Women of the West, Modern Huntsman, volume 9, Lydia Smith

Women of the West featuring Lydia Smith

“I always felt like I had to prove myself.”

Interview

Photos

Lydia Smith

Read Time

8 minutes

Posted

A childhood spent outdoors in Southeast Idaho served as the catalyst for the winding and adventurous path Lydia Smith pursues today. But the 24-year-old hunter, guide and artist charted and broke the trail herself, it would seem.

“[My siblings and I] would go camping a lot, and my dad would take us fishing, but my family wasn’t into hunting and horses. So I got into a lot of that stuff on my own,” Lydia says. She spent as much time as possible learning horsemanship from her aunt, and soon she was training them herself.

Women of the West, Modern Huntsman, volume 9, Lydia Smith
Photo: Ryan Haines

She had even less instruction when it came to her pursuit of hunting. Lydia saved her money and, at the age of 16, took her hunter’s safety course. By age 18, she had been on her first hunt. “I haven’t looked back. It’s been a bit of a solo mission, but that allows me to follow what I enjoy.”

Lydia filled her deer tag all by herself that first season. “I got quite lucky on my first hunt. I didn’t know where to go or anything, and didn’t have my own gun,” Lydia says. She borrowed a rifle from her Uncle and headed out to a piece of state land where she had seen deer before. “I did a lot of hiking. It was horrible — I wasn’t conditioned at all for the mountains, so it was just a very physically exhausting trip.”

Lydia came home empty-handed, but near the end of the season, she saw a field full of does, mingling among the rolling hills and juniper boughs. She knocked on the land owner’s door to ask if she could shoot one — they agreed. “So after all that hiking in the mountains, I ended up shooting one out of a field. It was really fun though. I got to put a stalk on ’em, got within 300 yards and made a good shot on her.”

Once the dust settled and it was time to break down her doe, she got to work, a slew of YouTube tutorial videos replaying in her memory. “I got the first scar on my hand from trying to gut that first doe,” Lydia adds with a laugh. “I wasn’t very skilled, and while I was trying to move that knife around to cut her up, I sliced my thumb a bit. Through trial and error, I’ve been able to get that skill down, but that first time I just went off what I’d seen online and applied it in real life.”

“I was pretty much self-taught,” Lydia says, explaining that it wasn’t until she began going to expos that she met others who shared her passion. “I went to one of those shows and met some people who taught me a lot of different skills, which was so helpful. I was able to go on hunts and learn more through them and combine that with my own trial and error. It’s just been a really big learning process, but certainly improved with a little bit of help here and there along the way.”

“I enjoy the challenge of seeing where I can or how I can push myself. Getting into it by myself was intimidating. When I started to meet other hunters, I would say most of them were guys. I always felt like I had to prove myself, “ Lydia explains. “I’d always try to keep ​​up with them on the trails and pack out as much as they could. I was trying to figure out who I was and worried a lot about what other people thought. But now, through hunting, I’ve definitely found my confidence and just do my own thing. It feels natural.”

While her family doesn’t hunt, they always made room for her to pursue what she loved, whether or not they recognized the same love in themselves. “My family has always been supportive. Or maybe the right word is that they tolerated it. I don’t know if my mom loved me cutting up wild game in the garage, but she was very tolerant and they all enjoyed eating the meat.”

Women of the West, Modern Huntsman, volume 9, Lydia Smith

At 18, Lydia began guiding horseback rides and pack trips for a local outfitter in the summer months. When she wasn’t leading-strings of horses and riders into the

mountains, she was hunting, and after a few seasons, the outfitter let her begin guiding hunts as well. Lydia has been guiding for five years now.

As any guide will tell you, learning to balance your time guiding while also making time to fill your own freezer isn’t an easy endeavor. This year, Lydia will guide for a month during peak season, returning in December and January to guide some more, while striving to fill her own tags in the interim.

“I’m a big elk person, and so archery elk season is by far my favorite. I’ve always wanted to do archery, so when I picture hunting, I see doing it with a bow,” Lydia says. “I was always very much inspired by the Old West and Native Americans — it’s definitely my preferred method by far.”

While she has been hunting with a compound bow for years, she’s beginning a new chapter by pursuing traditional archery. “I’m super excited to start hunting with a traditional bow. I think it’s as fair chase as you can get, and it’s incredibly challenging, which I look forward to. Traditional archery is very personal, so I’ve just been doing the research on my own to try and figure it out.”

When given the choice, Lydia would always opt for a solo hunt over having company in the mountains, because according to her, when you’re by yourself, every mistake is your own, and the only person she has to worry about is herself. She gets to choose where to go, can be as quiet or as patient as she likes, and stay as long as she wants.

Women of the West, Modern Huntsman, volume 9, Lydia Smith

That’s not to say that there haven’t been scary moments in the mountains for Lydia while she’s been alone — from trees falling in the middle of the night, narrowly missing her tent, to getting horses stuck in the backcountry, to an endless number of bear encounters. “I got run over by a (cow) moose one spring — it was when I first got into hunting, so I wasn’t carrying a gun or anything. I was very lucky that she didn’t pummel me to the ground as most do. She just struck me and left, which was really intense. I was bawling my eyes out, hiking back up the mountain.”

Aside from her time guiding, Lydia is able to afford the life she’s built by working as a full-time artist. Sketching is a skill she’s honed since childhood, but one that in recent years has begun to focus on wildlife, overlapping with her time in the field. While she will occasionally sketch using a photo that grabs her attention, the majority of her work is drawn from her mind. “I’ve always really loved drawing, putting my passions onto paper. It’s been a really cool thing to combine that with the hunting side of things. I’ve been able to draw a lot of my client’s animals that they’ve harvested, or their working dogs, etc. It’s cool to have that be my full-time business and be able to choose my schedule and be as flexible as I am. I’m really blessed there.”

That flexibility allowed her to be featured in the 2022 First Light film, Spring Fever, which follows her pursuit of filling a spring bear tag in her home state.

“That was a fun experience. I was happy to be a part of it, and it was great getting to meet new people. I’ve always filmed myself on a phone, but having somebody filming was interesting and different.” For some, being filmed on a bear hunt would add additional pressure to an already hard endeavor in the steep Idaho Backcountry, but according to Lydia, she didn’t worry about that. “Hunting is not always a guarantee.”

“I guess I do it because, through hunting, I have found who I am. I struggled with self-confidence growing up, but hunting helped me blossom into who I want to be. It’s not just a hobby, it’s my life,” Lydia explains. “I kind of have a hard time finding the words for it. I’ve always naturally had a passion and a love for horses and hunting, even though I never grew up with it, which I think is a telltale sign that it was meant to be a part of my career. I just really wanted to follow that and live this life that I have, because I think it’s very precious, everyone’s life is precious, and I think they should live a life that they love.”

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