Members of the newly formed Thumbs Up Women on the Wing Chapter are (lt-rt) Laurie Wackerly, Leah Zajac, Tonya Sies and Tina Iceberg. The ladies own and train their hunting dogs. Sies is holding her 3-month-old Spinoni pup “in training.” The white dog is also her Spinoni, and the rest are wirehaired Griffons owned by Laurie Wackerly and Tina Iceberg.

Hunting nationwide has seen steadily decreasing hunter numbers in recent years. States have been trying to recruit new hunters, and Michigan, for example, has developed a mentor hunting license for youth hunters nine years old and under, and an apprentice hunting license for 10 years old and older, which includes adults. There are also special youth-related hunts focused on getting new generations involved, all of which I fully support.

I also fully support a new trend in the hunter statistics which represents women becoming more involved in hunting, as well as other shooting pastimes. The fact is, women are now the fastest-growing demographic in the world of hunting (and shooting), which I believe shines a very bright light on the future of hunting. Manufacturers have taken note of this fact, and today, there are hunting-related garments, footwear and shooting equipment solely designed with women in mind. Before this, women had to deal with garments designed solely for men, which didn’t offer much comfort. Women are proving that hunting is no longer a male-dominated outdoor pastime, and I have noticed they are quite earnest and serious in how they approach matters.

Pheasants Forever (PF) realized all of this and officially started the Women on the Wing program in 2018, and it has been growing in leaps and bounds ever since. The fundraising banquets are called Women, Wine and Wild Game and are designed to attract new members and hopefully start new chapters, which I discovered sure can happen.

After attending an event provided by a newly formed Women on the Wing Chapter in Oakland County, some ladies decided to form their own chapter in the Thumb, which they have aptly named “Thumbs UP Women on the Wing,” which is based in Tuscola County. Upon this discovery, I immediately contacted their president, Leah Zajac, who invited me to join them on a recent pheasant hunt taking place at the Dead-End Pheasant Farm near Almont. As its name implies, this hunting preserve is uniquely located at the very end of a gravel road and is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Rocky and Debbie Lesner. Entailing 260 acres, it is divided up into six separate hunting fields, with groups of hunters, each having their own field, which prevents being interrupted by other hunters.

When I arrived, Rocky Lesner was talking to the four ladies I was about to meet and explain the lay of the ground and what to expect. Quite often hunters coming to a hunting preserve such as this require a guide and a dog to perform the necessaries required, but I soon discovered this wasn’t the case at all. Three of the ladies had their dogs, which they had each personally trained, and the fourth was in the process of shopping for a dog. They also had their shotguns, which entailed two side-by-side, one in 16 ga and the other in 20 ga and two 12 ga semiautos. And I would soon see firsthand all the ladies knew how to shoot.

I’ve been training and working with bird dogs ever since I was a kid, and I know good dogs when I see them at work. Genetics can, of course, play a key role, but the most important part of the equation is proper training. I’ve witnessed some “blue blood” dogs in the field that weren’t worth a hoot because their owners hadn’t taken the time to do matters the right way. In this case, the ladies had obviously taken the time to do matters right their way. I observed some mighty fine dog work involving a couple of “old world” hunting dog breeds, which have recently been gaining popularity in North America. One was an Italian Spinoni, and three were (French) wirehaired Pointing Griffons, which were selected by the ladies because these breeds are well known for hunting closer and slower than some other breeds, which are known to be a bit “high-octane.” I must agree, slower and closer is an excellent way to go, often with dogs being more thorough by not ranging out, and such always works for me! It is the way I train my dogs.

All I carried on this hunt was a camera and a walking stick while I shadowed the ladies’ progress in the field featuring dense standing sorghum. I was thoroughly impressed with their natural warm camaraderie, which was evident in the field, as well as the full cooperation amongst them in the hunting maneuvers applied and in approaching dogs on point. The dogs also worked great together as a cohesive team and “honored” each other whenever on point, which is always an exciting moment to witness.

The ladies soon got into the shooting, and I saw rooster pheasants flushing up and cackling, which was followed by a staccato of shots, with the birds folding and falling, then quickly being expertly retrieved by the dogs. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the entire affair and it was quite evident the ladies knew how to “read” their working dogs’ actions and how to approach when the dogs locked up on point. I wouldn’t hesitate to go hunting with these ladies and their dogs anywhere, anytime and their camaraderie shared in the field is infectious.

Another reason for hunting with them is when it is lunchtime, and the ladies drop the tailgates on their trucks and set everything out to share, including a portable grill, for a genuine onsite potluck in the field. In no time at all, there was the smell of venison burgers being grilled, a big pot of hot chicken and wild rice soup was set out, along with fresh fruit, veggies and homemade sugar cookies to die for! This sure beats my typical cold sandwich and a thermos of lukewarm coffee. Yep, folks, I could very easily adapt to hunting with these ladies.

During lunch, I enjoyed listening to their conversation discussing guns, dogs, hunting vests and what are the best boots, as well as what has been proven not to work as advertised. It was an open and warm atmosphere for sharing opinions and ideas. As for me, I was happy I had some new folks to tell some of my tall tales to, and it was an honor sharing the field with these ladies.

The Thumbs Up Women on the Wing are already planning another hunt together soon and are also planning on assisting with the Thumb Chapter of Pheasants Forever Banquet this year, which I view as a very positive factor. I’m already looking forward to attending! For more info about Thumbs Up Women on the Wing, contact Leah Zajac at leahizajac@gmail.com. For more information about Women on the Wing and Women, Wine and Wild Game events nearest you, contact Marissa Jensen at mjensen@
pheasantsforever.org.