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News Articles

14
Woman takes aim at place in hunting world

By Joseph Robertia

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Marnett Love-Hamrick poses with the zebra she shot while hunting in Zimbabwe in 1992.
Photos provided by Marnett Love-

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Although they had only been in Kodiak less than 24 hours, things weren't looking good for Marnett Love-Hamrick and her husband, Mike Hamrick of Kenai of Kenai.

"It was a mixture of vertical snow and freezing rain that first day," remembers Love-Hamrick.

They had come for a week-long hunting trip, but they already were getting a taste of what so many hunters already have learned the hard way ‹ Kodiak is known for less-than-perfect weather, to put it politely.

It's not uncommon for it to be sunny and in the 80s in the Kenai Peninsula when a hunter boards a plane, only to find it's in the 40s with standing fog so thick the plane can't land when they get to Kodiak.

To boot, it was early spring, and winter, as it has the tendency to do frequently in Alaska, was holding on a little longer than the couple would have liked.

"We had come hoping to hunt around Uganik Lake, but it was still frozen, so instead we decided to hunt around Uganik Bay," Love-Hamrick said.




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Love-Hamrick shot this 8-foot brown bear at Uganik Bay, Kodiak in spring 1999.
Photo provided by Marnett Love-H

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Although the weather was foul and their first-choice location wasn't feasible, she and her husband didn't lose hope. They went about their chores of setting up camp and preparing for a week of hunting through the rugged country.

By the next day, the weather had improved dramatically. It was crisp and cool, so the couple gathered their belongings and set off after one of the most sought-after big game species in Alaska ‹ and one with which the island's identity has become inexorably linked ‹ the Kodiak brown bear.

Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world. A large male can stand more than 10-feet tall on his hind legs ‹ 5 feet on all four legs ‹ and may weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

They're not just big, but relatively plentiful, as well. An estimated 2,800 to 3,000 bears are believed to inhabit Kodiak at a density of about 0.7 bears per square mile.

Love-Hamrick's chances of seeing a bear were better than average, but would she have the combination of skill and luck to successfully bag one of the bruins when she came across it? She didn't have to wait long to find out.

Mike and I had started up a small mountain behind camp to get up high and glass the surrounding mountains," Love-Hamrick said.

About and hour and a half into the arduous uphill trek, they decided to drop their gear and break for a few minutes to catch their breath. As they looked back in the direction they had just come, they couldn't believe there eyes.

"I looked down the slope and saw a bear pass right by our camp and walk on by," Love-Hamrick said.

Her husband took a minute to evaluate the situation and then announced those three sweet words she was hoping to hear, "It's a keeper!"

Knowing the bear was legal, Love-Hamrick grabbed her gear and took off downhill in pursuit ‹ adrenaline pumping, blood flowing and her heart banging away in her chest like a hammer from the thrill of a hunt that was now on.




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Love-Hamrick and her husband, Mike Hamrick, pose with the skulls of animals they got while on one of their hunting trips in Africa.
Photo provided by Marnett Love-H

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"I was off down that hill slip sliding the whole way," Love-Hamrick said. It only took her seven minutes to get down the hill she had just spent half a morning climbing up.

"At the bottom of the hill we dropped our packs, I took my rifle, and took off after him," she said.

The couple was able to slip up behind the big boar, but his keen senses alerted him to their presence and he moved off around a bend.

"We stuck to the riverbank and followed his tracks," Love-Hamrick said.

It wasn't long before they caught up to the bear again after pursuing the pie plate-sized prints.

A clear shot presented itself from roughly 140 yards away, and Love-Hamrick decided to take it.

From the standing position, and with hope of a clean heart-lung shot, she leveled the cross hairs directly onto the brown billboard that filled her scope's frame.

Exhaling softly and slowly, she squeezed the trigger of her rifle. With a thunderous bang a shot rang out and the .375 magnum Bearclaw bullet hit the boar solidly on target.

"My husband said 'Shoot him again,' and I did, and he said 'Shoot him again,' and I did again," Love-Hamrick said.

There's no sense in taking chances with wild game that dangerous, and they both knew it. After the third shot the bear went down and stayed down.

Unfortunately, its final resting place was in the middle a river with water temperatures hovering just above freezing. After a not-so-brief dip in the icy water the couple managed to get the bear to shore and, once there, they liked what they saw.

"I knew it was big, but once we were up on it you could see just how huge it was," Love-Hamrick said.

The bear measured out at 8 feet she said and her husband estimated its weight to be around 600 to 700 pounds. Love-Hamrick said her hands looked tiny compared to the bear's enormous paws and claws, and his head alone was so heavy it wore her out just holding it up for pictures.

The bear's chocolate-brown coat with reddish-gold highlights was equally breathtaking, she said.

"His pelt was thick and beautiful. I could put my hand in it and the hair was to my wrist, at least 6 inches long," she said.

She had it made into a rug that now hangs on her wall at home, along with trophies from several of her other more memorable hunts.

She's hunted several species, from leopards, antelope and zebra in Africa; deer and antelope in the Lower 48 and numerous animals in Alaska.

Her hunting hasn't just earned her a wall full of taxidermied animals, it also earned her a tremendous amount of recognition.

Love-Hamrick has taken nine trophy animals by Safari Club International (SCI) standards, and most recently her hunting exploits have landed her a spot in a new book called "The Thrill of the Chase," by Kathy Etling and Susan Reneau, that chronicles women hunters and their North American big game trophy hunting adventures.

"I was a little embarrassed by it at first, but now I'm proud of it," Love-Hamrick said in regard to her chapter in the book. She was contacted by the authors after her husband ‹ proud of Love-Hamrick's accomplishments ‹ responded on her behalf to a questionnaire sent to their chapter of SCI.

"It was all my husband's doing. I wouldn't have done it for myself," Love-Hamrick said. But, after she milled the concept over for a while, she decided she really liked the idea of being part of a book about women because of what it could do for women.

"I hope women that read the book will get encouragement from it and say, 'Well, that's something that I can do.' Or for women who already hunt, maybe they'll realize they can help other women do it by sharing their own stories," she said.

Her statement is proof to the fact that hunting is changing. Or, at least, hunters are.




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Love-Hamrick stands in front of a baobaob tree in Zimbabwe. She says one of the things she enjoys most about hunting is the chance to be in the wilderness.
Photo provided by Marnett Love-H

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The shifting demographics for the late 20th century show a trend of declining numbers of younger male hunters and a rise in the number of female hunters. Hunting is no longer a male-dominated endeavor, nor is it simply the rite of masculine initiation that it once was.

However, Love-Hamrick remembers that not-too-distant past.

"I remember that the men of my family would go on a three-week elk hunting trip each year," she said, thinking back to the days of her youth. She explained that women and children were neither invited nor would have been welcome on one these trips.

"I always wanted to go. It irritated me that I couldn't, but it wasn't the socially acceptable way back then," Love-Hamrick said.

Her family owned a free-ranging cattle ranch in the heart of the Cascade Mountains in Washingotn and her father did teach her how to shoot and butcher as part of life on the farm.

Those skills paid off years later when, as a teen, Love-Hamrick took a shot at deer hunting and found it was everything she thought it would be.

"Most women that try it, like it," she said. "That's why my advice to all women is, 'If you have any desire at all to try hunting as part of your love for the outdoors, you should ask how, or learn how to do it. Don't just let it pass you by.'"

Love-Hamrick said many women who try hunting also find out there's a lot more to it than just killing an animal to put some meat on the table or a rack on the wall.




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Love-Hamrick holds up a deer she shot in Kodiak in 2001.
Photo by Marnett Love-Hamrick

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"Some of my best hunting memories don't really include the shooting. It's all about nature. It's about being out in the wilderness and being so close to nature you're just a part of it," she said.

Love-Hamrick offered several examples from past adventures.

"It's like one morning when we woke up while on a goat hunt behind Bradley Lake. A pack of wolves were calling to each other as they worked their way down the valley. It was amazing to hear them in their own environment and see them so at ease," she said.

"(On) another goat hunt up behind Tustumena Lake, I was amazed to see a billy goat clinging to a narrow ledge of a high, vertical cliff. There were glaciers and barren plateaus all around. It was truly the stuff that paintings are made of," she said.

Love-Hamrick's fiery passion for hunting and being in the outdoors appears a long way from being extinguished, and she knows it.

"I'll always hunt," she said. "I'll just have to learn to hunt as my health allows, and notch it down a bit as I get older."

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