To celebrate Mother’s Day, all week long we’ll be publishing a series of stories all about moms––about their companionship in the outdoors, about them encouraging us to hunt and fish, and about how we wouldn’t be where we are, or who we are, without them. Fittingly, we’re calling this series “Thanks, Mom.” 

It was a sweltering September morning in eastern North Carolina—a stark contrast to the cool, crisp mornings we were accustomed to for deer hunting. My youngest daughter, Emma, and I were perched in one of our favorite spots on the local public game lands, a dip in the terrain that deer often frequented. The humidity was already stifling, and I was hopeful that a doe would appear, seeking respite from the heat. 

This wasn’t the first time my daughter and I had hunted together. Emma had spent plenty of mornings with me on a deer stand—both of us shivering quietly in the predawn cold, watching the woods slowly brighten from tones of blue and gray to more vibrant shades of brown and gold. Those were mornings very unlike this one. The weather was completely different, and our roles had been completely reversed. 

Emma enjoys a moment in the woods during a hunt. Alice Jones Webb

Emma had my beloved Winchester 94 balanced across her lap. It was a hand-me-down from my grandfather and my favorite deer rifle. I felt almost naked in the woods without it, but it was North Carolina’s Youth Deer Hunting Day, so I was forced to sit empty-handed.  

This was the first time Emma had carried a gun into the woods. While her brothers and older sister had toted guns at much younger ages, Emma had been hesitant. She had been with me or her siblings when we filled tags, but she had reservations about pulling the trigger herself. She understood that taking the life of an animal was a weighty decision, one that, until this hunt, had felt too heavy for her small shoulders.  

I hadn’t pressured her. Instead, I enjoyed her company on so many frosty fall hunts. Emma was much better at sitting still than her brothers had been. She didn’t seem to crave high levels of action. She was just content to sit and soak up the woods.  

Still, I was thrilled when, at 15, she announced she was ready to shoulder both my grandfather’s lever action. As a diehard outdoorswoman, I had hoped to pass on my passion not only to my sons, but also to my daughters.  

I had to work the evening before our hunt, so my husband went to the local sporting goods store with Emma to pick up her tags. “Y’all have fun tomorrow,” the guy behind the gun counter had told her as he handed her crisp, newly printed game tags. 

Emma admires a doe that her brother Daniel tagged. Alice Jones Webb

“My dad doesn’t hunt,” Emma told him. “I’m going with my mom.” 

Later that night, as Emma and I were double-checking our gear for the next day’s hunt and after she’d narrated the exchange between her and the man at the sporting goods store, I asked, “What did he say when you told him that?”

“At first, he just kind of stared at me with his mouth open like he couldn’t think of what to say,” she said. “Then he told me he thought that was special.” 

She had received a similar response from the game warden who taught her hunter-safety course a few weeks earlier. “I don’t get it,” she said. “It’s not that different to go hunting with your mom.” 

I wish she were right. 

As a child, the only other female hunter I knew was my Aunt Kim. While the number of women hunters is growing, we are still in the minority. Even fewer are hunters who are also mothers. As an adult, I have yet to encounter another woman hunting alone in the woods. Occasionally, I have seen one accompanying a husband or boyfriend, but few of them carried a rifle.  

But to Emma, a woman hunting was as natural as the sun coming up in the east every morning. Emma had seen me regularly wake up before dawn, shove a gun or a bow in the truck, and head off into the woods. Sometimes, I would have one of her older siblings in tow. Sometimes, I would be all by myself.  

She had watched me gut deer, skin squirrels, and butcher wild turkeys. To her, hunting to put food on the table wasn’t relegated to menfolk. In her world, it was women’s work.  

Emma and I sat through that Youth Day morning without seeing a deer. Just before lunch, as the temperature turned particularly balmy, we decided to head back to the truck, soaked in sweat. I had promised her lunch at Big Jim’s––a back-roads gas station frequented by local hunters with the best chicken tenders in all of Edgecombe County, if not the entire world. On our way, we passed a father and his two young sons, both weighed down by too-big shotguns.  

“Good morning,” I offered as our paths crossed on the trail. 

The dad didn’t offer back the expected Southern courtesy of a reply. Instead, all three turned to watch us head up the trail, mouths open as if we had somehow rendered them speechless. They would have been less surprised to have passed Bigfoot on the trail.  

I’ll give Dad a pass. He wasn’t expecting to see two women hunting in the woods. Hopefully, his sons won’t be shocked when they pass Emma and my someday-granddaughter dragging out a deer on a future North Carolina Youth Day.