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Spearing engages sportsmen of all kinds, including a North Dakota woman

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

I am not a big Facebook follower, but I was checking out a post I made on our chapter’s local Nobles County Pheasants Forever Facebook site. As I was scrolling across the past few days on my regular feed, I saw a re-post from one of my longtime friends, Bob St Pierre, who is a Pheasants Forever national employee. He reposted a picture of a young gal who had taken up decoy carving.
There are those who carve ducks and songbirds and tons of other wildlife, but this was a gal who had recently taken up carving decoys used for ice spear fishing, primarily for northern pike. Spearing was a winter activity I took up about 10-11 years ago to pass those frigid winter days after the pheasant seasons had closed in the majority of the states in the Midwest.
The gal’s name is Melissa Shockman. I wondered how this sport, like many other outdoor hunting activities that are normally dominated by men, had found Melissa and created a path to this unique craft. She lives in LaMoure, North Dakota.
I had a great call with Melissa, and she shared the history of her career in the Natural Resources arena. She graduated from Fargo, North Dakota, with a degree in wildlife and natural resources in 2014 and went on to work as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is like the Department of Natural Resources or Game Fish and Parks each state has, but on a national level.
She then transferred her talents to work as a Precision Ag and Conservation Specialist for Pheasants Forever and took a job in southeast North Dakota. This is where I made my Pheasants Forever connection to Melissa. This lady has been a member of a wildlands firefighting crew and as a result garnered an interest in the management of grasslands and pastures using fire as a management tool.  In November of 2020 she returned as a contributing member of the family farm and began her own sheep operation.
She hunted and fished as a young gal, but it was when she took an opportunity to participate in a Becoming an Outdoor Woman event that she was able to go spear-fishing for the very first time. It was the exhilaration of seeing that big northern pike come sliding into view under the ice and only a few feet away that set the hook past the barb on this challenging outdoor experience.
She was introduced to spearing decoys and decoy carving when she came to understand at this women’s only event that many of the decoys used by others were actually hand-carved and painted individually. The curiosity and wonder of how something so beautiful could actually be created and used successfully began her immersion into decoy carving.
She was the lucky recipient of an 80-hour apprenticeship with a pair of well-known decoy carvers, Rick and Connie Whittier of Lidgerwood, North Dakota. During that apprenticeship she created 20 decoys, putting her at a total of 34 completed specimens over the past four years. She shared with me that those produced later were far better than the four she had attempted before she had some help and instruction.
Each decoy needs to swim in a tank and then in a lake in order to make sure they are weighted just right and swim in a natural motion. She made her first Facebook notification that she was in the decoy business and that she had some for sale that in almost no time she had orders that exceeded her inventory.
When you think about how you got started hunting and fishing, there is almost always someone who played a pivotal role in the introduction. Melissa has done just about as many male-dominated jobs as any males I know, and it is very cool to see women like her not only getting involved, but thriving in those types of occupations.
There is a very pressing need to involve more women, youth and non-traditional participants in the hunting and fishing world. The majority of these today are women.
Melissa Shockman is a prime example of how gals cannot only participate but thrive in the great outdoors.  If you are interested in looking at her decoys, I am now the proud owner of two. Check her out on Facebook. Her profile picture shows her with her dog and a sharp-tail grouse they harvested together. Melissa Shockman should be the model other gals use to get outside. I know she impresses me.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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