Jeanne McFall of Boise wants your vote, not for a government position, but so she can compete as an “Extreme Huntress.” The 38-year-old mother describes herself as an “Idaho girl through and through” who learned to hunt with her dad and has since compiled an impressive collection of big game animals, mostly with a bow and arrow and killed on unguided hunts on public land.
McFall graduated from Boise High School in 1994, and works as a fisheries/hydraulic engineer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Her primary focus is restoring aquatic habitat through natural river designs and improving fish rearing, spawning and migration. Besides hunting, she also enjoys fishing, camping and “all that Idaho has to offer.”
Q: You’re a finalist and now there’s online voting to see who goes to a ranch in Texas and hunts there for the competition. How does that work?
A: It’s online voting this month, which accounts for 40 percent of our score. Judges are used to base the other 60 percent. We find out the top six in early June. Those six then go to a ranch in Texas for a (week) of competitions and skills courses to determine the 2016 Extreme Huntress. Thirteen video episodes will be made of the competition, aired on the website and CarbonTV (online). While most of my competition is pretty “extreme,” hunting exotic species, raised by outfitters and killing since they were 8 years old, etc., I think I was selected because I represent more of what the website discusses and the quest for the average woman who has the desire to get out there and do it herself. With divorce rates higher, women want to teach their children to hunt and carry on the traditional heritage for adventure and tablefare. It’s been interesting, I received messages from total strangers saying that they’ve read through every single essay and picked me because they like the fact that we can seek and find adventure in our own backyard.
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Q: Sounds like your dad got you started hunting, but what made you “beg him” to take you deer hunting when it doesn’t sound like that was his style of hunting?
A: I was home for a college break from San Luis Obispo, California. I went there for college, but am an Idaho girl through and through. I wanted the adventure that he and I pursued when I was younger, but I really craved the meat as well! Dad got to a point where his girls were grown and moved out and therefore didn’t need to fill his freezer without a house full of kids. He raised me to only harvest what we needed and could consume, so he really didn’t see it as a priority over bird hunting. I convinced him to get out with me because he knew I loved the meat, and knew I loved the adventure of us driving to the mountains, setting up camp, telling our campfire stories, and hiking before the sun rises. That was the last deer he and I harvested together. As he’s getting older, he now prefers to sticking to upland birds with his dog, which we still enjoy from time to time together.
Q: Killing a bull elk with a bow is a major milestone in anyone’s hunting career, and you reached it fairly early. Did it make you want to go back for more, or find another hunting challenge?
A: I had gone bowhunting three years alone before harvesting my first elk (a very tasty raghorn). I had gotten frustrated that I wasn’t learning quick enough, didn’t know the skills of calling and stalking, and that it was just plain hard to do as a lone female! I finally met some friends who took me and taught me more than I ever would’ve learned on my own when I finally harvested. That is one of the reasons I want more opportunities for women hunters, because you can only learn so much from books, diagrams, and hunting videos!
But yes, it stirred the fire within me like nothing else!! I was in a tree stand for that one, and watched two elk move right in under us within 10 yards before I knocked an arrow, took a deep breath, and let it fly. I can’t compare the adrenaline rush through my body to anything else I’ve experienced. I was shaking, but knew I had a solid kill. It was almost dark. By the time we found it, cleaned it, hung it, and hiked the 3 miles back to camp, it was 2 a.m. Instead of being exhausted, I was practically skipping my way along the dark trail because I was on such a high. Archery is in my blood, and that first experience of seeing the animals so close you can smell them has caused me to constantly crave each September. I definitely look forward to new challenges though. I’m planning on scouting and hunting new territory this year and backpacking in (possibly solo). I also have started archery deer hunting and have an area that I can take my 6-year-old into this year. He asks me every year when he can start hunting big game, so this year my challenge will be to find a deer with him by my side. Eventually I want to draw a goat or sheep tag and do a longer backpacking trip.
Q: If you’re selected, you will be competing. That’s a much different dynamic than heading out into the hills to hunt on your own or with friends. Seems like there’s a tricky dynamic in competition where there’s a lot of pressure to harvest over enjoying the hunting experience. How will the competition change how you hunt and your motivation for being out there?
A: Competition in general is something that I’m accustomed to, having raced bikes and triathlons for 15 years. I’m looking forward to the fitness and skills aspect. As a hunter, I always try to hone my skills before a season opens for fear of injuring an animal (which I’ve avoided through routine practice). According to the 777 Ranch, they spend thousands of dollars on conservation projects. My understanding is that a large portion of what we will be stalking in the competition are injured animals likely not able to survive in a natural, wild environment. My understanding is that the animals harvested in the competition will be donated and consumed by those in need.
Q: What advice would you give women who are considering hunting, but are still on the fence about it?
A: Get out and try! I have hilarious stories of my own experiences as I was learning and not knowing what I was doing. But my number one motivator to learn was so I could take my own son out with his confidence that I’ll keep him safe, provide close encounters of beautiful animals and nature, improve his survival skills, and that we’ll have some tremendous memories and experiences. Fortunately, there are now many more offerings for women interested in taking up hunting. Contact the Idaho Fish and Game, hunters education as a starting place.
Q: Pretend you have an Idaho Super Hunt tag. What animal, what part of Idaho, what month? Be specific. We want details.
A: Moose, southeast Idaho, early October through November. I had the Unit 67-1 moose tag four years ago; it was the most exciting and interacting hunt I’ve been on! Each day we’d see bulls and cows. But in Idaho, you only get one bull per lifetime, and I just wasn’t ready to end it unless it was a great animal. I never pulled the trigger, saving it for another year when I can draw again. When I finally saw some great bulls, they were sparring just on the other side of the ridge that divided my unit with the neighboring one (where I didn’t have a tag). With a SuperHunt Tag, the ridge lines wouldn’t matter as much and I could spread out.
You can read more about McFall here.