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Ah, Wilderness!

Certainly they belonged to her, even if they were nothing more than a backdrop for hours of shooting clay pigeons, her father and grandfather supervising. "I drove them nuts," she says. "As a kid, whatever we shot, I'd cut the stomach open. My dad thought it was gross, but how else could you know what the animal ate?"

After getting degrees in wildlife biology and horticulture--she supported her lengthy schooling by working at King Soopers--Patt finally went to work for the Division of Wildlife in 1991 as the Boulder district ranger. Much of her work involved chasing bears and mountain lions out of people's yards--sometimes with a gun, but more often with her own feet and sneakers. Some of Patt's "non-traditional" hunting ideas took hold while she was on the job in Boulder. "The dead raccoons in the dumpsters," she offers. "I often thought about how homeless people could use the skins and eat the meat."

But by 1996 there was no time to lobby for such unorthodox community activism. Patt had gone to work in her current amorphously educational position, teaching all-female hunter-education classes--"they are always surprised that I don't have a crew-cut and leather pants"--and traveling to seminars nationwide to address Big Issues, from the simple Why Hunting? to the more complex "Like, is it true that if you train kids to use guns and to hunt, the next thing you know they'll be hunting each other?" she says. "Or what is a disadvantaged youth, anyway?"

And another thing: How is it that certain thoroughly hyperactive boys who can barely sit still through a five-minute McDonald's meal can morph into such patient, Zen-like fishermen?

Or the clunky, cliche-ridden subject of women: Why do they hunt? Or, why don't they? Patt proposed writing a story on just that topic for Colorado Outdoors magazine and was told the subject was too narrow. You could, her editors suggested, write about why people hunt, instead.

"At one time in history, almost everyone hunted," she says. "That includes women, although people assume men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. Not true. Women always hunted. They trapped fish, they killed gophers, they hunted."

A few months ago she came up with a weekend seminar designed to teach women some of what they'd always known, with the added inducement of gourmet food and comfortable beds when the hunting and fishing were over for the day. "Becoming a Wilderness Woman" needed ten women to break even. Eighty signed up.

With 27 years of woodsmanship behind her and at least fifty to go, Patt is increasingly drawn to the kinds of hunting that require more stalking and comparatively less firepower. The only gun she still uses is a muzzle-loader. Eventually, she may switch permanently to bow and arrow.

A few weeks ago she went out to the Tarryall state wildlife area to practice shooting targets with her bow. This would count as a work-related activity whether she went by herself or took along a truckload of disadvantaged youth from "non-hunting families." This time I got to go, filling the role of "middle-aged woman from a family in which only boys hunt, and even they do it sporadically."

Shooting targets was good fun, even though my hands shook visibly and my arrows flew wild. It gave me a new respect for Robin Hood.

"Good job," Patt said charitably, as I sent another arrow whirring into the ground several yards from the nearest target. "How about we go hunt some actual animals?"

Could she be serious? Well, no. Instead, we stalked and took down Styrofoam animal-shaped targets, sneaking up on them G.I. Joe style. In, oh, forty attempts, I cleanly killed a bear, a mountain lion, a deer, a coyote--

"But there's more," Patt reminded me. "You can't leave without taking a shot at the warthog."

By the time we left, it was very clear that in order to cleanly kill any of these critters in the wild, I would have to be a much, much better shot than I will ever be, not to mention steadier and stealthier. Still, when I finally sent an arrow into the Styrofoam warthog's bloodless heart, I felt quite pleased with myself. Ready, perhaps, to stalk a real Rocky Mountain elk and witness its demise.

The black-powder elk season here lasts only nine days, all of which Patt Dorsey typically takes as vacation time. She hunts in the Roosevelt National Forest outside the town of Ward, alone or with her husband or father. In seven years, she has yet to bag her elk. When she has a license to kill a bull, she sees only cows, or vice versa. Or she never gets close enough to take a humane shot.

"I always manage to think I'm so cool, walking through the woods tracking my elk," she says, "until I realize I'm not going to get one. Somehow, though, it doesn't bother me at all. I almost like it better when nothing goes right."

Certainly that is what happened today. We walked into the woods, Patt blew a whistle that is supposed to sound like a cow elk, and, almost immediately, we were answered by a bull. A symphony of sympathetic and aggressive elk noise erupted around us. Our lassitude gave way to pure adrenaline.

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