MISSOULA, Mont. She used to cry when her father came home with a dead deer. Now she’s the first woman hunter to bag an elk in Tennessee in at least 144 years. Tami Miller of Franklin, Tenn., hopes her story will inspire other women to take up hunting.
“It’s hard to get a babysitter at 4:30 in the morning but the experience of hunting is worth the trouble,” laughs Miller. “My husband introduced me to hunting. It has definitely enhanced our marriage and our family life. It’s something we can share, something that brings us all together in the outdoors. I wish more women would try it.”
She added, “Hunting is exciting. It’s empowering and it’s beautiful. When you’re out there at sunrise, and it’s so quiet you can hear a leaf falling from a tree, it’s priceless.”
Miller and her husband, both avid conservationists and supporters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, in October participated in the state’s first elk hunt in modern times.
Elk disappeared from Tennessee in 1865 following years of habitat changes and unregulated hunting. In the 1990s, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and RMEF began an historic effort to restore a wild herd to the Volunteer State. By 2009 the population had expanded enough for hunters to take five surplus bulls. Four permits were awarded via random drawing, one via auction on eBay.
Knowing that auction proceeds would fund elk and habitat conservation, Andrew Miller didn’t mind paying $17,700 for the permit or giving the permit to Tami as a special gift.
“My husband and I scouted together through September and October and I grew more and more excited about the hunt. The historical aspects were always on my mind. I thought about the women who walked these hills a long time ago, hunting for elk so their families could survive. I felt honored to represent them,” said Miller.
When the hunt day arrived, Miller joined the four other hunters all male in a group elk camp co-sponsored by RMEF and staffed by volunteers.
“I was a little worried about being accepted. I wondered if the men would think I was pushing my way into their fraternity. But everyone was supportive and wonderful. I met so many great people who really wanted me to succeed,” she said, adding, “I was actually surprised at how many people were watching to see how the woman hunter would do. In my hometown, girls and women that I didn’t even know were coming up and wishing me luck.”
When all four of the men killed their bull on the first day, but Tami hadn’t even seen an elk yet, anxiety simmered as she worried about letting people down.
“Hunting isn’t all about getting an animal but I didn‚t want to be the only hunter who didn’t get an elk. I probably should have prayed for help finding a big bull. But, the next morning, as my husband and I hunted together in a beautiful place, with the colors of fall all around us, the stress melted away and I just thanked God for this day,” she said.
At dusk, after a long stalk, with her husband and two friends by her side, Miller finally steadied crosshairs on a bull elk, an animal many times larger than her. She was nervous. As her husband had taught her years before, she drew two deep breaths, then held the third and squeezed the trigger.
When the rifle spoke, the elk was hers.
“When I started hunting, I knew it would be fun to get outdoors with my husband and watch him doing something he loved, but I wasn’t sure I could kill an animal. Since then, I’ve learned that I can be a provider, too. I can bring food home to my family,” she said.
Miller”s 5×6 certainly wasn’t the biggest bull in the Tennessee woods but it will always symbolize an enormously important part of her life:
“Marriage is about sharing things, and, for us, hunting has become one of those things.”
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres˜a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.