The New Face of the American Hunter

It's three o'clock outside an elementary school in Missoula, Montana. An armada of trucks, cars, SUVs and vans wait for the bell to signify an oncoming horde of children, free from the confines of their classrooms. Nine-year-old Briger Peterson is among the masses being shuffled off from school to some kind of after-school activity. Her mother, Lindsay Persico, is waiting in the car, with Briger's gear in the back. There are no ballet slippers, soccer cleats or softball mitts waiting for her, however.

Instead, she changes into a dingy pair of jeans with red stains, pulls her Cabela's sweatshirt over her long blonde hair and lightly freckled face, and a pink lettered, camo Mossy Oak Girl, hat. Her footwear today is a pair of bright pink Sorel's boots, which differs from her other hunting footwear, a pair of turquoise cowgirl boots. Today's after-school activity is spring bear hunting, and her coach is the hunter Briger wants to be just like, her mom.

Briger and her mom are both members of the fastest growing demographic in hunting, women. According to the National Census Bureau, the amount of women hunting increased by 25 percent between 2006 and 2011. The number is still roughly 19 percent of the hunting community in total, but the upward trend is a sign of a thriving heritage.

This trend isn't specific to the U.S. either, according to the New York Times an influx of women hunting in Norway has grown by 60 percent over the last decade.

The global cross-continent trend can, at the least, be contributed to people taking more of an interest in where their food comes from and a need to get out of urban cities.

In the last decade, for the first time in human history, the world saw a majority of populations move from rural communities into urban environments. A national survey put out by the research firm Responsive Management, also showed the majority of hunters in 2013 chose food as the leading reason why they hunted.

For Briger, though, the chance to be outside may be more about emulating her hero. During the drive to bear country in western Montana she confesses she wants to hunt everything her mom has. This includes bears, deer, elk and more.

She also wants to go bow fishing and while she won't hunt anything as exotic as an elephant, she would like a baby one to go with the pet turtle she also wants.

Briger's bright blue eyes light up when she gets to talk about hunting and guns, and you can even catch a glimpse of a gold-crowned tooth when the conversation speeds up.

A proclaimed tomboy, she has no need for Barbies or other "stupid" toys, but instead likes to shoot her .223, .22 and 7mm-08, that exhibit her blossoming collection.

"I like shooting guns," Briger says. "I shoot squirrels."

She can't always remember the names and calibers of her collection, but she can tell you how her .22 is only sighted in for her and how she outshot her dad, back in Idaho, with every detail.

The red stains on her pants aren't from chalk, finger paint, or anything else she may turn her nose up at, but instead the stains are blood from a moose she helped pack out the previous hunting season. For her, the blood is a badge of honor.

The day after the moose hunt, Lindsay says Briger was excited to show off her blood-stained shoes to the kids in class.

Briger has been going on hunts almost since she could walk, accompanying her mom on the sides of hills, glassing for deer and elk.

Lindsay says Briger was born to hunt, almost literally. When she was 8 months pregnant, Lindsay went hunting in eastern Montana. After carefully researching every local hospital in the area, she shot three antelope and two turkeys.

Back on the way to bear country, the car speeds down the highway where the city gives way to pasture and river land and a right turn has the vehicle heading straight into snow-capped mountains.

The weather is classic spring in Montana, which featured sun, rain and snow earlier in the day. The weather won't bother either Briger, or Lindsay too much though.

The car takes a dirt road to a closed gate and a small wooden bridge crossing a babbling creek.

The sun shines for now, but dark clouds converge to the north and threaten another unpredictable bout of weather.


briger-pinecone-killer.jpg?mtime=20170619153832#asset:2586

In a Cabela's sweatshirt of her own, Lindsay shoulders her pack and straps on a .44 magnum in her hip holster, before helping Briger pull her binoculars on. The binoculars are handed down through the family, once belonging to Lindsay's father, then to her and now to Briger. Another legacy from a tight-knit hunting family.

Briger's enthusiasm for hunting does not dispel the fact she is still a 9-year-old and Lindsay packs accordingly. Extra clothes, a neck gaiter, a baggie of goldfish crackers all fit into the pack and are essential for even the shortest, after-school outings into the mountains.

Rifle in one hand, mother and daughter begin walking down a dirt path, typically designated for fathers and sons. Briger's tomboy shell cracks just enough to reach over and hold Lindsay's hand.

Hunting is shaping Briger's younger siblings live's as well, with her 8-year-old sister Quincy, taking up archery and two-year-old brother Mason's limited vocabulary already showing enthusiasm for hunting.

This year, after her tenth birthday, will be Briger's first opportunity to hunt big game, through Montana's apprentice program. She will be the same age as her mom when she started hunting.

Lindsay took hunter's education in her home state of Idaho, and harvested her first animal that following spring, a tom turkey. She says her dad was so proud you could hear him bragging about his daughter in every hunting circle.

Lindsay wants to help Briger find a whitetail for her first hunt, but Briger wants a turkey, just like her mom.

Lindsay's first turkey was the first step in a life where the freezer is always stocked with wild game. It's a feature Briger isn't exactly thrilled about yet. As a picky 9-year-old, she isn't thrilled about eating the same thing every night for dinner, unless it was cotton candy.

The dirt path leads higher onto the mountain, where a recent burn will provide a vantage point. The going is slow, however.

Animal tracks, droppings and pink wildflowers all merit a close inspection. Lindsay bends down and puts a gloved finger in the dirt, outlining a set of tracks in dried mud to Briger.

Briger already recognizes tracks and can distinguish between elk and deer. The droppings deserve closer inspection and require being stirred with a stick before coming to a conclusion on what left them behind.

"All the stuff you would have walked right by, you will stop and notice" Lindsay says. "Your success rate drops, but that's never the priority."

The hunt turns to more of a nature walk as Briger doesn't fully grasp the concept of quiet. Her tendency to find pine cones and stomp on them isn't conducive to a successful hunt either, but the noise doesn't phase Lindsay, who savors the moments. The time is precious.


briger-fallen-tree.jpg?mtime=20170619153829#asset:2583

briger-tree.jpg?mtime=20170619153835#asset:2589

briger-grass.jpg?mtime=20170619153830#asset:2584

Briger is already skipping a self defense course to be on the hunt and between that, jiu jitsu, kickboxing, soccer and school, time can be a precious commodity.

The dirt path leads uphill and levels out near a ledge overlooking a wide drainage. "This is the steepest hill I've ever hiked" says Briger. With clear views of the hills on the other side, it's a perfect place to glass for grazing bears.

Lindsay takes a seat in a green patch of grass along the ledge, leans back and lifts her binoculars to her eyes. Her camouflaged clone sits next to her with an oversized set of binoculars lifted to her own eyes. Lindsay tells Briger to look for patches of grass, giving her a lesson on what bears, waking from hibernation, want to eat.

The third grader's restlessness begins to get the better of her, though, as glassing a hillside is a skill developed through time and patience two departments Briger is lacking in. A nine-year-old on a hunting trip is still a nine-year-old after all. According to her, hunting is much easier in Cabela's Big Game Hunter, except when the wolves and grizzly bears kill her of course.

Briger steps back from the ledge, digs through the pack and pulls out the goldfish, which is good because she is "literally" starving to death. Through mouthfuls of crackers she tells more stories about her mother and her amazing feats.

"Mommy saw a hyena when she was driving in Idaho," Briger says.

"What? No a wolverine," Lindsay says, correcting her.

"Whatever," Briger says, and goes in for another bite of crackers.

Lindsay stays on the ledge, eyes glued to her binoculars while Briger balances on a rock, eats her goldfish and rapid fires an endless supply of "what if" questions regarding life and death in a charging bear situation. Lindsay answers each question fluid and unphased.

Seemingly satisfied that her mother would sacrifice herself to the hypothetical bear in question, Briger steers the topic to how "pretty and soft" her mother's hair is, followed by analysis of the other third grade girls in her class and their hair. Lindsay flows through the transition effortlessly, the way a conversation with a best friend should go.

Even more restless, Briger pokes Lindsay's back and after getting no reaction, climbs on top of her. She tries taking pictures with a small digital camera, but the batteries won't work. It's a shame, considering she is a self proclaimed selfie expert. Later she would find she put the batteries in backward.

During the conversation of hair and charging bears, the ominous clouds to the north become the ominous clouds directly above. The wind picks up, the temperature drops and snow flurries begin.

Lindsay digs through the backpack to find a jacket for Briger. Briger pulls it on and the sleeves hang well over her hands. Snow falls harder and she replaces the Mossy Oak Girl hat with a pink beanie.

After much convincing, Lindsay decides to head back down the mountain. On the way down, Briger finds several surviving pine cones and hops from one to the other, with a satisfying crunch each time she lands.

The duo walk down the path hand-in-hand and stop in a flat section of meadow, overlooking another drainage and burned forest. The hillside is littered with stump bears, but even then, Lindsay makes out a body and some tan coloring.

She pulls up her binoculars to study a herd of five or six elk. Not her quarry, but a teaching lesson nonetheless. These are the important moments to focus on. Lindsay calls Briger over and tells her where the herd is, but makes Briger find them on her own with the binoculars.

Briger's restless, goofy nature changes into an attentive curious excitement. The sight of the elk put a charge through her body, a bit of a reminder on why hunting is fun, and why she was excited to go into the woods.

Briger ranged the elk and even discussed how she would sneak up on them if she was hunting them. Lindsay and Briger watch the elk for almost 15 minutes, also spotting several whitetails feeding through the burn, but no bears.

The hunt ends on a high note though, and the excitement of seeing game, regardless of season, is all Lindsay really could have hoped for. It's one more stick fueling an already raging fire.

Its close to 7:30, almost five hours since school let out, when Briger starts talking about dinner and comfy pajamas. The conversation is Lindsay's cue to head back to the car.

On the way down the path, the goofy nine-year-old comes back out, giggling while she holds her mom's hand. Briger goes into her best California, valley girl voice, mimicking one of the girls in her class. Car in site, Lindsay gives Briger the laugh she was gunning for.


lindsay-briger-holding-hands.jpg?mtime=20170619153825#asset:2578

"You should totally get a Medicare," Briger says.

"You mean a manicure?," Lindsay asked, with a small chuckle.

"Whatever," Briger says.

Story and photos by Cavan Williams