"SHOOT, SHOOT, GET ON THEM, SHOOT!” exclaims my dad as I try to aim at my first elk. The excitement is running through my veins, watching the elk move up the mountain, the view through the scope shakier than I thought possible. The intensity of emotions that run through you when you are trying to take down your first animal and make your dad proud amidst his loud hollering is unparalleled. So, I hold my gun up, balance it on my knee, take deep breaths in - please make the shot…
Growing up I was always a girly girl and a devoted daddy’s girl. Best friends with a deep connection – we were almost twin-like (which could fool anyone who saw us side by side). As a teenager I loved bright colors, having my nails painted, hair done, and always taking the long way around a messy puddle to avoid dirty shoes.
My dad, a cattle rancher, calm, collected, goofy, and focused has an overall positive energy that radiates to all that meet him. He would always say to me “no matter what religious affiliation someone believes in, you can’t deny how close you feel to something holy when you are outdoors in the vast landscapes and fresh air.” He wanted to teach me all about hunting, fishing, and the importance of bringing food to the table while still appreciating animals and the outdoors. Because of his love for this, I spent a lot of time outside, following him everywhere. Hearing “cowgirl up” every time I got a scrape, was tired or hungry.
Best buddies, I was in tow on many hunting trips; camping out in the mountains, catching frogs while he hunts for meat to fill the freezer, and fishing for hours. All the while, I’ll admit that my main concern of the day as a teenager was how tan I could get before we packed up to head home. But, no matter what my thoughts were while I was out there, I loved being by my dad’s side on adventures, teasing each other ruthlessly all along the way. He’s not to be fooled though, he knew I was there for him and not necessarily the adventure that provided food for our table time and again.
The older I got, life got the best of me; moving, college, boys, friends, jobs – I let all that leave very little, if any, time for the outdoors. Regardless, my dad was still one of my biggest influencers, giving advice at every turn of life. I remember my first big heartbreak, I wasn’t sure if I was calling him to cry or for advice, but I knew I needed to hear his voice. He only lovingly chuckled and said “Ash, if this is the worst thing that happens to you in life, I think you’re doing pretty good. Cowgirl up, you’re gonna be alright.”
I was shocked and somehow still laughed out loud amidst my tears. Even when he says the “wrong” thing, it was always the right because he is my rock. I settled into this new, adult life of mine, becoming a city girl in the heart of the city, letting go of my high-maintenance girly side, and focusing on finding what was really true to me. The times I would join in on a hunt became less frequent, as the mornings usually came too soon to want to get up, and cooking, baking and talking in the kitchen with the girls took priority. Even still, Dad and I never lost that connection and would pick up right where we left off the minute we were together.
After bouncing around in different jobs after college, I walked into Browning Lifestyle and knew this felt like home. A place where the outdoors is part of your life, even if you live in the city. Getting to work with brands that not only understand but embrace a love for the outdoors, I knew I hit the jackpot.
One day I was asked to represent the company on a turkey hunt - I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. However, it immediately sunk in…this was my first hunt! I was so excited and at the same time so nervous, mind reeling…what do I take? Uh oh, I have never shot a shotgun. Snake boots? What are those? Meanwhile, trying to keep my cool and not give away just how inexperienced this cattle-rancher’s daughter was.
Though my turkey hunt in Texas was not successful - it was amazing! I was hooked. That’s all it took, getting me back out there. I was texting and calling my dad the whole time, and he was just as excited. Since then, he’s been “along” on all of my hunts and adventures, texting me advice, asking for updates, and even sending me a photo to remind me how to hold my gun on my deer hunt last year. The idea that his girly sidekick had fully embraced hunting and fishing not only made him excited, he was so proud (and maybe a little jealous of my job). The kicker came when we had cow elk tags on his property last year. I showed up in all camo, he walked outside and words can’t describe the smile on his face that day. I got one of the biggest hugs. His baby girl was a hunter.
There I was, breathing, trying to aim steady on a moving elk, I shot… missed. “You missed?! ASH-A-LEY!” my Dad said with a boisterous laugh. As the sun ducked behind the mountain, I was defeated. However, it isn’t the kill that makes the adventure, it’s the experience I have each time I am out. It’s the valuable lesson my dad tried to teach me when I was little, it just took me awhile to grasp it.
Once again, here we are best buddies out on hunts, horseback rides, fishing, sharing stories, breathing in the fresh air and taking in the vast landscapes. Only now, we are both doing it to feel the peace you find only outdoors - it’s just a bonus we get to do it together.