The Lady Is a HunterJan 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Don Knaus
Hang around a place where outdoorsmen gather after a day in the woods and you might hear an old-timer say, “I hunted all day and never saw another hunter. I saw some men carrying guns, but no hunters.” The elder is, of course, referring to an outdoorsman’s unwritten rules. Before someone can be acknowledged as a hunter, they have to know how they handle a gun, note their success in the field, mark their knowledge of the game. A person is deeply scrutinized and evaluated by those who’ve hunted all their lives and, perhaps, depended on their prowess afield to fill the family larder. Before they accept someone as one of them, they have to know that person’s almost as good as they were.
Christina VanDergrift would certainly pass muster. She is an amazing whirlwind of activity. Married to husband Jeremy, and the mother of three sons, Lucas, seventeen, Jaxon, nine, and Jefferson, eight, she has found the time to be the owner of five successful businesses. And at the same time, she is likely the most successful female archery hunter in the Keystone State. Since last year she harvested her biggest buck to date in New York, maybe add the Empire State—definitely the Twin Tiers. She has arrowed many trophy bucks.
Where did her penchant for hunting begin? Born in New Jersey to Will and Vicki Costanzo, she was raised loving the outdoors. “All our family activities involved experiencing nature. But let me tell you, where we lived, the mosquitoes were as big as deer. We grew up watching our parents hunt deer.”
Her mom and dad were outdoors folk, so Chris and her sister Liz began enjoying outdoor adventures as toddlers. They were eager to hunt and fish. Chris explains, “Dad owned a boat, and we lived just 400 yards from the Delaware Bay, so we spent most of our outdoors time fishing on the bay and the Maurice River. We would catch and eat flounder, red drum, and stripers. I really liked crabbing. We’d have Sunday crabs and spaghetti.
“By the time I was two, I absolutely loved visiting a family friend’s taxidermy shop and hearing the stories about hunting and of course staring at the big bucks. I couldn’t wait to go hunting. My dad was only half-joking when he looked at his two daughters and said, ‘Well, girls, you’re going to be my sons and learn how to hunt.’ Liz and I were dad’s boys, so we grew up chomping at the bit, wanting to go hunting ourselves.” Christina was the first of the two to try hunting. When she was nine, Will bought her a .410 shotgun and she hunted squirrels.
Her mother was self-employed as a crafter. One holiday season, after delivering a “Father Christmas” to a client in Pittsburg, the family took the long way home and ended up in Wellsboro at Dickens of a Christmas. Chatting with the friendly folks, they learned about the Laurel Festival. Chris says, “We fell in love with the place and Mom’s crafts gave us an excuse to have a ‘vacation’ in Wellsboro as often as we could. We eventually bought a small farm in Little Marsh. The whole area was quiet, rural, safe, and like going back to a better time. Everyone waved, said hello, and were so friendly. And there were those beautiful mountains and wildlife.”
When told the family was going to move, you’d think that two kids, one in eighth grade and the other in elementary school, would be sad about leaving their friends but instead they were excited, even eager for the move. She adds, “It was like a big playground for us!”
When Chris was thirteen, the family left New Jersey and moved to the farm. She enjoyed kids’ rural activities like 4-H and Future Farmers of America. Was she a super-achiever? She was an honor student and sang in the chorus. She also sang at weddings and community events as well as working part-time as waitress in a local restaurant. She also excelled in athletics. Chris was the ace pitcher on the softball team and in her senior year, the Cowanesque Valley girls won the District 4 Championship. In 2003, she was named Pennsylvania District 4 Most Valuable Player. In her spare moments, she helped her mom with the crafting.
Nashville Recording Artists
Meanwhile, she and Liz were developing a parallel career path as country music artists. From those early talent shows they went on to write their own songs. Chris confesses to being a great fan of Shania Twain and Faith Hill and wanting to be just like them. The sisters formed their band, Teal Roses, which eventually became “Roses Wild” after they moved to Nashville—on Chris’s twenty-first birthday. Back in their teens, they’d made connections with record companies and producers in Nashville. Chris, Liz, and their mom traveled south every month for a couple of years to concentrate on artist development, and build a team that included a manager, producer, publicist, and choreographer. In 2006 they recorded their debut album, “Up on This Mountain.”
Relocated in Nashville, they continued working on their music and developed their brand with gigs like a radio tour to promote their debut single, “Fastest Healing Broken Heart.” Their song was played on air all over the globe, becoming the number fourteen hit nationwide. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” you know what that means.
She says, “Our team had us in touch with different musicians and our producer and his wife, Barbie Isham, would play with us sometimes, get us gigs at bars on Music Row, and other events down there. Our producer’s wife was a very well-known songwriter and had number one hits with Leann Womack and other artists.
“We still made a few trips home that year to be in the hills of PA and definitely came home for deer season. Although we loved what we were doing and how things were growing, we had this ache in our hearts for home. I had already been selling real estate when we moved to Tennessee and had done really well with it, so I knew I could jump right back into it, if we ever moved back. Liz also had the desire to go to PSU for biology.
“When you are in the music scene, they own you. They tell you how to talk—preferably with a southern accent—what to say, how to look, whether you can date or eventually settle down with babies. Liz and I have always been authentic to ourselves, and there was no amount of money that would hinder us from being authentic to ourselves. Late spring of 2007, right before we were going to release our second single, record a music video, and play at the CMA Music Festival, we decided that it was now or never. We would either continue on this journey for the long haul, traveling, tour bus, feeling owned, or we’d create our own path to grow into who we wanted to be. I loved singing and still do it publicly from time to time, but I love the challenge of business and using my brain. In the music industry, especially at that age, I felt like all I had to do was look good, sound good, and do whatever they would like you to do, and that wasn’t challenging enough for me. We learned a lot from the entire experience, and I believe that experience played a big role in who I am today.”
Already in college and on the dean’s list, her early success in real estate helped her decide her career path. “When I passed the real estate exam and made my first sale, I quit college and never looked back. My sister, Liz, a Penn State biology grad, works for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, so she’s still enjoying the outdoors.”
Chris became a real estate agency owner at twenty-nine. She bought the lot across from her Mountain Valley Realty and built a car wash. She then formed her own Six West Settlement Company next door to the car wash and opened a U-Haul franchise. When neighbors who owned a beautiful chalet were moving, she bought the place, did a little work, and had her first vacation rental. She now owns vacation rentals in Florida, and Tennessee, with more to come. And she recently had her first book published, Vacation Rentals: The Ultimate Guide, a “how-to-do-it” tome providing a step-by-step approach to starting a vacation rental business. To top it off, she was just certified as a High Performance Coach. All that, and she’s just thirty-six years old.
In her busy life, Chris’s top priorities are family, hunting, and then her various businesses. Chris started deer hunting when she was fourteen, using a .12 gauge shotgun and slugs. She winces, “I hated that shotgun. The first two shots I had at deer, the very old slugs misfired. I finally got my first buck when I was sixteen with that doggone Mossburg. I worked as a waitress and saved my tips. When I turned seventeen, I bought myself a .270 rifle.” Deer hunting was looking up.
Chris and Liz also were captured by the allure and challenge of archery hunting. Chris says, “Liz is a great deer hunter with a compound bow. I had torn my shoulder playing softball, and I couldn’t use a compound. When crossbows were allowed, I was in business. I sighted in my crossbow and soon connected on a buck. But I wanted bigger bucks. It’s like I tell the people I work with, ‘Good enough is not good enough. If you’re not trying to be better, you’re not hustling.’”
She had a goal to hunt bigger bucks growing bigger antlers on her own land. She learned about food plots, creating deer habitat, and became an advocate of the Quality Deer Management (QDM) Association, now known as the National Deer Association or NDA. After she and Jeremy moved to their farm outside town, Jeremy went to work plowing and seeding, planting food plots for deer and turkey. “We usually plant crops that run through the summer into fall. We spend hundreds for seeds each year. We trade a hay field to Eric Coolidge to use one of his fields to plant deer crops.”
Of course, Chris can always call her friend Kip Adams, NDA Director of Conservation. Though Kip went to the same small high school, Chris and Liz first met him at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg. Roses Wild had a concert gig. The featured act, Chris and Liz performed in camouflage hunting clothes and were quite a hit. Kip listened from the QDM booth. With CV High in common, they bonded quickly and became close friends with Kip and his bride. Chris notes, “His wife hangs her real estate license in my office. The great thing is I can personally consult the expert and get suggestions.
“Jeremy built me a tower overlooking our food plot. The trail cams had shown a twelve-point. I told everybody that I’d get an arrow in him and they laughed. I climbed into the tower at dusk, the night before. I had a sleeping bag and food for two days. I knew I was going to spend the night, but I was prepared to stay in that tower until I got the shot. Turns out the big boy walked into range at 9:30 in the morning. And I harvested him just like I said I would.”
Chris and hubby own ninety-six acres in Steuben County and have had great success with QDM there, too. “That’s where I harvested my biggest buck. I had pack of goods and planned to spend the day. I hiked to my stand in the dark. He walked out at 9:15 looking for a doe. I love using Buck Bomb to draw them in. I had bragged to folks at the Wellsboro House that I was going to get the buck the next day. And I did!”
She muses, “Hunting and being out in the woods is almost a spiritual thing for me. I absolutely love the spontaneous things that happen, the sights you see. You never really know what is going to happen—what thing might walk out in front of you while hunting. Most memorable were the family of kit bobcats romping in front of my stand. I’ve actually had a deer stalk me.”
Whitetail hunting is a year-round thing for the VanDergrift family. They watch for sheds—bucks who have shed their antlers—in late winter and spring to plan their next year’s hunting season. Following QDM advice, they plant food crops and set up trail cameras. They’ll often hike up the hill behind their farmhouse with the boys to see what the summer has brought among the deer herd.
Chris loves taking her boys hunting. She notes, “Jaxon, my nine-year-old, has taken three bucks already, with his second being an eight-point. I confess that they have taught me patience. I am competitive by nature, so it is unnatural for me. But I’m learning that it’s more about going out and enjoying the experience. I want them to take hunting seriously and to be successful, but those things pale with just being in the wild and enjoying the experience and each other.”
Asked if she hunts other game besides deer, she says enthusiastically, “Turkeys in the spring. Gobbler hunting has so many good things. You’re in the woods before dawn—a plus. You get to watch the sun rise—a plus.
You can hear a tom turkey gobble—a plus. You get to practice your call—a plus. You might get a love-struck gobbler to come to your call—a double plus. Speaking of double pluses, one day, I was the shooter and Jeremy was sitting right behind me. He called and two gobblers walked in. I shot one and the other skittered off a bit and then came back. I just lifted the shotgun over my shoulder and Jeremy shot the other bird. What a day!”
Big bucks are still her focus, she quickly adds. Even when it’s not hunting season, Chris can often be found in her non-working time walking her land, looking for tracks, observing the deer, and dreaming about the next big one.
Connect with Chris on social media or through her website christina-vandergrift.com.