Jen Cordaro is dedicated to introducing archery and hunting to kids across this country. Jen often goes by Jen the Archer when she works with youth introducing them to hunting. In November of 2014, she started a campaign #BringAKidCampaign based in California. In, January, Cordaro woke up to a firestorm of anti-hunter attacks for her work introducing youth to the sport of hunting. This year, Jen Cordaro is a finalist in the extreme huntress competition. We got the chance to interview her!!
What’s one rookie mistake you’ve made hunting?
I’m sure I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I didn’t come from a hunting family and have learned almost everything by trial and error—mostly by error. Though it may not be the most efficient way to learn, the trial part has provided many laughs and good stories. People seem to find this one particularly funny, although when it’s told I usually tell people that it really isn’t funny and they probably don’t want to waste their time listening to the story with a “go figure” smirk of embarrassment on my face. Ok, here goes (no laughing at me!):
During my first deer season, I sat in my tree stand on public land in San Diego County on opening day of archery season with my either sex archery tag. My best friend and I got up at 2:30am and drove an hour and a half to our spot and then her and I walked to our stands in the dark, as we would for the rest of the season—over and over and over. About 45 minutes into legal shooting time, here come three deer crashing down the mountainside obviously spooked by something. They ran perfectly into the valley where our stands bordered and seemed to calm down quite a bit. There were two legal bucks and one of them was 30 yards from my stand, grazing. I waited until the perfect opportunity to draw back, going unnoticed, I got really excited and tried to remember everything that I had read or been told. I breathed, I ranged, I watched, I planned, I waited for a good broadside shot—I tried to silence my heart beat which was jumping out of my chest and into my head at the loudness of a sonic boom, and then I let the arrow fly. It felt like an amazing shot!!! I waited for a second as I watched the buck run behind the sagebrush, blocking my view. The buck ran towards my friends stand and I still couldn’t see it and then after a few more seconds, I yelled in excitement at the top of my lungs, “DID I GET IT?!?”
Needless to say, it jumped my string, my arrow was in the ground, and I blew the chance that my best friend had at the other buck who was apparently still standing on the other side of the brush in the middle of the valley. Never again will I be yelling anytime soon. I’ve never been able to live that one down. Face palm. (Let’s not talk about the fact that neither of us was ever given a second chance that season to take another shot during archery season in San Diego). We continued to sit in the stands for quite some time and I replayed the scene over and over in my head as I sat there. I’d like to say that time heals all wounds, yea well, not this one. I occasionally still find myself waking up in the middle of the night because I had a nightmare of the same scene replaying in my head. This especially happens the night before going hunting—for any species. What people forget to tell you as a new hunter is that rookie mistakes may very likely haunt you forever. Come to find out after I got home and was getting ready for an archery tournament, my 30-yard pin had broken and was actually bent and I didn’t notice it. So, this rookie mistake had two mistakes rolled into one: #1) Don’t ever yell, and #2) Always check (and re-check) your sight before you go out to hunt.
What’s the hardest lesson you have learned while hunting?
Probably one of the hardest lessons for me has been that there are some things in hunting you just can’t learn on your own and you are at the will of other’s to help you. This is a hard lesson, especially when you’re first starting out and you’re determined to learn the things you need to know but have no idea where to start, don’t know who to trust, or you don’t have a lot of face-to-face access to other hunters. While it is always nice to help one another, getting help from other hunters isn’t always the easiest thing. Social media and the Internet has made this a lot easier in some respects but even social media provides it’s own set of challenges as well.
What one hunting skill that you most want to improve?
I’d like to improve my rifle shooting skills. I am an archer and have never actually hunted by rifle. I hope to change that this year. I have a rifle tag for elk this year and will also be getting a rifle deer tag for the first time. I hope that my goal of becoming more familiar with hunting by rifle will inspire others to pick up and try something new in the outdoors. We all have to start somewhere and it’s never too late to try something new!
How were you introduced to hunting?
Archery hunting a pig was on my bucket list, along with a lot of other sort of off the wall things. I never actually intended to become an archer or to making hunting part of my lifestyle—it just sort of happened through an epic “love” story of determination, strong will, and a passion for something that I never expected to have. So anyway, after I decided that I was going to pig hunt and sat on the idea for almost two years without a clue how to get started, I walked into an archery shop and started to look around. When the sales associate approached me, he asked, “How can I help you little lady? [to which he still calls me today]” I responded, “I want to kill a pig. What do I need to buy?” A little thrown off, he said with a smile, “Well okay then let’s see what we can do!” He and I started chatting and have since become friends. He learned from me that I didn’t come from a hunting family and didn’t really have anyone to introduce me into archery or to hunting but that I was determined to pig hunt regardless. He has been a huge catalyst and supporter of my involvement in hunting and the outdoors. To make a long story short, that same sales associate took my best friend and I on our very first pig hunt a month later. He was also the one who helped me the most when I was first learning how to shoot a bow. So I really owe my introduction to both archery and hunting to him.
What advice would you give someone just getting into hunting?
My advice to a new hunter would be to remember that the harvesting of an animal is the smallest part of hunting. That time, patience, persistence is important and that asking a lot of questions, doing a lot of research, spending countless hours of watching, waiting, and learning is the biggest part. In the meantime, relationships are formed, community is harbored, and something special really develops—a sense of belonging and a sense of who you are as a person. Learning to hunt is challenging, especially if you don’t have access to a hunting community or people in your life who are hunters. However, it is not impossible and if I can do it coming from San Diego, California, on a student budget, with no connections, no background, and a whole lot of skepticism and doubt, so can anyone else. I am very familiar with the feelings of “this seems impossible on my own” and I believe that once you take the initial step of deciding you’re going to hunt, you’ve set a goal for yourself that is absolutely achievable. One of my biggest ambitions in the outdoor industry is to promote hunting, fishing and the shooting sports through my own story in hopes that it inspires people who feel intimidated to join the ranks of people who were born into these things. We need others to join us in hunting, fishing and shooting (and for those people to join us in educating others) otherwise I believe we will continue to see the slow dissolution of our ability to engage in these activities. I wrote a small article a while back for Harvesting Nature on how a beginning hunter might go about getting started: http://harvestingnature.com/2015/04/06/so-you-want-to-become-a-hunter-10-basic-steps-to-get-you-started/
What species would you most like to hunt?
My dream list includes wild peacock first and foremost—people always laugh at it but I am totally serious! I would LOVE to hunt wild peacock. They’re beautiful birds and people used to eat peafowl as a steady part of diet. Somehow we’ve lost that food source connection. Likewise, I think that a picture of a peacock slung over a female hunters back, similar to that of a male with a turkey, is an incredibly bold and beautiful statement of femininity and hunting. California black bear is also on that list, especially with SB1221 recently passing, making it illegal to hound bears in my home state. The bear population is exploding here because hunting without dogs (and baiting is illegal here as well) is very difficult and the hunting success rate is very low. From strictly a wildlife management point of view, California black bear is on my list. Now, for my sort of once in a life time “dream hunt”, I would like to hunt mountain goat I think. I really enjoy rough terrain, climbing, and engaging my entire body in the physicality of the hunt and having to work really hard for success. Hunting mountain goat would be the epitome of that for me. Plus, I really enjoy eating chevon.
What gear do you carry that you could not live without?
I always carry the following in my pack:
– GoGirl (So great when you’re in mixed company or on a boat with no head, even if I get made fun of for it all the time). Word of advice to the ladies: practice with it before you go into the field in the clothes you plan to wear.
– Packable first aid kit that includes everything I might need if I get stuck over night or for several nights wherever I am. It includes things like water purification tablets, compass, flint, waterproof matches and a lighter, needle and fishing line, super glue, electrolytes, shock blanket, antibiotics, pouches of peanut butter which will provide enough calories and fat to keep you alive for quite some time, etc). While I’ve never thankfully needed it for myself, I’ve used it for others quite frequently.
– Mtn Ops Enduro Trail Packs I have asthma and the MTN OPS Enduro is a vasodilator that helps the cardiovascular system work more effectively which means, it helps me to breathe better while in hunting. This product isn’t formulated specifically for those with asthma in mind, it’s just how I use it. Enduro is actually works in concert with your body’s cardiovascular system to increase hydration, performance, and endurance during intense physical activity, so it’s good for everyone that wants a little performance boost. And, the trail packs come in convenient-sized packet’s to use while out and about, which I love.
– Vortex Binos or Spotting Scope. While I use my Vortex Vipers 10×28 as my chest binos 100% of the time, in my bag during scouting season you can always find either Vortex Viper HD 15x50s or the Razor HD angled spotting scope and tripod.
– Spam Singles Lite. I kid you not. I am a totally healthy, wild game, pro-off the grid food source supporter and typically live my life that way but I have a confession: I LOVE Spam. It is ALWAYS in my backpack when I’m in the outdoors. The singles are great because they don’t have that weird jelly stuff and are small, lightweight, come in a “rip open” packet that doesn’t make any noise, and are loaded with a whopping 13g of protein in only 160 calories, and have enough sodium to replenish what you’re sweating out (and then some). I am a huge fan of Spam Singles as a snack on the trail (Do you think they’d sponsor me if I asked? Haha #TeamSpam!).
What is your favorite archery and arrow set up?
I’m little at only 5 foot ½ inch tall and 24’’ draw length. Finding gear that fits me and isn’t for youth is tough going. Currently I really love the 50# PSE Verge set up with Gold Tip Velocity Pro 600 spine arrows loaded with Steelforce SOB broadhead’s. But to be fair, I have to admit that I always, always, always shoot the Hot Shot Manufacturing Nano or Vapor release regardless of my bow set up. For me, my release aid is extremely important because it’s the first line of “feel” that I have in my shooting experience. If my hand and anchor point aren’t comfortable and consistent, the bow and arrow I’m using then becomes irrelevant because I can’t replicate my shots. Since I’m so small, I have a hard time finding releases that fit in my hand or around my wrist and the Nano and Vapor are two releases that I can always count on to get the job done.
What conservation organizations do you support with your time and money?
These aren’t all conservation organizations but they are the outdoor organizations I’m affiliated with.
- National Wild Turkey Federation, Secretary/Board of Directors and volunteer for Jakes youth events, San Diego Chapter
- California Deer Association, member
- San Diego Junior Pheasant Hunt, volunteer (Here is an article I wrote on it since most people aren’t familiar with it: http://www.ussportsmen.org/news/southern-ca-hunters-host-youth-event/)
- Safari Club International, member of Sacramento chapter
- California Bowmen Hunters/State Archery Association, member
- San Diego Archers, member
- National Field Archery Association, member and archery instructor through USA Archery
- International Bowhunters Organization, member
- Archery Camps USA, volunteer and archery coach
- Bring a Kid Campaign, Co-Founder, volunteer, archery instructor, hunting and fishing guide
What three tried and true tips do you have to offer hunters for small game?
As an archer, I recommend the following:
- Aim small, miss small. While practicing make sure to use a small target to practice with. I like golf tees pushed into a target butt or those little plastic practice golf balls with the holes in them hanging from a string. The golf balls are especially great practice when the wind picks up and they get some movement in them. I’ve also been known to use an old receipt and let it go in the wind towards the ground and shoot it with my judo tips at varying distances to practice for small game as well.
- Shoot the tips you’re going to shoot before you go hunting. Judo tips, snaros, etc. fly differently than field points, so practice first. If you’re going to be shooting into the air, practice with flu flu arrows if you’re required by law to shoot those in your state.
- If you can find a place with lots of predator signs, you will find your small game gold mine. Sometimes it’s easier to pick up on predator signs than small game signs since tracks and scat is easier to spot from a larger animal. I like to look at the scat from coyotes especially and see what’s in it—if it’s fluffy, I know I likely have rabbits or hares around me.
In all of the years of hunting what is the most important lesson you have learned from the outdoors?
Well, perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from the outdoors doesn’t come just from hunting but it comes from growing up camping, backpacking and being in some less than optimal situations in the outdoors. I would say that one should always prepare for the worst scenario because Mother Nature isn’t always rainbows and sunshine and trips rarely go as actually planned. Likewise, when things don’t always go as planned, it is a good reminder that we are not always in charge and that the wild is just that: wild, which means it’s often unforgiving. Measures of our strength as humans and as survivalists are often tested in ways one never assumes. So, with that, be prepared to unzip your tent on a snowy morning only to find that a bison is standing over your hot coal pile from the fire the night before. Staring you down while you lay there, 4 feet away before he snorts those coals into your face and all over your tent and starts to stomp and glare at you in a very unfriendly manner. Don’t assume that your food supply will be there in the morning as bears decide to play tetherball with your backpack hung from a tree while you’re fishing the river. Just because it is sunny and warm while you’re hiking a few miles in doesn’t mean that you won’t be almost turned into a lightening rod while sitting in your tree stand as an unexpected lightening storm rolls through. And while backpacking in the backcountry for two weeks, remember that if you don’t have a waterproof map, make sure to bring a compass and mark down your direction of travel origination before you end up without a readable map, wandering trail-less territory for two days longer than you intended your initial trip to be—or worse. While these scenarios may seem drastic, they all have one thing in common: they’ve all happened to me. These experiences in my younger years have taught me to always, always prepare for the worst scenario possible in the gear I pack, in the ways that I plan my trips, and the light heart I carry about making memories that may not be “exactly how I planned it”.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Yes, I’d love that!
What would you like other hunters and non-hunters to know about you as a hunter/huntress?
I suppose that one of the most important things I would like people to know is that while I am a hunter and hunting defines much of my life, the desire to impact people and communities positively is why I do what I do. Yes I hunt and I love to hunt but I am an advocate for the outdoors because it brings people together in ways the nothing else is capable of. Being active in the outdoors creates relationships, tests strength, helps strengthen bonds and empowers families and communities to have a voice because there is power in numbers. I also advocate for the outdoors because it creates health communities and healthy kids through both physical activity and real food sources. I believe that as a nation we have become quite complacent, depoliticized and anti-intellectual somewhere along the line and bridging communities and building relationships is the only way to reinvest in putting the power back with the people. I see my involvement with the outdoors as a way to intervene on our current state of affairs and to intervene on the alienation that many American’s experience in their daily lives. I don’t know if many people know that I’m actually working on my PhD in Public Policy and Social Change with a focus on pro-hunting policy work. I plan to use California as a case study in my dissertation. If HSUS wants to make California the poster child for anti-hunting, I am want to combat that with making California the poster child for how hunting, fishing and other consumptive outdoor recreation can actually build community and in turn, combat anti-hunting and anti-2nd amendment agendas at the polls through some education.
When youngsters and their parents come up to meet you for a quick photo or autograph, what message do you hope to convey?
It’s always humbling and very sweet when this happens. I try to always remember to ask kids for their autograph when they ask for mine because the message I want to convey is that they can follow their dreams and in my life, they are the stars! Kids are much of the reason for why I do what I do. I want them to feel a boost of confidence and I want them to know that they have someone who is rooting for them. I think it also sends a clear message that I’m just a regular person who is following my dreams, just like them.
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?
No, I think that there is room for everyone in the hunting and shooting sports. In fact, I would go so far as to say that not only is there room but we need women to continue to grow in percentage because without women joining the ranks of hunting and shooting, we will continue to see the decline of acceptance of both hunting and shooting which will eventually lead to its demise.
Have you ever experienced any discrimination (or on the flip side, any benefit) because you are a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field?
Yes, both. I’ve especially experienced gendered discrimination from the anti-hunting crowd and the crowd that is pro-hunting and pro-weapons but anti-armed women. As far as within the hunting community, yes, there are always those few who think women are “less than” or incapable of hunting alone or without a man’s hand in the pot. In that case, it gets really tiring to try and intervene all the time on the sexism. Rather than do that, I generally either remove myself from the situation or play into it and let them do “the work”…I mean by all means, if you want to lift that big ol’ heavy tree stand up and hang it in the tree, be my guest. I know that I can do it so I have nothing to prove to myself and I’m sure don’t feel the need to prove myself to someone who already thinks that I am “less than”. I guess this really comes back to the whole idea of work smarter, not harder. Hahaha! Who is the smart one in this situation? Now, I will absolutely intervene on sexism when it comes to certain situations. For example, I feel it is my responsibility to locate a downed animal that I shot, to drag it out and to dress it out and take care of the meat. I don’t allow anyone to take that from me because that is part of the hunt and part of celebrating the success—it is also part of the respect one should show for an animal that has just given it’s life. Of course, accepting help from friends is always welcomed in certain situations and I do enjoy chivalry quite a bit but if it’s part of the “she’s a woman and can’t do it” school of thought, then there will be some words exchanged. I will also always intervene if there is a youth present in the situation of sexism because I don’t want any child, male or female, to think that because of their gender, they are unable to do something. I also have witnessed men mistreating other males and I think that is important to bring attention to that as well. While the conversation and spotlight is often on females, I have seen plenty of grown men pick on boys or male youth for “not being manly enough”. For example, I recently witnessed two adult males pick on a young teenage boy after he had harvested his very first animal. His crime? Wanting to wear gloves while dressing out his quarry. Rather than just giving the kid a pair of latex gloves and teaching him how to dress out, they continued to ridicule him to the point of teary eyes, in front of an audience. I would imagine that this kid will likely never volunteer to go hunting again anytime soon. I think that reverse sexism and sexism is experienced by both genders in different ways and neither of those experiences are conducive to growing the hunting community to protect our heritage and legacy for a continued future.
When it comes to hunting gear, how do you feel about gear specifically designed for women (guns, clothing, packs, etc.)?
With women being the quickest growing segment in hunting, companies are starting to adapt products made especially with the smaller framed human in mind. I appreciate that companies are taking the time to notice that some women struggle with the sizing of hunting gear and equipment. However, I believe that there is one company in particular that has set the standard high for female hunting gear and that is Prois Hunting and Field Apparel. The ladies at Prois have really taken the time to build pieces that women can count on for high functioning, high quality performance while in the field.