Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations
How extreme does one have to be to earn the title of “Extreme Huntress”? Don’t let the diminutive -ess suffix trick you into thinking this title is a shoddy substitute for the real (male) deal. These women will get up off their childbirth bed to score a trophy–and tote two-week-old Junior along for the thrill of the kill.
I don’t go looking for this stuff–it arrives in my home uninvited but for my subscription to the local newspaper, a paper that never saw a dead animal/gloating hunter picture it wouldn’t publish. But admittedly, the local angle was there: Three Montana women were among the 20 Extreme Huntress semifinalists (the two featured in my morning paper have been eliminated), and the film company behind the contest is located in northwestern Montana. Its mission for the competition is stated thus:
The Extreme Huntress™ Competition is about preserving our outdoor heritage. Our goal — create positive role models for woman [sic] who want to participate in hunting. With 50% divorce rates and kids becoming invested in sports as [sic] a younger and younger age, we feel if mom goes hunting, so will her children (ExtremeHuntress.com).
Now the field of potential huntresses for 2015 has been culled to six finalists. They include an Aussie who writes a “Babes & Bows” column for a bowhunting mag and has “taken” 40-some species. There’s a Texas bowhuntress who, while on a wild pig killing spree, tearfully passed up a trophy whitetail deer buck for conservation purposes: “My gut wrenching decision to conserve and do the right thing, proved what I needed to know about myself.” Here’s a woman from British Columbia who got over her phobia of bears by blasting one, and here’s a Montanan who “never rests” in her pursuit of living to hunt and hunting to live. A South African adrenaline junkie started as a five-year-old with a bird-dispatching slingshot and moved on to a pellet gun for “shooting doves and small vermin,” eventually graduating to a kudu antelope bull as a pre-teen. A Swedish woman gave up ice hockey and ventured from her small village to earn a professional hunter license in South Africa and to work as a hunting guide in Canada. (See photos and essays from all six here.)
It takes more than just bravado to make the cut, as some of these also-rans can attest: One eliminated semifinalist went to Africa to “(take) down the Dangerous Seven and countless plains game. I thought I was a beast after successfully shooting down a charging lion at 15 yards.” Another killed a giraffe with a bow, but it was the pig stickin’ in Texas where she achieved glory:
The guides let loose the hounds and they bay up a hog, let the bull mastiff get a hold of the hog and you run in with a 12” knife. Best time you’ll ever have with crazy Texans! Complete adrenaline rush! I still laugh thinking of one hunter that stuck the pig and ran away. Not me, I got right in there and grabbed the boars [sic] back and stuck him good! Only regret is not having it filmed. (See all 20 semifinalists for 2015 here.)
The 777 Ranch in Hondo, TX, a commercial game farm (“You can find almost every hooved animal in the world at the 777 Ranch!”), hosts the Extreme Huntress final competition. “Once on the ranch…the final six will compete in head-to-head challenges. …These challenges will include hunting exotic animals like black deer, gazelles and oryx, along with skill competitions like long-range shooting and biathlon” (source). The 2015 winner will be revealed at the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention, an over-the-top celebration of nonhuman animal death in the service of human animal ego. You might recall that a hunt for the critically-endangered black rhino was auctioned to wealthy bidders at the 2014 convention in a kill-‘em-to-save-‘em perversion of conservation.
So who’s got what it takes to be named Extreme Huntress? Well, she has to be down with killing sentient nonhumans and–one assumes–has never lost a moment’s sleep pondering our moral obligation to other animal species (other than to conserve them for future hunting). She has to be an accomplished shot and in good physical condition. At at time when interest in hunting is declining, she’ll serve as an ambassador and mentor to women and kids. She has to be a credible spokesperson for the “hunting tradition” in all its permutations.
I haven’t written this piece to invite verbal abuse of these women though, god knows, the blowhard pig sticker has rolled out that welcome mat herself. I’ve been dismayed by animal defenders who gather in online feeding frenzies to hurl violent and sometimes misogynist invectives at animal killers–energy-sucking exercises that accomplish nothing for animals living or dead. Because it’s an easy enterprise, we tend to zoom in on the individuals gloating with warped pride in trophy photos; it’s more difficult–but perhaps more enlightening–to attempt to bring the bigger picture into focus. Thoreau observed that “(t)here are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” And it’s no wonder…the branches are so much more accessible.
So what’s the take-away message here? That women hunters are as ruthless and lacking in empathy as male hunters? (Or, from their perspective, that they’re as “brave” and accomplished?) That they’re the willing tools of a male-dominated industry that sees them as an untapped source of revenue? That they’re courting the admiration or approval of boyfriends and husbands? That other animal species, despite what science has revealed about their physiological and emotional complexities, are nothing more than fodder for our arrows, bullets, stomachs, and egos? That phenomena like Extreme Huntress are minor, regressive blips in humans’ evolution of ethics vis-a-vis other species? That the whole sorry spectacle is just another cynical manifestation of capitalism’s unholy alliance with speciesism? I don’t know, either. Maybe it’s all those things.
The Swedish competitor, however, presents an intriguing opportunity to compare passions and pursuits–she played ice hockey at an elite level until she threw that over for hunting. Let’s consider. The sport of ice hockey requires high levels of skill and athleticism. It requires two willing teams, evenly matched, both of which understand the rules of the game and compete fairly to best the other. One team wins, one team loses, and both go home to compete another day.
Now consider hunting. Levels of human skill and athleticism vary greatly (but with enough money, guaranteed hunts can be purchased). Of the two teams, one has abundant technological advantage (safari jeeps, ATVs, snowmobiles, tech-equipped guides, high-powered weaponry, scopes, night vision optics, scent removers, scent attractants, decoys, trained dogs outfitted with GPS units, electronic calls, etc.). The “rules” of the game aren’t equally understood by each party and, despite all the talk of ethics and fair chase (sometimes there’s no chase at all), the nonhuman animals haven’t consented to the competition and likely don’t know they’re in a match for their lives. Finally, when the advantaged human team “wins,” the other team dies.
The only thing extreme about hunting is its extremely flimsy facade as “sport.”
- Extreme Huntress is on Facebook.
- Video of 2014’s competition final is here.
- Former Extreme Huntress title winner profiles are here.
- 777 Ranch Facebook page
- “Dallas Safari Club wants U.S. government to lift ‘arbitrary and capricious’ ban on importing ivory from African countries,” article here
- Liberate yourself…go vegan!