S Dickinson: I am 53. I was the youngest of 5 children and have 2 sisters. Growing up I was made to believe that ability was more important than gender. Being a stay at home mother was my choice and made me realise the prejudice faced by women who didn’t ‘work’ and didn’t contribute directly towards the economy. During this time I achieved an Open University degree in Politics and Sociology. I now work full time with my husband in our family gun business which has been running for nearly 40 years and am happiest when outdoors enjoying every aspect of the countryside.
I love being out on the hill, in all weathers and cannot imagine a life without the outdoors. In my spare time, alongside my husband, we manage the deer stalking on a new tree plantation near to where we live. Deer numbers have to be kept down as, in large numbers, they can extensively damage young trees. We always do this together and share the responsibility of shooting and dealing with the deer. By its very nature, it is a relatively secretive activity, but when it is discussed or comes to light, I am often not taken seriously in this respect, ridiculed, or even considered ‘dangerous’. ….I bet your husband carries your rifle….Of course, you don’t do the messy bits……Let me know when you’re out on the hill and I’ll make sure I steer well clear….I’ll make sure I don’t get on the wrong side of you!…..
Let me tell you about one particularly memorable encounter.
Early one glorious, clear skied morning, my husband and I were lying motionless in the heather watching a female roe deer grazing nearby. Half an hour of silent spotting, followed by twenty minutes of stilted, silent belly crawling had resulted in this final position. With the scope crosshair settled on the deer, I waited patiently whilst the deer stepped in and out of the furrows, browsing the young saplings. Patience is essential. Waiting for a clean shot is imperative as a bullet grazing even a tiny blade of grass can pull the shot clear of the animal, or worse still, injure it. I am in the zone now, happy that this is a safe spot with the deer in a little hollow with higher ground all around. Sound seems to stop apart from the throbbing of my heart resounding in my ears. The rifle tripod rests on steady ground, my finger taking up the slack on the trigger. I can feel my husband watching motionless from behind; I am aware of every breath. The world slows right down now, it is just the animal and me. Eventually the deer steps clear of the grass, fleetingly, and winds the air for danger. Now is my chance, I plan to pull the trigger at the bottom of my next breath.
Suddenly all hell breaks loose. My husband shouts. I automatically remove my finger from the trigger and hand away from the rifle and turn my head towards the commotion. A dog is in mid air, directly above my body. It lands on me, a bundle of tail wagging, tongue flapping, panting animal, delighted to have found the source of the scent… We are incredulous….. If that dog had jumped on me a split second later, I would have been taking the final trigger pull and the shot could have gone anywhere, most likely directly upwards for several miles before falling, a deadly missile to an unknown destination.
This has never happened before, it is singularly the most dangerous situation I have ever been in with a firearm. Moments pass and we regain our composure somewhat. My husband is furious; I am more stunned. I suggest my husband continue further up the hill with the rifle and I return the dog to its owner, hopefully to explain the situation. I am in no state now anyway to take another shot today. My husband reluctantly goes on. I think perhaps he is not the one to return the dog.
As I reach the forestry track, the dog owner is just now appearing at the road end. Despite the adrenaline pumping wildly in my veins, I calmly walk over to him with his dog to explain what has just occurred, naively thinking that if he understands a bit more of what is going on in these hills, he may be more aware of his surroundings and may keep his dog under better control. My gender is the farthest thing from my mind. I certainly don’t expect to be attacked in return.
I calmly begin to explain the situation to him, but before I can get more than a few words out, he begins his verbal tirade.
“What, you’re out here with a rifle!”
I ignore that comment and continue to try and get more than a few words out…..
“You could have shot my dog!”
“Of course not……I….”
“You’re just a stupid woman!” (Slap) I reel backwards, like he has just taken his hand across my face. I try again and again, but each time I open my mouth, he won’t allow it.
“You could have shot me!”(Slap)
“No….you don’t understand..”
“I don’t need to stand here and listen to this….you’re nothing but a stupid woman!” (Slap) He turns to leave.
I am still reeling, but desperate to educate this man about this ‘dangerous woman’ he obviously feels is rampaging about the countryside with a rifle… but to no avail. His parting slap comes from over his shoulder at 100 paces, as I desperately continue to try and impart even the tiniest snippet of information.
“You’re nothing but a stupid woman”. He snorts into the air and marches off, his chest puffed out with ignorance and misogyny.
I am bursting with frustration and anger.
If only you had stopped to listen……
I would tell you…….
I know exactly where it is safe to take a shot and where it is not, that I have handled firearms for most of my adult life, that our business is a firearms business which has been going for nearly 40 years and you would struggle to find another as safe when handling firearms as me.
I would tell you……
I know these hills as intimately as I know my own body. Walking here as I do every day, I know every curve of the earth, every undulation, every ditch, every gulley, every exposed rock, every tuft of dark grass, every broken tree. I know how it changes depending on the light, or the time of day, or even time of year. I would tell you how the low winter sunlight throws deceiving shadows across the hill. I would tell you that I have sat high up on the hill and watched the night cast its shadowy protective blanket all around and equally, I have watched the sun tentatively peak over the distant hills, flooding the valley with early morning light in the first few moments of a misty dawn. I would tell you that I know this ground so well that I can scan the land and know instantly if something is not as it should be, before I even pick up my binoculars.
I would tell you…..
I know what it feels like to take a life and that it is not something I take lightly. That it doesn’t get any easier with time, that it is a responsibility I chose to bear that weighs on my shoulders alone. I would tell you that the more I learn about these magnificent creatures, the more respect I have for them. I would tell you that my husband trusts me with his life, as I do him with mine, that safety is what is foremost in my mind continually from the minute the rifle comes out of the safe until it is safely locked up again. I would tell you that when I am on the hill, with the rifle on my shoulder, it is like an extension of me, an extra limb. I know at all times, where it is, where it is pointing and it is never loaded until it needs to be and is unloaded immediately after use. I would tell you that if you were to take ten random men off the street and me, and had to trust one of them with a rifle, then it should be me you should choose.
I would tell you….
I understand that although women are the ultimate symbols of life giving and nurturing and preserving life, we are also as capable of taking a life too, should that be necessary. I would tell you that although woman are still too often sadly viewed as being physically weaker and less emotionally strong than men and therefore more ‘dangerous’ in certain situations, we are just as strong, we are just as capable of making decisions about when and if and, more importantly, when not to take a life and when it is safe to do so. I would tell you all of these things…….but you weren’t prepared to listen……..
I wanted to ask you, what you would have said had it been my husband who had come down the hill that day…..would you have called him a ‘stupid man’ and felt he was ‘dangerous too’?
I am not a ‘dangerous woman’. What is ‘dangerous’ is your complete and utter refusal to open your mind to other possibilities. Just because something is not yet ‘usual’ or ‘common’, our fear of that should not make us perceive it as being ‘dangerous’.
Featured image taken by contributor and used with permission.