Name: Courtney Smith
Hometown: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Sorority-girl-turned-professional-sportswoman Courtney Smith talks turkey and why squirrel should be on your holiday menu this year
Courtney Smith is a real-life testament to the adage that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Growing up in Arkansas, Courtney loved the outdoors, but never hunted a day in her life until her mid-20s. Then a turkey hunt changed everything. She was hooked. Courtney began documenting her journey on Instagram as a resource for women and quickly garnered some 122,000 followers — including Bass Pro Shops — and left her desk job for the thrill of the hunt. Today, Courtney is a full-time hunter, amateur angler and spokesperson for the outdoor industry. She works with various companies including Volquartsen, Beretta and Federal Ammunition, and you may see her in a Bass Pro near you representing the SHE Outdoor apparel line. “They are putting up new signage in stores and I am on it!” Courtney says. “It’s the most surreal and humbling feeling.”
You didn’t start hunting until your mid-20s. What sparked the interest?
I’ve always loved the outdoors. Growing up, I was very much a tomboy and always with my dad fishing. We didn’t hunt but we did go hiking, camping and waterskiing on Beaver Lake in Arkansas.
My (now) husband knew how much I loved to be outdoors, so I started hunting with him [five years ago] and just observing. He would ask if I wanted to shoot a deer and I would say no — it seemed too easy — but then we started turkey hunting and that’s what really got me — the gobble first thing in the morning. And the challenge! They are like the smartest/dumbest bird you can hunt. It’s frustrating! You’re always wondering how is this little, tiny brain outsmarting me?
So a turkey is like the Elon Musk of the bird world?
They can see really well. So if anything is off they can sense it. And if they are not being vocal you can’t really find them because they are so elusive. So you have to get into the woods and pattern them almost like deer and then once you find where they are, you have to sneak into the woods really early in the morning when it’s dark and a lot of times we will use a crow call or an owl call — some sort of locator call — and that makes them shock gobble. Then you’ll run after them and try to get closer and you have to be super still and quiet. They are just weary birds. Their whole life goal is just to survive. And they are only vocal during their mating season so a lot of times our season will open up and they already started mating so that makes it challenging because they are done being vocal. But they are fun because they are challenging. Like chess. You can set things up and do things differently. It’s like cat and mouse. More of a run-and-gun situation verses sitting in one stand all day. You’re actively going after these birds.
Your husband got you into hunting. Any advice for men looking to get their ladies out there?
Turkey hunting is a good place to start. It’s vocal, so they hear something, and you can talk. You don’t have worry about scent — because turkey can’t smell like a deer can — and they are pretty but they are ugly. And typically people don’t mind shooting something like a turkey verses, say, a cute little deer. You’re like that is just ugly enough that it’s ok that I shot it.
What else do you hunt?
Whatever is in season. That’s why my brand is @sportswomancourtney because I just want to be outdoors and it doesn’t really matter to me what we are doing — I just want to be out there. In the summer we fish for flounder, trout and bass, and in fall we hunt dove, crows, coyotes and squirrel.
Sorry — did you say squirrel?
I never thought I would say that I eat squirrel but last year I tried it and it was actually good. So it’s true: I’ve eaten squirrel and I like it.
Squirrel is the filet mignon of critters.
It’s like a chicken wing. You just keep the legs and the bottom part — there’s not a ton of meat — and put them in the fryer and it literally tastes just like a chicken wing. We actually had a friend of ours tell us that in college they were at their fraternity house and one of the guys shot a squirrel and they were cooking up wings for sorority girls and one of the guys served the squirrel and the girl didn’t know it. She said it was the best chicken she’s ever had in her life.
We will take your word for it. Speaking of sorority life, how does a self-proclaimed “basic sorority girl” become a skilled outdoorsman?
It’s so bizarre to me that I am evening doing this. I didn’t hunt all my life and people who knew me in college are like ‘who are you?!’ But I’ve always known that I like to be outside. This is just another side of that. It’s authentic. My husband and I rarely buy meat at the grocery store. Ultimately we’ve lived off what we’ve harvested for the past four years. We do it to fill our freezer. And that’s why we hunt whatever is in season.
Let’s say you are rushing Sigma Beta Sportswoman today. What outdoorsy skill sets you apart from the other candidates?
I can build a hell of a fire. I’ve done it before with some sorority sisters when we were hiking, and it is a very important trait especially if no one else knows how to do it.
You also love fishing: What is your most impressive catch?
Not sure about a catch but last year I went flounder fishing with my husband and out-fished him. That never happens!
If we had a boat and named it after you, what would we name it?
[Laughs] Spirit Squad. I know it sounds dorky, but part of my job is bringing a positive attitude to the team and they gave me the title “head of the spirit squad”.
Let’s play “Would you rather: Hook & Barrel” edition. Hunt with NASCAR star Martin Truex Jr. (cover story from the first issue) or fish with quarterback Colt McCoy (second issue)?
I have to go with Martin. He’s part of the [Bass Pro] family!
With 122,000 followers on Instagram, how has social media enhanced your life as an outdoor enthusiast?
It’s been a platform for me to have a voice and share my message of empowering women and break the cookie cutter idea of what a hunter is. I turned to social media to document something I loved doing — not sponsored and completely authentic and it took off. It wasn’t the social norm to see a woman hunting, and if they did hunt, you couldn’t be pretty doing it. I wanted to prove that wrong, and it’s the greatest feeling to have women reach out with their own outdoor success stories.
What is your advice for young women who are interested in hunting/fishing but don’t know how to get started?
I’ll take you with me! Or I encourage women to go to a local range or class to see what you’re interested in as far as a firearm. I recommend a low caliber .22 — not a lot of recoil and it’s not as loud. And how you dress is important. If you wear the wrong gear you’re going to be miserable. That’s the best thing about the SHE outdoor line. They didn’t just shrink it and pink it — they tailor the clothing for a woman’s body. You can have the proper equipment and still look cute.
Unfortunately, the zombie apocalypse is upon us but we have time for one more question. Before we turn, you get to choose one of the fierce women from The Walking Dead to help you survive. Do you pick Carol, Michonne or Maggie?
Who has the swords?
Definitely Michonne. Or can I pick the mother of dragons from Game of Thrones? She is incredible. If you think about it, the show is actually really empowering for women.
Grrrrrrrhhhhhhh [zombie for good point].