Virginia GetzI first learned of Ellie Sharp back in 1989. The Sacramento Bee featured a story about this 5-foot-tall 80-pound female duck hunter in its Sports section. The story caught my eye, not only because it was about another woman with a passion for waterfowl hunting, but also because this woman was 83 years old. There was a picture of her in a buried tank on a rice check at her Honcut Creek Ranch club in the District 10 region of California’s Sacramento Valley. She was in camo with her shotgun in hand waiting for birds. That feature inspired me and I wished that somehow I could meet Ellie. I cut out her picture and kept it on my bulletin board at work for the next 11 years.

Ellie Sharp appeared to me again in 2003. She was one of five women waterfowlers that Gary Koehler featured in his “Of Women and Waterfowl” story in the March-April Ducks Unlimited Magazine. She had recently turned 96 years old and was still hunting. More than ever, I wanted to meet this woman. It would be a few more years until that would finally happen.

Fritz Reid, director of conservation planning at DU’s Western Regional Office, learned of my desire to meet Ellie. Fritz knew Bob Sciutto, a former DU senior vice president who was Ellie’s longtime friend and current hunting companion. Fritz contacted Bob to find out if it might be possible to get Ellie and me together. A short time later Bob contacted me with an invite from Ellie to join her for dinner, a visit, and a hunt at Honcut Creek Ranch. Not only was I going to meet this legend, but I was going to hunt with her!

I arrived at the ranch on the evening of January 7, 2006. I joined some of the club members to watch the sunset over the wetlands from a viewing platform near Ellie’s cabin. No wonder she loved this place. When I finally met Ellie, I showed her the picture of her I had saved from the Sacramento Bee and told her how she had been an inspiration to me ever since I learned of her. She laughed at me but I could tell she was pleased.

Virginia & Ellie

Virginia & Ellie

Dinner was a rack of lamb that was exquisite. We stayed up late into the night drinking red wine and talking about memorable hunts, great bird dogs, waterfowl, wetlands, and life. She told me stories about her wonderful late husband Jim, her early hunting days, and what it was like to be the first woman member of a duck club in California. I listened intently to almost 75 years of hunting experience and soaked up everything I could.

We finally called it a night but I was too excited to sleep. Bob gave us a wake-up call and cooked us a hot breakfast in the morning. We drew our blind and headed out to the field. Bob told me to help Ellie down the muddy rice check out to the blind. She didn’t need any help. She walked to the blind, took the lid off her tank, dropped down in it, and was ready to go before shoot time. Neither the water she was standing in at the bottom of her tank nor the damp morning air bothered her a bit. She was a duck hunter.

Early on a group of pintail came in hard and low from Ellie’s side and she hollered, “Shoot ’em!” Bob and I each dropped a drake and I saw a big smile on Ellie’s face and a hunter’s fire in her eyes. This was the first season that Ellie was not shooting. Even though she was without her shotgun, she was as focused on the hunt as were her guests. At 99 years old, with the sprig and wigeon working the decoys, she could still call the shot for the blind at exactly the right time. The hunting was great that day but the company was superb. We said goodbye over a wonderful lunch and more wine. Ellie was a great hostess and loved the socializing as well as the hunting.

That January 8, 2006, hunt at Honcut Creek Ranch is one I will never forget and the most memorable part really doesn’t have anything to do with the hunting. Yeah, we shot some ducks. But what really sticks in my memory is the opportunity I had to spend time with a true waterfowling legend. She welcomed me to her ranch, shared her life’s stories with me, and gave me an experience I will always treasure.

Ellie passed away on December 13, 2008, just a week short of her 102nd birthday. Her ashes were scattered at Honcut Creek Ranch beside her late husband’s. May the two of them hunt those fields together forever. I could write pages about Ellie’s fascinating life but others have told that story, and it goes well beyond the hunting. However, it was the hunting that brought us together.

Ellie was a pioneer among women waterfowlers. There are not many of us female duck hunters even today but there were far fewer back when Ellie got started. She was a celebrity, a rock star if you will, in the waterfowl world and hunted at many of the finest clubs in the Sacramento Valley. She lived her life large and will remain an inspiration to many, regardless of gender or age.

I still have that picture of Ellie from the Sacramento Bee. You go, girl!

Honcut Creek Ranch wetland

Honcut Creek Ranch wetland


2 Responses to “Ellie”

  1. 1 frank September 2, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    That is one very lucky lady, to enjoy that many years of duck hunting and not get the least tried of it. She truely love the sport in all it galory. We should think of her when we are knee deep in the wet lands. I know that I will.

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