Writer: DANNY MOGLE // Photographer: ANDREW D. BROSIG and Courtesy
Susan Bergfeld got the not-so-subtle hint that she should take up deer hunting when her husband, Julius, gave her a shotgun as a wedding gift.
After learning hunting rules and safety and adding camouflage to her wardrobe, she was ready for her first hunt.
It did not go so well.
“Opening day (of deer season) finally arrived and at 6 a.m. I found myself perched in a tree blind,” she wrote in Texas Trophy Hunters Association magazine. “The wind was blowing and it was raining so hard the birds would not even stay in the tree with me. The deer were much smarter than we were that day and stayed bedded down all morning.”
Despite the rough start, Susan soon came to treasure the hunting outings with her husband and other couples and to appreciate the skill it takes to land a trophy buck.
One of her favorite keepsakes is a 1980-1981 winter edition of the Texas Trophy Hunters magazine. She is on the cover smiling from ear to ear. In her left hand she is holding a large turkey and in the right she is cradling the head of a 10-point buck. She killed both during a hunt in the Texas Hill Country.
When their three children – Susie, Andy and Brad – were born, they also began going on the hunting outings and became good hunters. Now that they have grandchildren, three generations of Bergfelds enjoy the tradition of hunting together.
MORE FEMALE HUNTERS
Susan took up hunting decades ago when few women ventured into the woods for the typical “men only” experience of bonding and roughing it at deer camps. Back then, it was more common for women to stay at home and take care of the kids.
Today women make up the fastest growing segment of the hunting world. The number of women who actively hunt has increased by more than 25 percent in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By some estimates, women now make up about 15 percent of all (not just deer) hunters.
The National Hunting and Fishing Day website reports that 72 percent more women are hunting with firearms today than five years ago.
Wildlife agencies, organizations, hunting clubs and retailers all have taken note in the rise of participation in hunting by women and are offering female-oriented classes and products. Becoming Outdoors Women was founded in 1991. The nonprofit group offers hands-on education classes in 41 states, including Texas. About 15,000 women take BOW’s skills training each year, says information from the organization.
Susan credits Julius with helping her become a good hunter. “He was such a great, enthusiastic teacher and he was happy to have me along.”
“We’ve always like doing things together and she wanted to be part of it (deer hunting trips),” says Julius, a land developer and property manager.
In the early 1980s, the Bergfelds bought 1,000 acres near Brownwood, Texas, and built on it a hunting lodge with all the comforts of home. They spend time there each year hunting, following deer herd management practices and enjoying time together in an escape from their busy lives.
“It’s like vacation time,” Susan says. “You have these experiences to share and to talk about the rest of your life.”
Some of Brad’s favorite childhood memories were made during hunting trips at the lodge. “We were always there on opening weekends and for Thanksgivings. You could count on it.”
Brad’s wife, Kaylyn, was introduced to hunting when she married into the family. She now counts being able to hunt with her husband as one of the blessing of life.
“I think I went five years without shooting a deer but while sitting in a deer stand (with Brad) we talked a lot. We were bonding. You get to know what’s really important. It (being together) is very rewarding.”
Kaylyn and Brad’s patience in the deer stand paid off last year. While hunting together, Kaylyn got off a clean shot and killed a huge 14-point trophy buck.
Going on hunting trips also is a family tradition for Mike Martin Jr., his wife, Crystal, daughter, Millie, 12, and sons, Will, 9, and Wyatt, 6.
Mike, an optician and business owner in Tyler, grew up in a family of hunters and took it for granted that he would pass his love for the outdoors to his children.
Now the Martins hunt each year at their deer lease near Brady, Texas.
Crystal says it became apparent fast that if she wanted to spend quality time with her husband away from the house, she would have to take up hunting. As for as their children were concerned, “not going (to the deer lease) has never been an option,” she says. “That’s all they’ve ever known … and they’ve always enjoyed it. For them, it’s fun.”
Millie is the latest in the family to show good hunting skills. She already has scored impressive kills, including a 9-point buck and, during a sanctioned and supervised hunt on public lands in New Mexico, a bull elk.
Mike insists hunting is not just about “the kill.” He says it’s about learning gun safety and proper hunting techniques (the state of Texas now requires all hunters to complete a hunter education course) and being selective about what and when to shoot.
“The last thing you want to do is leave one (deer) wounded. Hunting is all about herd management. I get upset, really upset, if someone wants to shoot a deer that’s not old enough.”
Crystal hopes they can continue to hunt together for years to come. “It will be a very sad day when we can no longer hunt,” she says.