL: You spend time with a lot of different hunters, young and old. What do you think needs to change about our sport? What should stay the same?
EH: The camaraderie that exists in the hunting community I hope always stays the same. When I meet someone new and learn they also hunt, I can easily end up talking with them for hours over hunting stories and that shared passion. Those are my people.
Personally, I’d like to see a stronger network focused on recruiting new hunters and how we communicate to them. Not only how we talk about the process of harvesting meat, but also the unexpected benefits of learning to hunt and leading a more sustainable lifestyle.
I can’t imagine buying meat from a grocery store again. But I’ve also gained so much confidence in myself through the process of learning to hunt. I’ve dealt with stereotypes my whole life, like most men and women do. Hunting has helped me break through societal ideas of who I should be and realize who I can be. I can do difficult things on my own, be more independent, and successful. Stress fades away when I’m outdoors and hiking through the elk woods. Connecting with nature through hunting has made me both mentally and physically stronger. I used to be afraid to walk home alone in the dark and now I’m planning my next drop camp adventure, and I love that.
OL: What can traditional hunters do to be more helpful to new hunters?
EH: As a new hunter, everything is intimidating. The first time I walked into a bow shop alone I was so nervous. It was stupid in retrospect, but I honestly just didn’t know where to start. It’s so important to have someone help you through those early learning stages. Someone who doesn’t judge when you are asking all the dumb, necessary questions. I would prompt seasoned hunters to be a resource for the new and also to welcome proactive conversation with anti-hunters. I’m never seeking to change someone’s mind, but instead encourage them to understand my perspective. Those conversations are so important for our sport and recruiting more people to give it a try.
OL: So you felt intimidated coming into hunting?
EH: In general, learning to hunt is intimidating. Hunting is a beautiful tradition, but it’s not inherited by everyone. There is so much to learn right off the bat, from bows and firearms to the basics of a hunt, applying for tags, animal anatomy, behaviors or even just picking out the right boots. There’s also the anxiety around harvesting an animal. It is really hard trying to balance the emotions of celebrating success and taking a beautiful, living creature’s life. I cried the first time I watched an elk go down. They are also my favorite species to hunt and eat. And both of those feelings are okay. It’s normal to struggle with that balance no matter how new or experienced you are with hunting. It shows we appreciate and give respect for that animal and that experience.
OL: What would you tell someone who wants to hunt but doesn’t feel like they have any resources?
EH: It’s tough. I don’t think there are enough good resources for brand new hunters who don’t know where to start. A lot of it is doing research locally, trying to find beginner courses. If you’re interested in bowhunting, try the local archery shops and see if they will give you a one-on-one lesson. I think it’s less intimidating to take a lesson first. Try local shooting ranges if you want to learn to shoot a rifle or shotgun. I took an intro to shotgun class at a Portland gun club. It was a good way to test the waters. Be upfront if you are new to it, and how nervous you are. Find the right instructors and groups that will support you. I’m putting together resources for people if they reach out to me, so I can help point them in the right direction. I have Portland pretty dialed, but not as much across the country.
OL: How have you helped others get into hunting?
EH: I want to do as much as I can to be a resource for novice hunters to help ease the intimidation factor. I was surprised at the amount of women who reached out to me on social media when I started to share my journey more openly. It was encouraging to find there were more people out there like me – expressing interest to learn, but not sure where to start. I’m working on some tools to share with these folks and look forward to supporting them through the learning process.
OL: You have brought some strong groups of women together to participate in different hunt camps. What prompted that?
EH: Don’t get me wrong, I love being one of the guys at camp, but sometimes it’s nice to balance that out. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to meet other women that hunt through my job. I think it’s important to have a solid support system of other women to constantly learn from and grow with.
Last year, I hunted Hawaii axis and goats with Tess Rousey, Sierra Langbell, Emily Perreira, Rihana Cary and Nicole Belke. These women work so hard to punch a tag. They will go the extra mile that not everyone else would. More importantly, they believe it’s not about an easy harvest or doing things for a photo op or social media. To me, they embody what I love about women’s hunting and are incredible role models for young women. We bonded so quickly over hunting, and although we all live across the country, they’ve become some of my closest friends. I know we’ll continue our tradition of coming together for different adventures each year.
OL: What’s the next way you’re going to challenge yourself as a hunter? What do you want to learn next?
EH: I am no expert, not even close. And I really believe you never stop learning. I’m eager to grow my experience with firearms. Right now, my rifle—a .270 Weatherby—is my baby, but I know it’s time to expand my capabilities with higher calibers. I’m also excited to learn more about ballistics and long-range shooting. I need to get some reps in with my bow this summer to grow that shooting confidence as well. I plan to hunt Oregon deer and elk as much as possible this year.
Long term, I want to feel skilled enough to have the option to hunt on my own. I’m not there yet, but I learn something new each time I’m in the field. Right now, I still need a lot of help in particular with field dressing technique and packing out. I hope I never stop pushing my comfort level. This fall I’m heading to Alaska with a few other ladies for a DIY caribou hunt. It’s already been a learning experience just getting prepped with gear and more confident in basic survival skills. I have no doubt that will be my greatest adventure yet.
If you would like to connect or just follow along with Erin’s travels and outdoor pursuits, check her out @_erin_hutch on Instagram.