By Anne Kania, Shotgun Life
There’s no shortage of self-help books, blogs and TV shows on how to maintain a successful marriage. They often dispense predictable suggestions such as romantic getaways, better communications and compromise.
While those tactics are certainly useful, my friend Paula Formosa and I have discovered that hunting with your significant other strengthens personal bonds in ways that are more meaningful and longer lasting than a dip in a heart-shaped Jacuzzi.
With my husband Bruce and I approaching our tenth wedding anniversary, all the time we’ve spent together in hunting-related activities has established a deep connection as we live in appreciation and gratitude for each other, the wildlife and the life we are privileged to lead. Hunting is completely enmeshed in my relationship with my husband in ways that are meaningful and informative.
Anne and Bruce Kania.
In the same way, hunting has changed my life. It has strengthened my engagement with nature and boosted my self-confidence as a woman.
I had arrived in America in 2007 from New Zealand (I’m originally from Northeast England) after a two-year, long-distance relationship with Bruce. As soon as I moved into Bruce’s house overlooking the Yellowstone River in Montana, he started me hunting on doves. From there we moved on to our pheasant preserve as well as wild waterfowl and even some big game in the surrounding area.
I’m glad I first got to know Bruce in the Fall, during hunting season in magnificent Technicolor. Over time I had morphed from artsy townie to adopted Montanan. I began to learn about the land stewardship required to attract and keep wild birds on our property. It sank in gradually, as I went round and round in the tractor preparing the ground for pheasant-friendly crops; as I hand-sowed sunflower seed by the ton; checked traps for skunk and raccoon, which are the mortal enemy of ground-nesting birds; scythed heads off thistles in the blazing sun to keep the ground clean and the neighbors happy… all laying the ground for a spectacular hunt right outside our front door. Fast-forward to today (literally), we stand with our farm displayed on Google Earth while we spend two hours with our property manager going over the planting regime for this year – together!
We live the hunt every day of our lives, in one way or other – in hunting season, we go after doves, snipe, pheasants, ducks and geese and deer – on our property. At other times, hunting is still in the background, informing what we have for dinner, how we exercise the dogs. It is completely enmeshed in our relationship. What would I have done if I had turned down Bruce’s invitation to go bird hunting? My sister in England thinks I only hunt because there’s nothing else to do in Montana. I have to smile at that because I sometimes wonder: if I had not become a hunter, would there be enough to bind us?
Of all the things Bruce is to me – business partner, gourmet chef, ping-pong opponent, sporting clays squaddie, audio-book listener, travel companion, wine-and-foodie – hunting partner is the one that best defines him for me. Sometimes at night, when I’m lying awake watching him, he is still my hunter, the hunter of legend, virile and sexy, sleeping restoratively to return to the fray. Usually, though, I’m too exhausted from my own hunt to indulge in such fantasies!
The fabric of our lives is tightly woven around hunting, broad and rich, textured and warm, and it catches the light. It is our cloth of gold.
Mike Genoff and Paula Formosa.
My friend Paula Formosa and her husband Mike Genoff, like us, hunt together. I had met Paula a few years ago at Highland Hills Ranch at a GRITS weekend, an all-woman event led by delightful shooting expert Elizabeth Lanier and brought together by Highland Hills Ranch owner, Mindi Macnab, who actively nurtures women’s participation in the shooting sports.
Paula told me “I had a phenomenal time. The women were all interesting, independent, bright, they had their own careers, wealth. Each one enjoyed the sport and was comfortable with guns. When we went hunting we rooted for each other. The camaraderie was so much fun, Elizabeth was excellent, positive. We have the same goals – we want to improve. I have grown up being comfortable in a man’s world but I enjoyed the different quality compared to a combined hunt. Men are a bit more competitive.”
Elizabeth Lanier (left) with Anne Kania at Highland Hills Ranch.
Paula and Mike had each enjoyed eminent careers as surgeons, in different fields, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, before they retired early and found themselves devoting more and more time and energy to hunting. “It’s a package, a whole continuum” explains Paula. “First comes the hunting, then the dogs; you want to be part of the team. Working with and training dogs leads to the kind of property you want to buy… then you begin to understand and respect…. habitat, how to attract and utilize game, the value of conservation. It is a whole process. You do it together, then the kids get involved. As a family we had some very special times that even now, in their thirties, the kids talk about a lot.”
Mike encouraged Paula into hunting sensitively and thoughtfully, one success at a time (I don’t think he’ll mind too much if I quote his approach: “How do you make love to a virgin?”). Although he had been taught to shoot at an early age by his mother, he was only a step ahead of Paula when they met after medical training; he was out of practice, she had never shot before. Mike arranged for her to borrow a genteel gun to fit her frame and since the first time she shot trap and hit 50% of the targets she has been hooked!
To introduce her to wingshooting, Mike took Paula to a fine Southern Plantation, with fabulous dining and a bar in every room, where they shot quail – “small birds flying close with not much dying going on.” For Paula, it was fun and successful.
Next for them was the Flying B Ranch, where they were among the luxury preserve’s first clientele – with their new bird dog, Farrah. They shot a mixed bag of 40 birds a day and loved it. Wingshooting and big game hunting became part of their life together.
Paula found in hunting exhilaration and a sense of achievement, more so than if she had simply accompanied Mike with a camera, she says. She became more aware of the forest, the trees, predators, food plots, survival. “Most people are not exposed to what it means to be a baby deer, a wolf… people don’t have a clue. That awareness is part of the hunting process”. When their daughters came along, they too got involved. As Mike says, “When you get your wife involved, you don’t have to pull yourself away from the family. You’re not taking away from them: you bring them along.
Yes, but how did the kids do on eating wild game? “They loved it,” they laugh. “We had Road-kill Rabbit, Bambi-Burgers, Bambi Tacos. We served an amazing orange pheasant recipe. When we introduced friends to wild game, we would serve Bambi sliders, the patties made with rosemary and garlic. What’s there not to like?”
Anne and Bruce Kania.
Like Paula and me, a woman can suddenly be confronted with the desire to hunt at any age for many a reason: she just decides this is what she wants to do. Or perhaps she has a new boyfriend who hunts and she wants to join him. Her husband is about to retire and she wants to travel and hunt with him. She wants to be adventurous and try something meaningful. They have a new bird dog and she wants to be part of the team. She wants to join the kids or maybe she is one of the growing number of women who shoot a gun and wants to put herself into the ancestral mode of hunting for food.
Imagine this scenario: she is willing to give it a go and tentatively mentions this to her partner. Overjoyed that she is finally going to take part in his obsession, her well-meaning husband overpowers her, with information, advice, demands, enthusiasm, impatience… and she feels defeated. Sometimes it’s a physical issue: she tried his gun and it beat her up so painfully she is put off for life. “Never again,” she vows.
It’s sad to think about how many women may have been on the brink of a life-changing experience and are now lost to hunting – and more importantly, hunting to them − ironically, with the partner who so desperately wanted them to succeed.
I once thought my next career move would be into life-coaching or counseling, because I love the process of supporting people to be their best and do what they love. Then I moved to Montana. Here, I want to bring my best self and what I love to help women find Joy in Hunting, for themselves and for their intimate relationship.
Whether Bruce and I go through some bumpy patches or whether the joy is present every step of the way, we have this in common: when we embrace hunting together, something is kindled between us that not only gives us a meaningful pursuit to engage in but it ignites the core of our relationship and emanates out to embrace family, our health, our place on this earth.
Anne Kania has been a classical opera singer, an IT project manager and a partner in an environmental services company in a career spanning three continents and as many decades. Today, as owner of Joy of Hunting, she devotes her energy to encouraging women to become skilled wingshooters, whether they are starting out or need a helping hand to gain more confidence. Anne, her husband Bruce and their three Labrador Retrievers live near Billings, Montana where they hunt seven months of the year. You can visit the Joy of Hunting web site at http://www.joyofhunting.com.