Woman in the woods: Mandy Neese redefines the outdoor world of hunting for women

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2020

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was featured in our October/November edition of LaGrange Living

Hogansville resident Mandy Neese is a woman who loves the woods. Since she could walk, Neese has been in the woods chasing fowl, deer and other big game. 

“I started hunting when I was just a little kid with my dad and granddad,” Neese said. “I’ve always been a tomboy. I started with just a BB gun shooting, and I was always really good.” 

Neese killed her first deer when she was 11 years old on her family farm in Fayette County. 

“We could hunt at home, and it was around you all the time,” Neese said. “It is where I always found peace. Riding horses and hunting. We would go for three and four day weekends and pack out with my granddad.”

Neese said she was always with her dad and grandad on every adventure through the woods. 

“I always did everything that they did,” Neese said. “For me, it was therapy. Being in the woods or being outside, I can forget about work, I can forget about anything and come out and just enjoy nature.” 

Hunters are among the most passionate conservationists around, and Neese is no different. 

These days, Neese amongst other hunters, directly support wildlife conservation in many ways. 

“There’s a balance to hunting and being a hunter,” Neese said. “There’s a reason why we do it.” 

Neese said hunters acts a as a funding source for state agencies that help conserve habitats and it helps control prey species like deer, elk and bison. 

On most hunts, you can find Neese’s eight-year-old daughter, Lily, patiently and quietly watching her mom hunt. 

“She’s my baby,” Neese said. “She’s so much like me and loves it. She loves being out in the woods with me. She loves to turkey hunt.” 

Unlike some eight-year olds, Lily has no issues waking up before the sun comes up with her mom to go into freezing temperatures to track a turkey.

“I just love being in nature,” Lily said. “I just love being around the trees and the fresh air.” 

Neese said Lily will sit there quietly and perfectly still. Lily will sit in her own chair watching the beat of her mom’s every step, breath and shot. 

Neese’s husband, Darrell, works at Blalock, where Lily has been able to learn proper safety gun safety. 

“They have a controlled environment,” Neese said. “Darrell is an instructor and so all of our kids have been able to learn in a controlled environment and learn about ear protection, eye protection and what it means to have the responsibility of shooting a gun.” 

Neese said they have taught all their kids gun safety before they taught them how to hunt. 

“We started pistol shooting with Lily about two years ago when she was six,” Neese said. “She’s never been intimidated by anything. We started with airsoft pistols and BB guns and things like that. All the kids have 22s. That’s what every little kid starts with as their first real gun.” 

Not only is Neese a mom and woman of the woods, she is also a woman of asphalt. Neese is the vice president of Asphalt Paving and Concrete Construction out of Peachtree Corners, Georgia.  

When she’s not working, or chasing after her kids, Neese is in the woods tracking game. 

“I have a hunting lease in Coweta County and have 500 acres that we lease there,” Neese said. “Darrell is a guide at Blalock, and so we quail hunt at Blalock. We go where things are accessible like public land. We will go to Alabama and Talladega National Forest and places like that.” 

Free to everyone anywhere, public lands offer great hunting opportunities. Hunting on public lands present new challenges, opportunities and learning experiences for hunters, even the most experienced. 

Deer won’t know whether they are on public land or private land, but they do know when they smell large amounts of human scent. 

“It’s great to be able to use public land, especially since we live in downtown Hogansville,” Neese said. “You can’t hunt there. You can also get drawn for quotas.” 

Quota hunts are offered by most state wildlife agencies and are managed hunts where a set number of hunters participate.  

The quota hunt system randomly selects a specified number of hunters from a pool of applicants. 

“Hunting is a process, and it is work,” Neese said. “What you put into it is what you get out of it. It’s interesting because I find myself to be a little more traditional.” 

Neese and her family don’t just hunt on the land, but they plant the food plots and tend to the fields. 

“It takes a lot of time,” Neese said. “If you’re going to go out and hunt, you have to be prepared. It’s a lot of money, and it’s a lot of time, but it’s what you get out of it.” 

Neese said when COVID first hit and Ingles in Hogansville had no meat, the Neese family had freezers full of deer meat because of her past hunts. 

“It’s a lot of time and preparation, but there’s a reward to it,” Neese said. “It’s always been comical how [my] conversation [with Darrell] started with hunting. I think a lot of people are always like ‘oh a girl that hunts, whatever,’ and I’m like no it’s really what I do. Darrell always jokes and says, ‘oh she’s a better shot than me and she has more guns than me.’” 

Neese not only puts in the work in the field, she does her research. 

“The internet and things like that have given the opportunity to read more and understand more,” Neese said. “With deer hunting, it’s all about maps, draws and sources so you have to know what their thinking, where they are going to be. It’s a lot about scouting and things like that.” 

This deer season will be the first-year Neese won’t be able to send a picture to her dad of her kill. 

“I was with my dad when I took my first and its bittersweet because we lost my dad in November,” Neese said. “When we took my first deer when I was 11, we went to my grandads in Tyrone and I kept saying ‘I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.’ My grandad put me in a platform stand he built, and I shot a doe. She dropped right there. It was a perfect shot.” 

After Neese took her first deer, she and her dad skinned it and processed the meat. 

“It was a moment where it was like wow I did that, and it is still that way every time I take anything,” Neese said. “Anytime I take something, I immediately think what am I going to do with it.”

Kentucky, Colorado, Michigan, Montana and various other Midwestern states are popular for southern hunters to take trips to, to track deer and elk. 

Neese said one of her largest takes was on a trip in Michigan. 

“I went on a work trip to Michigan two years ago and drove to a quarry that had been mined for so long that they had closed it, so it became a lake and it was just this family farm,” Neese said. “I went up there on the hunting trip with 12 people, 12 different men from various companies.” 

With a blizzard that caused 17 inches of snow to fall and 17 degrees outside, the hunt was no easy feat. 

“I had never hunted in the snow,” Neese said. 

Neese said she kept seeing deer that were twice the size of the ones in the south. That day Neese saw deer left and right, but none of them were what she was looking for.  

“A hundred yards out, right before sunset, I saw just what I knew was a beast of an animal coming out of the woods,” Neese said. “I said, ‘there he is.’ They asked how I even saw him.” 

After about 15 to 20 minutes the deer finally came out of the woods so Neese could take her shot. 

“I mean we don’t even know how many points he really has because he’s an atypical, and he’s an ugly deer,” Neese said. “He ended up being a 197 on the Boone and Crockett scale and a 300-pound deer. He was just a huge beast of an animal.” 

Neese said when she took her shot, the 300-pound deer immediately dropped to the ground. 

“The guys looked over at me and said that was a perfect shot,” Neese said. “I said thanks and every shot I take I have the intent to be perfect. It was so surreal because he’s just this beast and just a gorgeous animal.” 

After the week-long trip, Neese was the only one who took home a trophy to hang on the wall. 

Neese said hunting will forever be one of her favorite memories. 

“I think back on my life and it’s like, what was one of the best things I ever did with my parents,” Neese said. “For me, it was hunting with my dad, grandfather and brother. Your life is just the memories that you’ve made.”

Looking forward, Neese is excited that she will be able to pass down hunting traditions from her grandfather and father to her three children. 

“If I had to pick and choose what I can do in my free time, it is definitely being outside,” Neese said. “And having the ability to harvest an animal and spend time with them. I certainly know that my life would be different without it. This is my happy place.”