It was the classic quail-hunting scene. A bird dog, in this case a Brittany, takes a rock-solid point, only his stub of a tail vibrating with excitement. The hunter slowly approaches, shotgun at the ready. The bird flushes, quickly flying right to left, and the hunter takes the shot, the quail tumbling to the ground in a spray of feathers.
To an observer, it may have looked as if the hunter had shot dozens, possibly even hundreds of quail previously. But for Summer Gross of Loganville, Georgia, located just east of Atlanta, that recent bird was her very first. And not only was it her first quail, but her first game bird or game animal of any type. Certainly an event to be celebrated, it was also a milestone that had taken her years to accomplish.
“Growing up mostly in the Midwest, Ohio to be exact, I was a serious city girl,” Summer said. “My family took annual vacations to Maine where we hiked along the rugged, rocky coastline, but that was about the extent of my outdoor experiences.”
That all changed in high school, more than 20 years ago now, when she met the love of her life and future husband, Andrew. “He was the older son of an Ohio wildlife officer, so grew up in a rural area, surrounded by an outdoors culture of hunting, fishing and recreational shooting,” she said. “I often tell people that I would have no doubt stayed on concrete sidewalks and encased in library aisles my entire life if Andrew had not opened the outdoors world to me.”
As with many shooters and hunters, Summer began her shooting experiences with a .22 rifle. “Andrew started me close to the target so that I would have immediate success hitting something. We soon discovered, however, that my eyes are cross-dominant; meaning that I shoot right-handed yet my left eye is stronger than my right, so my natural line of sight was not directly down the gun barrel. I’ve been able to compensate for that issue by simply mounting my head farther to the right on the gunstock.”
Handgun shooting was next, which Summer found relatively easy after having learned to aim and shoot a rifle. That was followed by shooting at a few flying clay targets with a shotgun.
“We went to a sporting clays range, and the instructor there handed me a 20-gauge youth-model, semi-automatic shotgun that fit me perfectly. As a result, I started breaking some clays almost immediately and found it to be super fun—a real adrenaline rush! Andrew and I then shot clays together for the next year and half before I tried quail hunting.”
Summer likes to tell the humorous story about her desire for the two of them to take a short vacation over Valentine’s Day last year to visit the historic cities of Charleston and Savannah, something she’s always wanted to do. But Andrew had other ideas. He informed her that he had already bought her a present—her very own shotgun. She found the gift less than romantic, but understood her husband’s intent. However, Summer admits that she’s never let him forget it.
“I love cross-cultural experiences, and for me being outdoors has been like entering a whole new culture,” Summer said. “For instance, it’s been fun learning the language, the ‘lingo’ so to speak, and slowly putting together the many pieces of this wonderful, new part of my life. I don’t feel comfortable doing a lot of outdoor activities by myself as of yet, but possibly someday. Nonetheless, the outdoors have already provided me some of the most exciting adventures of my life.”
Summer and Andrew are also intrigued with the field-to-table culinary aspects of hunting. “We both enjoy taking the time to turn wild game into gourmet meals for our family and friends,” she said. “One of my future hunting goals is to shoot a wild boar and then smoke the meat.”
Today, Summer and Andrew Gross are in mid-career, both as ordained priests in the Anglican Church in North America. They are also raising three very active teenagers.
“So far, only our youngest child, Xavier, has shown any interest in shooting and hunting. But who knows,” said Summer, “that could eventually change with our older two. Whether our kids learn to shoot and hunt or not, though, we are definitely teaching all three of them firearms safety, as we want them to feel comfortable and confident around guns.”
With their long list of responsibilities at this time in their busy lives, it’s not surprising that outdoors time comes at a premium at the Gross’ household. “But Andrew and I try to keep Friday afternoons open for our weekly date night,” Summer said. “If possible, we slip away about midday and, this time of year, either shoot some clays or take our Brittany (Auggie) and hunt a few quail at a local shooting preserve. Either way, we always seem to end up at our favorite taco restaurant for supper.”
Lastly, Summer stressed the importance of having a mentor in the outdoors. “As a novice, you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have had Andrew to guide me and, as a result, I’d encourage other women to find an outdoors person they trust—man or woman—to show them the ropes. The learning curve is steep in most outdoor pursuits, but in the end, very rewarding. I’d suggest that other women be bold enough to ask someone to help them get started along that trail, then eventually mentor another woman in return.”
The Reverend Summer Gross is also a professional writer and speaker. You can follow her podcasts online at The Presence Project and her blog. Occasional photos of her hunts can be viewed on Instagram @revsummerjoy.