What I Learned Growing Up As An Outfitters Daughter

Written by Lindsey Wheeler

Whenever people find out that my dad is Sy Gilliland one of the first things they ask me is, “How many big animals have you killed?” I always look, smile, and say, “One.” This answer always astonishes people and they generally go on to ask silly questions like: Are you a bad shot? Do you not like hunting? You mean one a year? WHY? The answers to these questions are simple. No I am actually a pretty good shot, I love hunting, and no I mean one in my entire life.

Now what about the “why.” Why would someone who has access to some incredible land only have one trophy animal on their wall? That questions could simply be answered with, “It’s never been about that for me.” However there is a much deeper reason as to why it’s not about that for me, and that reason circles around to my dad and the way hunting was treated in our house.

When I finally became old enough to go hunting we would have conversations about areas and most importantly need. A conversation I still remember to this day was when my dad sat me down and said, “We will put you in for antelope this year. Grandma and grandpa want one and I told them you could get one for them. Now we’ll need to get up early, because Grandma says it has to have just woken up, it can’t be hot out, and you have to get it with one shot so there is no running.” This is how hunting was treated in our house. When deciding what tags we were going to put in for we always treated it as if we were writing our grocery list. What did we need that particular year. It was very rare for my sister and I to both have elk tags in our pockets, because there wasn’t a need for it. Two years ago I drew a moose tag, and no one else in our immediate family put in for any tags, because we knew a moose would be more than enough for the year.

While we always treated hunting as getting our meat there was of course the excitement of the hunt added to the equation. After the draw results would come out we would begin daydreaming about what would await us on the mountain or in the prairie. The way my dad treated the hunt was what put the bug in me for the rest of time. We would check, double, and triple check our bags. We would spend hours at the range making sure our guns were dialed in, and when the day finally arrived we would wake up long before the sun to begin our adventure. Our drive to our area always included my dad sharing memories of his first hunt or that one time him and grandpa did whatever. It felt as if he was letting us join in on a secret club that only the greatest were part of. We would pull into our area, put on our orange, load our guns and the hunt was on. In Wyoming there is no shortage of animals and we could have finished most hunts at first light, but it was always an unspoken secret that we would drag it out as long as possible. We would find the “perfect goat/elk/deer.” Prefect didn’t mean big. Perfect was the one that gave the best shot, was mature, or one you just couldn’t turn down. We would stalk up with dads long legs easily clearing the sagebrush as my short ones had to navigate around. He would pull out the shooting sticks and give me instruction, “right behind the shoulder, a little to the left, the wind is blowing keep that in mind, be ready right away to shoot again.” Then the part of the hunt I lived for would happen. I would make the shot and the man who I adore would slap me on the shoulder and yell, “That’a girl!”

You see hunting isn’t about harvesting a monster to me. If I happen to be lucky and a monster is also the “perfect” animal that is just an added bonus. For me the best part of hunting is spending time with the people I love the most. It is filling our freezer and feeding my children the true definition of organic meat. It is creating memories that will be with me until my final days, and it’s about being in God’s greatest creation and enjoying nature. These are the lessons about hunting that my dad has instilled in me, and I hope to create the same love and passion for my boys.