Growing up, I didn’t fit in that well, as I loved the outdoors and wanted to be outdoors camping or hiking in the woods all the time. My dad was a professional bowler so our lives centered around that, and the closest I could come to being outdoors all the time was Girl Scouts, so I joined. That activity satisfied my outdoor desires until I got to high school and joined the drill team. The direction in my life at that time didn’t seem quite right, so I had a heart-to-heart prayer with God one night. Little did I know how in a very short time, He was going to answer my prayers with a man who would bring me all the outdoors I could ever want.
It was during my freshman drill team practice in 1972 when one of the senior football players stalked up behind me and poured a cup of ice down the back of my hip huggers (remember the early ‘70s)! As he ran off post dumping the ice, I turned and said, “Hey, you big chicken. Don’t run off!” He skidded to a stop and sheepishly came back. He apologized for being such a dork, and a friendship developed that would change my life forever. His name was Brian Hunter Welker, mmmmm, was the middle name a clue?
Time progressed for our friendship and we became closer and closer as the years went by. Then in 1977, we just up and decided to get married. I knew he loved hunting, and even though I did not even think about hunting at the time, I knew he would get me into the outdoors a lot!
In 1978 we had our first son, Josh. Brian warned me that he would teach him to hunt, and that hunting was going to be a lifestyle, and he really wanted me to go along. I still resisted taking part in the hunting itself, but many times I went to be outdoors. In 1980 we had our second son, Kyle. Same course. I still resisted hunting, but started thinking about possibilities. In 1982 we had our third son, Ellis! That’s when I thought, “Ok, I’m not going to have my husband and all three of our sons traipsing off every hunting season and leaving me behind,” and conceded to go with them the following season down on our deer lease near Victoria, Texas.
Brian took that opportunity to set me up to shoot my first whitetail buck. I must admit, I was very nervous and didn’t make that great of a shot, but I got my first buck with Brian and my three sons! He was no giant, but Brian didn’t care; he had done what he always had wanted–he got me to finally give hunting a try. Little did he know what a monster he was going to create!
In 1984 we had our fourth son, Daniel, and then in 1987 we had our daughter, Tiffany (yes, we had a girl!). By that time, whitetail deer hunting had become part of my seasonal life. I would always pack up the kids, sneak them out of school and go to the lease with Brian. It was quite a sight, me handling our kids, going to sit for a deer. At the time we either still hunted, or sat on the ground where we thought the deer would be (no blinds or feeders for us in these days, either). All the kids loved it, and I was growing to love it more and more. My love of the outdoors was taking a new turn!
The 1986 season had the biggest effect on my hunting life. I was seven months pregnant with our daughter, we had gone to the lease and it was pouring down rain. Brian’s dad was hunting also and the older three boys wanted to hunt with their Pawpaw, so Brian, our youngest, Daniel, who was just a bit over two years old, and I were off on our hunt. The gumbo mud prevented us from driving into the lease, so around 5:30 a.m. we walked from the gate about 3/4 of a mile with Daniel in tow to get to the spot we wanted to hunt.
As we got close to the area, the sun was just beginning to do its
magic and I saw several deer in a clearing, one of which I was pretty sure was a buck. I said I wanted to shoot it since I saw him first and Brian was more than happy to oblige me. He and Daniel would stay put and I would have to sneak up about another 45 to 60 yards by myself and lay down on a broken off tree and shoot him. He and Daniel would watch from where they were. I looked him in the eye and told him he was crazy, and there was no way I was doing this by myself. Well, after about 15 more minutes of his convincing me, I agreed to give it a try. Off I went on my “first stalk”–alone! Part of me was absolutely scared to death, and the other part of me wanted to show I could do it–so on I slogged in the rain and mud, alone.
Soaking wet I crept up to that log and slowly laid my rifle on it. As I looked through the scope, I realized it was covered with drops of rain and could not see. I did not have any type of dry cloth so I just used my finger to wipe it off and managed. Sighting in on his shoulder, I squeezed off a shot and hit him perfectly. He ran about 75 yards and fell over like a stone–I was hooked!
A big party followed behind me, Pawpaw and the three boys came to the shot, and they all came rushing up to greet me with whooping and hollering. You would never have guessed we were all cold and soaked to the bone. I had funny feelings about this whole adventure; little did I know what door I had opened for myself. I just knew I liked it! I was outdoors where I loved to be and with my family, which is everything to me.
At that time in our lives, all we could do was lease land and hunt whitetail, but as the years went by–what fun that was. I could not have wanted any more. I always had at least one kid sitting with me! A few years later down the road, Brian started hunting other parts of North America, all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada. He always wanted me to go with him, but I never would. I just would not leave my kids with anyone to go hunt somewhere even though it would just be for a week or so. So the years went by hunting whitetail at whatever lease we were on at the time, along with Brian’s one lonely other hunting trip a year. We enjoyed the time with the family together and, as the kids got older, we began bringing their friends (both boys and girls) to introduce them to this world of hunting.
All the kids grew up and eventually all went off to college. When our daughter left for college in 2005 (our last kid), my husband had a big surprise planned for me, and what a surprise it was. He had planned several guided hunts for me alone; he would not carry a gun, only his binos to spot game. My adventure into the hunting world, and what it has to offer, was about to begin. He took me to New Mexico for Rocky Mountain mule deer, Kansas for whitetail, the Chinati Mountains in the Big Bend area of Texas for desert mule deer, New Zealand for a red stag at Alpine Hunting Adventures, and Michigan for a giant whitetail at Sanctuary!
I did love those hunts, hiking through the mountains, being in the outdoors in a new kind of way. I just loved what was happening in my life! My experience grew and I saw what a wonderful opportunity people can have to enjoy the outdoors, and at the same time, meet wonderful new people and learn about and contribute to animal conservation through hunting.
The years since have been an incredible adventure that many only dream of, but we made happen. Since 2006, I’ve been all over the United States, South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the Arctic on many hunting adventures. Some places just once, but some like Africa and New Zealand, many times! In fact, our family goes yearly on Sanctuary’s second Gold hunt, and then Brian and I go a second time a bit later each year when it’s snowing.
Each place has very special “things” that happen that make indelible imprints in my mind that I find myself reliving almost every day. I love talking with hunting friends about it, as well as non-hunting friends. Non-hunting folks are my favorite because most just cannot believe I do this, and what I put myself through to get some of the animals I’ve had the opportunity to get. Talking to them about hunting, whether it’s musk ox in the freezing Arctic, dangerous game in Africa, or 130-degree days hunting Lord Derby eland in oven hot Cameroon never fails to hold their attention.
Every year we look forward to our hunting trips with each other, our family and friends, and soon to taking all of our grandkids (now now, with more coming) on hunting adventures exploring the world.
A favorite time yearly is going to the SCI Convention in Las Vegas and being with our friends in the hunting world, talking hunting and planning new hunts to new destinations. Brian has planned many more hunts for us through the years to come, and I find it hard to wait for these adventures.
It is hard to believe what incredible times I’ve been able to enjoy, having a husband who was very patient in getting me to enjoy his passion–now, since that “first stalk,” his passion has become my passion.–Denise E. Welker