Nadia Marji remembers her first impression of Kansas.
It wasn’t good.
For a self-professed “beach girl” from California, moving to the plains of Kansas amounted to culture shock.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to hate living here,’ ” said Marji, who was 14 at the time. “I couldn’t wait until I was 18 so I could move back to California.”
And now? Well, good luck in getting her to move.
Marji, now 25, has fallen in love with Kansas, its people, its wide-open spaces, and most important, its hunting.
For a young lady who had never hunted before she got here, she has come quite a ways. She is managing editor of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine, and she is outdoors every chance she gets.
Her column and blog have the fitting title “Accidental Huntress,” and follows her unlikely transformation from a California “beach girl” to a flatlands hunter. Yeah, Marji is very much at home now in the state she once wanted to escape.
“Hunting wasn’t even on my radar when I was younger,” said Marji, who lives near Pratt, Kan. “It wasn’t that I was opposed to it, it’s just something I wasn’t exposed to.
“But I started off doing some target practice with shotguns, then started hunting. Now I can’t get enough of it. Kansas has so much to offer, everything from big bucks to pheasants to waterfowl.”
Marji has made a steady progression into becoming an all-around hunter. When she began working for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in 2013, her supervisor Mike Miller suggested that she start writing a column that would detail her journey to learn the Kansas outdoors. She liked the idea.
“I wanted to share my experiences from the novice angle,” she said. “Not everyone is a pro.
“My goal was to show everyone that women have a place in the outdoors; that they can learn just like anyone else.”
At the same time, Marji was concerned about the image she would project.
“I didn’t want to come across as a redneck,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to show that women don’t have to sacrifice their image when they go hunting.
“They can have the same interests as other women and still pick up a gun and go hunting on the weekend.”
Today, Marji represents hunting’s changing face. Federal surveys showed that the number of women hunters in the United States grew by 25 percent from 2006 to 2011. That trend is noticeable in Kansas. Ten years ago, females certified by the Kansas Hunter Education program made up only 25 percent of all students. Over the last five years, that total has grown to 33 percent.
Marji is part of that trend. She and her fiance, Jon Reimer, raise Labrador retrievers through their kennel and own four of their own. Marji loves to duck hunt, and Reimer is an avid bow hunter.
They share each other’s passion, and each has found success. Marji’s big moment came in November, when she shot a 9-point buck with her bow.
“I had always been envious of the hunters who would go out and shoot their limit of something in just a few minutes,” Marji said. “Well, this was the shortest hunt of my life.
“I had just gotten into my tree stand and this big buck walked out. I was so nervous, I was shaking. I couldn’t pull my bow back at first. But luckily, that buck was trying to chase a smaller buck away and he was concentrated on that, and I was able to get off a shot.”
Marji is proud that she was hunting alone and didn’t need help. She even butchered the deer on her own, following instructions from a Field and Stream cookbook.
She made another step in her journey toward becoming a hunter in late November. She joined others on a pheasant hunt during an Outdoor Writers of Kansas conference, and quickly found success.
When a rooster burst out of the cover with a loud cackle, she swung her shotgun and hit her target — her first wild pheasant.
But those “firsts” are quickly becoming memories. In fact, she will be changing the name of her column and blog in 2016. She is no longer an “accidental huntress.” Though she insists that she’s no expert, she is more of an intermediate now.
“While Nadia is relatively new to hunting, her energy, natural ability and determination have her far ahead of many with similar experience,” Miller said. “She’s not afraid to say ‘I’ve never done that before,’ but she learns quickly.”