Outdoor writer Tammy Ballew looks back at the adventures and career of Renaissance Outdoorswoman Sheila Link
I am honored to know Sheila Link and have had the opportunity to hunt with her. If we could turn back the clock, I would give anything to spend more time with her, listening to her adventures, struggles and quests ...
Jersey City, New Jersey, seems like an unlikely birthplace of a passionate outdoorswoman, but on July 25, 1923, an extraordinary individual was born there. When she was 6- 1/2, Sheila’s family moved to California. Many lengthy journeys were made back home to New Jersey and New York City to visit grandparents, which instilled a comfortable confidence in Sheila through the very different lifestyles of casual western to dressy, formal eastern.
At the age of 13, Sheila, without parental assistance or approval, purchased her first rifle. That little .22 instilled in her a lifetime love of the shooting and hunting sports. She has hunted throughout the U.S., in Canada, Argentina, Mexico, and Africa, and became an avid shooter in several shooting disciplines, along with learning the art of reloading for rifle, pistol and shotgun.
Sheila attended college at the University of California at San Mateo, majoring in music, after learning to play bass viol at a New York City high school. Her musical talents enabled her to play bass viol with the San Francisco Civic Symphony. Later she played with dance bands in San Francisco, Indiana, New York, New Jersey and California. She switched to drums later and became a leading musician with a 16-piece Big Band, a 7-piece Dixieland Band, and a jazz octet.
Now, as if that’s not enough to keep a normal person maxed out, her life has been fulfilling in many different avenues. Sheila began her outdoor writing career in 1967. At one point, she had 10 deadlines a month. Few writers can boast that they have been published in all of the “Big Three” outdoor magazines: Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and Sports Afield, which Sheila has. She has been published in American Rifleman, American Hunter, Traditions, Camping Industry, Bow & Arrow, Redbook, Garcia’s Fishing Annual, Gun World NRA's Hunting Annual, Backpacker’s Bible and Gun Week, and in many regional publications.
Sheila was a staff writer for Hunt Forever (SCI) and for Women & Guns. She joined Women & Guns with their first issue over 24 years ago, and wrote the “Gear ‘N’ Gadgets” column, as well as many feature articles, from their first issue until her last column in December of 2013. With earned respect her name remains on the masthead of Women & Guns. Sheila is very proud to say, “I have never missed a deadline in all my years of writing.”
At the request of both publishers, Sheila has authored two books; “Woman’s Guide to Outdoor Sports,” (Winchester Press), and “The Hardy Boys Handbook - Seven Stories of Survival,” (supposedly co-authored with Franklin W. Dixon) for Simon & Schuster.
One of Sheila’s proudest achievements was being elected President of the prestigious Outdoor Writers Association of America, after being the first woman elected to OWAA's Board of Directors.
In her adventurous career, she has had many proud moments. In 1974, her weekly radio show, “Call of the Outdoors,” which she produced and aired for nine years, won the National Radio Award for Excellence. Also in 1974, she won first place in the OWAA National Photo Competition, Action/Color. Sheila was featured on the American Sportsman national TV show while she was on a mountain sheep hunt. Many other television appearances include actions or interviews on hunting, survival, wilderness camping, gun control, firearms safety, and map and compass use, as well as discussions regarding the books she authored. Her televised shows included striped bass fishing, trout fishing, canoeing, dove shooting, duck and wild turkey hunting, and daily life on an African safari.
In 1972, Sheila was invited by General Maxwell Rich, then the Executive Director of the NRA, to become one of a six women team formed to represent the NRA in a “soft-sell” attempt to encourage women to join the NRA. Each of the women had a specialty; i.e., game cooking, self-defense, hunter education, fund raising and competition. Sheila explained, “I was the all-around outdoor woman: hunter, fisherman, canoeist, wilderness survival expert.” The group was called WINRA (Women in NRA), and individually the women traveled the country, giving seminars and being interviewed on radio, TV, in newspapers and magazines.
The NRA then hired Sheila as a consultant and, in addition to making public appearances, she was sent to Camp Perry every year to do on-scene write-ups for NRA publications and to go through smallbore firing school. Noting how bored the women/girls were who accompanied their husbands/fathers to the National matches, Sheila set up seminars for them, sponsored by the NRA.
The seminars included lessons in canoeing, classes in choosing backpacking gear and lessons in shooting. The canoeing seminar was on Lake Erie in six canoes provided by Old Town for use in the seminar. General Joe Smith provided .22 rifles from the DMC for the smallbore rifle shooting, and Federal Ammunition provided the ammo. The cost for the 3-day seminar was $30, and only $10 for
NRA members. Because of the enthusiasm and participation of so many women who wanted to learn more about these outdoor skills, especially shooting handguns, rifle or shotgun, Sheila proposed that NRA offer a special women’s membership, based on these seminars, to be called WINRA. Sheila even designed a logo, which was the traditional round NRA logo with a vertical bar and small crosspiece, which was the scientific sign for woman.
As with many organizations, politics played a part. A different logo, the silhouette of a woman such as is used on the door of a Ladies Room, in pale green and yellow, was substituted without Sheila's knowledge or approval. When presented to the Board, the Board put an end to the program. Twenty-some-odd years later, programs such as “Becoming an Outdoor Woman,” “Women in the Outdoors,” and “Women on Target” have been launched, all of which are very similar to what Sheila had started back in the mid-70’s.
Another proud achievement for Sheila was her participation in a Survival Leadership Field Exercise. This event, co-sponsored by the NRA and the Wilderness Institute for Survival Education (WISE), was held in mid-January near Raton, New Mexico. With no sleeping bag, tent, food, water or matches, she spent five days travelling on foot through mountain wilderness in sub-zero climate with only her clothing worn, a poncho, knife, metal canteen, flint & steel (for fire-starting), topo map and a compass.
This adventure was to test equipment and techniques currently recommended, to provide advanced training for survival instructors and establish proven guidelines for wilderness travelers. The experience encouraged Sheila to help set up and teach at a week-long Wilderness Survival Course, attended primarily by Scout leaders, but also attended by Canadian Rescue Teams.
As an NRA Life Member since 1973, and now an Endowment Member, Sheila has attended most every Annual Member’s meeting for over 25 years, missing only one due to being grounded by knee surgery. She has served five terms as a member of NRA’s Hunting & Wildlife Conservation Committee and was elected Chairman of one of the subcommittees.
Sheila represented the NRA three different times in a “Mixed Bag Hunt” event. This was designed to encourage farmers to engage in practices beneficial to wildlife. She served in these hunts with some
other well-known figures: athlete, Whitey Herzog; astronauts, such as Wally Shirra, Roy Rogers and another prominent figure, General Jimmy Doolittle.
As a nationally recognized sportswoman, Sheila has presented NRA’s position on our right to keep and bear arms in personal appearances, as well as in magazine, newspaper, radio and television interviews. She also holds NRA Certification as a shotgun, rifle, and pistol instructor, and has worked as an instructor in each of these three disciplines. She belonged to the Central Jersey Rifle & Pistol Club, was Chairman of the Bylaws Committee of the Monmouth County Rifle & Pistol Club, and is the second only member of the latter club to be accorded the honor of being named an “Honorary Lifetime Member” of that club. When she relocated to California a few years ago, Sheila joined the Hemet-San Jacinto Rifle & Pistol Club and the Banning Sportsmens Club. She continued as a firearms instructor, teaching classes in self-defense handgun use as well as individual target shooting with pistol, rife and shotgun. She became an Instructor for California's Department of Justice Basic Firearms Safety Course – required for handgun purchase.
In her strong desire to see that the traditions of hunting and shooting continue for generations to come, Sheila taught Hunter Education for the state of New Jersey for 15 years, assisting over 20,000 citizens to become certified hunters. Later she taught Hunter Ed in California.
In the words of Martel Lovelace, “Take one sure marksman, knowledgeable angler, whitewater canoeist and dedicated survival instructor. Add a heap of hunting and a generous measure of backpacking experience, along with a dash of tennis expertise. Mix lightly with jazz musicianship and you come up with a multi-media personality -- attractive, energetic, all around outdoorswoman, Sheila Link.”