That’s not Kim Nguyen, who is female, foreign-born and not from a hunting family.
Yet the 45-year-old from Burnsville has evolved into a dedicated hunter and volunteer mentor to other women. Her commitment to mentoring has increased as her skills have sharpened.
“I give back because others were so giving to me,” said Nguyen while leading a recent archery deer hunting class for Becoming an Outdoors Woman (aka BOW), a program of the state Department of Natural Resources. “I am passionate about deer hunting. If I can help other women discover their passion that’s a good thing.”
Nguyen’s learner-to-mentor story is rare from the get-go. One of the Vietnamese “boat people,” Nguyen arrived in the U.S. after the Vietnam War. She and others had fled “quietly, secretly” following the collapse of South Vietnam, she said. The journey meant goodbye to a Hong Kong refugee camp and a hello again to her father, who had already immigrated to the United States. She was 6 when she arrived in the states.
Decades passed. Hunting never occurred to her. Then about seven years ago, on a whim, she bought an archery adventure at Average Joes in Coon Rapids from Groupon.com. Average Joes is one of Minnesota’s largest archery shops. Nguyen and her family had a blast shooting arrows on the range. Within a month they all owned bows. Soon after Nguyen yearned to aim at more than paper and 3-D targets.
“It was actually my husband who found the BOW program while searching the internet for how-to-hunt learning options,” said Nguyen (pronounced WEN). “BOW is where I learned from mentors. It’s where the seeds of my mentoring took root.”
Among Nguyen’s first mentors was Scott Talbot, an active member of the North Country Bowhunters chapter of Safari Club International. Talbot is a longtime BOW archery hunting volunteer and skilled hunter of big-game species.
“Scott helped me so much,” Nguyen said. “And he was so patient. I didn’t come from a hunting family so I had questions to no end. In fact, I was so curious about everything Scott wondered if I could keep quiet in a blind.”
But quiet she was. And in time, successful, too.
As her interest in deer hunting grew, so did her interest in learning from other mentors. A favorite was Jack Wachlarowicz, a mentor for the St. Croix Valley chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and an instructor for the National Archery in the Schools Program. Wachlarowicz helps the hunting group coordinate mentored hunts for youth and certain others.
“When I met Kim it was clear she was part of the demographic that many in the hunting industry are aiming for,” said Wachlarowicz. “She was a young adult. She had money. She was looking for new and exciting experiences. And she was driven to excel. How could you not enjoy sharing what you know with a person like that?”
Nguyen enjoyed it, too.
“Jack had a way of firing you up, and I hope I do that in my mentoring,” Nguyen said. “I was thinking about Jack when I took my first buck during a special archery hunt at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Dakota County. It was 9 degrees below zero that morning, but I decided to hunt anyway because my passion took over. Amazingly, a buck came by in just 20 minutes. There’s a lot of luck in hunting, but being skilled is critical. I practice all the time.”
Several weeks ago Nguyen was practicing yet again, this time while helping 10 women hone their hunting skills at the Bald Eagle Sportsmen’s Association range in Hugo. All of the women with her had enrolled in a three-session BOW program that starts with the basics of hunting, continues with a 3-D archery shoot, and concludes with a mentored archery hunt at a sprawling nature reserve in the north metro area. Nguyen spent the day training mentees on proper shooting technique, how to hang a portable deer stand, how to use a safety harness, and more. She was one of three mentors, including Talbot and Mike Foster, a bow technician and hunting expert from A-1 Archery in Hudson, Wis.
“Kim was a participant in this program years ago and now she’s helping to lead it,” Foster said. “It’s rewarding to see her come full circle. Other women I have mentored, including Desiree Holmberg, have evolved from learner to mentor, too. ”
A longtime mentor, Foster knows mentoring can be a challenge. Still, he is buoyed by the advances he is seeing.
“When this program started 10 years ago, our hearts were in the right place but our execution was off,” said Foster. “We volunteers were committed to helping women become successful hunters but it was painfully obvious women were using hand-me-down bows from husbands and boyfriends that didn’t fit or meet their needs. So, we regrouped and started at the beginning by helping women find a bow that fits, a draw weight that works, and techniques that result in accurate shots. The women in this year’s program can really shoot, and that’s fun to see.”
Among those good shots is Shannon Morris of Columbus, Minn. Morris sought the advice of mentors in part because she wanted to learn from hunters outside her family. “My husband is an excellent deer hunter,” said Morris. “In fact, he is in the Pope and Young record book. Still, I wanted to hear other voices, including those of other women, so I enrolled in the program to accomplish that.”
On the night of Sept. 29, Morris was paired with BOW hunting mentor Cory Kostuchowski when a group of three does and a fawn approached. The lead doe was 20 yards away from her tree stand when she loosed an arrow. Her shot, like so many others she had taken in practice, was perfect. Later that day she posted on Facebook: “I have joined the ranks of the rest of my family and call myself a hunter.” “I am proud of myself for the ethical shot and to be putting food on the table,” she wrote.
For Nguyen, Morris’ story is a rewarding tale of the value of giving back to others.
“I enjoy passing my passion on to others. So do the other mentors, ” Nguyen said. “Hopefully, those who have learned from us will help others learn as well.”
C.B. Bylander is a freelance writer. He lives near Baxter, Minn.