LUVERNE, Minn. - Katie Hemme hasn't hunted since she was in college, and even then, the only things she tried to shoot were raccoons or coyotes who threatened her family's sheep farm.
The one time she actually dropped a bird was when she took aim at the pigeons in the haymow, angry after their droppings got all over the hay she was supposed to toss down for the livestock.
When a pigeon fell to the floor, Hemme said her up-close view revealed such a pretty bird, she couldn't bring herself to shoot another one.
"I liked the idea of trying to hit one, but I didn't want to see one dead," she said.
Now a retired physical education teacher, Hemme is one of 11 women registered to participate in Saturday's Women's Mentored Hunt during the Minnesota Governor's Pheasant Hunting Opener in Luverne. This is the second consecutive year the governor's opener has offered a special hunt for women who are first-time or novice hunters.
While Hemme said she went pheasant hunting a couple of times, she doesn't recall ever getting a bird.
She doesn't care much if she gets one this Saturday, either, but the fact that the governor's hunt is in her hometown of Luverne makes it an opportunity she just can't pass up.
"I thought it sounded like it would be kind of fun," said the 77-year-old Hemme. "I'm old and thought that would be a good example to see an old lady out there."
Hemme owned guns up until she moved into town last year.
"I figured in town I wouldn't be shooting at coyotes and racoons, and the squirrels move too fast for me," she said with a laugh.
So, she will borrow a gun for Saturday's hunt, and perhaps prove to everyone - including her friends - that you're only as old as you feel.
"(My friends) all kind of looked at me ... like, 'You are nuts!'" Hemme said.
It's not all that hard to believe, though. Hemme said she was one of the first girls in Minnesota to take a hunting safety class. In the late 1950s, the course was taught in Le Center, where she attended high school.
"There were four of us (girls) in my high school class that attended," She said. "There was an active gun club in the community."
Hemme doesn't know if Saturday's hunt will lead to more pheasant hunting experiences in the future, but she's keeping her options open.
"Most of the people I know are quite serious hunters," she said. "They might not want to drag an amateur along."
Hemme said she's grateful the women's mentored hunt is offered in conjunction with the governor's annual opener.
"Sometimes these things are so stereotyped," she said. "It's important to show that it's OK for girls to do this - it's not just a man's thing. And, you don't have to be young."
Kristi Coughlon, an information officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources northwest region, is organizing the Women's Mentored Hunt for the second consecutive year. A hunter with more than 30 years experience, she's bringing two hunting dogs and has found five other women - and their trained dogs - to mentor the 11 women registered to hunt.
"All of the mentors, we're there to provide this so women can explore these opportunities," Coughlon said. "It's a supportive environment with other women. Where else can you be part of a great celebration and learn from hunters how to hunt?"
Affiliated with the DNR's "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" program for several years, Coughlon said she's coordinating the women's mentored hunt as a way to pay it forward.
"I had an opportunity to be taught by other folks to hunt elk, pheasant, turkeys," she said. "I want to be able to expose other women to it - to talk to them about barriers or thoughts they have about why they think they can't do it."
The female mentors are coming to Luverne from across the state - Coughlon from Bemidji, another from Roosevelt and one from Two Harbors, in addition to others in southwest Minnesota. The hunters include a handful from Luverne and the immediate area, as well as Detroit Lakes, International Falls, Grand Rapids, Sauk Rapids and Bloomington.