Joel Spoelman, a Certified Public Accountant in Coopersville, Michigan, wasn’t granted his wish for boys—so he decided to share his passion for bowhunting with his girls.
And all three of them have arrowed deer, although the youngest didn’t use the Mathews bows the older two did.
“Jim was 10 when she got her first deer—with a crossbow,” said Spoelman. “The reason she used a crossbow was she couldn’t pull a bow back, so I let her ‘cheat’ a little.”
Spoelman has prepared my taxes for several years, and I met with him earlier this week to do just that. His neat office’s walls are adorned with pictures of ducks, deer, and his three daughters.
Spoelman started hunting with a recurve bow at age 12, although he was 25 before he got his first deer with a bow. His oldest daughter Sam (Samantha), now 20 and studying to be a teacher at Grand Valley State, accompanied him to the woods from a very young age and took to deer hunting as soon as she was legally able. Mic (Mychala), 16, soon followed in her sister’s footsteps, as did Jim (Jamie), now 13. All have put venison in the family freezer during bow and gun seasons, and have shot turkeys, too. Sam also arrowed a trophy bear at age 16.
“I was adamant I wanted boys—that’s how they got their nicknames,” said Spoelman. All three have participated in sports at Ravenna Public Schools. Sam was part of a basketball team that drew national media attention when the coach gave the girls the first two days of firearm deer season off because all the girls wanted to go deer hunting.
But Spoelman says his daughters are far from tomboys.
“They’re girlie girls,” he said. “They like ‘girl stuff,’ too.”
When athletic and scholastic schedules allow, they join their dad and a few of his friends for a Tuesday-night tradition: target-shooting their bows from the second-story deck of the family’s rural home.
“We set up targets from 20 to 65 yards, eat, and shoot,” he said.
The deck and targets below serve for practice before regular Sunday afternoon hunts as well.
“We shoot for an hour before going out,” Spoelman said. “If they’re not shooting good, that night they don’t go. They get pissed, trying to figure out what’s going on—it’s not the bow that’s the problem. They take a break, figure it out and then they get to go. You can definitely see an attitude change when they’re drilling them and when they’re not. When they’re not, they get that ‘girl’ attitude. You can’t even talk to them.”
Once in the tree, each knows their limitations for a shot—no more than 25 yards.
Spoelman said each girl has a different attitude about bowhunting.
“Sam, she is definitely a bowhunter, really a hunter, hunting rabbits and squirrels, too,” he said, noting she comes home from college on weekends and comes over on a weeknight each week after student-teaching in a nearby town to hit a treestand. “Jamie, the youngest, she’s more into the trail cams and food plots, and she likes to put up the treestands. Mic, she’s competitive with her older sister, and she just likes to kill things.”
He said that far from facing criticism at school, they just fit in with most of their classmates, who also hunt.
“In Ravenna, deer hunting is a big deal,” he said.
Spoelman’s wife Jill might not have foreseen what family life was going to be like. When she met her husband, she wasn’t a hunter.
“She thought she was going to be a subdivision mom,” he said, and chuckled. “That didn’t happen.”
Jill now hunts turkeys, and two years ago, Spoelman said, he and the girls “made” her deer hunt.
“We wanted everyone in the family to get a deer,” he said, adding that Jill also helps with butchering and storage prep.
All the venison they harvest is used for family food.
“We don’t buy beef—venison is the only red meat we eat,” he said. “The girls help butcher it and they eat it, too,” he said.
Spoelman encourages other fathers with daughters to teach them to hunt.
“It’s pretty cool because I think that if they hunt it’s a winning situation for you,” he said. “It’s all new to them and they listen to you.”
Archery hunting, Spoelman says, can teach life lessons such as patience, preparation (through both shooting and scent control), and staying cool under pressure.
“Once in the stand you have to play the wind, move on the animal, get your shot off—it’s a confidence builder for these kids. If they can do all that they should be able to do a lot of things in life.”