Female hunters are presented with a few unique challenges that their male counterparts won't ever have to face. Being pregnant during hunting season is just one of them.
I was a tomboy growing up. I didn't spend my days planning my future wedding or dreaming about a white picket fence. I was too busy fishing South Carolina's lakes and traipsing through the woods hunting with my dad.
I certainly wasn't thinking about how one day starting a family would affect my outdoor pursuits.
In the spring of 2014, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first baby. With a due date of early January, I assumed I'd have to sit out the entire fall hunting season.
Fortunately, I checked with my obstetrician and hunting while pregnant was completely safe. In fact, fresh air and moderate walking were encouraged.
However, I did have to make a few adjustments for both my baby's safety and mine.
Ignore the critics
When you're pregnant, you're a target for unsolicited advice. Several people told me that hunting while pregnant was harmful to my baby. Or that it was too dangerous to hunt by myself and that I had no business being in the woods.
Consult with your doctor and listen to your body. Tune out everyone else.
You are not alone
The number of female hunters in the United States is growing at a faster rate than men. You are not the first woman facing the challenge of hunting while pregnant, and you won't be the last.
Last season, Tiffany Lakosky from Outdoor Channel's TV show, "The Crush with Lee & Tiffany," shot two bulls, an antelope and a mule deer all while carrying their son.
Water, water, and more water
Staying hydrated is important for every outdoor enthusiast. It's even more important if you're pregnant.
To prevent swelling, curb nausea and reduce the chance of overheating, I consumed a minimum of three liters of water every day.
A CamelBak or Nalgene bottle were hunting pack necessities.
Climbing 15-30 feet up to sit in a deer stand isn't particularly safe if you're pregnant. And in the event of a fall, a harness could save your life, but it could also be harmful to your baby.
Though it did limit some of the places I could hunt, I stuck to using a ground blinds.
A comfortable chair was essential especially in the final months before you're due date.
Shoot your gun only when necessary
Lead exposure is a concern when you're pregnant. An occasional shot is okay once you have a deer in your sights, but you should refrain from target shooting.
Also, a baby's hearing develops around ten weeks. Repetitive, loud gunshots are potentially damaging to their ears despite the insulation of being in your belly.
I entrusted my husband to sight in my rifle at the range.
Or, don't shoot it at all
South Carolina has one of the longest whitetail deer seasons (Aug. 15-Jan. 1). On private land, you can hunt with a rifle, muzzleloader or bow during the entire season.
I used my pregnancy as an opportunity to practice my archery skills.
I didn't have to worry about the noise level or lead exposure, and it was a great upper body workout.
I did break out a muzzleloader for a few days in October to hunt on game management land.
Track, but don't retrieve
Though the percentage of female hunters is growing rapidly, hunting is still male dominated.
I've never been one to ask for help. Like many outdoorswomen, sometimes I have a fear of asking for help because I want male hunters to take me seriously.
But, if you want to hunt throughout your pregnancy you have to leave your pride at home.
Once you track your kill, let someone else get it out of the woods. Deer, and other wild game, have the potential to carry disease.
A healthy person's immune system might have the ability to fight off any kind of infection, but yours or your unborn baby's might not.
Know your limits
Again, it limited the places that I could hunt, but I stuck to shooting lanes that were easy to access.
Once the baby starts crowding your lungs, you'll get winded more easily.
I steered clear of hiking in high elevations and set up my blind within reasonable distances of the truck or camp.
I also decided it was time to call it quits for the season shortly after Thanksgiving.
With my due date roughly five weeks away, I was cautious of doing anything too strenuous that could trigger early labor. I also didn't want to be too far away from the hospital in case I did.
It turned out to be a smart choice because I gave birth to our beautiful daughter just three weeks later.
For me, it was important to manage my expectations. It's easy to focus on all the things you're told you can't do while you're pregnant.
While I did have to change the way I hunted, I was grateful that I didn't have to sit out the season entirely.
Being in the woods was actually my favorite place to be while I was pregnant. In the quiet of the woods, it's where I felt our baby kick the most.
This season, she's already eight months old. One day when she's sitting next to me in the woods, I can't wait to tell her about our first hunting adventures together from before she was even born.