Wild Woman Spotlight – October

Heather Hazelbaker added a new member post on one of my favorite female hunting pages back in August, along with some gorgeous pictures. Tara, who was featured in last month’s WWS, tagged me and said “we definitely need to read that, woman!” I absolutely LOVE that this network of women who share these passions is growing all the time! When I reached out to Heather she was so full of enthusiasm I knew she would have some amazing stories to share. Something I personally love about Heather’s stories, and can relate to so much, is the time spent and memories made hunting with her father.

Heather, thank you again for taking the time to put this together. You are so full of passion and truly an inspiration. 

Heather is from Southern Ohio in Brown Country. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok; give her a follow! Heather is currently getting ready to head back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree in fine arts and animal science. 

Read and share her story. It’s women like this who make me so proud to be a part of the female hunting community.

My father raised me in the woods. From the time I was little I can remember being a hunter. He tried to get me into fishing but hunting is my true love. We would hunt anything from turkey to deer to mushrooms to ginseng and trap coons, muskrat, and coyotes. His passion for hunting has spilled over the generations and now upon my nephew (his grandson) who gets to enjoy the outdoors as well. My grandfather got my dad started into hunting and it continued from there. I have always looked up to my father and followed in his footsteps. He is my role model and led by example. He is my rock and is always there for me. I think back to all the hunting I did as a kid with my dad and they are memories I will keep with me always. I can remember when I was 4 years old, I always said I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up and dad had an idea that was going to teach me and either break me or make me stronger for my passion. He sat me down on the laundry room step and had a dead grouse he cut open and was pointing to each organ and naming them off. He knew I was going to make it by how interested I was in it rather than running and crying. From that point, I became a hunter and later in life, I pursued vet tech as well. Both are passions that intertwine and what I tell people is that there is a difference between domestic and wild and I show respect to the animals in both ways. 

My favorite type of animal to hunt is a hard question to answer. I really love turkey and whitetail in my home state of Ohio because I have some amazing stories for both but my favorite hunt of all time was a bear hunt my dad and I went on in Maine on the Canadian border back in 2018. In 2017, I was apprenticing under a local taxidermist and through him, I connected with an outfitter in northern Maine on the Canadian border in Fort Kent.  We had come to an agreement to trade hunts and that they would come down here to southern Ohio to hunt big whitetails and we went up there in September 2018 for black bear. Maine bear hunting was unlike anything I have experienced. It was so different from hunting whitetail and it was so thick with pines and birch trees there. We were told our first day that once they bait the barrel, the bear would circle the stand and bait for hours without the hunter even knowing it until the bear makes a  commitment to come in.  

I had a head cold the whole 2 days driving up and for the first few days I was there and couldn’t help but cough in the stand. However, despite that I had seen my first bear on the second day.  It had walked up straight to my tree stand and looked up as we locked eyes for 10 seconds before it ran away.  I was so unprepared for that moment.  I was not sure how that moment was going to turn out as my first bear experience.  

The next day the guide took me out to the same stand and after baiting, he showed me on the trail cam viewer that a bear with a white V on the chest was there earlier.  As I sit there, trying not to cough right before dark a bear shows up and does a drive by.  As it was walking away, I took a shot at 25 yards. Now earlier in 2018 I was hit by a drunk driver and had multiple surgeries on my hands. Therefore, I ended up taking a youth shotgun to make it easy to hold post-surgery. 

It was after dark before everyone got there to help look. This stand is what they called “the hole” due to it being miles down a valley by a swamp with no cell service.  It was not an easy task to get in and out of on an old logging skid road that had not been used in years with thick saplings raking the side of the truck and holes that would swallow a vehicle. As we looked for my bear, we found a great blood trail but ultimately did not find it. Even with the tracking dogs in the morning, we could not find it.  My morale was low at that point.  

The next morning we went with the guide to bait the sites. That day they switched me to a different stand they called the tower, as it was on top of this mountain in a clear cut by a cell tower. We had pushed out a bear as I was coming in to hunt, because the bait barrel was knocked over, which was a good sign. 

An hour into the hunt the same bear came back and directly sat down at the barrel and started taking out the cookies with his paw. I started the video camera and took my time for a perfect shot. He was broadside sitting down eating cookies as I took the shot. As he ran right by me, I took two more shots. At that point, I was so excited to connect with a bear. I made my rounds of calling my people to inform them of what just happened. My guide, Jean, arrived and the tracking began. Turns out the bear ran to and died right in the trail roadway in the woods and we just backed up the pickup to load him up. The slug went into pieces in the chest cavity but did not exit. I could not control my excitement when we found him. Finally relief as I jumped around with giddy shrieks. I could not hold the video camera still. 

The next week and a half I sat with my dad to film him. He was having such bad luck not seeing anything and I was seeing all the bear and moose on our trip, I felt bad. We sat on a dead bait site that was not being hit day or night. So, our last day there I convinced dad to go to “the hole” stand. 

Six o’clock rolls around and I see a tree shaking behind the bait barrel and the next thing I know dad is telling me there is a bear coming.  I turn on the camera and wait for him to shoot. The bear was behind a tree from where I was sitting on the step but dad was on the seat and had a perfect shot. After the shot, in the video you can hear us whispering asking if he made a good shot and then finally we hear the death moan.  Bear make a moan at the time of death when the air is expelled from their lungs.  At that point it’s a sure thing it’s down. We got so excited at that point and congratulating him, we were so pumped. It was such a long 2 weeks for dad to not be seeing anything.  At that point we had to walk back up the mountain for cell service to call Jean and get some help. As we went back in to find the bear, it was dark. Found the bear only 30 yards from where it was shot and dad was ecstatic. It turns out it was the one with a white V on the chest. Only 10% of bears have that “Chevron” V on the chest. We had a hard time getting the bear out of “the hole” as it was a long drag up a mountain. 

We tagged it in at the tagging station and headed to camp to skin it out. I was working on skinning it out when I found dad’s entrance and exit hole from his .308 round. He blew the heart apart. As I was skinning further down, I found another gaping hole with green puss right in the kill zone behind the front arm. I pulled pieces of a slug from her chest. Turns out this was the first bear I shot that we never found. The difference was she had 3 inches of fat under the skin and the slug went to pieces under the skin but did not penetrate the chest cavity. The bear I took home had no fat on him and made it easier for the slug to penetrate his chest cavity. I will say that I will never take a shotgun bear hunting again, but at the time, it was all I had due to my condition. Therefore, in the end, my dad and I shot the same bear, until we got home more craziness happened. 

When we got back to southern Ohio, I checked the trail cameras and a buck that my dad had shot from 2017 with a pass through arrow was still alive and turned into a freak from a typical 8 point. I decided at that point that he was mine. I was going to hunt him hard and I had. He was a regular at my stand but ghosted me every couple of weeks. I named him Ghost just for that reason. He had beautiful characteristics to his antlers. One side was typical with no brow tine and a flat point at the base as if he rubbed it flat against his head. The other side had the longest single point I have ever seen on a buck curving to the sky, which turned out to be almost 20 inches, with a kicker in the middle and a brow tine with 3 points that looked similar to a turkey foot. The best thing is my brother found one of the sheds from the year my dad shot it in 2017 and the neighbor found the other side. Therefore, I now have both those sheds in my possession from the year my dad shot him. 

That season definitely had its difficulties, but ultimately ended on good terms. Two weeks before the season closed in the middle of January he showed up on camera every morning and evening. One evening right before dark, he showed up with a group of smaller bucks. It was my opportunity. He only gave me one other opportunity that whole season that did not work out, so this was it. I took the shot and sealed the deal. After tracking his blood, we decided to give him time and later we came back in the daytime and found him down. Snow had hit the ground that night so it was easy to see the blood trail.  However, unfortunately, the coyotes ate half of his body by the time we found him. Still I was excited to see him in person. It was an amazing feeling of relief and joy. Therefore, in the real ending to this story, Father and daughter shot the same bear and the same buck. How cool is that!

Everyone’s experience in this sport is different but for a woman in a man’s sport is difficult sometimes. Everyone always assumes this kind of sport is more natural for a man than a woman or assumes that a woman always has to be taught this sport by a man. It is as if they always want to credit a man even if the woman is doing the work. I have experienced discrimination in the industry and I am sure most women here have. I know most of the time I am the only woman in the room that hunts and traps. There are maybe two other women in my area that I know of that hunt. I know there are many other women out there in similar circumstances. In addition, I can share similar stories. I would love to connect with other women in similar situations and interests. I love connecting, learning and hearing the stories from other women hunters. 

The best hunting advice I have been given was by my dad. He always told me to be patient and give it time. Most of the bucks I’ve taken consisted of a lot of time and some good luck. Put in the time and effort and you will succeed in hunting and in life. 

My highlight hunting moment was when my dad shot his 2020 buck. The start of the season my dad had his eye on this particular buck and then dad came down with Covid and almost died. He was sick for months. I did my best to hunt this buck and try to keep it safe for my dad. I gave up time to hunt a 180”s buck so I could hunt with my dad when he recovered and it was well worth it. I was there when he took his buck and my nephew was with us as well that made it all the more special. It was a well-deserved buck after what my dad had been through. 

My future goals in this sport is to get more involved in the industry by filming more hunts to get my name out there. I already have a great sponsor named Buck Cage by Chris Walizer. I have been with them for 8 years and I truly stand behind their product. They have been great to me. In addition, their product is a great and easy tool to use. I would love to one day be on TV with my own show but so does everybody. I want to show those little girls with big dreams that women can do anything a man can do and better. I want to be a role model for those girls that use to be like me and be the woman I wish I had to look up to when I was younger.

Outside hunting, I like to draw or paint in different mediums like graphite, color pencil, charcoal, watercolor, and acrylic. However, out of all the mediums I love to play with clay! I am a talented artist and potter. I also love to read and shoot photography. I photo shoot portraits and weddings. I am also a beekeeper and I love horseback riding. I used to showjump in high school and college. 

If another woman were hesitant about getting into this sport, I would tell them that it’s addicting when they get started and the joys outweigh the lows. It is about connecting with nature, not just the pursuit of an animal. Finding yourself closer to your higher power and giving respect and kindness to mother earth and her animals. It is about feeding yourself and your family. It is about providing and being the provider over the stigma of male dominance in this sport. 

The best advice I could give is to other women with the same passions is to you do you. You be who you are no matter what others think. Does not matter the size of the deer you take, don’t let others put you down for providing. Do not let others hate get you down. Be the light in the dark. Uplift other women in this sport because there are not enough of us and supporting women hunters is what it’s all about. 

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