I am a Hunter

By Asha Aiello

Do you ever feel like an imposter? Did you know there’s a whole syndrome for that? It’s characterized by feeling like everyone around you knows exactly what they’re doing, and that at some point, you’ll get called out for being fake. It doesn’t matter what your job title is; you can be a CEO, a graduate student, or frontline worker and have these recurring feelings.

Will they find out I don’t know as much as I seem to? Do I really know what I’m doing? Am I a real hunter? Welcome to my inner monologue.

I’ve been hunting for roughly ten years. That may sound impressive, but the first few were mostly me traipsing around in the woods. I’d tag along with my husband (then boyfriend) as he taught himself how to hunt blacktails after growing up hunting whitetails in Michigan. I was loud, whiny, definitely not in shape, and had the wrong gear. You have to start somewhere, right? 

If you’re not familiar with blacktail deer, they’re not-so-affectionately known as “grey ghosts of the forest.” They’re one of the hardest deer to hunt in the contiguous United States as they tend towards nocturnal movement and are notoriously hard to find. They love to move when it’s wet, stormy, and absolutely miserable outside. It’s hard to fight through fallen timber, leaves, branches, and more to track these amazing animals and if you get a shot, it’s usually just that – one shot. Add in ego and the fact that you’re a couple hunting together, and it’s a recipe for either cementing a partnership or both people running in opposite directions.

Through all of this, there’s constant introspection. I watch lifelong hunters, women and men, on social media. They make it seem like this whole thing is easy. This is what makes me question myself. I feel like I understand something, but clearly, I’m still doing it wrong because I struggle. I’ve missed shots. I’ve cried. I’ve had days where I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a banjo when we were waterfowl hunting. Do these personalities on social media experience the same things I do, or is hunting really effortless for them?

After ten years, my repertoire has grown. I’ve been very fortunate to have talented, kind hunters and anglers in my life that I can ask questions to and learn from without fear of repercussions or social media shaming. I’m learning how to call waterfowl. I’m working on being a better long-distance shooter; actually, just a better shooter overall. Do I achieve perfection all the time? No, but I’m always gaining knowledge and striving to be better. I adjusted my attitude, upgraded my gear, and became a professional at hunting in the rain. I’ve killed blacktail, mule deer, wild turkey, ducks, geese, bobcat, coyote, and pronghorn. I’ve hunted pheasant and bear. I fish for walleye, bass, perch, salmon, steelhead, and whatever else I can throw a lure or a fly at.

In 2019, I was fortunate enough to harvest my first antelope in Wyoming. He is my trophy. I hunted hard for him; he is an old warrior. There isn’t a day (even as I sit here, writing) that I don’t look at him and smile.

In Oregon, hunting tags are distributed through a point system. We plan our hunts accordingly each year. That means I didn’t hunt deer in 2020 and focused on waterfowl in the fall after missing a bear in the spring. However, we did go back to Wyoming and hunt antelope in a different unit and in vastly different conditions. It was more crowded, there was less public land, and, good golly, it was a whopping 10 degrees when we arrived. Things had changed, including my ability to upgrade my gear to a fitted-for-me Kifaru pack and well-fitting, waterproof Kennetrek boots. Why do I mention this?

I’ve had good gear over the years, but since we delved into DIY backcountry hunting in Hells Canyon three years ago, a lot had to change. Previously, I made do with small or ill-fitting packs. The more we expanded our hunting lifestyle, though, the more my gear needed to reflect that.

We were on day three of a three and a half day-long hunt, and after a day of being partially snowed out and forced to do a lot of driving and short hiking and glassing, we agreed to hunt an area that was hilly and where we’d seen antelope previously, but it was going to be a hike.

We set out on a morning that was five degrees. I’d conveniently forgotten my gloves. But the views were stunning. It was silent. That’s exactly why I love Wyoming so much – the quiet, the peace, and the inherent feeling of being connected to the land because there’s very little interference from the outside world. We hiked over six miles in one morning, never sitting for longer than 15 minutes or we’d lose feeling in various appendages and returned to the truck to strategize for the afternoon.

As we were stripping off gear and organizing our next steps, Dominic stopped me and asked how I was feeling. He asked me how my pack felt. It stopped me in my tracks. It took until that moment – when I realized I barely felt my pack, my feet were tired but warm, my gear was solid, and I had just hiked six miles over mild hills with very little effort – that I felt like a hunter. To top it all off, we punched all three of our antelope tags, filling our coolers with big, beautiful backstraps and meat that will provide healthy, organic food for our family for a year.

I felt valid. I felt like I’d conquered something, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. I’ve hiked Hells Canyon, packed out 200-pound bucks with friends, skinned coyotes and deer, and harvested countless waterfowl. But it was that moment I felt I’d earned the title of “hunter.” I had no buck in hand, no meat on my back – but suddenly, it all came together – I was a hunter.

This newfound and burgeoning confidence lead me to go, as a leader, on a women’s waterfowl hunt two weeks later. Did I shoot perfect? Nope – shooting over big water was an adjustment. But I had fun. I was able to hunt with others, give advice, and at one point, help someone clear her shotgun safely. Suddenly, I was the one someone looked to as a source of help and advice and leadership.

Do I still doubt myself? Yes. But I have learned to dig deep for that well of newfound confidence. I don’t have to present a perfect image to show others how to be a hunter or what the journey is like. I don’t have to showcase the perfection of the kill or the animal – the pursuit is enough. I’m valid. I have knowledge and experience. I don’t have to know it all to share be able to share my experiences with you, how Kennetreks fit me perfectly, or how having a good fitting pack makes the difference in how long and far you can hunt.

Ultimately, it took me ten full years to stop feeling like an imposter. I love this journey and wouldn’t change a thing (okay, the shot I missed on that bear last spring), but just because I didn’t feel like one for years, it didn’t mean I wasn’t out chasing the skills, the knowledge, and the practice. Perfection isn’t the goal – the journey is.