Written by: Ashley Hlebinsky
New to Hunting? Trust me, the Struggle is Real.
I have been professionally researching firearms history for over a decade. As a result people assume, one, I must be a great shooter and two, I’ve been hunting. First off, no one should ever assume an academic historian is good at anything other than pontificating ad nauseum on a subject people care little about. Secondly, I have been hunting…now…but that was an uphill battle.
I did not grow up around guns. In fact, the first time I held and later fired a gun was in the same year; I was 18 and starting to study the subject in college. I’m from Pittsburgh, which is known for having a thriving hunting population, but that had little influence on my life growing up. As a child, I mortifyingly remember knocking on the door of a hunter’s home and asking him to sign a petition against a white-tailed deer cull. I don’t remember how it went, but my guess was not well. As I became more and more known for my work with firearms history, I took learning to shoot historic and modern guns seriously, but never had someone willing to take me hunting. I had a lot of colleagues during radio or TV interviews offer, but they never actually followed through. This may be one of the reasons why I married my husband – the first person to finally take me hunting when I was in my mid-20s.
I had already been living in Wyoming – another hunting bastion – but it wasn’t until my husband bid on a blackbuck hunt in Argentina at an event that I heard the words, “We’re going hunting.” While the trip was an amazing experience, anytime I talk about my first hunt I feel like people are thinking, “Oh you poor thing - privileged basic white girl goes hunting in Argentina for her first time.” - and you bet your ass I wore leggings. Unfortunately, that’s a true story involving me not understanding my guide and thinking going for a “walk” meant I don’t need to wear my hunting gear, resulting in my husband harvesting his blackbuck while I crawled through pricklers in leggings and a hot pink flannel shirt. I left the Ugg boots back at the ranch.
Ashley, pictured here in her infamous jeggings on her very first hunting trip.
Being a professional firearms enthusiast and professional hunter are two different things, as Ashley learned preparing for her first hunt.
All joking aside though, I found getting into hunting to be one of the more intimidating tasks of learning about guns and being a gun owner. I’m a city girl, so in no world should I, nor many people for that matter, just go out on my own and hope to figure it out along the way. I had been on two major hunts before getting my Hunter Education certificate and even that stressed me out. My former Assistant Curator, Danny Michael, and I took the part online/part in-person class. I remember us driving four hours to Casper, Wyoming to take the class. We studied the entire way because I read that there was a pre-test and if you didn’t pass you were sent home. That was a long drive to be told thanks but no thanks. So, boy were we surprised when not only did a pre-test not happen, but we were the only adults in the class. Having survived Hunters Ed, we went on our own separate journeys to become hunters.
Over the years, I have hunted black buck antelope, bull elk, pigs, Javelina, and notably – of which I am most proud – a badger. I am constantly learning about the equipment I use and the clothes I need for various hunts. I also asked our guide on an elk hunt if I could dress it in the field. They looked at me like I was crazy and being so small, I looked like Luke inside a tauntaun, but it was such an amazingly sacred moment that it put so much of hunting into perspective for me.
I was never anti-hunting – well, maybe I was when I knocked on that hunter’s door – but I also never really got it. I knew all the history of conservation and the science behind it as an academic, but I still didn’t quite understand why people would want to hunt or how they could take an animal’s life. It wasn’t until I hunted for the first time that the beauty of nature, the spirit of the animal, and the respect in harvesting and using all parts of the animal clicked with me. I wish that hunting is an experience everyone could have, even if the person didn’t want to hunt but just went along with a hunter. I often get frustrated because hunting is so difficult for those with interest, but no mentor.
So, if you’re an experienced hunter reading this article and cringing at my initial ineptitude, take someone out hunting and teach them the way.
If you’re someone trying to get into hunting, here’s some advice: everyone lies about how easy it is (and their abilities), so don’t feel intimidated. I’ve already done all the embarrassing things so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Ashley, now an experienced and honorable hunter, learned the value of not only good gear, but a good mentor.
Ashley Hlebinsky is a Curator Emerita & Senior Firearms Scholar for the Cody Firearms Museum Founding Curator, an Adjunct Scholar of Firearms History, Technology & Culture at the Firearms Policy Coalition. She is President of The Gun Code, LLC - a Firearms History Consultancy, Co-Host of Discovery Channel’s Master of Arms, and Founding President of the Association of Firearms History and Museums.