July 30, 2016
"It won't be easy," I told her. "In fact, you'll be cold, hot, tired, dirty and sweaty. Your muscles will cramp and your feet will blister. Living out of a backpack for a week isn't glamorous.
We'll hike 10 miles a day and climb enough vertical feet to summit Mt. Everest. Our bathing facility, the Selway River, is a numbing 40 degrees."
In case she still didn't get it, I added one more: "We'll 'use the facilities' in the same manner as the bears we're hunting."
"Sounds amazing," replied my hunting partner, Kali Parmley, associate editor of Petersen's Hunting. "That's my dream hunt!"
Just like that, stereotype No. 1 was debunked.
1. Girls Aren't Hardcore Enough For The Wilderness
Anyone crazy enough to sign up for that trip is hardcore. But signing up for a trip is not the same as completing it.
My goals for our Idaho adventure were twofold: help Kali score her first bear, and also discover what it's like to hunt with a woman. Are the stereotypes correct, or are they as capable as men? To find out, Kali and I hopped a series of flights, eventually landing at a lonely airstrip in central Idaho, 26 miles from the nearest road.
Thus began our weeklong hunt in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, a 1.3-million acre chunk of land nearly twice the size of Rhode Island. The area is equal parts magnificent and merciless, and I couldn't think of a finer proving ground to see if Kali was physically up to the challenge.
2. Girls Are Not Physically Tough Enough
It's not a question of if. It's a question of when. I'm referring to the human body — male and female — physically breaking down. Hiking over rough country decimates feet, strains calves, twists knees and jellifies thighs. It ain't much fun.
Yet one thing remained constant on our weeklong trip: Kali kept chugging right along. I never had to wait for her. We crossed ridges and valley, mountains and meadows, trickling streams and roaring rivers. I was impressed. And then it happened. We spotted a black speck.
Mirage from the warm air had rendered the spotting scope useless, so I stared through binoculars. Eight-power isn't much when differentiating black bears from burnt logs at a distance of four miles.
But logs don't move. Bears do. So I waited, glued to the lenses, afraid to blink and miss the tiniest indication of life. Finally the object twitched and performed a slow-motion pirouette.
"I'll be damned. It is a bear," I said to Kali, pointing at a black fur ball 7,000 yards away. Decision time. Do we play it safe and try tomorrow, or do we stalk it now?
A sinking sun forced our hand. It would be Kali's first bear, so the decision was hers. After explaining the obstacles — six trail miles, three large ridges, two bridge crossings, and 60 minutes of hellacious hiking — I awaited her decision.
In .362 seconds, she replied, "Let's go get him."
So we did. For the next hour, we jogged and hiked like our lives depended on it. After an 800-foot climb, we arrived, drenched in sweat and panting like overheated Labradors. And as Kali slid off her pack and crawled into the prone position, I mentally checked another myth of the list: Girls are physically tough enough for wilderness hunting.
3. Shoot Like A Girl
The bear was feeding on fresh grass atop a small ridge, oblivious to our presence. My Bushnell rangefinder said 237 yards. Unfortunately, the bear was working the wrong direction for Kali to get a shot.
"Can you see him through the scope?"
"Yes," she said, flicking off the safety.
But it was too late. The bear fed over the ridge. I wanted to cry.
My binos trembled as he sauntered back into view. Her shot startled me. Recovering the image, I watched as furry paws tumbled downslope. The shot (on a moving bear, I might add) was perfect. He didn't even take a step.
Three days later, I sent an image of Kali and her kill to a guy friend of mine who always seems to miss bears. The text said: "I wish u could shoot like a girl€¦"
His response: "Me too."
4. Afraid To Get Their Hands Dirty (or Bloody)
We had just enough light to snap photos. Kali, of course, was beaming. Afterwards, we sat down and reminisced about our perfect stalk. Realizing it was getting dark, and we hadn't yet begun to skin or debone the animal, we quickly got to work.
"If you'll hold this leg, I'll begin skinning."
"Umm€¦if you don't mind, I'd like to skin my own bear," she replied. Not only that, but when we were finally done, she grabbed the heaviest meat bag as well as the hide and stuffed them into her bag.
It was almost midnight, and we were both wiped out. "Are you sure? It's no problem for me to pack more weight."
"I'm sure. Thanks for your offer, but I'll pack it out."
Two days later, she did it again, this time atop the gnarliest avalanche chute I've seen. Kali helped pack out my high-country bruin. This time, she let me pack the hide.
Some women don't mind getting dirty. Others are OK with a little blood on their hands. And then some of them delight in packing out 60-pound loads of black bear.
Does Gender Matter?
After a week in Idaho, I saw firsthand that women hunters are every bit as capable at hunting this rugged terrain as men, both physically and mentally.
When choosing a hunting partner, pick someone you can get along with, someone with shared interests, someone who won't complain. After all, demeanor is far more important than gender, and in hunting camp a bad attitude is worse than a blizzard.
Kali emerged from Idaho with her first black bear and a lifetime worth of memories. I emerged with a bear of my own and an even greater appreciation for the capabilities of female hunters.