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"Women Hunting Alaska"

Untold tales now chronicled in Christine Cunningham's book

Posted: February 19, 2013 - 11:05pm  |  Updated: February 21, 2013 - 9:02am
Christine Cunningham waits for the doors to open at the Sportsman's Warehouse where she was on hand to sign copies of her book "Women Hunting Alaska" Friday Feb. 15, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska.   Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney
Christine Cunningham waits for the doors to open at the Sportsman's Warehouse where she was on hand to sign copies of her book "Women Hunting Alaska" Friday Feb. 15, 2013 in Soldotna, Alaska.

Christine Cunningham first realized she was a writer when she was a girl in summer camp.

She had failed to earn her shelter and fire badge and, as camp wound down, she started thinking: “I’m a summer camp failure.”

But there was redemption, she said; the camp also offered a poetry badge. So she set out into the woods, with haiku stanzas running through her head, and found a stump to sit on, to search for inspiration. She was tasked to pull insight from what she saw, and that is what she did.

“The poetry was just coming out of me,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t want to come in.”

By the time camp ended, she had earned her poetry badge. She was not a summer camp failure.

Cunningham is now 34 and, in early January, the Nikiski resident published her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska.”

The book profiles 17 Alaskan women hunters and their instate trips for moose, Dall sheep, caribou, black tail deer, Kodiak brown bear, little Yukon moose, ptarmigan, muskox and bison, she said. Kristy Berington, Liz Schmitt, Molley Copple, Mary Lefebvre, Billie Hardy and Joyce Norman are a few of the profiled women who live on the Kenai Peninsula.

The book idea came to her when she connected with some of the women. She hunts, too, and the women’s stories struck her, she said.

“It’s like it came from everywhere at once, this idea, you know; I could write their stories,” she said.

Heather Wilson, for instance, the book’s cover photo subject, is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife pilot, and when she was six months pregnant she killed a moose on trip with her husband and toddler, Cunningham said.

Another woman, at the age of 76, hunted Dall sheep, a laboriouss pursuit in itself, Cunningham said.

But there was a void, she said.

“I’m an avid reader,” she said. “I love reading outdoors, I love Hemingway, I love Gordon McQueary, Robert Ruark and all these great, masculine writers. I love their stories, but I really wanted to hear women’s stories and I wasn’t finding that.”

Cunningham said hunting is static or fading nationally, but women hunters are still prevalent in Alaska.

“In 2011, 19 percent of resident hunting licenses were purchased by females,” she said. “That’s 18,770 licenses out of a total of 95,153. I mean, that’s almost one out of five hunters in Alaska are women. It’s a pretty phenomenal thing.”

She said women are the future of hunting.

“I think they’re good ambassadors,” she said. “That — coupled with their love of family, the love of game — is the future of hunting.”

After Cunningham got the idea for the book, she went to Tony Russ of Northern Publishing, the book’s publisher.

“We put our heads together and got a list of women that we thought would be good,” she said.

After writing for six months, she finished the book, but not the list.

“There’s so many women hunters in Alaska,” she said.

She wishes she could tell all their stories, she said.

 

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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