DUNELLON -- To celebrate her 19th birthday, Taylor Elliott wanted to kill her first wild hog. So her parents, Mark and Ellen Elliott of Orlando, sprang for a new 12-gauge shotgun and a weekend at a private, 4,000-acre hunting lease. Since the family had never hunted together, they signed up with Beyond B.O.W. — a 2-year-old, guided hunting program founded by Tampa outdoors outfitter Jeanene Arrington-Fisher.
Beyond B.O.W. is an extension of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s popular “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” workshops, which have introduced hundreds of women to hunting, fishing, camping, paddling and other skills over the past 18 years. Arrington-Fisher, a longtime B.O.W. instructor, says some of her students needed a bit of extra encouragement to enjoy their newfound skills in the wild.
“Once women finished their classes, they were still intimidated to take their children out,” she said. “Beyond B.O.W. allows us to offer events more to families. A guide or instructor is present and women feel more comfortable, and they’ll come out with their children and their husband.”
Arrington-Fisher arranged the weekend at the Dunellon hunting lease for the Elliotts and five other female hunters. The outing included group meals, camping facilities, transportation to hunting blinds, and a hunting guide, if requested.
However, Taylor wanted to sit in her ground blind alone with her new gun, unassisted. After all, the Seminole State College sophomore was hardly new to the outdoors; she builds custom fishing rods as a part-time job and has been fishing “since I could walk.”
“I liked fishing, and I figured I’d try hunting,” she said.
Taylor sat patiently in her blind, gun on her lap, all afternoon on a recent Friday, waiting to see if a feral hog would come to a nearby feeder. Just before dark, her quiet vigil was rewarded.
A large, black boar wandered up to the feeder about 100 feet from where Taylor sat.
“I was sitting down, just took my time,” she recounted. “Too much adrenaline, so I didn’t feel anything.”
She aimed and shot the animal behind the shoulder. It charged off a short distance, then she heard it bash into a tree. Taylor left the blind and searched for about 10 minutes before finding her quarry dead next to the tree. She sent a text message to Arrington-Fisher, who sent a couple of fellow hunters to help Taylor load the hog onto an ATV.
Back at camp, Taylor posed, smiling, for numerous photos of her trophy, estimated at 200 pounds with 2 1/2-inch tusks.
“You should mount the head because that’s a big hog,” advised fellow hunter Ellie Willingham, 24, a taxidermist and furrier in Odessa, who also was looking to shoot her first hog.
Willingham said she encountered a herd of about a dozen of the animals while in her blind. She fired her rifle but missed.
“The sight might have been off on my gun,” Willingham said. “I didn’t hit anything.”
Several hunters pitched in to help butcher the hog, which Taylor said she planned to eat and also turn into a head mount, as Willingham suggested. Willingham put the severed head in a cooler while the ham steaks went to a separate container.
“I would mount it because it would be my first one,” Willingham said wistfully.
Also along on the Beyond B.O.W. hunt was Julia Wright of Thonotosassa, who had just spent a rough week working as sales coordinator for a Tampa hotel during the Republican National Convention. Her boyfriend, an avid hunter, encouraged her to take off.
“I’m surprised I have hair after the RNC was over,” Wright said.
She didn’t even spot a hog in an evening and morning of hunting, but did see two deer — a spiked buck and a doe — while sitting in her blind. Unfortunately for Wright, deer were out of season.
Still, she said she had fun.
“My boyfriend says, ‘You need more friends who like to hunt so you don’t harass me every time,’ ” Wright said with a laugh. “He’s fine with me going off. Then he thinks he doesn’t have to take me. ‘Thinks’ is the key word.”
Arrington-Fisher says 50 to 60 hunters have participated in her Beyond B.O.W. program since she launched it 2 years ago. She charged $125 per person for the weekend in Dunellon.
“We try to keep it affordable to the average family,” she said. “If we make these recreational sports available at a reasonable price, we can get more people interested.”