This is a slightly editted version of my column, Making A Difference, in the November/December issue of Women & Guns Magazine*, titled When Your Daddy is a Guide, Laurelai Winslow of Maine.
Can a seven-year-old girl make a difference in the world? I believe Laurelai Winslow can.
When she was one and a half, Tim Winslow backpacked his daughter to a remote camp for her first hunting trip. They were accompanied on the week-long search for upland birds by Laurelai’s mother, Alison, grandfather, Richard Winslow, and their two Brittany Spaniels.
The toddler did not know what to make of the first game bird that was brought back by one of the dogs, “But,” her father wrote in the Libby Camps 2012 brochure, “by the end of the week, she was carrying four at a time back to our cabin.” From the beginning she was a trooper, walking through the woods, enduring rain, not complaining until the end of the day when she was understandably tired. From the beginning her father gave her the time to enjoy what she was doing, pausing with her to skip rocks across a stream, giving her time to splash in puddles. As a Registered Maine Guide, licensed in both hunting and fishing, he knows how to adjust to his clients’ needs and energy level. He does the same in his parenting.
I met Laurelai this past July. She was not what I expected. Earlier in the summer we had spent a fantastic day with Tim fishing for brook trout. His daughter had shot her first rabbit when she was six, and a well-known outdoor blogger had published her own story about it. https://georgesoutdoornews.bangordailynews.com/2016/04/30/hunting/this-maine-six-year-old-loves-rabbit-hunting/ The blog got a very negative comment, which led to a series of comments, and Tim asked for my opinion about taking young children hunting.
Once home, I looked up the story. After reading the six-year-old’s account of her rabbit hunts and the comments, I asked the father for permission to write about Laurelai for Women & Guns. He not only gave permission, but also invited us back for a couple days at Chandler Lake Camps so I could meet his daughter.
From pictures I knew what she looked like, but I had imagined someone who would be much as I had been at her age: a tomboy. She came out to meet us wearing a beautiful dark pink dress, her long blond hair neatly brushed and held back. She was wearing shoes, something I had done only under duress at her age. (My mother made me wear dresses as punishment.)
Laurelai is all girl. She is simply a girl who hunts and fishes and loves to climb trees and slog through mud. She wears waders to fish, but has a skirt to change into as soon as she gets back to the truck.
When your daddy is a guide, and you spend a lot of time with him, you learn about nature. An enormous amount of preparation is required to take clients hunting or fishing. As your father goes through those preparations, you learn about the animals he is going to hunt, as well as the other animals that populate the same areas. You learn about the plants that grow all around you. You pick wild blueberries and raspberries. You learn that some fish you keep and some you put back.
You eat the things that are harvested. Hunting is a way of life, not an occasional recreation. Almost everyone in her family hunts. For generations her mother’s family has owned one of the iconic camps in the Maine North Woods. Laurelai has been trekking through woods since she could walk. Last year she started carrying a gun as she did so. She shot her first grouse “with my Nana.”
She loves animals. All of them, whether cute and cuddly, or slimy and grotesque. She spent her time on our last fishing expedition picking up what many call green drakes (hexagenias) that were floating on the water. They were the reason we were somewhere deep in The Woods, because the huge trout in the secret pond were sucking them off the surface, and hopefully would be sucking up our flies as well.
Although she likes the shooting, she also enjoys just watching the animals she hunts. On her first turkey hunt she and her father were in the blind for hours before a group of three hens and a jake (young male) arrived. When the four turkeys were close enough, she continued to watch them for quite some time until the hens finally moved out of the way so she could target the legal male. She wasn’t in a hurry, she told me, because they were fun to watch. She was very proud when she shot him. She was putting food in the freezer for her family. Food she not only shot, but cleaned and processed, and knows how to cook.
When your daddy is a guide, you learn to take care of other people. On our first fishing trip together Laurelai showed me her backpack with a bottle of water on each side. “I’m bringing water for you and Stan,” she told me. I assured her I had some, so she didn’t need to carry any for us, because I didn’t yet understand. This is what guides do. They carry things that people will need. Laurelai considered us ‘sports.’ Sports need care.
Being aware of the needs of other people, means sharing. They were turkey hunting with a woman and two other children this year. Laurelai shot a nice big tom. There were others in sight, so her father suggested she could get another. Her answer was that she already had one, so he should help the others who had not yet been successful.
At the time we talked Laurelai had shot one deer, three turkeys, three rabbits, five grouse, a red squirrel, and three porcupines. (Tim had been asked to eliminate the porcupines that were causing damage and bothering cattle on some neighbors’ properties.)
If you are brought up and live in civilization, you have a different perspective of the circle of life. We have had the luxury for many generations of leaving difficult and messy but necessary tasks to others. Our meat comes in tidy plastic-wrapped portions that look nothing like the animal from which it came. Except for poultry. A whole chicken or turkey looks like what it is, only naked with no feathers or faces. Some fish look semi-natural, and lobsters, of course, are live when we buy them. Still, birds and fish do not bring out the same emotion as mammals, and crustaceans look like giant insects. We can more easily tolerate knowing they are food.
Along with eliminating the work and mess of processing our own meat, we have also developed some erroneous, negative impressions of those who do. Most of us do not kill anything, except maybe insects and some rodents. We usually only kill them when they have annoyed or hurt us or destroyed our property. We have extremely hostile thoughts and emotions concerning them.
However, that is not the case with the majority of people who hunt for their own food. Far from any kind of animosity towards their prey, most hunters respect and even enjoy them. To be successful one must know about the habits and traits of the game one pursues. Studying something almost always leads to forming a bond.
When we begin to learn about grouse and woodcock, deer and moose, at a very young age, we absorb that bond into our self. It becomes part of who we are. This is foreign to the majority of the population, and, therefore difficult to understand.
Wild animals provide protein with a much lower fat content. It contains no artificial hormones or antibiotics. The meat is healthy. We humans have canine teeth as well as molars for grinding. We are omnivores: both vegetarian and carnivore.
I am not suggesting that we all should become hunters. What I do suggest is that we think of Laurelai Winslow when we think of hunters. She is kind, considerate, thoughtful. She loves all animals. She is helpful to other people, and proud to provide food for her family. She is also a joy to be with, and a totally typical little girl.
I believe she could change the entire perception of hunters and hunting. That would make a monumental difference.
*If you are a woman who is interested in guns, or a man who knows such a woman, you should subscribe to Women & Guns Magazine. http://www.womenandguns.com/