Hunting Ashlee Lundvall Style

Forward: Sometimes there are people who inspire. Ashlee Lundvall is one of those people. We asked her to share her story with us. She is an accomplished hunter and what makes all of her hunting accomplishments even more amazing is that she does it all from a wheelchair.  Ashlee is an inspirational speaker, author, and avid outdoorswoman passionately pursuing a redefined life.

Hunting. The word brings so many different reactions- some positive and some negative. I had no idea that being a hunter would so set me apart in the Ms. Wheelchair USA competition, but I have to admit, I received more questions about it than any other outdoor activity in which I participate. The main questions ranged from "How do you shoot those poor animals?" to "Can I come and hunt with you?" So I thought I would try and cover some of the main topics with information from my own personal experiences with hunting. I'm not attempting to change anyone's mind on the subject; I just wanted to share my feelings to clear up any confusion and offer my side of the topic.

First of all, let me explain how I became involved in hunting. I was born and raised in Indiana, where hunting is definitely available, but not quite on the same scale as it is in other areas of the US. I had a few friends who hunted, but it wasn't a way of life in my household. I had never shot a gun or skinned anything beyond science experiments in high school. I had tasted wild game a few times, but nothing worth mentioning. So when I fell in love with a boy from Wyoming, who had been hunting his entire life, my perspective on the sport changed dramatically.

When I moved to Wyoming in 2007 after marrying Russ, I quickly realized that hunting wasn't just a sport, it was a way of life- a vital opportunity for some people to feed their family. I had always pictured beer-drinking rednecks in camo and orange laying waste to herds of baby deer in an attempt to bring home "the big one" to grace their already crowded log cabin walls. And while I'm not saying that there aren't irresponsible hunters out there, for the most part, people in Wyoming take hunting safety and regulations very seriously.

When I was approached by a friend who is also in a wheelchair about starting a non-profit for hunters with disabilities, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put my computer skills to good use. I had no idea that I would soon be doing so much more than taking notes for meetings. We founded Wyoming Disabled Hunters in 2008, with our inaugural hunt in the fall of 2009. When I was approached about being a hunter, I was a little reluctant at first. Could I pull the trigger? Would I want to pull the trigger? At the encouragement of family and friends, I decided to try. And I'm so glad I did!

I not only love hunting, but I love being a resource for other people who want to hunt. I have found so much healing in the outdoors, and my desire is to help others find that experience as well. With all of the adaptive gear and hunting programs available today, there is really no reason why anyone can’t enjoy this lifestyle. I am incredibly proud to be a hunter, and we are raising another generation of hunters through our daughter. Here are a few of my top reasons for fully immersing myself and my family in hunting.

#1: I love being outdoors in any capacity, and hunting allows you to experience nature as never before. One of my biggest fears after my accident was that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the outdoors as a person living with a disability, and hunting destroys those old fears! Viewing animals in their natural habitat is a pretty exhilarating experience. Sometimes animals walk so close to the hunting blind that you could literally reach out and touch them. It's amazing! As an animal lover, this is definitely one of the perks of hunting. My husband almost always goes along as my companion hunter, and it's a wonderful experience to share together. After reading that, you're probably asking yourself, "How can you say that and then shoot the animals?" That builds on to the next reason I enjoy hunting.

#2: The thrill of the hunt. There is something very primal and rewarding about being a successful hunter. From the months of preparation, to the placement of the blind, to the patient wait, to the actual shot, there is so much that goes into being successful in harvesting an animal. I prefer to give the animals a fighting chance, and I appreciate it more if I have to work for it. Outsmarting the animal is half the battle- you also have to be responsible enough to make a clean shot. Which means prep work throughout the year and lots of practice.

It's not all about killing an animal- that part should bother you more than a little. In my opinion, if the actual kill doesn't bother you, then you have no business hunting. Animals are a gift and should always be respected. I'm not out there because I love killing animals- I'm providing for my family. Which leads me to my favorite reason of all.

#3: The food! It doesn't get much more organic than hunting wild game. Harvesting a deer, elk, or other edible creature is the best way to get fresh, affordable meat. I am able to supervise the entire process by personally processing the meat and getting exactly the cuts I want. Filling my freezer this way is not only rewarding as a wife and mom, but it is great on my pocket-book.

This also allows you to enjoy a sense of community and sharing. There are lots of folks who harvest more meat than their family can eat, and they are then able to share it with others who weren't able to harvest, or could simply use the fresh meat to feed their family. Again, hunting isn't just a sport in Wyoming- it's a way of life. And in order to continue and preserve that way of life, all hunters are also conservationists.

#4: The conservation programs are a huge part of hunting that is often overlooked or misunderstood, and I am proud to be a part of these efforts. Did you know that hunters are the largest contributors to conservation in the country? Every time I purchase a hunting license, I contribute to conservation efforts in the U.S. Every time I buy firearms, ammo, bows, and arrows, I contribute to conservation efforts in the U.S. Every time I donate to groups like RMEF, NWTF, and countless others, I contribute to conservation efforts in the U.S. Most hunters are animal lovers, and we want to preserve not only the animals, but their habitats for the next generation. And hunting funds those conservation efforts.

As far as outside the U.S., many hunters receive nasty comments and derogatory remarks when they post pictures of their animal harvests, especially when those animals include species that are either predatory (lions) or animals that people are used to observing in zoos (giraffes and zebras). What most Americans don’t understand is that the hunting industry in countries like Africa is life changing for the native people. Meat from hunts is donated to local villages, which is sometimes the only protein the people have available to them. Local hunting guides are paid more than they could ever make elsewhere, and they use the income to provide for their families. Hunting licenses fund the nation’s economy and pay for conservation efforts to stop poaching and keep the animal herds healthy and not over populated. I would much rather an animal be legally hunted and the meat given to hungry people than for the same animal to starve to death because there aren’t enough natural resources to feed the growing numbers, or to be poached and left to rot in the sun.

And as far as pictures go, I can’t speak for others, but when I post pictures of myself and the animals I have hunted, to me, it is the same thing as other people posting pictures showing their food. The pictures also remind me of the great memories and friendships that I make while hunting. It connects me to my food and the great hunting heritage that I am passing on to my daughter. It reminds me of my determination and the efforts I put forth to do my part in making sure that the animals and their habitats are still here for her generation and the generations to come after her.

I hope this helps some of you to better understand hunting and those who choose to hunt. I could list dozens of other reasons why I hunt, but these are just a few of the main ones. Again, I certainly don't speak for all hunters; this is just my explanation of a personal choice I have made. You don't have to agree, but I hope you can respect my decision as I respect the decision of those who choose to either abstain from meat altogether, or obtain their meat another way apart from hunting.

I am incredibly proud to be a hunter. I won’t ever apologize for it. I will spend my days educating others who don’t understand, empowering those who feel limited by physical disabilities, training my daughter to be ethical and responsible, and pushing myself to see what is possible.