Yoga for Duckhunters

from the studio to the tidal flats

Month: March 2014


Without thinking much about it, my day starts in a darkened bedroom. The yawn of an English setter lends a voice to my stretching of arms. Half-asleep, the faucet in the bathroom runs cold while I stand bare-footed in front of the mirror, daring not to look. My short hair is standing on end. My eyes are smudged black from a forgetting to remove yesterday’s mascara. I had crashed into bed recklessly again. The cold water feels good on my puffy eyes and hot skin. If someone asked me why I felt a need to “put myself together” before the office or a day in the field, it’s because they haven’t seen me in the morning.

Source:’s long been a fantasy of mine to leave the civilized world and live alone for a year in the wild. There, I would get wooly and wise. The wreckage of my morning looks would be purified by abstinence of all things contaminated and contaminating. Free of alcohol, espresso, and mascara, I would instead breathe mountain air and feel the sun and wind on my skin. My eyebrows would surely grow together as nature intended, but I would see my image in the river and not know the difference. Such are dreams.

The civilized world, on the other hand, provides a set of problems and solutions that do not exist in nature: the economy requires a vocation; the sedentary life requires a gym; the food industry requires a diet; pain and boredom require medicine and entertainment; relationships require excessive verbalization and therapy; time requires time-saving devices; the home environment requires cleaning products and organization; technology requires meditation; safety requires security; and, “education is the cure for imagination.” When asked if I wear makeup while hunting, it seems an arbitrary question given everything else a human brings (or ought to leave behind?).

Conservation, in the hunting arena, is the way in which hunters value, restore, conserve, and share wild resources. It is the marriage of the human world with the wild. My love of hunting began with a desire to recognize my dependence on other creatures to survive and encompassed the benefits of doing something difficult with skill and reverence. Until asked, whether or not I wore makeup in the field did not occur to me. It was something I put on like a clean shirt. However, the discussion with other hunters on the subject grew to include such topics as vanity, fashion, and the sexual objectification of women.

Those discussions are the sort of thing that make me want to run to the mountains. There is little difference between a man who purchases a gentleman’s upland hunting outfit to wear in the field and a woman who puts on a little bit of makeup. The idea that we should go afield un-washed, un-shaved, un-clothed, and sans made-up doesn’t make complete sense. Should every article of our person and personage be held to such a high level of scrutiny and sliding scale of judgment?

Interestingly, while discussing the subject with women hunters, many deny wearing makeup in the field, but wear it nonetheless. It’s a polite deceit that is something like saying to an unexpected house guest “I didn’t have time to clean the house” when the eyes of every taxidermy mount shine and say otherwise. Some women don’t wear makeup because it is not their idea of beauty. They leave the modern world to breathe and experience the outdoor environment. Still others admit to wearing it because they look the way I do in the morning and want to spare the world the ravages of a work-week and night spent face down and drooling on a pillow.

source of image:


about face

Upland hunting is often looked upon as a genteel activity. In the days of old, hunters were seen wearing tweed jackets and tailored brush pants. They shot fine double-barrel shotguns and worked over well-trained and groomed pointing dogs. This upland hunter paid close attention to appearance whether he had money to spend, as he often did, or not. But recently a discussion amongst upland hunters on whether or not an attractive female hunter should wear makeup on a grouse hunt revealed a compelling divide over representations of women hunters in the field. What does a woman upland hunter look like? Does she wear makeup? Why and why not?

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fromenthal

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fromenthal













The aesthetic difference between a well-groomed, outfitted, and physically fit hunter and one who has dirty nails, well-worn gear, and a face spent in the mountain sun has little to do with the solace such a hunter finds in the field. While fashion, style, and beauty involve personal preference, they are disconcerting when they move into the realm of frivolity, vanity, or pressure for a woman to “look” a particular way. The wearing of makeup is as old as archeological evidence of hunting, but that has little to do with what happens in front of the mirror for today’s female hunter.

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”
~ Rene Magritte

Elaina Spraker leads the Kenai Peninsula Women on Target and Teens on Target firearm education clinics in Alaska, and harvesting wild food has always been a part of her life. For Elaina, makeup is a way of enhancing her appearance, and she wears it at the range as well as in the field. “Being part of wild, beautiful, scenic places makes me feel obliged to enhance my appearance.” She hunts with her husband and has enjoyed the look on his face when he discovered she had brought her makeup along on a sheep hunt. “The look on his face is priceless,” Elaina said, “and even more priceless, when he finds out that he carried a nice bottle of merlot up the mountain.”

Becca Moffat, who hunts avidly and has been filmed for national television, doesn’t wear makeup hunting, and made the conscious decision not to wear makeup just because a specific hunt was being filmed. When she appears on Alaska Outdoors Television, she is often on un-guided hunts for weeks without a shower and in difficult country. Although she wears makeup in her daily non-hunting life, she doesn’t see the need to wear it hunting and feels strongly that wearing it on film or in photos while hunting sends the wrong message to other women or young girls who may be interested in the sport. “I feel like the photos I take in the field should reflect the difficult and very physical work that often goes into hunting.”

The fact that photographs or video have become a growing part of hunting has caused many women to base the decision on whether or not to wear makeup solely on whether or not they are likely to be the subject of a photo or film. Some women dye their lashes to avoid the need for mascara, pack a small kit to apply makeup in the field (should a photographic opportunity arise), while others bring along a pair of sunglasses. Still others find the field itself offers a chance to enhance beauty. Ladies in Camo Director Diane Baxter Hassinger jokes that her “rosy cheeks are from the cold” and her tousled hairstyle is “from briars ripping my hair from my pony tail.”

While most agree that Vogue-sque makeup has no place in the woods, Sarah Fromenthal, who was raised hunting small game and fishing the swamps and brackish marshes of the Louisiana coast, acknowledges that for many women, makeup is such a part of a daily ritual that going completely without it would be unnatural. She follows the makeup-middle-road, realizing that a morning routine makes her feel more alert in the field “versus just rolling out of bed.” Sarah uses a basic tinted moisturizer that has SPF in it for the dual function of providing a barrier from the sun as well as any camouflage she may apply in the blind or stand.


A hunting girl’s makeup compact. Photo courtesy of Sarah Fromenthal

Tracy Harden, co-founder of EvoOutdoors, knows that hunting is not only about being with nature but about the internal confidence hunting requires. Although she does not personally wear makeup on a hunt, she believes the outdoors is about being yourself (whether made-up or sans makeup), getting away from it all, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the hunt. Her focus is more on skin-care, “You can change your hunting gear every season but you only get one skin to live in.” On eight-to-ten-day hunts in the backcountry, Tracy packs cotton rounds, witch hazel, nightly moisturizer, daily SPF, and mascara as a “guilty pleasure.”

Professional outdoor photographer Chip Laughton of Days Afield Photography offers some practical reasons why a woman hunter might wear makeup. When creating professional images, he makes every effort to take as flattering a picture as possible. While he admits to not knowing “the ins and outs of makeup,” it is something that makes his job easier. “The camera is going to show every wrinkle or blemish on your face. Makeup saves me time – shiny spots are eliminated, and it hides the skin imperfections that everyone has. Any minor blemish really sticks out.” In the same way that it helps if his subjects wear a completed hunting outfit, from a photographer’s perspective, makeup “helps the photographer make you look the best you can.”

Whether makeup is an enhancement of femininity, a comfort in the field, or an opportunity to “put your best face forward,” it is a personal preference that not all women share to the same degree. Sometimes the feel of the sun and wind on bare skin is too irresistible, the appeal of the simple life, or the realities of the day make the same woman who wore makeup one day pass up on it the next. The aesthetic difference between a woman in makeup and a woman without it is best overcome by what is going on behind the image. More women are taking to the field, regardless of their “make up” and they’re doing it with passion, reverence, and skill.

third set

sleepywinThe dog makes the first tracks. He breaks through the soft, pure, white ahead of us, and we stop to watch, to catch our breath. We won’t ever run so fast in our lives. We won’t ever be so “wide open” or keenly aware of our world. The warm-bodied smell of ptarmigan buried in willow patches across the valley will never halt us all of a sudden and send us racing back the way we came. Only a dog can run the way we feel we ought to. When he stops, we know he’s found a bird, and our pace is labored and willing where his was as driven and natural as any element on the mountain.

When I left the road side to hunt a field for the first time, there was so much I didn’t know. In the company of wild grass and skies that might be filled with birds or clouds on an afternoon, I guess I never figured how a dog would play a part. My time alone in wilderness was filled with lazy thoughts and ramblings with a friend who showed me how to shoot a bird or two. We took photos of ourselves and the game. One photo showed our lonely tracks across the grass. A pair of drifters, we were just beginning without knowing what to call the start until, looking back, it’s plain to see where a set of tracks were missing.

Winchester arrived at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska from his birth place 3,000 miles away in New England, North Dakota. When his kennel was placed on the counter, the notion of owning an English setter and the reality of approaching a live pup in a crate were two different things. My partner chose the breed, the breeder and the name. All I had to do was look inside. Airport personnel opened the door, and crouched toward the back was a little dog more weary than afraid.

A black spot covered each of his eyes which were of the darkest brown. His head lifted. It didn’t occur to me just then that the soft, dark eyes of this little dog would serve him well as a hunter because they were not probing eyes. They were eyes that would hold  ptarmigan for as long as it took us to reach them without causing them to run or fly. They were eyes that said, “I will follow you,” but which would instead lead us. Whether it was a hundred years of breeding or a hundred lives lived before made no difference. I was a young heart looking at an old soul.

His white and black fur was bright in the jade-green grass of summer and purple fields of mountain geranium. He hunted whether it was bird season or not. He hunted while we fished for grayling in July and in the nearby cow pastures while we fished for pink salmon in August. In fall, Winchester took us across the sun-burned mountain valleys and past them to rocky climbs. There were times when we stopped, our breath ragged from the climb. He hunted shale slides far above us, leading us further into the mountains so that we discovered lakes and creeks so quiet, the coursing sound of the water was as pure-sounding as an ascending violin.

In the fall of his fourth year we travelled to North Dakota and a mass of cockleburs caused him to require a near-shave. It was the first time he had pressed so hard in the field that he became exhausted and had to be rested for two days. I sat beside him in the hotel room and looked into his eyes. Even tired he was a hunter and every bone and muscle in his body was crafted from the time he spent pursuing birds. In his tiredness, his eyes were the same soft eyes he had as a puppy and when my partner headed to the door with his shotgun, Winchester raised his head.

No matter how beat he was, he was a hunter and was hunting while he rested on a hotel room bed. He was running in his sleep and crashing through cattails until he was bloody. He was piling down the steep terrain of mountain rock and shale, slipping and catching himself with the art and balance of a dancer. I shook him to wake up to rest, and he peered at me with those same dark puppy eyes. Nothing could stop him except his two companions. “You’ll have to sit this one out,” we said. But, hunting without him we knew what was missing – a dog is an accessory for just a few, for most, he is an indispensable member.