Donnelle Johnson is a hunter, fisherwoman, CPA, photographer and a musician. She is co-founder of HuntData with her husband David. She is on the Mossy Oak and Bass Pro Shops Redhead ProStaff. She promotes women and youth in the outdoors through various speaking engagements.
What’s one rookie mistake you’ve made hunting? One of the rookie mistakes I made was shooting my weapon right handed with a left eye dominance. I didn’t realize I had to compensate for the non-dominant right eye. This caused me to shoot to the left of the intended kill zone.
What’s the hardest lesson you have learned while hunting? If you don’t rise at dark thirty, you will miss the best hunting. Also, when hiking backcountry and following the tracks of a big bull elk, remember you have to pack out 100’s of pounds of meat if you get an animal. Don’t shoot something too far backcountry that you cannot get out.
What one hunting skill that you most want to improve?
I want to continue to increase my upper body strength for bow hunting. This allows for me to draw and hold for longer periods of time while waiting for the perfect shot.
How were you introduced to hunting? I was born and raised in Northwestern Oklahoma in a hunting family. Our weekly meals almost always included quail, pheasant or venison of some sort. My mother was a great cook and always did a good job preparing my father and brother’s game. Eating wild game is extremely healthy and organic.
Who were the influencers in your life that helped you get into hunting? While I grew up with hunters in my household, it was my husband, David, who challenged me to go hunting in the Rocky Mountains with him. I’ve always loved being in the outdoors, so I quickly fell in love with hiking, four wheeling and hunting in the Rocky Mountains (especially during the fall archery season and the changing of the Aspen leaves). Our hunting business, HuntData LLC, has inspired me and helped me know “Where to Hunt” in Colorado & Wyoming.
Tell us about your first hunt? My first hunt was quite eventful. We encountered snow while climbing a mountain in our four-wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder to setup our outfitters tent. We had to pull over and put chains on while on the side of the mountain. Needless to say, I had to overcome some fears my first time out in the mountains. The next morning we were creeping up on a good meadow, hoping to see elk. When we peeked into the meadow, instead of elk I saw a black bear. I can say that my knees got a bit shaky that day.
What advice would you give someone just getting into hunting? For anyone considering hunting, I would advise them to empower and equip themselves with the proper gear. Study the animal you are interesting in harvesting. Know their habits and how they communicate. Equip yourself with good maps of the area you are visiting and always make sure you have the proper survival gear with you.
What species would you most like to hunt? My favorite species to hunt hands down is bull elk. I absolutely love how bull and cow elk communicate with bugles and cow chirps. To me their calls are the music of the mountains. I have been hunting elk for 20 years now, and I continue to learn something about them almost everytime I’m on the mountain. This past year, I was on a muzzleloader bull elk hunt with Lisa Thompson. We ascended a steep mountain and called with an estrus cow call once we got to the top of the mountain. We had a bull elk respond with a bugle. The hunt was on! We were able to get in the middle of an elk herd and stay inside the herd for over an hour and half in dense forest. We called in three satellite bulls before Lisa had an opportunity to harvest the herd bull with her muzzleloader with a 132-yard shot. Lisa and I were both cow calling and bugling. At one point, I got into a cow fight vocally with one of the cows. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there for the entire hunt. Hands down, it was my favorite elk hunt filled with adventure and my best friend shooting a great 6×6 herd bull elk.
What gear do you carry that you could not live without? One of the most essential things for me while out in the Rocky Mountains is my navigation device, which happens to be my iPhone & iPad using Avenza’s PDF Maps App with HuntData’s digital maps loaded. It has more than once navigated me on public land (without cell service – PDF Maps runs off satellites) and taken me into the elk concentration areas. I’ve been able to drop pins, turn on tracking to be able to track back out off the mountain and find my camp or vehicle. It has been an essential part of my gear that helps me get back to my starting destination even in bad weather, snow, rain etc. On one occasion I rescued a lost hunter in a snowstorm. He could have used Avenza’s PDF Map App on his iPhone if he had known about it. I’ve been able to plan and implement some pretty amazing hunts with this App.
What is your most memorable hunt? I shared one of my favorite hunts with my best friend Lisa above. Another favorite hunt of mine was with my son Zachariah when he shot a Pope & Young record Archery Bull Elk. He was only 17 at the time and he made a perfect shot to take down a great 6×6 bull elk. Watching him plan and execute a successful Colorado Archery hunt at such a young age was truly a memory that will always be one of my favorites. Another favorite hunt – when my son shot a Pope & Young record bull elk with his bow
What is your favorite archery and arrow set up? I have two bows (I learned the hard way once on an archery hunt when I didn’t have a backup bow) with me on most hunts. My favorite setup is a BlackOut SS bow and a PSE Stiletto Bow. I have my bows set to 55 lbs. I use Easton Carbon arrows with RamCat broadheads. I find the RamCat broadheads to be lethal and fly the closest to my field tips.
What five pieces of gear do you carry with you on every hunt that you could not live without? I admit I have at least six pieces of gear in my pack on all my hunts:
1) iPhone with Avenza PDF Maps and HuntData’s Digital maps loaded
2) Elk calls (cow calls and bugle)
3) Range Finder
4) Food and water
What three tried and true tips do you have to offer hunters for Spring Gobbler Season? Three tips I would offer to Spring Gobbler hunters would be: 1) Load HuntData’s Turkey concentration maps (which include roosts) in Avenza’s PDF Maps App 2) learn how to call in a Tom Turkey (while utilizing decoys) 3) dress appropriately with the proper camo and realize that turkeys have amazing eyesight and hearing. And finally and most importantly patience, patience, patience. When you want to get up and move to another area, wait 30 minutes.
When youngsters and their parents come up to meet you for a quick photo or autograph, what message do you hope to convey? I have been blessed to be able to work on the Pro Staff of Mossy Oak and Bass Pro. With these positions, I often have the opportunity to teach in the retail stores about archery, turkey and BigGame hunting and planning as well as promoting women and children in the outdoors. I hope the legacy I leave is one of encouraging, empowering and equipping women and children to get into the outdoors and enjoy the great creation that surrounds us. Life is short, and there are many adventures to be had if people will take the initiative to step into the great outdoors. Start small, get a few victories and continue to challenge yourself to try something harder and more rewarding on the next adventure. Get in shape and take care of the body you’ve been given.
Do you feel any need to overcompensate or overachieve in the hunting/shooting industry because you are a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field? I have been mentored and encouraged by men to hunt and enjoy the outdoors. I am a competitive person, and it is my own personal goals that cause me to continue to try new types of hunts in extreme conditions. I enjoy setting goals and achieving them. I don’t feel the need to overcompensate because of my gender. The older I get, the more I enjoy helping others achieve success in their hunts (whether they be male or female or youth).
Have you ever experienced any discrimination (or on the flip side, any benefit) because you are a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field? I truly have only had open doors because I am a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. There has only been one time that I was told there would not be a woman pro staffer with a particular company, but I still enjoy and wear their gear (even though they do not have a women’s line). I think women and men can complement each other while hunting. I have been blessed with friends that are not intimidated or offended by my gender in the field. I have found that when I’m packing a big bull elk out of the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains, that it is helpful to have a few stronger male friends around. I have also found that men enjoy the meals we make in the evenings. It’s a win/win when we all work together and complement one another.
When it comes to hunting gear, how do you feel about gear specifically designed for women (guns, clothing, packs, etc.)? It is great to see more and more women’s gear coming to the market, but I think it still has a ways to go to satisfy my needs. I read an article this past week indicating that women firearm shooters are up 60% in the past 10 years. I think companies need to increase the number of products they have for women. I have found most of the stocks of my guns have had to be shortened to fit my body and eye relief. Most packs tend to be a bit big for me. I would like to see more women’s clothing with the Mossy Oak pattern.