The world took no notice when Lily Raff McCaulou of Bend, Ore., tagged a Rocky Mountain bull elk with four points on each of its antlers.
It is no longer unusual for a woman to hunt, or to take Oregon’s largest game animal. What is intriguing about McCaulou shooting an elk is that for most of her life she was anti-gun and anti-hunting.
Reared in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Lily Raff was terrified of firearms. When Raff took a reporting job with the Bend newspaper in 2004, she was 23 and had never even spoken with a hunter.
Why she decided to take up hunting — and how she learned to do it without a mentor to guide her — is the subject of McCaulou’s memoir, “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner” (Grand Central Publishing, 321 pages, hardback, $24.99).
McCaulou’s transformation began as she realized the hunters she met while working her newspaper beat in the LaPine area did not fit her stereotype of bloodthirsty killers.
Also, Raff had been introduced to fly-fishing by Scott McCaulou, who she met shortly after moving to Bend and who she would later marry.
She discovered fishing was about much more than just catching a trout — it helped her learn about the aquatic environment and about the critters that inhabit it.
She figured hunting would provide a similar window onto other segments of the natural world.
McCaulou decided she “wanted to see if I had what it takes to cut out the ‘hit man’ and kill my own dinner.” It didn’t take her long to learn that “hunting is a 21st-century rarity — something you can’t learn online or in a book. There’s no ‘Hunting For Dummies.’”
Virtually all of the written material she finds on the subject, McCaulou writes, “assumes a base of knowledge that I don’t yet have.”
For the vast majority of hunters, that basic knowledge is passed along from one generation to another.
“Hunting isn’t so much a hobby as an inheritance,” McCaulou writes. “You have to learn from someone, and that someone is usually your dad.”
Her parents, meanwhile, were “openly disgusted by the idea of killing an animal in the wild.”
As evidenced by the elk antlers on the wall of her Bend home, McCaulou overcomes the lack of a mentor and — over four years — becomes a successful hunter of first game birds, then big game.
“Call of the Mild” takes the reader through the process:
Enrolling in a hunter-safety class filled with children half her age, where she fires a gun for the first time in her life; figuring out what kind of shotgun and rifle to buy; learning (with helpful tips from other trap shooters) to shoot “clay pigeons” at a shotgun club; and participating in a pheasant hunting workshop offered by the state fish and wildlife department’s “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” program. The workshop gives participants a chance to hunt farm-reared pheasants with the help of experienced volunteers and trained bird dogs.
When the first rooster flushes with a thunderous wing-flap, a startled McCaulou quickly shoulders her shotgun, only to discover “the entire weapon is upside down.”
No matter. McCaulou gets another chance later in the day and records her first kill.
She goes on other successful game bird and waterfowl hunts before deciding she is ready to take the next step — hunting for deer.
McCaulou learns first-hand that hunters often come home empty-handed. She spends many, many days afield during two deer seasons without so much as seeing a buck, but enjoys her experiences nonetheless.
Her persistence pays off during the 2010 elk season. A single shot brings down the four-pointer.
Having never field-dressed an animal before, she refers to a how-to manual in her backpack for guidance in completing the task.
At age 30 and seven years removed from the city, McCaulou the self-made hunter has accomplished what many “born” hunters, male or female, never do — tag a bull elk.
McCaulou passed up the fall 2011 big game seasons in anticipation of the birth of her first child in January, but is looking forward to hunting waterfowl and mule deer this fall.
“It takes a really long time to learn to be a good hunter,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I’m still learning. I consider myself a novice.”