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From finance to the field: A new hunter talks about her journey

Interview with LiLi Wong

If you’re new to hunting or just considering giving it a try, the reasons for starting out can be as unique as each hunter.

To highlight one of the many paths into hunting, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife interviewed LiLi Wong of Seattle, a new hunter, to highlight a few of the diverse reasons people get into hunting and to share a success story in the hopes of inspiring others to dive in.

Tom Ryle, WDFW’s sales and marketing manager, interviewed LiLi about what motivated her to try hunting, first-hunt memories, stumbling blocks to starting out, what’s next, favorite from-the-field cuisine, advice for others just starting out, and more. We’re sharing LiLi’s story here to support other new hunters and encourage those thinking about hunting to get out and try something new in the outdoors.

Getting to know you

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: We first met at a WDFW mentored pheasant hunt at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in 2019. Do you mind sharing a bit about yourself and what piqued your interest in hunting?

LiLi Wong: After living in the city of Philadelphia for my entire life, my husband and I moved to Seattle about five years ago. I grew up in an immigrant household where my mom was very proud of her cooking. We had limited means, so she would make massive portions of food for a family of seven, and I was always amazed at how she could stretch the little money that we had. She would visit the Italian Market in South Philadelphia to get the freshest ingredients — sometimes so fresh that they were alive. She would cook the “good parts” into her famous stir fries and she’d simmer the rest (bones and all) for hours into a delicious noodle soup.

LiLi Wong started hunting with pheasants, graduated to turkey, and is getting ready for her first elk hunt. (LiLi Wong)

Unfortunately, I took most of this for granted until I moved out to attend college, eating the majority of my meals at a dining hall. After college, I jumped headfirst into a career in finance where I hardly had enough downtime to justify cooking meals. More recently, I’ve found more balance in my life and have educated myself on mass-farming practices in America and their effects on the environment. The increased feeling of guilt in buying meat at the grocery superstore coupled with nostalgia for my childhood meals has led me into the world of hunting.

First time out

WDFW: As I recall, you were successful at the mentored hunt, harvesting your first pheasant. As a first-time hunter, tell us about that experience. What were some memorable takeaways from that day?

LW: I remember that day very clearly. When I decided to get into hunting, I figured I’d start small, with small game. I didn’t know much about hunting, so when I went shopping for my first shotgun, I bought the smallest one I could find. Guns were simply intimidating to me.

The day of the mentored hunt, I showed up with my freshly cleaned .410 and everyone I spoke with told me that my gun was too small. When we finally got in the field, Rex (a German shorthaired pointer) was having a hard time picking up scent in the wet grass. But when my hunting mentor saw a pheasant fly into a field of bushes, Rex worked the bush and pointed expertly. It was my moment!

The bird flushed and I scored my first opportunity. I harvested a hen and didn’t embarrass myself! My biggest takeaway is to practice, practice, practice before you go out in the field. I did fairly well with my .410 because I watched videos on leading the pheasant with my shot and practiced trap shooting just to get my muscle memory down and it paid off.

Getting over roadblocks

WDFW: Were there any barriers or aspects of hunting that were intimidating for you, and how did you overcome them?

LW: The most intimidating part of hunting for me was learning about guns and constantly feeling like the unknowledgeable newbie. Most guys grew up with toy guns, GI Joe, or Call of Duty. I didn’t have that early education. In the beginning, I would go to events and try to learn and meet as many people as possible. I remember asking an event host, “What’s the best way to get into hunting and to make hunting friends?” He responded with, “If you don’t have a group of people already, good luck.”

I approach most life situations the way I approach negotiating my cable bill. If the person I’m talking to isn’t helpful, I hang up and try again until I find someone who is. In the hunting community — at least in my experience so far — I have met people who are super excited to share the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Most of what I know today comes from other hunters who were happy to share and the sometimes impressively helpful sales folks at local outdoor stores. I’m really glad I didn’t let a couple initial negative interactions hinder my determination to get into hunting.

‘The broader food chain’

WDFW: Have you participated in other hunting, fishing, or foraging activities since? If so, what other activities have your pursued?

LW: I enjoy learning about local habitats and being a part of the broader food chain, so I take any opportunity I can. During the same season as the pheasant hunt, I went on a WDFW mentored turkey hunt and harvested two birds, just in time for Thanksgiving! This past fall, I went out pheasant hunting quite a few times and I still try to get out as often as possible. I’ve been fly fishing, crabbing, squidding, and mushroom hunting. While not all these trips are successful, I always enjoy being outside.

“I love knowing where my food comes from. I love learning about animals and their habitat. I love the outdoors, hiking, and getting a good workout. Hunting checks all the boxes for me.”

WDFW: You seem to enjoy cooking and seek a more direct connection to food. Tell us more about this and how your journey to become a hunter fits into your lifestyle. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

LW: I love knowing where my food comes from. I love learning about animals and their habitat. I love the outdoors, hiking, and getting a good workout. Hunting checks all the boxes for me. The truth is, I am not that unique in my interests. So many people like me enjoy these things, and I’m actually surprised that more people don’t give hunting a try.

My most used recipe is rice porridge or congee. It’s a staple Chinese dish that I grew up with. Also, the legs of game birds are typically tough and sinewy, so simmering low and slow really helps. I put the carcass, legs, white/jasmine rice, ginger slices, salt and pepper in a pot and cover with water. I typically use a 1:10 rice to water ratio. Stir often and simmer until the legs are tender. Once the legs are tender, turn off the burner and pull the legs and bones out. I shred the legs (discard everything else) and put them back in the rice porridge. Scoop congee in individual bowls and top with chopped scallions, cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil. This recipe is extra tasty if you include shiitake mushrooms!

Advice for women

WDFW: What advice do you have for women interested in learning more about hunting?

LW: When people think about hunting, the first thing that comes to mind are guns. Like most hunters, I appreciate the value of having a high-performing gun that fits me well. Contrary to what people think, the act of shooting can be relatively infrequent when you’re out in the field. Hunters focus on gun performance because, when they do get an opportunity, they want to maximize odds of success. To me, the gun isn’t my favorite part of the hunt, but it is necessary for a hunter to understand how to operate their equipment with precision.

Some of LiLi’s wild turkey meat went into making rice porridge, or congee, a staple Chinese dish she grew up with. (LiLi Wong)

Like many women, I didn’t grow up learning about guns or how they operate. My biggest hurdle was getting over the intricacies of guns and getting comfortable asking questions that may be obvious to veteran enthusiasts. In reality, there are no dumb questions because the entire process of hunting can be very technical and different things work for different people. And even the veteran hunters will respect that all their fellow hunters are well-trained and take the time to ask questions and learn.

‘Show up anyway’

WDFW: Do you have any specific recommendations for someone considering hunting or fishing for the first time?

LW: It can be overwhelming to get started. My recommendation is to show up consistently. My first couple of hunts were with WDFW — a mentored pheasant hunt and turkey hunt. They were both amazing experiences with mentors who volunteer their time and are eager to pass on knowledge about habitat, animal behavior, and, more importantly, how to hunt safely and ethically.

Don’t wait for a moment when you are magically transformed into an expert hunter. Show up to events and get incremental experience under your belt. If you’re still debating whether hunting is for you and don’t feel quite ready to make the investment, I recommend that you show up anyway. I bet you will learn something new about hunting and about how you can engage in the hobby and with the community in manageable chunks.

“I hope I get lucky enough to fill a freezer with meat and share it among meals with family and friends.”

WDFW: Are you interested in pursuing other game species? If so, which ones and why?

LW: I am prepping for an elk hunt in August. I never thought I would become a “big game hunter.” My hunting mentors gave me elk steak and ground burger that they harvested last year, and it was so delicious! I hope I get lucky enough to fill a freezer with meat and share it among meals with family and friends.

WDFW: Have you invited friends or family to join you on your hunting journey?

LW: My husband will be joining me for the elk hunt and I can’t wait! I’m excited for him to see me in action. I find that when I’m harvesting an animal, I go through so many emotions: anxiety, excitement, adrenaline, regret, and exhaustion. It can all feel paradoxical. The experience brings to light the reality of being a meat eater — sadness that you had to take a beautiful animal, but so incredibly appreciative of the life and the wilderness for providing delicious and nutritious meals.

Giving back one day

WDFW: What kinds of information or resources would help you in continuing your learning and expanding your hunting horizons?

LW: It would be great to see more resources to pair folks interested in hunting with experienced hunters. The WDFW mentored hunts led me to my hunting mentors. They have been invaluable to my hunting development. They have coached me through turkey hunting and gave me the idea of going elk hunting when I don’t think I would have considered it otherwise. The whole process seemed overwhelming, but here I am in the spring, spending my free time practicing my turkey call and going to the range and working on getting comfortable at 200 yards with a rifle and scope that fits me perfectly. All thanks to the guidance, research, and encouragement of thoughtful mentors.

We need more networks and people that are willing to mentor. I can’t wait for the moment when I’m knowledgeable enough to give back!

Resources for you

Whether you’re a new hunter like LiLi or still on the fence about giving hunting a try, WDFW has loads of resources to help you on your own journey.

With spring turkey season under way through May, you can read all about this exciting hunting opportunity that is great for new hunters in our Turkey Takeover blog series.

There is also a wealth of information for new hunters in WDFW’s hunting clinic pamphlets, including introductory details on hunting deer, elk, turkey, waterfowl, and upland game birds.

For new hunters and those interested in trying, WDFW’s hunting education and requirements page has all the details on hunter education, ethics and safety, how to prepare for a hunting season, food safety, and more.

You can also spend some time on wdfw.wa.gov and mywdfw.com for extensive information on all things hunting, fishing, foraging, and wildlife viewing in Washington.

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