Big Rapids teacher honored for bowhunting skills

BIG RAPIDS – Hunting is a common activity among many Michiganders, but one Riverview Elementary teacher impressed with her bowhunting skills and earned four awards from Safari Club International this year.

At a recent ceremony, Rachel Stickler was named Women’s Hunter of the Year and Bow Hunter of the Year, along with placing second in the White Tail Midwest category and third in the Dall Sheep category.

Stickler has been around hunting her entire life, growing up in a hunting family and learning about the ins and outs of the activity at an early age. A resident of Big Rapids and a fourth-grade teacher at Riverview Elementary School, her hunting experience was primarily local. That all changed when she met her husband, Eric.


“When my husband and I got married, he’s the one that really kind of pushed us to do some more adventure hunts out of state and to travel,” Stickler said. “They’d call them adventure hunts because you’re camping and hiking and going that route. He pushed me to get a little bit out of my comfort zone. “

Stickler and her husband originally just hunted whitetail deer.

“I didn’t think I would be much more than a whitetail hunter because I love hunting whitetail, and I love hunting them with a bow,” she added. “Archery is kind of my favorite thing. We were really happy doing that for a few years, and then he just came to me and asked me if we were to hunt something other than a whitetail, what would it be? And I said if I could find anything else, that would be a moose. That started us on that adventure of going to Alaska, Canada, and out west and do some big hunts. ”

According to Bow Hunters United, bowhunting can be a challenging activity and often takes years of practice to master. A bowhunter must be within 30 or so yards of a deer, draw and release an arrow undetected, and hit the vital areas of the animal. At 35 yards, a mere 2½ yard error in range estimation can cause a complete miss on a deer-sized target.

Stickler said she enjoys the difficulty bowhunting requires.

“It’s the precision and the accuracy and the patients that just make it so unique,” Stickler said. “There’s nothing like getting that close. In order for you to make an archery shot, it usually has to be within 50 yards, and I feel pretty comfortable up to 40 yards. But you really have the woods to yourself, and it’s quiet. You get to see so much when you are archery hunting, but I feel like so many people miss it because it is such a quiet sport, there’s no sound involved. It just makes it like you can see the biggest buck of your life.

“There’s so much that goes involved, being ready, being prepared,” she added. “Also there’s luck on your side too. In those encounters, I always say, to me hunting is it’s like Christmas; you kind of want it to come, but when it’s there, it’s like, oh, I know it’s over. I like all of the lead-up to it. I like seeing that big buck over and over and not getting the shot, you know, I mean, because then when you do get the shot it’s just that much more exciting. ”

Stickler has spent years practicing at ranges and on trips to perfect her shooting style. For her, bow hunting is more challenging and requires more patience than hunting with a gun.

“It’s not like guns that maybe you’d have to be at gun range or it’s loud or distracting,” Stickler said. “There’s the worry with stray bullets and things, but with archery, you can practice in your backyard and shoot every night, you can really feel like you can get really good at your craft because everything is such close range. I like shooting all summer and just being prepared. ”

A COMPLETE SURPRISE

Stickler received the Bowhunter of the Year award as a result of the culmination of the animals she harvested over two years.

According to her, the win was a complete surprise.

“It took all of the animals that I’d harvested and kind of put them in a category, and then compared me to other females,” Stickler said. “That was honestly the one that I was striving for, just because as a female hunter you want to stand out, and you want to prove yourself in the industry a little bit. I didn’t expect that with a white tail and a black bear that I had gotten, and I got both of them with my bow.

“I was told that I was the first female from our chapter to win Bowhunter of the Year,” she added. “It’s an open class, but it’s always been won by a male, so that was pretty special too.”

Stickler placed second in the White Tail Midwest category for her harvest of a scored 163 and three-eighths points, uncommonly high for a free-range whitetail deer in Michigan.

She also harvested that deer with her bow.

Additionally, she placed third in the Dall Sheep category for an animal she harvested with her bow on a trip to Alaska.

Stickler said the wins have encouraged her to continue with her hunting traditions.

“That was pretty special, and I didn’t expect the Dall Sheep award,” Stickler said. “I didn’t expect the bow hunter one by any means. I just love the tradition and the camaraderie of it. “

Sticker said hunting is a family affair.

“My family is close, we hunt together,” she said. “I harvested this whitetail, but when we went to track it and find it, it was me, my husband, my dad, and my brother. That made it that much more special, it wouldn’t have been near as special to have done it alone.To have somebody to celebrate with, I just loved that whole piece of it.Sharing the stories, being a part of each other’s stories, and rooting for each other.

“They’re all so supportive of it and root for me,” she added. “I had two co-workers at the award ceremony that I didn’t know were coming. The staff and the kids (at Riverview) love that I have this passion. ”

The staff at Riverview even dressed up in camo to celebrate Stickler’s achievement.

Stickler also engages with her students often with her hunting knowledge and enjoys educating them on the respectful way to hunt and growing their interests in the outdoors. She said she hopes her passion encourages the students to find their own.

“I think it’s just kind of intriguing them enough to make it interesting,” Stickler said. “I hope that it also helps them see this sport, and the sportsmanship behind it as opposed to just the killing of something. I like the education part of it to say, ‘this is why I love it and this is my passion.’ ”

Stickler also had some advice for amateur hunters.

“If they are in a family that likes to do it, then my advice is to just tag along,” Stickler said. “I spent years not carrying a weapon, not doing any of the hunting, but just the experience of spending time listening and learning from old hunters. Just being a part of the hunt without the pressure I think sometimes is key for kids. My recommendation would be for kids to ask and for parents to offer for that.

“Also hunter safety classes are so important,” she added. “They teach so much and make parents and kids comfortable with all sorts of weapons in that department too. With any sport, it’s all about preparation. ”

Moving forward, Stickler has made a goal of continuing big hunting trips with family as well as a goal of harvesting a 200-inch whitetail with her free-range bow.

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