A former cheerleader is a self-proclaimed ‘girly girl' — until it's time to hunt

In high school Jennica Joos was homecoming queen. She was also cheerleading captain.


And she was a deer hunter. Still is a deer hunter at age 22, despite the demands of her schedule as a nursing student at the Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing.


In fact, by the time you read this article Joos will probably have bagged a buck on her family farm near Deer Creek. It's there she spends each shotgun season with her father Loren, brother Nate and brother-in-law David Sherman of Mackinaw.


'I like making memories with my family, and I like seeing the woods wake up,' she said.


In so doing, Joos joins an estimated 12,000 other women hunting deer in Illinois, about 5 percent of the 240,000 hunters who take part in the state's firearm seasons. The first season ends one-half hour after sunset today. Shotgunners return to the woods Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.


Once upon a time, the majority of women involved with deer hunting were wives roused by husbands to fill tags issued to them in name only. I'll never forget interviewing one gal at Jubilee College State Park who was checking in a big 10-point buck — with rollers still in her hair.


Times have changed. Hunting by women is not only accepted nowa


 


 


days, it's encouraged. Programs abound that introduce females to the outdoors. And successful women hunters are common.


On Tuesday I pulled into Presley's Outdoors and met up with Connie King of Creve Coeur. King had just killed a big 14-point Knox County buck that she and husband Jeff somehow managed to fit in their Ford Festiva. That same afternoon an e-mail arrived with smiling pictures of Cassie Dams of Cuba and her 8-point McDonough County buck, the first she had killed with a bow.


Given all that, it's no longer surprising to see women hunting. It is still surprising to see some women hunting — women like Joos, a self-proclaimed 'girly girl' once prone to tears when animals died in movies. But as the last of four children, she was able to spend more time with her father than had her older sisters — neither of whom hunt.


'My dad would always take me along when I was younger. I would carry a stick that looked like a gun, and that's how he taught me gun safety,' Joos said. 'I don't know how young I was when he started taking me out to sit with him, but I saw him harvest some deer and I just fell in love with it.'


That surprised her father. Surprises a lot of people, including nursing instructor Kim Mitchell.


'(Mitchell) was surprised that I hunt after knowing me at school and seeing me in class,' Joos said. 'All through high school was the same. Whenever it comes up, people are shocked. But I'm not afraid to say I hunt.'


Maybe we should get used to hearing that from women. A 2006 study by the National Sporting Goods Association estimated more than 3 million females now hunt — 16 percent of the active hunters in the U.S. That total is up 72 percent from 2001. During the same period the number of women bowhunters soared by 176 percent to 786,000. Joos is part of the fastest-growing group of female hunters — women aged 18 to 24.


She didn't pick up a shotgun to join the in-crowd, though. More attractive is the setting and the camaraderie she experiences. Each year the Joos family hunters gather in a rustic cabin located on their 120-acre farm. The cabin floor is gravel, there's no running water and the only light is from kerosene lamps. But there's also an always-warm barrel stove, spiral-cut ham and cookies and plenty of stories.


'She fits right in,' her father said.


That's true in part because Joos enjoys the hunt. And she's good. In seven previous seasons Joos failed to fill her tag only once. She has three sets of nice antlers mounted on the wall of her parents' home. She even dumped one boyfriend whose reaction to one of her trophy bucks was, 'Ahhh, you killed Bucky.' Said Joos, 'I knew he wasn't going to fit in.'


No such problem exists for this cheerleader, who said her second shotgun season proved the depths of her hunting passion. That was the year her mother, Elise, offered to take her youngest daughter shopping in Chicago during shotgun season. Joos chose whitetails over Bloomingdales.


'That's when mom knew it's something I really loved to do,' Joos said. 'And I know a lot of dads don't take their little girls hunting, but I'm so thankful my dad took me out.'


JEFF LAMPE is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail jlampe@pjstar.com