It was a pitch black night on the Alaska Peninsula when the tired hunters stumbled into the cabin. Packs heavy with meat and antlers hung from their weary bodies. After another long day in the field, there were trophies and stories to attest to the elation each hunter felt in their success. By age five I knew I wanted to be that hunter who comes through the door, tired to the bone but happy because at the end of the day I have hunted.
In my early years, my brother and I contented our hunting drive by chasing ptarmigan barefooted, over the tundra, flinging arrows. They cunningly dodged our arrows until at the age of six I learned to shoot for the heads and we began bringing home dinner. It wasn’t long before our mother put a two-a-day limit on our hunts and we were only allowed to hunt birds once off our 40 acre homestead.
My father’s rule for hunting caribou was that we reach the height of our five foot mother’s shoulder and prove competent with whatever gun we chose. Despite many attempts to stretch myself, I had to wait until age nine before I could take my first caribou. It was a beautiful bull from one of the winter herds that moved through our secluded valley. This was the first time I was filled with such a vast amount of pride in providing for my family, a real sense of self and such intense despair at having taken an animal’s life. All hunts to this day have paled in comparison.
In my early teens, I started questioning my desire to hunt. Was it something I did only because it was ingrained in me from early on? I had hunted since childhood and at age eleven I was going into the field to learn the skills of a hunting guide. By sixteen though I had hunted enough to know I was hunting for my own reasons. I hunt because of the delight I feel in the wilderness, surrounded by the animals’ environment. It is the feeling of testing my limits; the emergence of some primitive self. I never feel as alive or trust in my instincts as much as I do when hunting. Nothing else gives me the sweep of emotions, from pure elation to the entwined sadness that follows. My father always said, “The day you quit feeling sad over a life you have taken is the day you quit hunting”. I came full circle and knew I would be a huntress for life when I found the quote by Jose Ortega Y Gasset, “One does not hunt in order to kill but kills in order to have hunted”.
By eighteen, I had earned my Alaskan guide license and pilot’s license because I had decided guiding was the life for me. I attended the University of Idaho for the bird hunting and spent many hours chasing chukars, huns, pheasants and quails. Back in Alaska I guided hunters on successful moose and brown bear hunts and made time to hunt caribou and bears in the interior as well as black tail deer on Kodiak for myself. I made a few trips to New Zealand and hunted chamois and red deer.
My love of hunting and the outdoors inspired me to take a role in education. I become an instructor for Alaskan Hunters Education as well as an instructor and eventually director of Classroom with a View, a nonprofit outdoor education program based in Alaska. We take teenagers on backpacking courses where we teach ecology, conservation, appreciation for wilderness and leadership. As a guide I am able to educate and inspire young women in the field of hunting and find it most rewarding to guide female hunters. I had the honor of guiding the 2010 Dianna Award winner Charlotte Pyrek for brown bear but have equally enjoyed guiding novice female hunters as nothing beats the enthusiasm of a first time hunter.
Many of my dreams formed back at our remote homestead have been fulfilled by helping run the family guiding business, guiding hunters, working with youth, and hunting for myself and my family. When I have children I hope to teach them, as my father and mother taught me, to hunt, appreciate the land and animals for their own intrinsic value and to pass the tradition of hunting on. I hope my children have many dreams but above all I hope their dream will be to hunt.
Image courtesy Próis