January 27, 2017
It seems like I waited a lifetime to hunt. It's not that I wasn't around hunting, because I was. My dad, uncle, and grandpa all hunted deer with firearms. My uncle and grandpa killed deer every year, but my father struggled. He so desperately wanted to kill a deer each year, as we needed the meat, but he just wasn't a good hunter. And because he struggled most seasons to kill a deer, I never had the opportunity to take a shot.
When I met my husband, Ken, he introduced me to archery and bowhunting. Ken has a passion for the outdoors that he loves to share with others, and a strong belief that everyone should have a chance to partake in Mother Nature's bounty. He suggested I might like archery and should give it a try, so I bought myself an inexpensive little bow and began practicing. Over time, my attempts to hit the bull's-eye evolved into the goal to kill a moose.
My first kill was a little paddle-horn moose that went in the freezer. Putting meat in the freezer was such an empowering feeling. It's not like I hadn't been buying groceries and feeding my family for years, but the actual field-to-freezer process added a new dimension to putting food on the table. I still have that little bow, a bow that my granddaughters grew familiar with as they learned how to shoot.
Ken and I went grizzly hunting that same year. It was exciting, intense, scary, and fun. Ken stalked a few grizzlies, while I followed and watched. Wanting to see everything, I looked like a jack-in-the-box as I constantly popped my head up to take a peek. Heedless of my presence, Ken shot a nice grizzly. I looked forward to going hunting again, as I found I enjoyed spotting and stalking game.
In 2005, Ken was on a quest for a Stone sheep, the last sheep he needed for his Grand Slam, and I tagged along. Few things in life have ever struck me with such impact as that sheep hunt with Ken. There was beautiful country to experience, animals to be seen, and so much to learn. For 14 days I followed Ken all over the mountains, intrigued and in awe of everything. I thrived on the physical extreme of where it took my body. It was painful at times, but I reveled in it. I had always been an outdoorsperson — loving to hike and camp — but sheep hunting was a totally different spectrum of the outdoors. At its most pleasant it's tiring, and at its best it's grueling. It can beat your body into a screaming mass of charley horses, while the lack of sleep will numb you and leave you stumbling where a stumble can bring death.
I can tell you that while being in the mountains hunting those sheep, I swear I had a spiritual conversion. The awe-inspiring, sheer steeples of rock were God's temple, and the precipices that will be traversed by no man created a reverence for the Creator and nature, and for me, an overpowering thankfulness for God
and all His creation. Each time we crested a mountain, I would look at God's glory stretched out before us and choke back tears of joy and gratitude for all the beauty of the isolated wilderness. And with humbleness I gained a sense of my own insignificance in the great bounty of nature and time, and a great respect for the animals that call the wilderness home.
One afternoon. Ken and I topped a ridge above some sheep, and then slowly slid on our bellies to peer over the edge. The strong ammonia smell of sheep urine mixed with the musky smell of droppings stung my nose. My senses heightened, and as we gazed down on those rams, I knew without a doubt that I was meant to hunt. Ken harvested a beautiful Stone ram on that hunt to complete his Grand Slam, and I, as a hunter, was born. I was hooked on sheep, and on bowhunting.
Since Ken had been after his Grand Slam, there was always talk about sheep hunting — who had hunted, harvested, and gotten their Slam — so I knew no woman had taken an archery Slam, and only a few had done it with a rifle. The most common reply I'd get when I'd ask why a woman had never done it, was that it was hard. Few men had taken a Grand Slam, and women didn't hunt hard enough, or weren't passionate enough about it, to endure the hardships that come with bowhunting sheep.
That's when I knew I would do what no woman had yet done. I knew without a doubt I was meant to be the first female to take all four North American wild sheep species with a bow. I was confident I could hunt as hard as any man, and I knew that I was absolutely physically and mentally capable of undertaking such a challenge. Although Ken cautioned me it would be a difficult and costly undertaking, and that I needed to be fully committed, he didn't dissuade me, and he fully supported my decision to go for it. So with Ken's mentorship and belief in me, I began my own quest. I should say "we" began, as Ken was with me on all my sheep hunts.
The year 2006 was a good one, as Ken began pursuing the remaining animals he needed to complete his Super Slam, and I hunted my first sheep, a Rocky Mountain bighorn in the Bow Zone area of Canmore, Alberta. What started out as a crisp, cool November hunt, turned into one heck of a cold hunt. Temperatures plummeted to — 20 degrees, and enough snow fell that in places not windblown, I struggled through thigh-deep snow and fell into a couple of holes up to my waist. The nights spent on the mountain must have been — 40. It was so cold you couldn't sleep. All you could do was lay there and shiver, hoping that if you did fall asleep, you wouldn't be frozen solid in the morning.
It was cold. It was trying. It was also incredible, as the rams were in rut and fighting for ewes. We just kept pushing, and on the 12th day of the hunt we got on a killable ram. The air was a brittle — 25 that day. Although my release was tucked up inside the sleeve of my coat, the spring had frozen and I couldn't operate the release trigger, so my guide pulled out a lighter and unfroze it. I made the shot, and killed the first ram of my Grand Slam. My first ram! I hadn't let the brutal cold beat me, and with that my confidence level spiked. Enduring the brutal cold just reinforced for me that I could hunt through anything.
The next sheep hunt was for a Dall ram, which would take me five years to successfully bring home. In the meantime, I hunted desert bighorns and Stone sheep. The sheep gods favored me and I killed my Stone sheep on the first day of the hunt, and my desert ram on the second day of that hunt. While I was grateful to get those two rams quickly, I felt cheated with the hunts being over so quickly. I know saying I felt cheated when I had quickly harvested beautiful rams doesn't make a lot of sense, but to me it's not just about the harvest. It's about the whole experience and the adventures and challenges that await each morning and reveal themselves throughout the day.
My Dall ram was the hardest to earn, and I really had to prove my worth to bring him home. On one hunt in 2008, we hunted hard for 10 days — backpacking 10 — 13 miles and climbing 3,000 to 5,000 feet in elevation each and every day. We never spotted a legal ram. That was a tough hunt. The hunt that I finally harvested my Dall ram on was miserably wet and cold with high winds, fog, sleet, hail, and snow. Any ugly that the weather could throw at us it did, and it threw it with force. The hard-earned ram taken on that hunt was to be my Grand Slam ram.
When I finished my Grand Slam in 2010, Ken only had a couple of animals left for his Super Slam. As Ken had been accompanying me on my sheep hunts, I had been going with him on many of his hunts, also harvesting game. By the time I finished my Grand Slam, I had already killed a number of other species. So, of course, now I figured I should get my Super Slam.
Ken was once again shaking his head. We had been spending a fortune, and most of our time, on hunting. He thought when he had finished his Super Slam and I had finished my Grand Slam we would go back to just hunting for the fun of it. But I couldn't quit. Individuals who are driven don't typically quit. Sometimes you want to, but you might feel selfish or think yourself crazy for pursuing the goal. But then it's not in your character to quit. You would be defeating yourself by quitting. The one thing about Super Slammers is that they are competitive, and their biggest competition lies within themselves.
For Ken and I, 2011 proved to be a pivotal year. My husband completed his Super Slam by taking a Canadian moose in Newfoundland, and I hunted 10 big game species and killed seven. One of the tags I drew was for a Shiras moose in Idaho. We booked a 10-day hunt, and as the days wore on we saw a few bulls, but we had no luck with them.
On the seventh day, we walked into a marshy pond that had quite a bit of sign and heard the faint "glunking" of a bull moose. We quickly got set up, and by the time I was settled in, my guide was calling and thrashing trees behind me.
The bull nonchalantly walked into the open marsh and crossed in front of me about 60 yards out. As he approached a point of brush in the marsh, he was about 45 yards away. But I hesitated, afraid to shoot a moving animal, even if it was huge.
Then the bull walked around the point and into a pond, where he stood with his hindquarters directly facing me. A bull moose is always quite a sight, but to witness one stomping, urinating, and grunting in a waterhole is quite the show.
My guide continued calling and raking behind me. The moose eventually turned, looked our way, and then started walking out on the trail he had taken in. Suddenly, he veered our way, coming straight on. Now I was afraid to shoot because if I missed the sweet spot on his chest I'd get brisket, neck, or shoulder. I can shoot near-perfect targets all day long, but holding it together on game is another thing. I didn't want to go home without this animal, so I knelt there in the brush and waited.
I can make this frontal shot, I thought, as the bull closed to 25 yards. As I drew, I knocked my bow against a bush in front of me, which caused the bull to pull up short. I realized I would have to stand to shoot over the brush, and I knew if I did that he would bolt, so I waited.
The bull finally began to move forward, but having been at full draw for so long, my arms were beginning to shake, and at about eight yards he hesitated. I don't know if the bull stopped because he saw me shaking, but as we made eye contact I struggled to be still.
I was shaking so bad I was afraid that even if I shot at that close range I'd screw it up. The bull began walking again. Not knowing if he would charge over the top of me when I released, I waited a few seconds more, watching him out of the corner of my eye as he came even with me.
He was so close, I could almost reach out and touch him. As his head and neck passed me, I pivoted and released. Thank God the bull lunged the other way, as I'd shot him at just two yards. That was one heck of a hunt, and one busy year!
In 2012, I hunted seven different species and killed five. I now had 21 of the 29 species that make up the Super Slam. But the problem with goals like the Super Slam is the more animals you get killed, the more the pressure mounts to get the Slam done. Then it slowed down and seemed to drag on, with my taking only a couple animals a year. Getting a brown bear killed was giving me fits. Of all the animals I've hunted, they seem to have the best noses and the best sixth sense of danger. No doubt, if I was a better hunter and not so intimidated by the bears, I would have gotten one sooner.
One of the downfalls of setting hunting goals is it can zap the fun right out of hunting. You still go hunting, have a great adventure and a good time, but there is pressure to get the next animal on the list. And when you have to hunt the same animal multiple times it gets pretty stressful, because in some cases, or maybe most, lack of bringing one home rests entirely on the hunter's shoulders. It often isn't due to lack of game or opportunities, but rather poor shooting or decision-making by the hunter.
One of the things I've learned through hunting is most of the time there are no excuses to make. You either get it done, or you don't. I always hated it when Ken would say that, but he's right. Ken's the type of guy who gets it done; whereas, I battle fears of making bad shots and tend to hesitate. However, in June of 2016, I was able to finally complete my Super Slam by taking my 29th species — a grizzly bear.
Although it seemed like I waited a lifetime to hunt, when I did start hunting I crammed a lifetime of hunting into about a decade. When I first started bowhunting, I personally knew only two other women who shot a bow. They had been mentored by their male hunting companions, just as I was. I did not look to other women for inspiration in the bowhunting realm, as no woman was doing what I wanted to do. Men were my mentors and supporters. By the time I had taken my Grand Slam, the upward trend in the number of women taking up hunting had grown considerably, and it continued to rise with the advent of social media. The more women see that other women are hunting, fishing and loving the outdoors, the more encouraged they become to try it for themselves. In taking the Grand Slam and Super Slam, I've shown my daughters and granddaughters that you truly can do whatever you want. I've also taught them to never set their sights low, but rather dream big, and then dream even bigger. Believe you can do it and work toward your goal. It doesn't matter whether you find support from other women, or from men, surround yourself with like-minded individuals who appreciate what you're attempting and can give you solid advice. Embrace that advice, and then reach for your goal, whatever it may be.
The author is the first female archer to take the Grand Slam of wild sheep and the Super Slam of the 29 North American big game species. She resides in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Author's Note: I hunt with a Mathews bow, Easton arrows (both carbon and aluminum, depending on game), Magnus broadheads (85 to 125 grains, depending on game), Spot-Hogg sight, Trophy Taker rest, Swarovski binoculars, and a Leica rangefinder.