The Outdoors from a Hunter’s Perspective
Few people spend as much time in Maine’s great outdoors as hunters and increasingly, those hunters are women. According to Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, fishing license sales to women have gone up 15 percent since 2010. In the same time frame, there’s been a 30 percent increase in women getting hunting licenses. MWM called Cathy DeMerchant, a board member of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, to talk about what being outdoorswoman means to her. The Vassalboro resident gave us that, plus an excellent story about that time she threw a romance novel at a bear. Yes, a bear.
BREAKING THE ICE: In addition to her leadership with the Sportsman’s Alliance, DeMerchant served on the advisory council for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a position she was appointed to by Gov. John Baldacci and then again by Gov. Paul LePage. Those are serious credentials (her leadership has been “outstanding,” says George Smith, outdoors writer and past executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance) but DeMerchant came to hunting relatively late. “There wasn’t a lot of [hunting] growing up. Dad would go. He would take us ice fishing, though.” These early experiences with her father instilled a deep love of the outdoors, which blossomed into a passion when she met her husband John. “John was an avid hunter, and I was not going to be the one who sat home.” DeMerchant and her husband have a son each from previous marriages, five months apart in age, and had a third together. The boys were raised hunting and now that they’re grown (John, 30, Joshua, 29, Logan, 24) all five regularly head into the woods together.
BULL MOOSE: Last year DeMerchant was one of the lucky 2,100 (of about 50,000 who applied) to get a permit to hunt a moose last year. “You prep for months, pack casseroles, leave early in the morning. We went up as a group. It’s a family affair.” While DeMerchant and her subpermittee, her son John, harvested a bull moose, the friendly competition was clear. “I shot first,” she says.
COMMUNION: For DeMerchant, hunting is a means of communing with her family, other hunters and most of all, herself. “Being in the woods, you can reflect, talk to God, tune into the animals’ energy. It’s not all about killing.”
THE BOSS TAKES A PERSONAL DAY: DeMerchant is the president and co-owner of Capital Area Staffing Solutions in Augusta and Bangor Area Staffing Solutions. Being the boss means flexibility to take a personal day when the woods are calling. “That time in the woods allows me to center myself, talk to God and enjoy the bounty of nature he has provided.”
LOCAL AND ORGANIC: DeMerchant feeds her family almost exclusively on the meat they harvest, along with vegetables from their garden. “There’s nothing better than moose meat. It’s very healthy, too. When you harvest a moose, you get a lot of burgers. Bear meat is also excellent.” For DeMerchant, handling the meat from harvest to butchering to cooking inspires a level of confidence she can’t get anywhere else. “The meat is organic, completely fresh. I know what my food is eating.”
WELCOME WAGON? Has it been hard to be a woman in a sport and pastime still dominated by men (even with those recent increases, women still held only 13.3 percent of Maine hunting licenses in 2017)? Not at all, says DeMerchant. “The advisory council [at Inland Fisheries] was all men. They were so kind, really took me under their wings. All gentlemen.”
CLOSEST ENCOUNTER: Once, while hunting bear, DeMerchant was patiently waiting for her prey. “I like to read historical romance in the woods. So I’m reading and snap, there’s a huge bear to my right. My gun was not properly placed, so I didn’t have a good reach to it. The bear was scenting me with its mouth open.” Instinctively, she used what she had in hand. “I stood up, threw the book at it, and went immediately back to my truck and left for the night.”
MOTHER-DAUGHTER TIME: One of DeMerchant’s favorite memories is of taking her mother, newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and looking to spend quality time with her daughter, out on a hunt with her. “She always has such anxiety when I bear hunt. I asked her to go with me, and she was such a trooper. The second night…she was reading and a bear was at the bait site. I said ‘Mom, the bear is down there.’ She was so amazed. I didn’t shoot. Then the coyotes lit up, and they were very close. It was so cool for Mom to see that out in the wild. We don’t have to shoot every time.”
Chelsea Terris Scott is a writer and educator. She lives with her husband and daughters in Portland.