By Coni Brooks
It’s obvious that Coni has a deep passion for hunting, and she offers helpful tips on how to get started. I have been a shooter and hunter for most of my life. I have been able to enjoy many different types of experiences in hunting. Owning a bullet manufacturing company, Barnes Bullets, for 34 years brought numerous opportunities and although we couldn’t take part in all of them, we certainly tried our best.
I love hunting and enjoy seeing the animals out in the wild. I have hunted many states in the U.S., including Alaska as well as Australia, Canada, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe and have been lucky to see and harvest many types of game.
When someone asks, “What is your most favorite animal to hunt?” I’d have to say elk and mule deer. I love hunting in the West because it is so challenging and above all, so beautiful. There is nothing like hearing an elk bugle and watching mule deer on a mountainside.
Heading to Alaska to hunt bears
My first hunt without my husband was a guided grizzly hunt in Alaska in the early ‘80s. I was invited on the hunt by an acquaintance that worked in a sporting goods store in Anchorage whom we had sold bullets to for their store. He called me on a Thursday in April and wanted me up there on the upcoming Monday. The reason for the short notice was because they had a hunter cancel because of health reasons and they wanted to fill his spot.
This would possibly be a 10-day hunt –- which meant unless I got my desired animal, early, we would stay out in the elements for 10 days. I didn’t want to go there alone for something like that so I asked my sister-in-law, Elaine Brooks, who had never hunted a day in her life, to go with me. She is always game for new and different things, so her answer to me was just what I expected she would say, and that was, “YES!”
Now I want to tell you that in those earlier days, you absolutely could not find hunting clothing for women –- let alone boots, etc. Not much attention was given to lady hunters, which was a travesty because there certainly were plenty of lady hunters! These days, ladies are more open about their hunting and more manufacturers are catering to our desires. On this trip we were going to be needing really warm clothing, boots and waders as we would be rafting down rivers, walking in rivers and marshy land while hunting and hiking in all types of terrain. Both Elaine and I are small-framed ladies, so a lot of the items we purchased for the hunt came from the boys department in whatever store we could find them in.
Also, let me mention to you that there weren’t a lot of places to shop for these items then like there are now. We also were going to be needing large caliber rifles –- of which at the time my largest rifle was a .300 Win. My husband wanted me to take a .375 H&H and my sister-in-law was taking a .35 Whelen. Well, the gun stocks were way too long for us, and if they were cut down to fit us, no one else could use them except us, and no one wanted to make that happen at this stage of the game … so we had to deal with what we had. We did as much practicing as we could with the rifles and became somewhat comfortable with them. With such short notice, and not having much in our closets to pull from, we went up there with basically all the wrong stuff that really didn’t fit us all that well.
Since this was our first hunt like this, we wanted to make sure we were somewhat comfortable and not knowing what to expect –- we wanted to look as good as possible despite our clothing, so we took items for our hair like shampoos and conditioners, hairspray and yes, even butane curling irons, brushes combs, mirrors, our makeup, cleansers, lotions and such.
When we got to the main lodge, our guide said, “Lay out everything you brought so I can see what you have.”
Well, we had the floor covered with our items. (NOT GOOD).
He looked at us and said, “Do you think you are going to take all that stuff?”
But not in as kind of words that I have written here. I said, “Yes, we planned on it.”
He then said, “Look over there at the food, tent items, and other things you will need for 10 days, plus don't forget to add in your sleeping bags because no one is going to pack this stuff for you.”
He then told us the items you see will be divided up between all of you and you will be packing it in your backpacks.
I looked at Elaine and said, ‘You take the toothbrush and toothpaste, I’ll take a comb and mirror.’
Well, we went on our merry way, not real happy I might say, but we just learned to deal with what we had. We did a lot of backpacking and also we welcomed being able to put our items sometimes in the raft and float down the Talkeetna River in Alaska to the next camp, because it meant these heavy items weren’t being carried on our backs. Now this river in one place had 14 miles of continuous rapids … if I remember correctly.
There is a first time for everything and this was our first time doing this kind of river rafting. Oh, and I need to mention the water was more than ice cold coming straight off the glacier and yes, to add insult to injury, it was raining the day we were in the rapids. On the hunt, we did walk and hike a lot and the hip boots were sloppy on our feet and we had horrible blisters on our heels that darn near crippled us both.
Grizzlies live above the treeline, so that meant the altitude was high and that was another thing that we had to get used to. Even though we came from 4,500 feet where we lived, 8,000 to 10,000 feet took its toll on our breathing.
To make a long story short, we weren’t lucky enough to get our grizzlies on this trip, but despite all the things we had to encounter, we both decided that the experience was a good one and we learned that we could be pretty darn tough if we had to be. We went through good weather and a lot of bad weather, but we both said we wanted to come back in the fall to try again and the guides said that they would be happy to have us back.
The return hunt
We went through the rest of spring and summer, acquired some better clothes –- though not perfect, and both had rifles made to fit us. We practiced hard and went back up to Alaska a lot more prepared and with much better confidence. We both were lucky enough to get our bears on this fall trip in August.
I got a very nice boar with a golden color coat, known as Toklat, and Elaine got a boar as well that was called a silvertip grizzly (named that for a silver colored coat). We both said we wouldn't trade this experience for anything.
It was a hard hunt, but seeing all the wildlife in Alaska was something that is treasured by both of us – even many years later. For those of you who are sitting on the fence on not knowing whether you want to hunt or not, this story isn’t meant to discourage you –- it is meant to encourage you. Not every hunt is like this and I must say this was one of the tougher hunts I have been on. Each hunt has its own challenges and benefits. I can tell you that if you don't take the opportunity to try your hand at it, you are truly missing out.
Coni’s tips to help you get started hunting
I have some tips that will hopefully help you have an enjoyable experience, if you do decide to give hunting and shooting a try.
- Get a rifle that you can handle and don’t let it kick you and hurt you. There are plenty of small caliber rifles for you to use and with the right ammunition –- such as Barnes VOR-TX that has a good penetrating bullet – you will do well. The Remington 700 SPS Compact is a great rifle for ladies. It has a synthetic stock and if offered in any caliber your heart desires. I have seen ladies of all sizes and shapes handle this rifle well and shoot it well, too.
- There are numerous classes offered that can help you, too. Check out your own state’s wildlife agency on hunting courses, and also, to see about finding a good hunting mentor. The NRA,Becoming an Outdoors-Woman and the National Wild Turkey Federation offer hunting-related events, too.
- Go out and shoot often so that you feel comfortable with the firearms you are shooting.
- I think some good hunts to start out with could be a turkey hunt, whitetail hunt or even antelope hunt. On these hunts you can usually see a lot of game and have a real enjoyable and positive experience. For our young daughters’ first hunts, we took them antelope hunting. They both used a .243 Win. on the hunt. They both got their antelope and they immediately started asking, “When can we go on the next hunt?”
- Get some good fitting clothes. Clothes to help you keep cool if that is the time of year you are hunting and clothes to keep you good and warm if hunting in the cold. There are lots of choices out there now so no matter what your body build is you can find clothes to fit you well.
This, of course, isn't everything you need to do to get started hunting, but there is so much out there these days to help you and I feel confident that once you get started hunting you will be thankful you did.
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