It’s been a very busy couple of months with work, game season and obviously a rather epic break to the US, which has meant that blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. That being said, I have really been looking forward to writing about my recent trip to the US and what better time to put pen to paper than while resting in the Christmas break. Victoria Knowles-Lacks (Founder and owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I travelled out to the US in November for an unbelievably brilliant whirlwind multi-stop tour to Dallas, Kansas and Missouri. Our good friend Barbara Baird, from Women’s Outdoor News managed to get both Victoria and I invited on the Governor of Kansas Annual Pheasant Hunt ‘The Ringneck Classic’ in Oakley, earlier in the year and so the seedlings for our trip had been sown.
As we were heading over to the other side of the pond Barbara also arranged for us to meet the wonderful Judy Rhodes as well as allowing Victoria and I to drive across states to impose on her hospitality in Missouri and Jim Millensifer, Board Member for the Ringneck Classic, gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a day hunting on Prairie chickens! Vic and I had been looking forward to it from the moment we were first discussing it. Not only as a holiday and opportunity to hunt, but also being able to spend some time with some pretty awesome ladies from whom we could also learn a thing or two. As there is so much to write about, I will be writing blogs about each different part of the trip – so watch out in the coming weeks for the follow ups to this blog!
We flew out to Dallas on Saturday 12 November. On the Sunday (13th) afternoon, we were due to meet Michelle Cerino, a rising star in the shooting and fieldsports industry in the US, who would also be accompanying us to the Ringneck Classic. Michelle is managing editor for Women’s Outdoor News and also runs her own website Princess Gunslinger. Both Michelle and Barbara are so passionate about getting more women to enjoy the outdoors and are ambassadors for women’s shooting.
So, after a 10 hour flight, Vic and I arrived in Dallas Fort Worth a day earlier than we needed to land, but having both had hectic schedules recently, we thought we could take an extra day to relax and recover from the jet lag. After finding our hotel and dropping our bags we headed off to the Dallas mall for a mooch and some dinner. We stumbled across a TexMex restaurant and decided to get stuck in. Most of the food here was awesome although we were both rather traumatised by ‘queso’ – when you’ve eaten your body weight in fajitas the last thing you need staring back at you is a bowl full of guaranteed cardiac arrest! Victoria took much delight in the fact that I tried to order ‘refined’ beans oops. I genuinely thought they were called that and not ‘refried’! Also, with hindsight, if I’d have known how much margaritas, jalapenos and cheese we would end up having during our time in Dallas I would have spent more time in the gym and made sure I packed some Gaviscon…
Having taken the Saturday night nice and easy, we were keen to get up and going on Sunday and headed into Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys were playing that afternoon and so we were both keen to find a bar to watch it in. As you can imagine, when two British girls walk into a sports bar in Uptown Dallas and ask for the ‘wine list’, a fair amount of attention is going to be drawn. Vic and I had a whale of a time (for the rest of the day) with the locals who seemed very bemused that we had come over on a hunting trip, how we pronounced ‘gov’nor’ and the fact that one of us can rap surprisingly well…(I’ll let you guess who) but unfortunately for Michelle, this meant that the first time she met both of us, we were well lubricated on wine and gin and immediately forced a mug full of tepid prosecco into her hands that we had bought in the supermarket on our way home! We joked with her the next day that we thought she may have left us there and got on the first flight out of the state but she stayed. A true friendship was cemented and we headed off for the day on Monday to Southfork and Dealey Plaza, the location of JFK’s assassination.
In fact, I would like to say a big thank you to Michelle for being our carer for the trip, for all her driving, top quality banter and not getting annoyed when I called “shotgun” (which means I could sit in the front of the car) but then would fall asleep. But most importantly, for taking us for lunch at Cracker Barrel and translating ‘biscuits’ and ‘gravy’ into English. As a Northerner, my love for gravy was ingrained in me from the moment I was born and the language barrier could have caused me real problems if I hadn’t learnt that this is like a sausage flavoured bread sauce to be served with ‘biscuit’ (like a less sweet scone). And ‘grits’ too which is like a porridge but can be eaten savoury or sweet and used for any meal. One of the funniest moments of the trip was the morning of our Prairie Chicken hunt when Vic accidentally added ‘gravy’ to her Quaker Oats – “Sads look! There’s already Oatmeal here!” – and then nearly spat her breakfast out across the table.
Also, let me just say that Southfork was my idea. I am a huge Dallas fan and I am proud to say that I was the only person on our tour to have watched the new version of Dallas. Yes I sang the theme tune the entire way round. Yes I took LOADS of pictures. Yes it was a highlight of my trip and thank you to Michelle and Vic for letting me achieve one of my life goals and getting kissed by a longhorn #sorrynotsorry
On Tuesday, Barbara flew in for a few days with us in Dallas and we also had the great pleasure of meeting Judy Rhodes. Judy doesn’t need any kind of introduction to anyone in Dallas and the founder of DIVA WOW (more to come on this amazing group of women and Judy’s revolutionary impact on the shooting scene in the US in future blog posts). Judy had
thought of everything and had a great 48 hours planned for us – off to the stockyards, an amazing BBQ for lunch, cowboy boot shopping, dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant and Dallas Gun Club to get ready for the Ringneck. But one problem; we lacked Dallas ‘bling’. So off to the shops we went! Buying bling is just as addictive as it sounds and after a few attempts by me to find the more plain items in the shops only to be told by Judy to “go hard or go home y’all” I soon embraced the glitter and made some purchases which I am wearing around London even now! And once we were in the spending mindset it seemed only fair that we continued the spree and visited Bass Pro. This shop is absolutely amazing and Dad and Jack received souvenirs in the bag load, on top of the lengthy shopping lists I had received from both of them, as well as a Realtree camo bib for when baby Blowers arrives in January 🙂
Judy also arranged for us to have lunch at a local BBQ. Wow. Quite possibly my most favourite meal of the trip – although Jim’s (Millensifer) Pheasant Piccata was a strong competitor – meat, meat with a side of meat served with a goblet of beer! The interior decor was covered with mounts and packed with locals. Dallas had really impressed me and I was loving every minute of it, but it also made me stop and think about the differing attitude to hunting in the UK.
Earlier this year, there was a TV programme on Channel 4 about female hunters from the US. The programme itself isn’t relevant here but I mention it as one of the hunters said that most of the online abuse she receives actually comes from people in the UK. While I can imagine that the mounts in the BBQ place would not be frowned upon as such in the UK due to the lack of association between animals and them as a food source, I cannot imagine Bass Pro and Cabelas stores being allowed to exist unchallenged in the UK. Nearly every restaurant, bar and shop I walked in to had a sign that said “Hunters Welcome”. Cabela’s and Bass Pro, other hunting shops and taxidermists are visible, easy to find and advertised freely. There is a clear understanding of the role that hunting plays in conservation but it is also a way of life for many. We know that hunting and conservation come hand in hand – one cannot thrive without the other – but this is not appreciated or understood in the UK on such a general level as in the US and so we find ourselves having to defend our lifestyle and passion. I would not be so naive as to generalise and say that everyone I encountered on my trip supported or understood hunting, but there is certainly an entirely different attitude that is evident from the moment you touch down in Texas.
Wherever Vic and I went, people wanted to speak to ‘the Brits’ and listen to our accents. We were asked on numerous occasions what had brought us to the US and we answered honestly – we were here on a hunting trip. From the barmaid and locals at Big Al’s sports bar in Uptown Dallas to the airport attendant on my return connecting flight in Missouri; other than being slightly amused that two British ladies had flown over to hunt, no one batted an eyelid.
This is a stark contrast to my usual conversations back in the City where, when out socialising or even in a professional context, usually a few glasses in, someone will say to me how much they disagree with shooting (even though most are meat eaters). I encounter on a daily basis people who do not understand fieldsports, hunting or the conservation efforts that those of us in the industry support and commit to. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
So what do I think could be done to bring us more in line? For a start, hunting is in our nature and is part of day to day life for many – and there is no apologising for that. There is actually a range of T-shirts as modelled by some high profile hunters in the US emblazoned with “never apologise for being a hunter”. This could be seen as arrogance, but the logic is there. If it is not something to be ashamed of then why keep it quiet? Also, hunters encourage non-hunters to understand. This is something we’re getting better at. The fieldsports industry has never been as accessible as it is now and it only continues to grow. But from a hunting perspective, the more we can do to encourage people to get out there and experience game shooting, pest control, deer stalking, fishing and to educate as to why this is necessary – the wider the understanding demographic will be.
My main take away from my time in Dallas is to embrace life and care less about what people think about you. To be proud of taking responsibility for your food and the conservation that accompanies it and this is something I am trying to actively engage in since returning to the UK. I am going out of my way to cook game for friends who have never tried it. I take the time to explain why hunting is necessary. I have stepped up my efforts to get more people into shooting – to try it and respect it. And I am making the time to get back to blogging as I have had far further reach with this blog than I could ever have imagined. I have been told of groups of women who have tried shooting for the first time or of couples who have started going game shooting together because they saw my blog! I am going to continue to promote my way of life. I am going to try and be more Dallas.
Next week’s Blog – Dallas Gun Club and getting ready for the Ringneck Classic.