Island Hopping in the Aleutians with Eva Shockey

EVA SHOCKEY’S NEW BOOK CHRONICLES A TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO ALASKA AFTER A BRUSH WITH DEATH

In spring 2013, I caught Dan Goodenow, my boss for about two years now,
at just the right moment. He was in the process of booking hunts, and I noticed he had an opening in August – a reindeer hunt on the Aleutian Islands.

“How about scheduling me in?” I offered with a sugary-sweet smile.
“And here’s a great idea. How about we do something different and turn it into an all-girls hunting trip?” Dan’s stony face perked up. “Now, that’s a thought. But are you sure you want to go back there?”

“Are you kidding? It’s time to finish what we started.” For this trip, I brought along my friend Rachelle, a tall blonde from West Virginia who can disarm anyone with her sweet and sincere personality. Her dad, an avid hunter, died of cancer when she was only 7, so she never got the chance to hunt with him. Rather, Rachelle started hunting when she met her husband, an outfitter, and she immediately fell in love with the lifestyle.

I also invited Taylor, a young woman with an infectious personality and gorgeous curly hair. I met her at a precision-shooting class years back. Though her dad was a client of ours and hunted all over the world, she was fairly new to the lifestyle.

The three of us (arrived in) the village of Nikolski, population 18, on the island of Umnak, the third largest island in the Aleutian archipelago. From the start of the trip, the vibe was way different from that of my excursion two years earlier. There’s a stark contrast between hunting with an all-male crew and hunting with your girlfriends. Oh, we were just as serious and hard-core when we needed to be, but when we didn’t, there was a lot more laughing involved.

Needless to say, the entire trip was a blast, even though we battled a nonstop wind that made the otherwise 40-something degree weather feel freezing. A two-hour, bumpy-as-expected ride on two ATVs brought us to some gently sloping valleys and grassy rolling hills. I’ll admit, hopping back into the same type of ATV I had crashed in two years earlier brought about the beginnings of a panic attack.

I had to talk myself down hysteria lane while we jostled along. It sure
helped, though, that, while some of the hills were steep, they were moguls compared to the ones on Atka. When we made our way into reindeer territory, the scenic picture took my breath away.

Broad valleys spread out in a blanket of lush ferns. Tall grass swayed rhythmically in the wind. In the distance, snow-capped mountains, one an active volcano, stood guard over the land below. And feeding on alpine moss and tall grass, hundreds upon hundreds of reindeer gathered, their large, smooth, white antlers glinting in the summer sun.

On foot, the three of us, along with the guide, crept quietly through the
valley, crouched low. Rachelle hunted first. After crawling on hands and
knees to get closer to the animals we’d seen, then glassing to find a bull, we noticed huge antlers in the distance, unmoving and low to the ground.

Likely a napping bull, about 500 yards away. As we closed the distance to 200 yards, we saw that we were right. We inched even closer. Finally, the bull stood up. When he turned broadside, Rachelle took the shot, harvesting her first reindeer. Two days later, Taylor and I harvested mature bulls within 100 yards of each other on a marshy hillside, with Rachelle there to share the excitement.

Our girls’ expedition ended on a high note. For the first time, I discovered the unique camaraderie that can unfold with other women in an otherwise male-dominated field. This marked a turning point in my life. I wanted to proclaim to the world that it was great to be a female hunter, that we weren’t alone, and that there must be many others like us out there.

It’s amazing what happens when we face our fears head-on. Opportunities open up. Doors swing open. We find ourselves doing wonderful things that we would have missed had we submitted to our fears. I often think of those experiences in my life that never would have happened had I given up somewhere along the way.

If the Atka accident had scared me enough to quit hunting back in 2011, I never would have traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, a year later, to the hunting expo where I met my future husband. I never would have seen the Northern Lights shining brightly above our campfire in the Yukon.

I never would have ventured to New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, and France to hunt some of the most magnificent animals on earth. I never would have embraced the possibilities that streamed under the surface of the unknown, waiting to push through and enter the realm of existence.

Story by Eva Shockey with A.J. Gregory

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September 28th, 2017 by