VICTORIA PASSMORE
Gorham 31-year-old readily shares her enthusiasm for hunting.

Victoria Passmore will never forget her first deer.

Passmore, now 31, later took up rifle hunting, but she shot her first deer with a bow.

She felt an adrenaline rush like never before. She felt sad for the animal. She felt grateful to nature.

“It was the most mixed set of emotions,” she said.

Passmore, who works as a web developer, did not grow up in a family that hunted or owned guns. She learned how to hunt six years ago with a former boyfriend, and she immediately loved being outdoors and learning about animals. Safety classes for hunting and carrying a concealed weapon quickly helped her learn about firearms.

“It was nice to feel comfortable around something that is deemed so scary,” she said.

Now, she hunts as often as she can, even if that means just a couple of hours near her home in Gorham before work. She feels confident hunting alone or with other people.

Victoria Passmore holds up a goose she shot in September 2016 in Cape Elizabeth. Photo courtesy of Victoria Passmore

“I’ve proven I can be successful to myself,” Passmore said.

When she shot her first bear, Passmore posted a photo on social media. She got a threatening message from a stranger. It was her first experience with the criticism many hunters receive online, she said, but she brushed it off.

“Knowing where your food comes from, where your food lives, is kind of amazing,” she said.

Passmore sees her guns as her necessary tools, and she doesn’t personally have a need for a high-powered gun like an AR-15. She owns two rifles for hunting, one handgun for practicing at the range and another for concealed carry.

“They’re the tools of the trade,” she said.

Most of her family members still don’t own guns or hunt, but she appreciates when they ask questions to learn about her passion.

“I wish more people were more educated,” Passmore said. “We should be able to talk about it, and not be afraid to talk about it.”

CARTER BARTHELMAN
A hunter, South Portland teenager advocates by example for responsible gun ownership.

Carter Barthelman’s earliest memories are in the woods.

He grew up exploring the untouched acres around his house in South Portland with his father. If he wasn’t outside, Barthelman was watching TV shows about wildlife and hunting.

“That was my playground, the woods,” Barthelman, now 17, said.

He was tracking deer through the trees when he was 10 years old. He took a hunter safety course at L.L. Bean when he was 11. He hunted with a cousin for the first time when he was 12. He won a statewide youth competition for moose calling when he was 13.

CARTER BARTHELMAN: A 17-year-old senior at South Portland High School Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Now, Barthelman hunts deer, turkey and even coyote. Local restrictions in South Portland do not allow rifle hunting, but he has permission to bow hunt on several parcels of private property. In other parts of the state, like near Albion where his cousin lives, he is allowed to use a rifle.

“It’s not just about going out and killing something,” Barthelman said. “What you’re doing is conservation.”

At 17, Barthelman is too young to buy a gun in Maine.

His family already had three guns – a .22-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun. His father has since purchased a 20-gauge shotgun and two additional hunting rifles for him to use. Barthelman said he has helped pay for some of the guns, while others have been gifts. But the teenager cleans and maintains all of them.

“They’re my responsibility,” he said.

He plans to buy his own guns and get his concealed carry permit when he is old enough.

“If you’re old enough to go into the military and have a gun, you should be old enough to have one at home,” Barthelman said.

Few of his fellow students at South Portland High School hunt or fish. In political debates about gun rights, Barthelman is used to standing alone. But he said he likes to hear both sides. He recalled the 2014 elections, when Maine voters rejected a ballot initiative that sought to ban bear hunting while using bait, traps or dogs. During a mock vote, he was one of the only people who opposed the ban, so the teacher had him give a presentation about his perspective to the class.

“Teachers are good mediators,” he said.

DON AND KIM WAITE
Protecting their home is Benton couple’s aim.

To Don and Kim Waite, their German shepherd, Addie, is both pet and protector.

“My dog is my safety,” Kim said. “If I have her, I feel safe.”

But Addie is now 12 years old. She isn’t as quick or strong as she used to be. Don, 60, decided he needed a backup plan in case an intruder broke into their Benton home. So he went to Fox Firearms Sales and Training in Vassalboro and bought a small handgun.

“Primarily, for me, it’s to protect my family,” he said.

Both Waites grew up in Vermont. Don thinks he was about 8 years old when he took his first National Rifle Association hunter safety course. He hunted deer with his father and brothers at a young age. Kim, 59, also grew up around rifles, but she left hunting to her father and brother.

Kim and Don Waite have purchased a 9 mm handgun and recently enrolled in a concealed carry class together. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“I had no interest and still have no interest,” she said.

But Don bought the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9 mm pistol with Kim in mind. He was worried about home invasions, especially after a friend came home to an intruder. Don wanted something small that Kim could hold with ease. And if the gun was going to be in her house, Kim wanted to know how to use it safely. The couple took a concealed carry class at Fox Firearms last weekend. They plan to take more training courses in the spring and visit the range in Augusta. They store the gun in a lockbox to keep it away from their granddaughters, but Don said he will teach the girls to shoot if they are interested when they are older.

“I’m not a guy that’s out target practicing every night,” he said. “I’m not a guy that’s hell-bent on hurting anybody, and I hope to God I never have to use my gun to take somebody’s life. But if it was my life or my wife, or my granddaughters, or my son and daughter, I would certainly want to save their lives.”

SUE HAMILTON
Scarborough woman embraces shooting: ‘It’s my sport.’

Sue Hamilton isn’t really a runner or a swimmer or a skier.

She’s a shooter.

“It’s my sport,” she said.

Hamilton, 64, grew up in New York. Her father was a World War II veteran who did not keep guns in the house, but she learned how to shoot a rifle while visiting her uncle in New Hampshire. Her first targets were tin cans behind his barn in Lempster.

She attended the University of Southern Maine for college and never left Maine. She settled in Scarborough with her husband, Philip. She survived cancer. Around 2004, her doctor suggested she try trap shooting, a discipline of clay pigeon shooting. Sue hadn’t fired a gun since she was a young girl, but she and Philip went to the Scarborough Fish & Game Association with the doctor and his wife to try it.

“Something streaking across the sky and you can just blast it out of existence, it’s amazing,” she said. “I went out and bought a shotgun.”

Sue Hamilton, range safety officer at the Scarborough Fish & Game Association. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Sue and Philip became regulars at the Scarborough club. They learned new disciplines. They traveled to Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont for competitions. Sue became a range safety officer and a shooting instructor. Now, they own multiple firearms – “a variety of shotguns, pistols and rifles,” Hamilton said.

“It’s a piece of sporting equipment,” she said. “It’s like your skis and your golf clubs.”

The club in Scarborough has grown to more than 1,000 members, and Sue said she has seen an increase in female shooters over time. She is involved with a women’s target shooting group at the Scarborough club.

“If you go to the range by yourself as a woman, no one heckles you,” she said. “Everybody wants to help. It’s like having a bunch of big brothers.”

That doesn’t mean she goes easy on them. In fact, Sue said she thinks many women find shooting enjoyable in part because they only need to practice to beat the men.

“These big tall rugged guys, you can shoot the pants off them.”

ED STANHOPE
For Auburn man, guns are a lifelong passion.

Ed Stanhope was a student at Lisbon High School when his mother saved her earnings as a nurse to buy him his first gun — a used .22-caliber target rifle.

Ed would come home from school, sling the rifle over his shoulder and jump on the bus to Auburn.

“I couldn’t afford a case,” Stanhope, now 72, said.

He practiced target shooting in the basement of American Legion Post 31 with the junior group of the Auburn Rifle Club. He also met his future wife, Janet. She was 12, and he was 15.

“We learned discipline and focus,” Ed said. “It served us both well.”

While Ed served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, Janet sent him letters. They married in 1970. As a young couple, they lived with Janet’s mother. They set up an air gun range in her living room, aiming for a cardboard pellet trap across the dining room table. Sometimes used in competition, air guns launch projectiles with compressed air rather than explosives. They are quieter and not subject to the same regulations as firearms.

“We’d make sure the cat was in another part of the house,” Ed said.

Later, they built an air gun range in the basement of their condominium in Auburn. Ed spent 36 years as a member of the U.S. Army National Guard and competed on the shooting team for decades. He tried out for the American Olympic team several times. His event was the running target competition, where the shooter directs a rifle at a moving target. Janet excelled at the silhouette pistol competition, where participants shoot at steel targets shaped like animals.

Ed traveled to competitions across the United States and in Canada, Sweden and Norway. He and Janet organized competitions in Maine. In recent years, they helped establish and coach an adaptive shooting program at the Veterans Affairs hospital at Togus.

Janet passed away in 2016. When he talks about her, Ed’s eyes fill with tears, but he loves to tell stories about her shooting. Once, the couple pulled into the parking lot at a competition to find two men unloading their gear. They saw Janet get out of the car and started to pack up again. They joked that they didn’t have a chance against her.

“They said, ‘She’s here, we’re just shooting for second place,’ ” Ed remembered.

Ed sold his first rifle to a newer shooter in the early 1970s. But he still owns a number of firearms and air guns for practice and competition, and he teaches marksmanship and shoots once or twice a week.

“It’s part of what I am, it’s part of what I do,” he said.

This story was revised at 10:30 p.m. on March 30, 2018, to give the correct name of Don Waite.

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