Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Paula Linhares vividly remembers the first time she hunted, harvested and field-dressed a wild turkey, describing it as a spiritual experience.
It was May 2018 and Linhares, a native of Brooklyn, New York, had lived in Colorado for just three years. She was a novice hunter then and a member of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 2018 Rookie Sportsperson Program (RSP) when she shot her turkey.
“It was just beautiful,” Linhares said. “When I cut open the bird at the neck, you could see that it had been eating dandelions that morning. That, to me, was just awesome. That’s the purity of what I’ve just caught.”
I sought out Linhares last month during a break in classes for the 2019 Rookie Sportsperson Program. I’ve spent the past year as an RSP student, along with my daughter Natalie, to learn about hunting, fishing, camping and all the ways you can enjoy the Colorado outdoors.
Since Linhares is an RSP graduate, I was interested to learn of her experiences and how it has influenced her life since.
Like Linhares, Natalie and I earned our Hunter Education cards through the RSP. In the past year, we’ve gone on a variety of adventures with our CPW mentors, wildlife officers known as District Wildlife Managers or DWMs. We’ve gone turkey hunting in Limon, dove hunting at the South Republican State Wildlife Area, fishing at Lake Pueblo State Park, pheasant hunting in Rush, and attended multiple CPW classes on topics like field dressing wild game. At the moment, I’m gearing up for my first-ever pronghorn hunt.
The RSP takes people like Linhares, Natalie and me, who have little or no outdoor experience, and teach them outdoor skills. Hopefully, attendees are inspired to get outside and sample all the adventures available in Colorado’s great outdoors.
But with no RSP outings to share this month, I thought it would be a good time to chat with someone from a previous RSP class to get their perspective on the program. So I reached out to Linhares, who works as executive administrative assistant to the director of the El Paso County Public Health Department.
Before moving to Colorado with her husband three years ago, Linhares worked in fundraising for both Princeton University and for a large hospital in New Jersey.
Linhares said her background in fundraising led to her being invited to volunteer with the National Wild Turkey Federation – America’s Mountain Chapter. It was via the turkey federation that she met CPW Area Wildlife Manager Frank McGee and learned about the RSP program.
“I really can’t engage myself in helping the National Wild Turkey Federation if I don’t really understand what turkey hunting is about,” Linhares said she told McGee.
He suggested the Rookie Sportsperson Program would be a good way for Linhares to learn all about the ethos of hunting. So she applied to RSP in February 2018 with the objective of learning hunting etiquette.
“That was my main motivation,” she said. “But what I got out of it was so much more. I felt like I was part of this special group.
“Growing up in New York City, you have this mindset of what hunters are like – brash guys in pick-up trucks. I got a totally different image (after) meeting these people selected for the program.”
She said she also came away with a much different understanding of the value of hunting.
“It’s all about conservation, taking animals ethically, hunting for your food and the purity of the food,” Linhares said. “All of that just really got me jazzed. So it became a passion for me.”
Back to her first turkey hunt. Linhares said her mentor, DWM Corey Adler, took her to the Air Force Academy on May 12, 2018.
“We went over to Jack’s Valley, and that’s where I got my tom,” she said. “It was about a 20-pounder.”
That’s when she experienced the spiritual revelation of hunting.
I had also recently experienced this feeling while field dressing the chukar partridge my daughter, Natalie, and I harvested last month. I told Linhares about how much fun it had been to have my 14-year-old going through the program with me. Linhares thought that it was fantastic and agreed more young people should be exposed to hunting.
“Another of my passions is helping young people understand the responsibility of owning a gun and of our hunting heritage,” Linhares said. “So to have someone who’s 14 years old recognize the importance of that is very encouraging.”
I asked Linhares what she felt she would take away from her year with the Rookie Sportsperson Program.
“I think I have a really good sense of the ethics of hunting now,” she said. “I think it enhanced my respect for wildlife and conservation. It was spiritual for me. It was just being out there and the quiet and the peace and the lack of all the noise that you hear on the news.
“It was nice to just sit in this place and just look out at the sky and hear the sounds of nature. It’s like a reunion with nature and your true being and our heritage. When did hunting get a bad name? It’s something to be proud of. Where did we lose that?”
Linhares also said she found it to be a great way to connect with her own heritage.
“As a black woman, you don’t see many of us at the shooting ranges or hunting for that matter,” Linhares said. “So it’s like reuniting with what my heritage is as an African American woman. Hunting is a big part of our culture. To grow up in a country where it’s frowned upon is appalling.
“A program like this is invaluable for teaching young people, for minority kids, that this is important and you need to know how to do it right. You learn great skills of respect and honor and partnership with people. It’s all wrapped up in the ethos of hunting. It’s a great thing. I consider myself incredibly honored.”
Next month I’ll be going on my first-ever big game hunt with my daughter as well as our RSP mentor, DWM Logan Wilkins.
Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org