The first time Georgia Pellegrini killed a turkey with her hands, she wanted to become a vegan. The investment banker turned chef was required to end the bird's life as part of her job at a farm-to-table restaurant in the Hudson Valley. But instead of causing her to swear off animal products altogether, killing the turkey woke a dormant instinct in her. Now she's an accomplished hunter, and she has tips to share with you.
Georgia decided that if she wanted to continue being a meat eater, which she did, she needed to take part in every process of the meal. "I'm a chef, I'm an omnivore, and I'm a human, and I wanted to pay the full karmic price of my meal," she says. "For me, food tastes so much better when I really know what happened before it came to my plate. So I took it one step further and learned how to hunt."
In her new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, out today, Georgia chronicles her journey though the U.S. and England, learning how to hunt everything from elk to squirrel, and tells stories about the people and recipes she encounters along the way. Here are some of Georgia's tips for getting yourself in the hunting game.
Acclimate to the outdoors
Bake your own bread, grow herbs in your apartment, and go camping. Forage berries in the woods with a friend who knows what she is looking for. "Taking charge of what you bring to the table is empowering," Georgia says. She grew up in the Hudson Valley on the same land as her great-grandfather, raising chickens and honeybees, fishing for trout, and learning the concept of sustainability. Her great-aunt knew the name of every plant on their property. "Using your hands, being physical in the outdoors, and holding your own without any help whatsoever is a wonderful lifestyle choice," she says. Georgia knows that not everyone is able to hunt, but thinks that if more people do, it will change the quality of food omnivores expect.
Visit a skeet shooting range or gun club, which can be often be found nearby, even in urban areas (Thunder Mountain Trap & Skeet is only 40 miles out of New York City). Get used to holding a gun and the rhythm of shooting. Ask other shooters for tips on how to use it. Sharpen your hand-eye coordination and aim by shooting clay skeets. Georgia spends a lot of time alone at shooting ranges, perfecting her technique at her own pace.
Pick your clothes and gear
Find gear that is comfortable. Georgia doesn't buy her clothes at hunting stores because she says they are made by and for men, and don't fit women properly. (Georgia is trying to start her own line of outdoor clothing and gear designed specifically for women.) Instead, she wears her own clothes in the field — usually jeans, tall river boots, and several layers of flannel shirts under a tweed jacket. Don't be embarrassed to use a rifle that fits your size, which may be small. "You don't need to fit in," she says. "You just need to find what works for you."
Find a hunting partner
Ask family members who hunt and clean animals if you could come along. "More often than not, you know people who love to hunt," says Georgia, who usually meets her hunting partners through friends. Only take advice from people you trust. You may also need to get used to being the only woman around, as Georgia did. She only saw women at the post-hunt meals. "Even though there were a few unsavory characters, overall the men have been tremendously accepting and thrilled to have me participate," she says. Her scariest experience was when hunting elk in Wyoming with a man who repeatedly put her in illegal and dangerous situations. By the time she realized she needed to leave, she was hundred of miles from the closest town. She called around trying to rent a car and ultimately got in touch with the owners of a car repair shop two hours away, who insisted they drive out and pick her up themselves.
Follow your instincts
Under pressure, do what feels right to you. Even as an experienced hunter, Georgia still finds that hunting partners want to give her advice. "Hunting is a very personal thing," she says. "Listen to instruction that's wise, but remember that in the moment you have to filter out the ego." Only you can know the right moment to pull the trigger. "Men are out there channeling their caveman instincts, and it's important to feel centered to your own cavewoman instincts," she says.
Encourage your female friends
Georgia says there has been a sharp rise in women interested in the outdoors. "You can be girly and still do this kind of stuff," she says. Citing Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, who also ruled the moon and birthing, Georgia says that women belong outdoors. "Women have their own sensitive, patient, and careful nature, which makes us really wonderful in the wild," she says. She is now teaching women how to fly-fish and shoot skeet in Texas. "Participating in the cycle of life is very spiritual. To me, respecting your food and not wasting any part of it is a very womanly thing," she says. "For some reason we now associate self-sufficiency as being a very middle-aged, white male thing, when the truth is, the outdoors are part of all our beginnings. Tapping into that every once in a while makes us better people in this world; it makes us feel more alive."
Alyson Sheppard is an editor at Popular Mechanics magazine. You can follow her on Twitter or contact her via email.
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