As a wildlife biologist and a natural resource teacher at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Meadow Kouffeld spends a significant amount of time with the three Rs of Hunting – recruitment, retention, and reactivation. Meadow believes and cares greatly about the existence and the sustainability of the species. Highlighting the importance of hunters in the future, she aims to maintain or stabilize the decline of hunter numbers. She is dedicated to opening up the doors for women and adult hunters. She also shares her mentoring and hunting experiences.
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Discover the R3 of Hunting – Meadow Kouffeld
I’ve got a repeat guest, Meadow Kouffeld. She is a wildlife biologist. She’s a natural resource teacher at Itasca College up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She’s also a finalist in the Extreme Huntress Contest put on by Tom Opre. She did something neat. She volunteered for the Minnesota Governor’s Opener and down in Luverne, Minnesota. She had a six-hour drive to go and be with some ladies. Tell me about that experience, what the ladies learned and what you learned.
It was quite a poke to drive down there to Luverne. Luverne is located in the furthest Southwest corner of Minnesota and I’m in North Central. For a few years, I’d been asked to mentor and guide women that hunt at the Governor’s Opener. It had worked out. I had been working for the Ruffed Grouse Society that guided the national hunt that same week. In 2018, I was not associated with Ruffed Grouse Society so I was able to go. I was looking forward to it. It turned out to be a positive experience. Every year, they have a set of ladies that guide and a set of ladies that are guided or hunters themselves. It requires a background check. The governor’s there.
The Assistant or Lieutenant Governor was there. Amy Klobuchar was there and a few other and cabinet members and the state and federal. It was a big to-do and Luverne did a great job. The women’s hunt went off well. I had a lady from International Falls, which is on the Canadian border and a lady from the Grand Rapids. They both got their birds. They got to watch dogs work. I have pointing dogs and they had a blast. One of them was five months pregnant and she can’t wait to get back out. They might get into it, but on the way back I got to hunt with some of the ladies that were guides and we had a blast. It was quite an eye-opening experience to get the chance to hunt with them too.
If you Google Meadow, you’ll find that she’s done some volunteering. She’s given herself into serving the hunting community, specifically women. Why have you done that?
I’ve been hunting my whole life. My dad moved to America from the Netherlands so that he could hunt and fish and some other freedoms that are associated with America. He valued the outdoor lifestyle and he certainly passed that onto us. I’ve been growing up with it and I’ve always loved it, but it wasn’t easy early on. I had to fight for it because we were made fun of quite a bit and teased a lot for being girls that hunted, my sister and I. It brought so much joy and so much more richness to my life. It’s something I had hoped that other folks could take on, other ladies especially and share that. Over the years, it’s something that I realized that a lot of ladies never had the opportunity growing up because maybe their father or their adult mentors didn’t take them. They maybe took a brother instead or a cousin and they were overlooked because they’re female.
Hunting is traditionally associated with men, at least here in North America. A lot of ladies didn’t have that opportunity. In the last couple of years, I’ve got myself through college and even in relationships later on where I’ve continued to build my skills. At some point, it was in graduate school when I decided or somehow there was a change where it became more important to share the experience with others and give them positive experiences in the field. Less about me and my needs hunting. I still hunt a fair amount, but I have spent a lot more time every year increasingly. I’ve taken other folks out and sharing the experience with them. Is this something that brings me a great amount of joy? My cheeks hurt. I can barely sleep at night after I’ve taken someone hunting and they got their first bird or they had a good experience and they’re excited about it. It’s become a higher level of personal fulfillment for me. In some cases, I’ll take these folks out and give them that experience.
You love to work your dogs or run your dog and watch them work. That’s a big part of hunting. I don’t like to hunt birds without a dog. It could be waterfowl or it could be an upland bird. People say, “We’re going to drive some pheasants and stuff like that.” I go, “I don’t think so,” because the pleasure is watching your dog do what they do. If I trained him or her right, they’re going to find the game and there’s nothing more than watching your dog get a birdie and you know what’s about to happen. How does that work with your new hunters? They’d never seen a dog get all fired up and get a birdie. You know in seconds a bird’s going to flush. Talk me through that.
Pointing dogs are a little bit different than flushers, but it’s magic. I grew up with hounds and stock dogs, so they’re pretty straight forward. You’re using the dog’s natural ability to your advantage and to get them basically to do their job with minimal handling. There is a pointing instinct in most of the breed, but they do require a different approach. To me, having grown up with these dogs that are prey-driven and the stock dogs are ready to jump in there and bite ankles or whatever. It’s strange to see a dog go on point. It still baffles me to see a dog on a solid point. I had one of my students out that had never shot a woodcock before. We took them out for the first time and that dog was on point. The bird was three feet from him because he’d overrun him a little bit, but it was amazing to see that dog on point.
That’s what blows people away or ignites that fire inside of them for appreciating dogs with the watchdog, point or start working a scent cone and flush. It adds so much enjoyment even if it’s not your dog to watch and participate in. A big part of my life has always been involving dogs whether it’s stock dogs or hounds. It’s a natural thing to have that relationship. The bird hunting with a well-trained dog is something special and it can be as frustrating if you don’t have a well-trained dog. I don’t enjoy bird hunting nearly as much without a dog. It doesn’t matter what dog it is, as long as it’s well-trained and it doesn’t ruin my hunt. I’ve found great enjoyment overall styles, but I love sharing my pointing dogs.
When you’re mentoring people, how do you tell them what to watch for? Do you tell them the dog’s ready? It’s pointing move up or however, you’re going to flush the bird.
The dog is your hunting partner. It’s irreplaceable. Number one, always is safety and barrel control and where they’ve got their muzzle pointing. The other thing to take into consideration is where grouse and woodcock hunting. The grouse and woodcock in Minnesota live in some of the thickest stuff. Most of the time, you cannot swing a barrel to follow through on a shot. You’re coaching them through how to walk upon a dog while maintaining barrel control and muzzle control. When you get up to him, you are cognizant of staying behind the shooters, especially if they’re new. The rifle is nothing to be messed with but a shotgun is dangerous in the sense that the pattern is large. You’re coaching them the whole time.The pleasure in hunting birds is watching your dog do what they do. Click To Tweet
There’s that fine balance of getting them set up to where they can pull the trigger on something, being safe and getting the dog to perform. I’ve got it to where I make my pointing dogs to flush after we’re in position for safety reasons. A lot of times, you’re either in front of the shooters or you’re trying to get the shooters to get up beside the dogs so that they can get a safe shot, but sometimes it’s not possible. There’s a lot going on when you’re trying to get someone to shoot at a grouse or a woodcock. In regard to the fact that you don’t have to fight the trees and the shooting cover. Pheasants are large and they’re slow compared to a grouse. A level of opportunity is much higher there.
Do you hunt ruffed grouse in the wintertime when they dive into the snow?
I studied ruffed grouse for quite a while in graduate school and have been involved with ruffed grouse and woodcock for several years. Winter is pretty harsh and cold here and one of the more energetically stressful times for those birds, especially in the wintertime. There are plenty of people that do that and enjoy that and it’s sustainable. It’s fine. It’s a personal decision on my part to not pursue those birds in the winter. Sometimes I will to humor myself, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as it is early in the fall when it’s warmer and you have a higher likelihood of encountering some of those birds.
The reason I brought that up is I wondered how you did that. I was ten, twelve years old and I was living in New England at the time. He said, “You’ll see the wing tips as they go into the snow and you see a pop. You walk up slowly and they’re going to bust out right in your face like a bomb going off.” It took me a while, but I finally harvested one. I finally shot one and I went, “What a thrill.” It was exhilarating for a young kid. I had a single shot 20 gauge, pull back the hammer and pull the trigger shotgun. A lot was going on and I always remembered that. That was a question I wanted to ask if you ever hunted in the wintertime like that.
I want to say one other thing for your audience because there are folks from across the nation and across the ruffed grouse streams. A lot of people wonder or think like, “Why is it a challenge?” Most folks are accustomed to shooting them out of trees and off the ground elsewhere, especially in the West, there are areas with such high grouse density that it seems like it’s not much of a challenge. There’s definitely a difference between hunting a grouse out West opportunistically and pursuing one with a dog here in the Upper Midwest. To put that out there that it is a different experience depending on where you are and what methods you’re using. You can still drive an ATV on the trail here and shoot a bird off the trail all you want, but when you bring a dog into the equation and wing shooting you’re trying to hit the bird on the wing. That makes a big challenge. I’ve never hunted them underneath the snow. I’m sure dogs pick up the scent but that scent cone isn’t going to carry far with old dry conditions and the bird buried in the snow. Snow roosting is an impressive behavior.
The snow is an insulator and it’s cold out and that’s why they dive into the snow. In Woodcock, I have done that a few times mostly unsuccessfully, but because timberdoodles or whatever they call them, it’s unbelievable. The corkscrew and you got one little window and that’s why you shoot a shotgun because one DB will take them down if you get on it. It’s exhilarating. In the fall, when you can smell the leaves and you’ve got a dog working, it’s pure magic. That’s my two cents on that.
To be honest, I love woodcock and I enjoy hunting woodcocks more than I do grouse in part because they work well with a dog. That flight pattern is fun to watch. Somebody new that’s trying to shoot a woodcock for the first time, the first ten flushes their shotgun doesn’t even move. The reaction is not there and they watch the bird get up and fly and the erratic flight. It’s funny to watch the reaction like, “Did you see what that thing did?” They’re tricky.
They’re dodging trees and branches.
You never know which way they’re going to go and what they’re going to do and when they’re going to put down or if they’re going to keep going. I’ve seen them do some strange elevational changes. They’re a fun bird to hunt. There’s not much on them, they’re about the size of a dove. They are a challenge and a lot of people that pursue them fall in love with them.
Upland game hunting, if you’ve never done that with a friend or with a dog, I heartfully recommend that. It’s a great outdoor experience. That’s what Meadow is all about. Her resume is full of outdoor experiences because she looks at and she spends a significant amount of time with the three R’s. That’s recruitment, retention and reactivation. Why is that?
I’m a wildlife biologist. As a wildlife biologist, I appreciate the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Hunters and the money raised by hunters and the concern for the resource from hunters is the foundation for the reason for the success of that method of management here in North America. Without the hunters, we’re in trouble as wildlife managers. Hunters from the get-go in the early beginning of that interest back in the Teddy Roosevelt days and Boone and Crockett. That was a period that in a generation people saw things like the passenger pigeon disappear and bison disappeared. Wild turkeys and whitetail deer were just about absent. They’re verging on the edge of extinction. If it wasn’t for sports hunters back then and their interest in the species being perpetuated, we would have lost a lot of those animals.
It’s the same nowadays. There are many people that live in the cities and they have no exposure to the natural world outside of their cell phones or their TVs or the media that they receive. They have a superficial interest in the natural world for the most part. They would probably be happy with having five individual animals in the zoo that they could see or take pictures of. Hunters, on the other hand, and conservationists, fishermen, women, trappers, those are the folks that not only do they care deeply about the resource, but they would miss them. If we didn’t have those animals to pursue, you’d miss them. Most of those folks deeply care about the existence and the sustainability of those species. Without hunters, we are in trouble in the future. Hunter numbers are declining and we’re not looking at a bright future when it comes to the funding models that we’ve used to manage our wildlife resources.
If we can continue to maintain at least some of the numbers or stabilize the decline and eventually return to where hunter numbers are following basically a consistent percentage of the human population in North America, it would be a lot better off. That’s my number one motivation, the North American Model and the long-term sustainability of conservation in North America by having more hunters involved and out in the field. The other is too it’s something that I love so much and it’s an important part of my life and my health in many ways. I feel it’s worth sharing. That’s number two motivation. R3 is sharing those experiences and those resources with other folks in hopes that if they get involved, hopefully my daughter and maybe my grandchildren will be able to continue to pursue wildlife in North America. I know that’s a long-winded way of saying it, but I could certainly talk about it all day.
You’re dedicated to opening up the doors for women in the outdoors, which is exemplary.
It’s not just women. I’ve started switching to adult hunters in general. Adult-onset hunting is becoming more important. There’s been so much focus on youth outdoors and youth events and youth hunting. That’s a great thing and it feels good to do, but if those children’s parents aren’t involved or those children’s parents aren’t supportive, kids don’t have money. They don’t have driver’s licenses. They can’t take themselves. They need somebody in their lives that’s supportive. In addition to the financial aspect and the ability to participate on their own is social support. If their parents are supportive and they aren’t around people that are supportive of hunting, even though they’ve had that experience, it’s a low likelihood of recruiting that student or individual youth as a hunter.
With young adults or even older adults, they have money. They have the power to make decisions for themselves and to be active in things that they want to that they don’t necessarily have to have somebody else supporting them. There is a lot of interest and some of these younger generations and the Millennials specifically in returning to the natural world, getting back in touch with the root and living a more sustainable life. That appeals to that group. A lot of them are at this point in their life where they can afford it. I remember when I was in college. I hunted and fished a lot more than I do now because I had time and free income. I wasn’t paying a mortgage or a truck payment.
Adults are the low-hanging fruit, especially young adults when it comes to recruiting hunters and anglers because they can afford to do it. They can make those decisions for themselves. I’ve started pushing more for all sexes and if you’re interested, I’m happy to have you come in. There’s a fair amount of young men that I’ve met and even professional men that got into hunting in college and are now lifelong hunters, even though they have nobody in their family that was involved in angling or hunting. I love being women and I focus on women in the outdoors, but the three students I’ve been taking out they’re all male. I don’t see anything wrong with that either. It’s just as important.
You’re a contestant in the Extreme Huntress competition. Talk about that.
Extreme Huntress has been going on for several years. It’s developed into something much more than it was before. The first year they offered it, I saw it. I even put in a little essay and a photo because that was the gist of it back then in addition to a popular vote. I didn’t even get selected. There were some ladies that had a lot of big games, photos from Africa. I felt a little intimidated back then. Over the years, it’s changed more into about what women do for conservation. What they do to motivate or inspire other women to get into the outdoors. The whole point of the competition is to continue to promote women in the outdoors. It’s closely aligned with what I stand for personally and professionally and I applied. I was selected and the semifinalist and then eventually selected the top four. I’ve gone to Texas. I competed for the boots on the ground portion of the competition.
Melanie Peterson won in 2018. She was a featured guest and represents women’s sport well as I’m sure you would do. I look forward to doing a special promo for you. People can find out exactly what Extreme Huntress is and why you should be the next lady crowned at the Dallas Safari Club in 2019.
I look up to Melanie and we’re acquaintances. She is an impressive woman and an outfitter and a role model for all women the outdoors.
When you think about what you know now about hunting, what do you wish you knew a few years ago that makes a difference now for you?
I wish I would have started putting in for some of the draws a lot earlier, but I couldn’t afford in graduate school or college. A few years ago, that’s when I started with dogs. At that point, I was a little too serious about the testing and scores and things along those lines for the versatile dogs. I wish I would have enjoyed my dogs more. The other thing is spending more time with family before people age and they’re unable to do some of the hunts that they wanted to do. I’ve been hunting for many years and you’re always learning and part of the process. There’s nothing else other than those three things that I can think of at this point.It's pure magic in the fall when you can smell the leaves and you got a dog working. Click To Tweet
You think back about what you’ve done so far, which is significant. What does the future hold for Meadow?
I want to continue to stay involved with R3 and get more involved. I was accepted as a member of the Minnesota Citizens R3 Council, which is a big deal. I’m hoping to start working in partnership with some of those folks involved in starting an adult-only hunter safety program or at least offer adult-only hunter safety courses. That’s one of the barriers to adult hunting is having an opportunity to build and develop skills but not have to be with a bunch of twelve-year-olds. I know that sounds silly, but it also is to some extent a barrier to those folks coming and taking some of that hands-on courses. I’d like to continue to build on my adult intro to hunting in those efforts. I’d like to say that I’ve got crazy hunts planned but I continue to plan on having some hunts with my sister. For the most part, personally and professionally, it’s to continue to build that R3 aspect of my life and hopefully make a difference.
Do you whitetail hunt at all?
Yes. Archery season’s going on and then I rifle hunt. I haven’t had a muzzleloader for a few years and I ordered a muzzleloader. If I’m not successful in rifle season, I’ll be out there during muzzleloader season.
I’ve never hunted Minnesota but I’m going to hunt Rochester. Is it a good area?
Yes. That’s right down there in that Buffalo County area across from Wisconsin. That whole Southeast is called the driftless region. It’s an ecologically unique area since the last glaciation that occurred 10,000 or 12,000 years ago did not impact the terrain down there. You’ll see a lot of sandstone, a lot of topography there relative to the rest of Minnesota. They’ll have a lot of oak hardwood forest down there mixed with corn country. It’s an ideal area and it’s a mecca. If I was to choose on a place to hunt, I’d hunt down there. Where we’re at up here in Northern Minnesota and towards the border, the deer densities are low and the habitat isn’t the same quality. I’m jealous but that’s a great place if you get a chance to hunt.
Let’s close the show with your five top tips for anybody that’s considering getting into hunting. What would you tell them in your class?
Number one is to find a mentor if you can. You’re going to be able to find people that hunt that might take you under their wing at work or social events, maybe even shooting ranges. Two is to show some initiative. You’re going to probably be overwhelmed with firearms and not knowing what to buy. If it’s something you’re truly interested in, you can typically find people at gun ranges and even sporting goods stores that may be able to point you in the right direction. Maybe there’s a program they can let about that is being put on because increasingly there’s more archery program. Three is the internet. I know there’s a lot of information out there but you can learn a lot on YouTube, including how to field dress game if you are successful.
Basically, all the way from the beginning hunting to field dressing and cooking of game so you can learn a little bit there. I would say another thing is to find a group of hunters somehow or another and join the group. A lot of times, there are conservation organizations or shooting groups. Try and find that social support if you can. If you are clueless then you need or would like to get into it, you need to find somebody that’ll help you figure it out. There are folks out there that are looking for mentees. It’s hard to find a mentee. You have to have somebody that trusts you.
Thanks for that. On behalf of hundreds of thousands of readers of the show, you’ve been an exceptional guest. I’m glad we connected. I wish you well. I can’t wait to cross paths sometime with you. I wish you well and continue on to do what you’re doing because your work is important for the continuation of hunting in North America.
Thank you, Bruce. It’s been a pleasure and I appreciate you giving me a chance to talk to you and your audience.
- Meadow Kouffeld – Previous episode
- Extreme Huntress Contest
- Ruffed Grouse Society
- Melanie Peterson – Previous episode
About Meadow Kouffeld
As a wildlife biologist and college instructor, I have dedicated my life to the future of hunting and the management of our Natural Resources. I work to educate generations of resource managers on the North American Model of Wildlife management and advocate for our public lands and conservation of our natural resources. The Extreme Huntress competition provides an amazing opportunity to meet and join in competition with like-minded women, continue to grow as a role model, and demonstrate my ability and knowledge in the field. I don’t claim to be the best at any single thing, but I am certainly proficient to excellent at everything I do! If selected, I am confident that I would be an exemplary, well-rounded and capable huntress and give a solid run at becoming the next Extreme Huntress!