Ladies' Day At Spencer Farm
September 30, 2010
The Spencer family has owned this Central Florida ranch for four generations. Each year they open it to women-only hog hunts to introduce the ladies to the sport! (December 2009)
It has been said that the farther north you travel in Florida, the more southern the state becomes. Indeed, Southern hospitality is alive and well in northern Florida, as well. A shining example is the Spencer Farm.
Wendy Pettis shows off the largest and first of the three feral hogs she downed on last year's Spencer Farm hunt.
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pettis.
Started by Fred Spencer, the working cattle ranch spans more than 4,000 acres. A humble family, they've quietly gone about their business of raising and selling "ordinary woods cows" for many decades. Though the farm has been in the family for four generations, it now seems like an anachronism in its native community. It is a short drive to the sprawling shopping and dining Mecca of Orange Park to the southwest of Jacksonville.
Yet, the Spencer Farm and family continue to thrive and also have become ambassadors of hunting. They've introduced hundreds of folks to the sport. Patti Foster, previously a regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, has first-hand knowledge of that.
"I approached Fred's son, Frank, years ago," she recounted. "I asked him if he was open to allowing youth and disabled sportsmen hunting privileges on his land. He was thrilled with the idea. So, we organized several outings.
"The next progression was getting the ladies involved," Foster continued. "Twice a year for the past five years, we've held all-women's pig hunts on their property. These specialty hunts have really gone over well.
"The Spencers allow us to hunt hogs, deer, coyotes and bobcats -- animals that are destructive to their land or kill the baby calves," she added. "Daddy Frank, now in his 70s, still stops by to visit. However, he has turned the camp hunts over to his sons -- Teddy, Mark, Johnny and Jesse. Their sons, the fourth generation, are young adults who also help out at the events."
"It's wonderful to be able to share this incredible piece of property with these outdoor women," Teddy Spencer said on behalf of the family. "It's a safe environment for the ladies to feel comfortable and learn the sport. All we ask is that each year at least half the participants are fresh faces. We like to see gals return from previous hunts, but want to encourage more women to understand and enjoy hunting."
The Pig Hunt
Debbie Halderman has been hunting for more than three decades with her family, beginning when she was 9 years old. She enjoys sharing her passion and organized a recent Women in the Outdoors Hog Hunt at the Spencer Farm. The WITO events are affiliated with the NWTF.
"I head out with members of the Spencer family a week or two before the hunt to put up ground blinds," she described. "We then set corn out every few days. The hunt is limited to around 15 participants. We encourage hunter's safety course completions before the trip and on the first night we hold a safety meeting. Almost all of the women have fired their guns, but many have not harvested an animal.
"The ranch has a couple of rustic cabins that we sleep in and a great area to cook out, dine and socialize," Halderman also noted. "Campfires are an integral part of the experience.
"If the gals are novices they may request a guide. The Spencer men, other area hunters, and past attendees of the trip all volunteer to help. The guides do not shoot -- they are solely there to help if needed. They may help transport, skin and clean the hog. Many women want to take care of their own kill, but some don't want to. We encourage their participation, but don't force them."
And what is such a hunt like?
"They are rotated into different tree stands or ground blinds throughout the trip," Halderman described. "Most of the ladies really want a big pig, but are happy to shoot smaller ones, too. They take pride in bringing meat home for their families to enjoy.
"Strong friendships are formed after these trips," she added. "The women experience an uncommon sense of camaraderie and mutual respect for each other. I always say this is definitely not a book club!"
The hot hand at this particular hunt went to Wendy Pettis of White Plains, Georgia. She shot four hogs, including a 250-pound boar.
"I've hunted with my father and shot both deer and small game," Pettis said. "I've never got a hog. I was so excited about this trip. I drove six hours to get here. The first morning, I was the last person to be put in the stand. I was beside myself with excitement.
"Five minutes after I settled into the 15-foot high tripod stand, I heard something splashing through the water," the hunter recalled. "Then I saw him. He was huge! I watched him for 10 minutes, but didn't have a shot. Finally, he came out to the road and gave me a shot. He never looked at me. I had to sit there for another three hours to wait for the guides to come pick us all up. I sent text messages to my husband and friends. What an adrenaline rush.
"Finally Teddy's son, William, another guide named Garrett and a couple of the other women hunters arrived," she continued. "We started tracking the pig. He had run into a very heavy palmetto area. There was a blood trail a foot wide. We found him about 25 yards in front of me in the thick brush.
"It was my first hog and my first kill with my new gun. I just bought a .270 and was using 140-grain bullets. This pig was so big the bullet didn't even go through him. I'm having a head and shoulders mount made. What a trophy."
During the afternoon session, Pettis was placed in a different stand and shot three smaller hogs. What did the other women think?
"We all support and are happy for each other," remarked fellow hunter Nancy Jo Adams. "I only saw two piglets. However, harvesting game is only a small part of any hunt. At these all-women's trips the atmosphere is full of fellowship.
"That morning I heard a bellowing boom," she added. "I get a text message within a nanosecond that read, 'I just got me a big old black and white nasty hog. Dropped him.' "
Then in the afternoon, Adams pulled the stand that Pettis was in during the morning. About 45 minutes into the hunt, Adams again heard a shot and got another text about a downed hog.
"I sat there another 20 minutes," Adams said, "when I heard some rustling in the palmettos. I put my gun up on the shooting rail and raised my binoculars. Then I heard a squeal. It raised the hair on the nape of my neck. I got into position and waited. It seemed like an eternity before a little 10-inch piglet walked out of the privet shrub!"
Quickly after that she heard yet another shot. Her phone began vibrating again.
"Just dropped me another one," was the message.
Before Adams could stow the phone, the fourth and final shot sounded from Wendy Pettis' stand!
The Hog Huntresses
Do female hunters differ from male hunters? After listening to these enthusiastic hog huntresses, I believe outdoors folk are similar, no matter what their gender.
Barbara Bishop is from Interlachen.
"My friend, Gloria, and I belong to a hunting club," she pointed out. "I've shot several small hogs with a bow on the club's property. But now I want one with tusks! It's not just about killing something; I want the big boy. This weekend I'm using a 7mm-08 Remington. My advice to women new to hunting is to get a gun that doesn't kick. Find one you are comfortable with."
Her friend, Gloria Spaulding, is also from Interlachen and was one of two women hunting hogs with a shotgun. Hers was a Browning Belgium Sweet 16.
"I have two granddaughters, age 17 and 22, that hunt with me. They've both killed deer with my gun -- which I'll be handing down to them eventually. I love everything about hunting. I wish it could last year 'round.
"My advice to married ladies is to go hunting with your husbands. They'll teach you a lot. Both Barb and I were taught by our husbands. Don't put it off."
Other women were relative novices to the sport, such as Jessie Paffe from Coalmont, Tennessee.
"I just started to hunt the past couple years," she noted. "I've attended several all-women's hunts and have learned so much. I really like Spencer Farms. It is so much more personal here than on public land.
"This morning right after being dropped off at my blind, four hogs immediately came out," she said. "It was pretty dark. I never had a really good shot, but I did shoot once and missed. Perhaps I should have been more patient. I also heard a few coyotes howl, but never saw them.
"Last year, I shot a 5-point buck and cleaned it myself," she added. "I look forward to that experience with a big hog! But if I don't get my pig, it'll give me all the more reason to come back and try again."
Jessie shoots a .243 rifle. She likes it because it is lightweight and short. She recommends adding a good scope and finding camouflage clothing from a line designed to fit women hunters.
Anne Keefer of Bradenton, Florida, is another recent convert to the action.
"I'm a brand-new hunter," she confirmed. "My boyfriend brought me hog hunting a few times, but I haven't shot one yet. I was so excited to see Wendy's big pig. That's my favorite part -- seeing the game either in the field or after it is harvested.
"I use a .30/30 Winchester 94. I'm very comfortable with my rifle, as I've done marksmanship for many years."
Kimberly Tingen from Callahan has found hunting to be a mending force in her life.
"Three years ago, I got divorced," she explained. "It was a very low point in my life. I signed up for an all-women's hunting event, and it has helped me so much. When I am in the woods, I feel like I am away from every stress of real life. I forget about everything else.
"Any day that I get to see the sun rise from the top of a tree is a good day -- whether I shoot a pig or not. I didn't see one, but I did have a bunch of turkeys cackling and chirping at me for about a half hour. They were obviously not happy about me invading their territory."
Nancy Jo Adams of Banks, Ala., took time from texting Wendy Pettis to describe her experiences in hunting.
"I started hunting with my husband in 2006," she offered. "When I shot my first deer, an 8-point buck, I think he was more excited than I was. He called three people on his cell phone before we ever got out of the woods. I've been hooked ever since.
"I have achieved my personal goal of harvesting game with a bow, shotgun, muzzleloader and rifle. For the hog hunt, I used my Bowtech Equalizer compound bow for a couple of the hunt sessions and a Ruger M77 Hawkeye All Weather .270 for one hunt.
"My favorite thing about hunting is walking to my stand in the pitch black of early morning," she continued, "hearing the woods move and crack around me and not knowing what is watching or running from me. Hunting has taught me to respect the woods and wildlife more than ever. Hunting with these women on Spencer Farm has provided many great memories."
Indeed, male or female, avid hog hunters all seem to respect the land and the wildlife that lives there. The women who are lucky enough to hunt at the ranch also appreciate the gracious family that provides them with this unparalleled opportunity.
Patti Foster sums it up.
"The hunts have provided much more than just meat on their tables," she said. "They've offered a safe, comfortable place for outdoor women to meet and bond with each other and the sport of hunting. Several have now purchased their own large tracts of land to hunt on.
"The outdoor market has finally begun offering gear with women hunters in mind. Shorter barrels, lighter weight guns -- there are four or five female clothing companies for field gear. No longer do we have to borrow our husband's clothes and tie them up with string and hope that they don't fall down!
"But it is really through the thoughtful efforts of folks like the Spencer family that non-traditional hog hunters are allowed the chance to get hooked on the sport. We are so very thankful for their hospitality."