Wilderness to Table: a title of a blog site I created to share my wild game recipes. But little did I know that it would soon be my lifestyle. Harvesting food myself, cooking it and serving it to my family has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. . . until I found myself in New Mexico. I was asked to be a guest chef/guide for Vermejo, a Ted Turner Reserve in New Mexico, for the second annual woman’s Forest to Table event. I walked in thinking, yeah this will be fun, even though I have done these types of events before. However, this event hit me completely differently.
Let’s start with the Vermejo property – it is simply stunning. the reserve is pristine, and their accommodations are divine. The main building, Casa Grande, is a 25,000 square-foot stone mansion that was once Ted Turner’s private quarters. You feel as though you are transported right back to the 1920’s, its heavenly, and by far the best accommodations I have ever had while hunting. Then, there is the view. Casa Grande overlooks just a small portion of the reserve – basically a teaser for what is to come for the guests. Vermejo is over 550,000 acres of picturesque lands, with 19 fishable lakes, and is home to wildlife such as elk, bison, black bears, and mountain lions. Vermejo is perfect for the avid fisherman as well, offering fly fishing for the beautiful Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
The Forest to Table event brought women from all over the country to New Mexico to try their hand hunting. The attendees had never hunted before, which was truly exciting for me. I would have loved to have had a women mentor me when I first started hunting. To prepare the women, the program included discussion on hunting’s role in conservation, safety instruction and one-on-one time with long range shooting professionals from Best of the West Arizona. These women were able to shoot guns that most avid hunters dream of, and once proficient, were set to hunt with them too.
Now comfortable with their firearms, and with bellies full from an amazing dinner the night before, we set out into the morning wilderness. The night prior I had chatted with the ladies about taking an animal, advising that it is no easy feat. It was certainly a very emotional experience for me when I first harvested an animal. It’s a hard thing to do, as it takes great skill, but it also requires courage for a woman to step out of their comfort zone and harvest an animal that they see as beautiful. Most don’t realize that hunters are animal lovers. We respect the animal and its life, and it’s something that should never be taken for granted.
So, with as much encouragement as I could give, it was time for the ladies to hunt. And oh boy did they! With the gun safety and training they’d received earlier, these women were beyond excited to test their skills. And they didn’t disappoint. Some were able to bring in a cow elk the first day out, while others managed to not only take a cow elk but felt so empowered by the experience that they went on to take a bison. But the harvest was not the magical part – watching these women grow from the experience was. It changed their life in a way they never knew it would. Some felt beyond proud they even managed to pull the trigger, and some went on to talk about what is next in line for their future hunting adventures. Seeing how excited and happy they were was so rewarding. Inspiring women to get outdoors, get out of their comfort zone, and see how their food actually gets to their table is exactly why I love what I do.
This trip wound up being different from any other event I have hosted. The comradery these women gained, the friendships they created, the support they gave one another was one of the most remarkable things I have ever witnessed. This event not only managed to change their lives through hunting but was also able to bring women together in the purest, most loving way.
I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of the memories these women made while on their first hunt. I felt so proud of each one of them. Seeing some of them walk in the first day 99% sure they were not going to be able to take an animal and then watching them walk out at the end so proud of themselves for doing something they thought they could accomplish, was truly the very best thing in the world. Vermejo is not just a vacation or hunting destination, I have discovered it’s all about connection. Connection to the land, to people and to animals, and that is what makes their Forest to Table experience so worth it.