Xa’nel Cribbs of Omaha went from learning how to shoot archery to harvesting her first deer in eight months.
Not everyone has a family member or friend who can teach them about the outdoors. Even when there’s a strong interest, many struggle to find ways to gain the knowledge and skills to be successful. Xa’nel Cribbs of Omaha was one of those people. When she moved to Nebraska with her husband, Xa’nel began turning to the outdoors as a way to express her true self and ended up with a new bow, shooting archery and eventually going on her first deer hunt.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Xa’nel about her journey as a new hunter.
JG: Were you always drawn to the outdoors?
XC: I was born in California and have lived in Nevada and New York. As I look back at my childhood, I was always exploring – even urban exploring. I remember going through Central Park in New York City and exploring on the trails there. Subconsciously, I knew where I wanted to be, but my conscious mind was miles away. I was always comfortable being out in the fresh air no matter where I was. Now, after living in Nebraska, it’s my home and I love it here.
JG: How did you get started in archery shooting?
XC: I found myself on the Nebraska Game and Parks website looking for cool camping spots and my experience there snowballed. I saw the event calendar link, and I found a three-week archery course at Platte River State Park with Christy Christiansen and thought that would be so much fun. The class was super awesome – the best experience – and I took to archery easily and loved it. This is what I was looking for my whole life. Shooting archery allowed me to step away from the rat race and the things I thought I was. It gave me time to reflect, and it helped me discover who I was and who I wanted to be.
JG: What did the archery class inspire you to do after it was over?
XC: One of the ladies in this class and I became great friends, and we planned to go to other women’s retreats and hunts. At the last archery class, the instructors brought in lots of great bows, different than the ones we were using at the range, and I found a Bear bow that I just loved. It was just days before my 33rd birthday, so my husband and I made a trip to Cabela’s to buy that particular bow. It was like Cinderella and her glass slipper – it all came together with that bow. I went to Platte River and practiced a lot at the park’s range.
Then I found a women’s archery retreat in Iowa. It was a great time, and I learned a lot of basic hunting skills and more archery skills that I put to use for my upcoming hunt. We had a competition shoot at the end of that retreat, and I smoked everyone. I had never won a competition before. It was so fantastic, and there were some really skilled women in that class. I had so few of these opportunities in my youth, so it was my time to shine.
JG: Did you have influences that got you into hunting?
XC: My husband grew up hunting, and he would tell me stories about hunting, which got me more interested. I had always wondered what hunting would be like – knowing where meat comes from, being sustainable and providing food for my family through hunting, plus gardening and canning. My husband grew up eating deer meat and never tried a beef steak until he was around the age of 13; he hated it, which was so funny. Being a city girl, I would have never thought I could do this, but luckily, I had an open mind and wanted to try it. At the archery class, we talked about hunting, and I thought, “I can do this.” So that was the spark that pushed me into learning more and practicing with my bow to make sure I was a good shot.
JG: What obstacles did you face before you went hunting?
XC: Biggest obstacle was not knowing how to get going. I belong to a handful of women’s groups: Wander Woman in Kansas, Wander Women Iowa, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman in Nebraska, Pheasants and Quail Forever and Nebraska Wild Turkey Federation. I wanted to be a part of it all, and these groups got me going.
JG: Tell our readers about your first deer hunt.
XC: Wander Woman of Kansas set up the doe hunt. I was the only bow hunter in this group; everyone else was shooting shotguns and rifles. My biggest worry was being alone. I didn’t know what to expect. Was I going to sit in a blind by myself?
My guide was from Arkansas. He was so hospitable, and we had so much in common it was just great. The first two days, we saw lots of turkeys and great scenery but no does. I saw a button buck up close – I had never seen a deer so close, and it was absolutely beautiful.
On the last day, we weren’t out there for 30 minutes before we saw a doe. I never felt so much adrenaline. I took a deep breath and drew and let it go. It was such a blur, but all I saw was my arrow hitting the ground on the other side of the doe. I saw her leg buckle, and she took off. I was so distraught. I thought I crippled her, and I thought all I got was her leg. When we found the deer, my guide said it was one of the most clean, ethical, efficient kills he had seen in a beginner. The arrow went straight through her lungs and hit her leg on the way out. It was phenomenal. I was just reeling. Before the hunt, I thought that even if I didn’t get a doe on my first hunt, I got to see so much wildlife. And then I thought, I have to tell Christy about this, and I sent her pictures. It was only eight months from when I first touched a bow. It was amazing.
JG: What did you do with your deer?
XC: I got to help process it and watched it being skinned. We ground a lot of the meat and took the backstrap loins. I’ve made beef and broccoli using the backstraps that was so awesome. I also made meatloaf – my recipe is out of this world. It’s so moist and juicy. I’m experimenting with so many recipes. My husband hadn’t used his dehydrator for years, so I took it to make jerky, and now, I’m getting into canning and preserving.
JG: What would you tell other women that are trying to get started in outdoor activities?
XC: Stepping outside your comfort zone is the hardest part. I’ve always been kind of bold in my personality, but I’ve also been stuck in ruts and didn’t know where to go. My number one advice would be to step outside your comfort zone. Anything that you have not done before, try it. Although something might sound weird or be slightly uncomfortable at first, you might hit if off immediately and be a natural your first time. But how would you know that if you didn’t try? How would we know anything if we didn’t put ourselves out there and just make ourselves available to different opportunities, different outlets and skills? We don’t know what we don’t know. If there’s something you’re thinking about doing, step outside your box, girl, by all means. If you find out you don’t like hunting, at least you tried it.
I would love to talk with kids and moms who don’t have hobbies and introduce more people to hiking or kayaking and getting outdoors. Networking has really helped me, and I want to help more people, especially more black women and low-income people to get outdoors. Doing things outside is such an amazing experience.
JG: How do you feel now after your outdoor experiences?
XC: What a snowball effect – talk about somebody finding their niche. I got exposed to so many outdoor experiences my first summer in Nebraska: hiking, camping and kayaking. I’m really glad I stepped outside my box and tried the archery. I wish that someone would have taken me on a hike when I was 15 instead of moving to Las Vegas. I wish someone would have taken me kayaking instead of hanging out with the wrong people and doing things that I probably should not have been doing. But these are my experiences, and they helped me be the person I am today.
I don’t ever want to be scared of stepping outside the box and trying something new. I’m big about practicing what I preach. It’s come from life experiences and lessons.
Final thoughts from Xa’nel:
I am so blessed and so lucky – so grateful, and it all started with Game and Parks giving women the chance to learn archery and be comfortable doing it.
My husband and I joke that living in Nebraska is like living in the shire from The Lord of the Rings. We should be raising a whole new generation of outdoor enthusiasts: hunters, conservationists and people who just love to be in the shire and take care of it.
This is the kind of childhood I want to give my child. This is me being my true self, doing the things I love. I had no idea it would feel so good. ■