Angie Tennison parked her pickup at a Forest Service gated road with plans for a solo archery hunt. She watched with dismay as another truck pulled up and stopped.
The man who climbed out fixed Tennison with a look she described as both skeptical and incredulous.
“Is your husband with you?” the man asked.
Some people in the Flathead Valley have recognized Tennison around town because of publicity in 2011 about her winning a national Extreme Huntress competition. This man clearly did not.
Which means he likely does not know that she is immersed now in a head-to-head competition with three other accomplished female hunters for the title of Ultimate Extreme Huntress.
Her competitors include women from Idaho, Colorado and Sweden, all previous winners of an Extreme Huntress title. Tennison, 40, readily describes herself as hyper competitive.
And she needs your vote to boost her chances. More about that later.
Tennison killed her first big game animal, a white-tailed buck, when she was 12 years old. She shot the animal with a .308 while hunting with her father in the wild country around Libby, where she grew up.
Tennison said she knew some people in town doubted she’d actually killed the deer. They gossiped that her father likely made the shot.
She said it didn’t matter. She and her father knew. And she’d already learned to love hunting for a host of reasons.
“It was the only time of year when I could miss church and the only time I could miss school,” Tennison said. “And the only time I could stray from the norm.”
Tennison spoke during a recent interview at the cabin she shares along the Flathead River with her husband, Travis, and their two children. She works in Kalispell as an MRI technologist. Travis, who works as a lineman, is also an avid hunter.
Tennison recalled how she felt after killing her first deer.
“I felt completely elated,” Tennison said. “I think that maybe, above all, I made my dad proud. To be able to learn from my dad and follow in his footsteps and be successful meant the world to me.”
Acceptance of female hunters has grown since she was younger, Tennison said. Apparel and hunting equipment companies now sell gear designed for girls and women, she said.
One key goal of the Extreme Huntress competition, which is sponsored by several companies associated with the hunting industry, is to encourage women to hunt.
“The idea is that women who hunt will have children who hunt and that will continue the hunting tradition,” Tennison said.
Her daughter, Quin, 12, has already killed a white-tailed buck, two mule deer bucks and a cow elk. Her son, Trent, 9, recently received his first compound bow.
Tennison, meanwhile, has successfully hunted species that include: elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope, black bear, mountain goat, coyote and wolf. She has also killed grouse, pheasant, Canada geese and ducks.
In New Zealand, she killed two Himalayan Tahrs, a red stag and an Arapawa ram.
Tennison is fully aware that some people would not line up to congratulate her for these kills.
The publicity that gained her regional recognition in 2011 also elicited a few strong negative reactions.
“I received hate mail and death threats,” Tennison recalled, including angry mail with regional postmarks.
She said the backlash did not deter her from participating in the Ultimate Extreme Huntress competition.
“I think, if anything, it’s more important that I am part of this,” Tennison said.
The sponsors of Extreme Huntress have held a competition every year since 2010. They decided to organize a new event, choosing four of the women who’d been named an Extreme Huntress and designing a competition that will, in effect, pit them against each other.
Flathead Valley residents Tom and Olivia Opre co-own Extreme Huntress.
“I founded Extreme Huntress 11 years ago, with the goal of inspiring women to get involved in hunting and the shooting sports because I feel if mom goes hunting so will her children,” Tom Opre said.
The Ultimate Extreme Huntress competition includes several phases or components. Voting by the public is just one piece.
First, Tennison and her three competitors travel in late June to the FTW Ranch near Barksdale, Texas. They will participate there in two days of Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship safari training and skills challenges.
After Texas, the women travel to Zimbabwe, Africa, to hunt Cape buffalo and other game with Desfountain Safaris. The hunt will occur in the Save Valley Conservancy. And Tennison and competitors will visit local communities that receive support, according to Extreme Huntress, from wildlife conservation efforts in the Save Valley.
Tennison and Opre readily acknowledge that there has been a thunderous backlash in recent years about safari hunts in Africa. The killing in July 2015 of an animal known as Cecil the Lion just outside of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe sparked international outrage.
“There has been a lot of negative African hunting press,” Tennison said, noting that coverage frequently does not reference the economic benefits of hunting for local communities and the ways hunting supports wildlife conservation.
Opre shared similar thoughts.
“We chose to go to the Save Valley Conservancy with Desfountain Safaris to delve into the effects consumptive tourism has on wildlife conservation, anti-poaching efforts and examine how [hunting] benefits local indigenous communities and their wildlife,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the popular belief regarding ‘safari’ hunting has been weaponized by anti-hunting groups to mean something altogether different than what is reality,” Opre said.
Meanwhile, Tennison said the all-expense paid trip to hunt in Africa feels like such a remarkable opportunity that the ultimate outcome of the competition won’t matter.
“I feel like I’ve won already,” she said.
Which does not temper her competitive drive. She wants to win.
Opre said the winner will be announced in January at the Dallas Safari Club convention.
“The winner will receive the Ultimate Extreme Huntress Award - a custom bronze designed by artist Mark James - and be a spokesperson for the wildlife conservation and hunting community,” he said.
An interview with Tennison that is featured on the competition’s website features her response to a question from competition judges about why she hunts.
“It’s who I am,” she replied. “It’s what I’ve always done. I hunt because I love being out there. If I never pulled the trigger, that wouldn’t matter.”
For now, Tennison hopes people in the region will show support, as they did once before, by casting a vote for her at the Ultimate Extreme Huntress site. Go to www.extremehuntress.com/main and click on UEH Voting.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407.