True Grit – Rachel Ahtila | RECOIL
Rachel Ahtila: Guide, Hunter, Renaissance Woman
American naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir once wrote, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Having to get lost to find oneself is perhaps one of the great human ironies … and one of the more true statements, just ask renowned guide and hunter Rachel Ahtila. “It is a big game of trust; these people are basically putting their life in your hands. Communication is key,” she says, regarding her exploits of guiding hunters through the Great White North.
Having grown up with an affinity for the Old West, and feeling the same sentiment as Muir at just 11 years old, this product of Kelowna, British Columbia, was bound to subscribe to the pastoral lifestyle. The Northwest Territories remain her favorite area to take clients, and the pure remoteness of the area never fails to impress them, or her. “It’s amazing to feel so isolated and small. I think some of the clients underestimate it until they get dropped off in a Super Cub, and there isn’t civilization for hundreds of miles.”
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That same isolation gives Rachel the focus to track game and guide at a level that not only satisfies her clients, but it has also put her name on the map as one of the go-to guides for the Northwest Territories, Yukon, the United States, and even New Zealand. Rachel also writes for Eastman’s Hunting Journal, and has had an influential hand in the creation of the Women of Weatherby, offering her expertise in creating hunting clothing for women as well as the creation of the Weatherby Vanguard Camilla Rifle.
While she has accomplished much in her career, she’s excited about an upcoming hunting trip with a very special hunting partner — her father. “It’s gonna be fun,” she says with a tinge of Canadian accent. Indeed hers is a life on the road, on the plains, on the mountain, on the riverbanks, on the cliffs, and well, anywhere else. One conversation with Rachel would make you want to envision that type of lifestyle within your own collection of personal experiences. Until then, you can always read along to envy the woman who simply, “wants to live like they do in the movies.”
CARNIVORE: What is your earliest hunting memory? Rachel Ahtila: It was actually a guiding memory, as I learned to guide before I learned to hunt. I was 15 or 16 and was out with my mentor, who was a gentleman who lived the pastoral lifestyle, John Devries. At that stage, you’re still trying to figure out yourself and what you want to do in life, but there was something about sitting there on the side of that hill with people who wanted to be there with you and appreciate animals and live like they do in the movies. I’ve always been fascinated by the Old West.
What initially made you want to become a guide? RA: It started when I began chasing horses in the valley. They wintered north at the outfit I grew up in, and I was one of the only girls who showed an interest in helping to do the gather. When you’re a teenager, you have to prove you aren’t just going to go out there and get lost. With the rise of oil and gas, a lot of the boys didn’t come up to the mountain anymore. That whole first year when I came back from New Zealand, my mentor, John, had been my wingman, but he let me kind of go through it. I felt like it was a game. As a kid, you had to work your way up, and once you made it to sheep guide status, you really accomplished something of yourself in camp.
Where are you from? RA: Kelowna, British Columbia.
What are some of your more memorable experiences as a guide? RA: My more memorable experiences come from my experiences as a sheep guide, I had no idea how special they would become to me. My first memory was guiding my first Stone sheep hunt by myself at 22 — and it was the same valley that the gentleman I mentioned earlier, John DeVries, had taken me on as a kid. We were cresting the valley, which we were calling “Eastman’s Valley” as Gordon Eastman had trucked through there in the ’60s, and at this point, I had guided moose and goat, but never sheep.
An Italian client and I spotted two rams after lunch, and we tracked them and sealed the deal. John had let me go on my own, and I saw through my binoculars that he had set up a camp. He heard the gunshot and had his binoculars focused on our hillside. When he saw me crest the ridge, I held up the horns over my shoulders, and he started hooting and hollering. I could hear him across the valley. It was so cool.
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