Shoot to thrill 

Georgia Pellegrini takes aim at antiquated stereotypes with her Girl Hunter Weekend. But does she hit the target?

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"He said, 'I would love to get this celebrity out here,'" Deidre says. "So he wanted me to figure out a way to connect with her on social media."

Georgia's book had already pushed her into the spotlight. She showed up on "Jimmy Kimmel" to make boar meatballs and was a judge for "Iron Chef." Publications ranging from The New Yorker to American Hunter to Bitch magazine reviewed her book. The original Girl Hunter Weekend took place in Texas at Joshua Creek, but was mainly intended to generate interest in the book.

After Deidre contacted her, Georgia agreed to revive the Girl Hunter Weekend. Before the first gathering at Belt Creek, the Wall Street Journal published a preview in its weekend travel edition and Deidre says the September weekend filled with 20 reservations and a waiting list almost immediately. A second weekend was added a month later and attracted 15 more guests.

"It was interesting to have women from 18 years old to early 20s to 60s," Mark says. "And they found a common ground, which was kind of this adventure, playing in a man's world, so to speak, without men, many of them learning these things for the first time. They bonded and connected and it transcended age and socioeconomics—everything."

click to enlarge Holly, a San Diego lawyer, shoots at a clay pigeon while ranch owner Mark Hawn Jr. looks on. Clay shooting at the Ranches at Belt Creek is one event that attracts guests to the three-day, $2,000-plus Girl Hunter Weekend. - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Holly, a San Diego lawyer, shoots at a clay pigeon while ranch owner Mark Hawn Jr. looks on. Clay shooting at the Ranches at Belt Creek is one event that attracts guests to the three-day, $2,000-plus Girl Hunter Weekend.

After dropping my bags in the cabin, I return to the lodge hoping to talk with Georgia and watch her in action. But the women have been split into two groups and mine does not include Georgia. I see her only briefly, notice that she's changed into a new set of clothes, and then I am whisked away with my group to the great outdoors.

•••

Georgia has an origin story about her hunting experience that she retells in every interview she gives. She grew up fishing for trout on her great grandfather's land in upstate New York. After attending a Manhattan private school alongside the likes of Ivanka Trump, she went into finance and ended up on Wall Street. But she was unfulfilled in the sense that money can't buy happiness and since the one thing she loved to do was cook, she applied to the French Culinary Institute in New York.

Georgia's culinary education took her to ritzy farm-to-table restaurants in New York, like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and to France. And that might have been the end of the story, except for the turkey incident. At Stone Barns she and the other chefs were told they'd be killing five turkeys for the evening's meal. In Girl Hunter she writes:

In that moment, for the first time in my life, I considered becoming a vegetarian. And just as quickly I thought, "If I'm going to be a chef, then I'm going to eat meat." And if I was going to eat meat, I needed to be able to kill it myself.

That first turkey kill was emotional and intense; it awakened a dormant part of me—something primal, perhaps that original human instinct. It made a kind of sense I could feel deep within me, the kind that makes me want to be a true omnivore.

On her blog and in her book, Georgia calls hunting "paying the full karmic price for the meal," which reveals a philosophy that several foodie writers before her—like Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma—have explored. But Georgia also displays a dramatic flair that attracts the attention of television hosts and producers. In a trailer for her book you can see Georgia strutting toward the camera with her aviators on, gun slung over her shoulder, rock music blaring. In her narration she gives a snappy summation of how she worked at Lehman Brothers but "traded in her laptop for a set of knives" and that she's left the grocery aisles to go "into the wild."

"Sometimes I'm a lady, sometimes I run with the boys," she says.

The trailer ends with another catchphrase: "I'm an omnivore who has solved her dilemma."

I have my own stories about hunting, but they lack any catchphrases. My favorite occurred five years ago when my dad broke the news to me that I would be inheriting his .30-06, a rifle he inherited from his dad. Being the oldest child of the family, he explained, this inheritance was my birthright. He had a look of pride and gruff finality in his voice when he told me this over a cup of coffee one evening. I almost choked. I let the news sink in, nodded grimly to confirm my acceptance and took a long, pensive sip from my drink.

click to enlarge A group of Girl Hunter guests rides horses across the ranch club’s 200 recreational acres. - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • A group of Girl Hunter guests rides horses across the ranch club’s 200 recreational acres.

The thing is, I never saw myself as a dedicated hunter. I remember walking through the woods once with my father on a bird hunting expedition, watching my now-deceased dog bounding through orange leaves. I breathed in the cool autumn air and studied how my dad hit a grouse as it sprang from the bushes. I always wanted to hunt in a far-off, romanticized way. I enjoyed the wild game processed into breakfast sausage or sautéed in stir fry. I just didn't feel at ease with a gun, not trusting myself to hold one without it going off and causing permanent damage.

But my first time at a shooting range was anything but horrible. I took a deep breath and concentrated, the gun in my arms smooth and heavy. I calmed myself, steadied the rifle and aimed, the butt tight against the top of my armpit. I cleared my head of all but my dad's simple instruction: squeeze the trigger gently. I felt like the last best sniper and then felt my disembodied finger pull. The boom was deafening, and the bruising from the recoil left me exhilarated.

In the following years I didn't go bird hunting but I did find luck with big game. My first antelope required two shots. I dropped my second antelope on the first shot; it happened so quickly I didn't even notice that I got it. A half-hour later I found her dead in the field with the bullet hole clean through her upper neck. I remember the sensation that so many hunters talk about—a pang of sorrow for the antelope's death, a pride in my shot, a sense of belonging to a larger food chain and that feeling that I've taken responsibility for what I'm eating.

At Girl Hunter Weekend, I feel less certain. I haven't handled a shotgun in a long time, but I can't imagine it's too different from my 7mm.08. I might even be the sharp-shooter of the group if I can just remember to stay steady.

It's during downtime at the shooting range that I finally get to talk with some of the guests. One woman who looks like a rodeo queen with black glossy hair and long, thick eyelashes holds a pair of orange earplugs in her hands and pretends to swallow them with a bottle of water.

"You know, like in Christmas Vacation," she says.

We all laugh. Before long, the group is listing other scenes from the Vacation movies, talking about Caddyshack and quoting lines.

As it turns out, the rodeo queen isn't a rodeo queen but rather a Texas roper. Her perfectly crafted beauty is made more than skin-deep with her magnetic personality. She has a husky laugh and a propensity for delivering witty one liners. Her badass tom-boy attitude and sense of humor have her using terms like "douche-nozzle." I find out that she didn't come to the weekend on her own dime"I couldn't afford this, could you?" she asks me—but as an employee of Stetson. She's mainly here to fit all the women with new hats.

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