A Hunter’s Story: Maryland’s Mentored Hunt Rejuvenates Childhood Dream
My passion for hunting began when I was a young girl, listening raptly to my dad’s bedtime stories about his childhood spent stalking birds with only a slingshot and a pouch of pebbles on his family’s farm.
When I got a job at a sporting goods store, I fell in love with hunting for real. My exposure to the store’s hunting department was like something familiar and new all at the same time, even though I’d never known any ‘real’ hunters growing up. When hunting season came around, I would ring up customers for all kinds of hunting equipment and licenses. I grew incredibly curious. I asked co-workers a few questions, wandered the hunting section in my spare time, and started going online to do more research. Fresh out of college, with no car and a minimum wage retail job, I couldn’t make a hunting lifestyle work for me. I read up on what I could, subscribed to anything hunting related, ran around stores that sold hunting and fishing items, and even dragged my sister along to complete a hunter safety course. Then, grudgingly, I filed away the passion ‘for later’.
About five years later, I read an email from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources advertising a mentored sika deer hunt on the Eastern Shore. Wow! The now-tiny fire that I’d still kept for hunting immediately flared back up. I submitted an application to be a mentee and then I hopped around my room like a crazy woman when I got my acceptance email days later. I was paired with a mentor who taught me how to shoot (up until then, I’d only shot a gun during my hunter safety course), how to properly scout the area we were designated to hunt, what to buy and everything else I had questions about. I will never forget the day of my very first hunt when we set ourselves up in my mentor Trevor’s tree stand, parked in a foot of marsh water. The pre-dawn stillness, the light drizzle, the way the sun slowly reached across the watery landscape—it was incredibly beautiful in a way I’d never experienced before. The sounds of distant sika stags calling were like strange songs and the many creatures that scurried or flew while we kept watch for deer were new to me. I took home a stag and a hind that day (processed them and everything!), but what I valued most were the tools Trevor provided me with so I could do it all on my own someday. I just needed that helping hand to get started!
Soon after, I went on another Department of Natural Resources hunt for new hunters, but this time I went solo. While my family took some time to get used to the idea of me as a hunter, I took my brand new Mossberg and went to hunt some pheasants for a whole weekend in western Maryland. Once again, I enjoyed myself immensely. It was drizzling for most of the weekend and I didn’t see a single person out there, though I could hear their guns. I covered quite a bit of ground on both days, soaking up the peacefulness of being alone, mistaking each rabbit and fat little bird for pheasant movement, texting my mentor for advice, crouching under trees when I needed a snack break, and just living in the moment. Once again, I was lucky enough to bring home a pheasant the first day, but the second day taught me patience with the disappointment that comes when you miss your shot and bring nothing back.
After these two experiences, I took a break and didn’t end up going out until the spring. I was able to get some new experience turkey hunting with a new mentor just last April. My mentor, Maribeth, helped me understand the turkey calls, regaled me with numerous hunting stories and advice and even taught me how to shoot my Mossberg properly. (I’d been using the sights all wrong!) Though we didn’t bag a turkey, I was able to take my sister—who loves the outdoors and respects my choice to hunt, even if she can’t bring herself to hurt an animal—out to have the full hunting experience. As the weather changed from a cool, cloudy morning to a sunny day, we saw more amazing wildlife than we saw turkeys. Good company was just a bonus! I’ve gotten the full value of hunting in pairs, groups, and solo, and each has been uniquely wonderful.
As I reflect on my hunting experiences, I hope my involvement helps change people’s stereotypes and perspectives on hunting. I am a Muslim-American woman who covers her head and has a passion for hunting and I hope to see a lot more diversity in the types of people who discover hunting in their blood. Hunting is and should always be for everyone and it’s up to all hunters, veterans or newbies, to make sure it stays that way.
Zuleykha Dondurer is a participant in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Mentored Hunt Program. Appears in Vol. 22, No. 4 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, fall 2019.