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Hello, my name is Sharenda Birts, and I am a late bloomer when it comes to outdoor recreation. Up until a few years ago, I just did not have the energy or strength to pursue outdoor adventures due to a non-functioning thyroid. Once I was told it had turned cancerous, I had that bad boy removed! The surgery resulted in a paralyzed vocal cord, making it difficult to catch my breath. Sounds awful, right? But at the risk of sounding cliché, it was the catalyst for my desire to explore the outdoors.
The doctor’s recommendation: breathing exercises and yoga to ease into exercising. That was gasoline to the fire…since I could breathe, I WANTED to be outside. So, I thought it would be a good time to tackle a bucket list desire: to learn how to handle a firearm. I do not come from an outdoorsy family, or one that handles firearms, so this was a real struggle for me. I had no idea how to even begin the journey or the process.
At first, my family thought I was cute and chuckled when I asked if they knew of anyone that could teach me. Firearm training was not really encouraged in the black community, with even less interest amongst black women and youth. I felt very uncomfortable at gun ranges. I discovered that not all instructors know how to train women and can be oblivious to how minority women feel about firearm training when getting started. It was very irritating to find myself as the only black woman in training classes or events; I felt out of place. During my learning process, I wondered if other black women like me may have the same reservations. I realize now that was because “we” were not aware of the resources that are available. I also realized many women may not get involved because they don’t want to be the only black woman in attendance.
Each month I would venture out of my comfort zone, creating opportunities to be introduced to a different aspect of gun safety and skill-building each time. One of the first aspects I tried was trap shooting. I was horrible at it, but I had the best time of my shooting life being the best loser I could be. My gun was not fitted for me, I had no training and no friends to share the experience with as none of them were shotgun owners. I couldn’t care what anyone thought of my skills or lack thereof. It did not matter; I was relaxed and finally enjoying something related to firearms. I stepped even further outside of my comfort zone after someone suggested that since I as shooting so much, I should try reloading. That was a different Alice In Wonderland rabbit hole for me. Reloading is not an easy skill to tap into, much less as a black woman! But I did it and even became certified to teach metallic cartridge reloading.
In 2019, at the top of my ever-growing bucket list was to learn how to hunt. Something I thought was so far out of reach, I even laughed at myself. But as luck and fate would have it I met a small group of women that took me on my first deer hunt. I harvested a doe with a round I loaded! Meeting these ladies has led me on an extraordinary adventure.
Since then, I have become a social media advocate of getting involved in the outdoors. I’ve even recruited my cousin to attend a pheasant clinic with me and she is hooked! She can’t wait for the next one. I look forward to each hunt, as they all are new to me. I am elated to have contacts, organizations and resources to share within my community, as I’ve inspired family and friends to get involved in the outdoors.
Though I was in my thirties before I learned to shoot, I am a testament that anything is possible with determination and the right guidance. Joining forces with wildHERness has given me the information and resources to continue on the path to more outdoor adventures. I encourage anyone who has an interest to attend one of our events, and see where your wild takes you!