Heroines for Our Times

On the Range

There is something about women who shoot and shoot well that commands admiration from men who are secure in their own masculinity. I believe women feel the same way toward men who are kind to children and pets, linger to gaze at a sunsets and occasionally read poetry for the sheer beauty of language.

In either case, the person is growing by going against the grain.

The late Col. Jeff Cooper once wrote: "It is man’s job to protect woman. It is woman’s job to civilize man."

Those are the usual roles if we believe men are hunter-gatherers and women are nesters. It would take, then, a special man to nurture his sensitive side and a unique woman to approach aggressive adventure.

I want to honor three women and a girl who have gone against the grain.

The first is Patty Dreeszen, wife of my friend Doug Dreeszen. Doug is a serious hunter and Patty more than keeps pace. Both have their Grand Slam of North American Sheep. Last fall Patty took a 340-class bull elk with a 310-yard shot from her new Ruger .300 Magnum. Then she helped pack it out two miles to the truck.

But her most recent accomplishment really got my attention. This past spring, hunting with her husband and guided by Dennis Beattie of Wicked River Outfitters, Patty took a British Columbia grizzly that most of us can only dream about. After passing on several other bears, including one that came within 35 yards, Patty dropped a monster with one shot from 140 yards. The bear squared 8’8," had a skull measurement of 24 1/4," and was estimated at 20 years of age.

Two years ago my friend Margot Hart didn’t have to travel far to get her big bear. Margot -- a single mother of two teenaged daughters who lives outside Missoula, Montana -- was awakened by her dog barking. From her kitchen window she spotted a large black bear pawing at the door of her back porch. Margot ran and got her rifle. When she returned the bear was not in sight. Fearing for her dog’s safety, she opened the door to step onto the porch.

The bear suddenly charged from nowhere. As it hit the light storm door five feet in front of her Margot fired from the hip. The .308 bullet struck the bruin between the eyes, knocking it backward off the stoop.

The bear was dead but Margot added an insurance shot. She then tagged the 400-pound boar with her permit, field-dressed it, called a friend to take photos, and had a Montana game warden verify the legality of her kill.

Reflecting on the experience Margot said, "Self defense is what happened with that big bear. I knew it was huge and looking for trouble. I felt the Holy Spirit tell me that the shot would be effective through the door. That gave me peace so I had no hesitation. Hesitation would have cost me my life."

My third honoree needs little introduction. On Dec. 9, 2007, volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam used her police training and a 9mm Beretta to stop a gunman inside New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Having already killed two teenaged sisters in the church parking lot, the gunman had entered the church foyer armed and armored and certainly intending to murder scores more. Ms. Assam, a former policewoman with 15 years experience, confronted the shooter and fired 10 times, striking him each time, though an autopsy would later prove the gunmen finished the job himself.

For her actions, Jeanne received the Second Amendment Foundation’s Eleanor Roosevelt Award and the St. Gabriel Possenti Society’s Medal and Certificate of Honor.

Ms. Assam was not only calm in a deadly situation she also displayed grace and forbearance in handling the media following the tragedy. The press hounded her for two things: her dismissal from a police force years ago and for giving God credit for her actions. "I prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me," she told reporters. The Holy Spirit gave her peace but it was years of training that produced her cool and calculated reaction.

As a child Jeanne had hunted pheasants and shot gophers. In her third year as a Minneapolis Police Officer she’d became a range instructor for new recruits.

"My training played a sizeable role in successfully being able to know how to take down this gunman," she wrote me months after the incident. "However," she added. "God gets the majority of the credit. The shooter and I stood 63 feet apart. I took him down yet he missed me completely. There were bullet holes in the wall behind me."

These are three remarkable women.

Patty Dreeszen, wife, companion, partner, hunter, athlete. For three decades she’s pushed her limits and accomplished goals while hunting much of western North America. At an age when many women are carpooling grandchildren she’s just hitting her stride as an outdoorswoman. Patty seeks the wild and primitive places and drinks the fresh air of adventure.

Margot Hart, mother, hunter, and defender. Stopping a charging bear was not the first time she’d handled a firearm in defense. At the age of 19 she used a gun to protect a 16-year-old bride from a violent husband as the man kicked his way into Margot’s apartment. "I yelled stop and he stopped." She said. "I was taught as a child not to pick up a gun in self-defense unless you are willing to it." Raised by parents who valued the outdoors, Margot has been prepared since youth for the unexpected.

Jeanne Assam. No description necessary. While popular culture tells us that heroes are not human -- they are simply celluloid icons without firmament, faith, or moral foundation -- Jeanne Assam, became a Biblical Deborah for our times. A true individual, she breaks the mold culture uses to form false idols and redefines feminine strength and beauty.

Then there’s Patricia Harrington.

On Nov. 5, 2006 two illegal immigrants broke into a home in Butte, Montana. Patricia, then only 11, was home alone. When one assailant climbed the stairs toward her Patricia knelt and shot him with a Mossberg 12-guage. He died at the scene. When the second burglar ran to the foot of the stairs he took a blast to the left shoulder. He fled but died from blood loss. Neither had accounted for a girl who had been a shooting clays champion since she was 9.

What Patty, Margot, Jeanne, and Patricia have in common is an early introduction to the responsibility of the shooting sports. What an investment this has been. What a legacy they are creating.