By Rebecca Drew
THIS HUNTRESS promotes a sustainable lifestyle and ensures that none of the animals she kills are wasted.
TV host for Country Outdoors and Outdoor Channel, Mary Spooner O’Neill Phillips (32), who is originally from Sydney, Australia, but now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, has always had a keen interest in the great outdoors. Her family were gardeners and had their own farm when she was growing up.
This sparked Mary’s passion for sustainable living and knowing where her food has come from – spurring her on to avoid toxin-filled supermarket produce.
However, Mary didn’t get involved in hunting until after she moved to the USA in March, 2016. Her first hunt was for wild turkeys which she shot down from five yards away. She initially had mixed feelings towards the killing but at the same time felt deep respect for the animal that had been sacrificed and said a prayer for the birds.
After taking the turkeys home, butchering the birds, and eating them, Mary felt instantly connected with nature and had a strong sense of pride for having made the kill and stayed with the animal on its journey from field to plate – she was hooked.
Mary loves everything about hunting and living a sustainable life. A lot of preparation and planning goes into a day’s hunting which makes the end result even more rewarding. For Mary, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has only made her more certain that her way of life is the way forward. Her freezer was fully stocked with game whilst others were scrambling for food at the supermarkets.
Mary hunts deer, wild birds, fish, and has even hunted black bears. Apart from using the animal flesh for meat which can be used as steaks, sausages and in delicious stews, Mary uses the hides and horns for taxidermy and rugs to honour the animal and ensure that nothing goes to waste.
The reaction to her kills on social media is largely positive with people wanting to get involved in sustainable living themselves, but Mary did receive some negativity on an image she posted of a black bear she had hunted. Messages she received called her a murderer and asked how she could do such a thing.
Mary responds to any hate on her platform by explaining the difference between poachers and people who hunt. She explains that the hunting of animals is needed for conservation and to maintain longevity of the species.
“We always had some sort of a garden growing up and we also have had my family farm since I was four. I think my passion has stemmed from that,” said Mary.
“With so many toxins being used on food these days and with such an increase in cancer cases, the idea of knowing where my food comes from has become very important to me.
“I owned an archery bow in Australia and would shoot it down on my farm, but I never had anyone to take me to hunt. When I moved to the USA and started to pursue my career in country music, I was suddenly surrounded by people who lived an outdoor lifestyle.
“My first hunt was for wild turkey in Nebraska with my now husband and our friend. The boys called in two turkeys, with their mouth pieces, from five-hundred yards away over the sandhills and I shot my first bird five yards away.
“I had this immediate mixture of feelings with a huge rush and then also a heavy weight – the weight of knowing that I had taken a life as I had such deep respect for the animal.
“I said a prayer and we took the bird back to the home, cleaned it, and ate it. I just remember thinking that there had been this whole way of life out there that I had been missing out on where you are living with nature and off the land, and connected to the earth. I was addicted from then on out.
“There is a huge sense of pride when you train to make a good shot, harvest an animal yourself, and then eat it. When you buy meat from the supermarket, you have no idea how the animal died.
“I have seen enough YouTube videos to know that their death is not always humane in an abattoir, and can be dragged out for days and hours. It’s really torturous for an animal to die that way. I think that’s the main reason why I love to hunt.
“It is great fun fishing for walleye or bass and then bringing the fish back and having a fish fry with your mates.
“Bow hunting white tails entails a three-am wake up, shooting my bow a couple times to make sure I’m confident and then grabbing a coffee and heading to the tree stand. Most hunts mean seeing nothing and just watching the animals.
“Now that I’ve been hunting awhile, I will wait on a mature older buck. Which could mean not getting anything at all. It’s a luck game. Well, luck and showering game. I will shower with a scent control soap before heading out and I leave my hunting clothes out in the fresh air all night so they don’t smell.
“Turkey hunting can either be a lot of walking or if you have roosted a bird the night before and know where they’ll fly down, we will set up close by, up against a tree, and try to call them in when they fly down.
“Turkey hunting, much like elk hunting and duck/goose is a calling game. It’s very cool to be able to talk to an animal and call them in.
“Hunting makes me feel connected to the land and not separated from it. Hunting has been around since the beginning of time.
“I am all about getting back to it. After the COVID crisis this year and supermarkets running out of stock and the meat markets getting shut down, I am more certain than ever that this is the lifestyle for me.
“I had a freezer full of wild game when the pandemic broke out and was able to hunt turkeys so we didn’t have to step into the supermarket much at all.
“If it’s deer, we cut off the backstraps and then bring the rest of the meat to the wild game processor who then makes it into steaks, summer sausage and breakfast sausage. I take the hide and horns to the taxidermist who then mounts it for my home. We use all parts of the animal. Nothing goes to waste.
“With bear, we skin and get the meat, and the outfitter takes the hide to be made into a rug. We make a lot of stew from the bear or smoke it with seasonings.
“For birds, we usually eat them that day or clean them and put them into the freezer. We keep the feathers and fans for decorations.”
Mary uses an Elite Ritual compound bow or CZ over under shotgun to hunt with. She fishes all year round and hunts between two to three deer a year, 12 turkeys each season, and six doves a day.
She explained how hunting is vital for conservation.
“For the most part the reaction is positive. I try to make a point of showing the wild game cooking so people can see how we use the animal,” she said.
“I actually think there are a lot more people becoming interested in this way of life. I have had people from Sydney who grew up surfing, come up to me and say they want to get into archery because they have seen my posts and love the organic way of living.
“I’ve just received negativity on my black bear picture. People get funny about apex predators but I try to explain to them why there is a harvest season and how it is needed for conservation.
“There are over one million black bears in north America. They need to be managed so they don’t overpopulate. If they are not managed then a lot will die from starvation, or disease. I also explain that I eat the animal and use its hide. They usually are ok after that.
“If you eat meat and buy it from a supermarket, you are in no position to judge me for getting my meat organically. Hunters are not poachers. Poachers give hunters a bad name.
“Hunters aim to hunt an animal in the most ethical way, in its environment, so the animal has a fast death. We love animals probably more than most people.
“We spend our lives watching, observing and living amongst the animals. Not paying to see them in a zoo. Wild game meat is organic, we know where it has come from and how the animal died. There is no ‘ignorance is bliss.’ That is a choice.
“You either choose to believe the steak in the packet in the market just died in its sleep and not care, or you can know where it came from. I know hunting is not for everyone. There have always been hunters and gatherers since the start of time, so I am not judging those who can’t stomach killing an animal. I get it.
“But don’t judge those who choose to know more. Conservation is needed to manage wildlife and habitats and hunters provide a huge percentage of money towards funding conservation.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/maryoneillofficial