The following appears in the January issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY JEFF LUND
Abby Trozelle dreams in reverse, if that’s possible.
She drew a tag to hunt elk on Etolin Island and didn’t just get one; she got a monster. But since it was career hunt No. 1, none of that occurred to her until after the fact.
“It wasn’t like a lifelong dream,” she says. “I had never even seen an elk and the thought of killing one was beyond me. I had never even killed a deer.”
Now she gets it. Now she understands not just what a bull of that magnitude is about, but what the whole thing is about. Now she can look around and dream about what she already did.
Abby and her hunting squad arrived to Etolin the day before opening day by boat to an area she chose not to reveal. Hunters on another boat had the same idea. There were cordial greetings and dispensing of vague hunting plans, if for no other reason than to stay out of each other’s way.
Etolin Island, which sits northwest of Ketchikan in the southern Panhandle, is a behemoth, and contour lines on maps don’t tell the story. Elevation change happens all at once in ruinous cuts, and drop-offs that look otherwise smooth and consistent on maps. Google Earth doesn’t really help because the ground is hidden by trees. Even the alpine is an adventure.
So it was that on the group’s four-hour hike to their summit camp, the island threw everything at them, and Abby got her first glimpse of the hunting life.
“We were going to cross what they said was a creek, but it was a river,” she says. “Here I am, 30 years old, and this was my first go at it. It was tough.”
There were multiple tags in possession in the group, but Abby drew the long straw and was awarded first shot.
Not far from camp the next morning, her spotters located elk and the stalk was on.
“(They said), ‘We’ll wait for you to fire first, then we’ll shoot ours.’ There is immediately a sense of pressure because everyone is waiting on you. We hike for another 10 minutes, then think we have a nice clear shot and my heart starts pounding.”
Up until that point, the whole idea of hunting elk was just an exciting new thing to try. In the abstract it all seems reasonable and doable until you actually have to hike the mountain, put the animal in your sights and pull your rifle’s trigger.
“For weeks I had been praying about this – just to have the chance,” she remembers. “This is the first thing I have ever (attempted to kill), so I’m shaking. He’s eating and I can’t really see his antlers, so I’m just watching him and I’m so nervous. I put the sights on him right behind the front shoulder. I said, ‘OK, I’m firing.’ He kind of reared up on his back legs and I didn’t even know if this elk was going to run, so I put another shell in the chamber right away.”
The second shot with the .25-06 was behind the vitals, but the first shot was enough to kill the bull, which slid and came to rest in a patch of thick brush below them.
“My eyes got big and my ex-husband says, ‘You got him; you killed him.’ He then asked, ‘Why are you crying? This is so exciting.’”
They made their way to the kill, Abby’s first, so it was naturally a surreal scene.
“The first thing I noticed was that this animal was huge. I had never seen an elk before and couldn’t believe how incredibly huge it was. And the smell; they have a smell.”
Abby reflected a little bit about what she had just accomplished.
“I am a firm believer that I didn’t do anything to earn this hunt. I was just absolutely blessed. I told the guys I felt we should pray over the elk and thank God for the blessing, and we did.”
“It’s cliché to say, ‘Then the work starts,’ but everyone says it because, yeah, it does start. The euphoria leaves you alone with the meat and entrails and hide and horns and all the distance between you and home.”
Welcome to hunting, Abby Trozelle.
“I have never been that physically exhausted outside of giving birth to my children,” she says. “I literally crawled into my tent, took off my soggy clothes and cried because I knew I would have to do it all again.”
They recruited a couple packers from home and eventually got the animal processed. Word of Abby’s success quickly circulated on social media. For days hunters didn’t know her name but knew her face and knew that bull. She answered the same questions over and over, but only a few people questioned whether it was her who pulled the trigger.
“Growing up around here, you see a lot more female hunters, and we are at a day and age where the idea that hunting is just for men deal is old.”
So Abby is officially a hunter now, with a perfect lifetime record of 1-0. She’s spent time in the alpine after blacktail deer but has yet to pull the trigger again. She wants to and is itching to continue her path – from hunting novice with an epic kill to an experienced provider.
“The most satisfying part of it is that I’m providing for my family. If you’d rather go buy the free-range chicken, or be a vegan, you know, to each his own, but I feel good about being able to provide for my family,” she says.
And though there was no satisfaction while she packed the meat, she’s hoping to do it again.
“I told them all, ‘I will never do this again, I will never do this again.’ But somewhere between that hunt and a little while ago it became, ‘Hey, let’s put in for that tag again.’” ASJ
Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing in Alaska and California. Go to jefflundbooks.com for more.