The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
Editor’s note: Eva Shockey had hunted in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands before, an experience she would not soon forget. During a 2011 deer hunt on Atka Island. Shockey, her guide and another hunter were riding in an ATV over some treacherous terrain. While climbing a steep incline, the ATV suddenly thrust backward back down the hill, smashing into the other vehicle that was with them and then slipping off a cliff and falling 30 feet below. “I close my eyes, duck my head into my lap, and pray,” Shockey, 29, writes in her new book, Taking Aim, which will be released this month. Nobody was seriously injured, but it was the kind of harrowing incident that would shake even the heartiest adventurer like Shockey, whose TV hunts with her dad, Jim Shockey, have been chronicled throughout North America and beyond. Eva still gets a rush from hunting the globe, and she made a triumphant return to the Aleutians as described in the book. The following excerpt is reprinted from Taking Aim: Daring to Be Different, Happier, and Healthier in the Great Outdoors, copyright 2017 by Eva Shockey. It is published by Convergent, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. To order, go to amazon.com.
BY EVA SHOCKEY
(WITH A.J. GREGORY)
In spring 2013, I caught Dan Goodenow, my boss for about two years now, at just the right moment. He was in the process of booking hunts, and I noticed he had an opening in August – a reindeer hunt on the Aleutian Islands.
“How about scheduling me in?” I offered with a sugary-sweet smile. “And here’s a great idea. How about we do something different and turn it into an all-girls hunting trip?”
Dan’s stony face perked up. “Now, that’s a thought. But are you sure you want to go back there?”
“Are you kidding? It’s time to finish what we started.”
For this trip, I brought along my friend Rachelle, a tall blonde from West Virginia who can disarm anyone with her sweet and sincere personality. Her dad, an avid hunter, died of cancer when she was only 7, so she never got the chance to hunt with him. Rather, Rachelle started hunting when she met her husband, an outfitter, and she immediately fell in love with the lifestyle. I also invited Taylor, a young woman with an infectious personality and gorgeous curly hair. I met her at a precision-shooting class years back. Though her dad was a client of ours and hunted all over the world, she was fairly new to the lifestyle.
The three of us (arrived in) the village of Nikolski, population 18, on the island of Umnak, the third largest island in the Aleutian archipelago. From the start of the trip, the vibe was way different from that of my excursion two years earlier. There’s a stark contrast between hunting with an all-male crew and hunting with your girlfriends. Oh, we were just as serious and hard-core when we needed to be, but when we didn’t, there was a lot more laughing involved. Needless to say, the entire trip was a blast, even though we battled a nonstop wind that made the otherwise 40-something-degree weather feel freezing.
A two-hour, bumpy-as-expected ride on two ATVs brought us to some gently sloping valleys and grassy rolling hills. I’ll admit, hopping back into the same type of ATV I had crashed in two years earlier brought about the beginnings of a panic attack. I had to talk myself down hysteria lane while we jostled along. It sure helped, though, that, while some of the hills were steep, they were moguls compared to the ones on Atka.
When we made our way into reindeer territory, the scenic picture took my breath away. Broad valleys spread out in a blanket of lush ferns. Tall grass swayed rhythmically in the wind. In the distance, snow-capped mountains, one an active volcano, stood guard over the land below. And feeding on alpine moss and tall grass, hundreds upon hundreds of reindeer gathered, their large, smooth, white antlers glinting in the summer sun.
On foot, the three of us, along with the guide, crept quietly through the valley, crouched low. Rachelle hunted first. After crawling on hands and knees to get closer to the animals we’d seen, then glassing to find a bull, we noticed huge antlers in the distance, unmoving and low to the ground. Likely a napping bull, about 500 yards away. As we closed the distance to 200 yards, we saw that we were right. We inched even closer. Finally, the bull stood up. When he turned broadside, Rachelle took the shot, harvesting her first reindeer. Two days later, Taylor and I harvested mature bulls within 100 yards of each other on a marshy hillside, with Rachelle there to share the excitement.
Our girls’ expedition ended on a high note. For the first time, I discovered the unique camaraderie that can unfold with other women in an otherwise male-dominated field. This marked a turning point in my life. I wanted to proclaim to the world that it was great to be a female hunter, that we weren’t alone, and that there must be many others like us out there.
It’s amazing what happens when we face our fears head-on. Opportunities open up. Doors swing open. We find ourselves doing wonderful things that we would have missed had we submitted to our fears. I often think of those experiences in my life that never would have happened had I given up somewhere along the way. If the Atka accident had scared me enough to quit hunting back in 2011, I never would have traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, a year later, to the hunting expo where I met my future husband. I never would have seen the Northern Lights shining brightly above our campfire in the Yukon. I never would have ventured to New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, and France to hunt some of the most magnificent animals on earth. I never would have embraced the possibilities that streamed under the surface of the unknown, waiting to push through and enter the realm of existence. ASJ
Editor’s note: Follow Eva Shockey (EvaShockey.com) on Twitter and Instagram (both @evashockey) and like at Facebook.com/evashockeyfanpage.
Q&A with Eva Shockey
BY CHRIS COCOLES
We chatted with hunter Eva Shockey about her harrowing ATV accident during her previous trip to the Aleutians, how her famous hunting father Jim helped her back into the outdoor world and serving harvested moose at her wedding to hubbie and hockey player Tim Brent.
Chris Cocoles You’ve had two rather memorable trips to the Aleutians but for different reasons and you talk at length in the book about your ATV accident. How did that brush with serious injury or even death affect you?
Eva Shockey It was definitely one of those moments where I think it was a turning point; I could have gone two different directions very easily. I could have been scared of what happened, because it was the closest to death that I’ve ever experienced. It was shocking and scary and something that was caused by following my passions and doing something I loved, and it resulted in the experience of almost dying and falling off a cliff [laughs]. That was the time in my life when I had to stop and think, and I could have backed off from hunting and said, “You know what, maybe I’m not meant to do this and I could have easily died. I could go back to dancing and the things that are safe and in my comfort zone.” Or I could have said, “This is something I have to deal with and I need to be as careful as I possibly can and feel safe. But if I don’t follow the things I love, my life won’t be full. It won’t have the meaning that it would have if I followed my passion and heart and do what I was meant to do.”
The latter is what I ended up choosing. If I walked away that day and said, “OK, I’m going to go back and dance and move back to the city to do what I was doing before,” I would have always regretted it and what if I wouldn’t have kept hunting? And I’m so glad I did.
CC Readers of the book will get a detailed description of what happened on that ATV. Can you give us a quick recap of what was going through your mind when this was happening?
ES That whole day riding on that ATV, I just remember feeling a little bit uncomfortable, like something isn’t right here in my gut; I didn’t really know how to put it into words. I wasn’t really sure if it was me being cautious or if it was really something to be concerned about. The whole day I kept thinking, “I don’t feel comfortable with this but the guy who was driving must know what he’s doing. He’s been doing it for a long time.” And I remember going up that hill saying, “He’s got this. He’s got this. He can handle this.” And then the second he slammed on the gas when we were losing traction, I realized that we were not in control. Then I was thinking, “He does not have this. He does not have this.” It was almost a guilty feeling that I knew this (would happen) from the moment we started.
CC You called your mom (Louise) in tears right after you realized you were OK. But what role did she and your dad play in realizing you still wanted to continue chasing adventure in the outdoors?
ESMy dad was away and on a hunt somewhere himself. But when I got back home I did sit down with my dad, and it was a conversation when I had to choose to do what I wanted to do. My mom, not being a hunter and being protective of me, she was definitely on board with it if I would have walked away that day and stopped hunting; she would have been very happy with that. She would have had a lot less stress in her life [laughs]. But at the same time she supported whatever I chose. And my dad, just to make my mom’s life easier, he probably would have been fine with that too. He knew I was stubborn and a little strong-headed, and if he would have said that I should stop hunting or you should keep hunting, he knew I would have eventually held it over his head. He knows me well enough that I have to make my own decisions. But he walked me through the scenario, and it stuck with me that if I had walked away that day knowing that hunting was a big part of me and a part of what I love – it’s in my soul being out there.
CCWhen you went back to the Aleutians for the reindeer hunt, were you hesitant at all about going back to an area where you suffered such a major scare and maybe had to get back on an ATV again?
ES I don’t remember being apprehensive. I wanted to go back and felt like I need to go back and finish this hunt that I started the first time. Basically I just needed some closure. I never got to show myself that I can do this and I’m not scared of it. The only (nervous) feeling I remember having is it was the first time since I fell off the hill that I’d been back on that type of ATV. And I got back on the exact same (type of) vehicle that we rolled off, and that was a little bit nerve-wracking. Still to this day, if I’m on a hill, even in a truck or anything, and we’re going backwards and someone goes a little fast (I get a bit nervous). My husband’s used to this one hill on his parents’ driveway that you back up quite quickly down. And every time it happens my stomach just goes right into my throat, because I get that same feeling of falling down the mountain [laughs]. But I was just happy to be back (in the Aleutians). It reaffirmed that I made the right decision and didn’t walk away from it.
CC I would guess you haven’t ridden a lot of backwards roller coasters since then?
ES [Laughs] I’m definitely a little more cautious on steep hills or side hills. I’m sure there have been a million situations where I said, “I don’t feel comfortable with this,” and people are looking at me like, “Uh, this isn’t even anything really serious.” It’s been a little bit of an issue. We drive Argos, and they are the most capable off-road vehicles of any. And I know there are a lot of times where I’m thinking, “Oh, this could flip.” And my dad will say, “We’re basically on flat ground” [laughs].
CC Tell me about the Alaskan hunting experience. It can be a magical place, right?
ES It really is. It’s a place where the pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s kind of like the Yukon [Shockey, a Canadian, is from Vancouver Island in British Columbia]. You just don’t get the feeling of it until you’re there – when you’re smelling it and feeling the damp air and seeing the eagles fly by in front of your face. It’s just something where the hunt itself is cool and the animals are amazing. But I love the trip, because the minute you leave your front door until the minute you walk back through your front door, it’s an adventure. You’re kind of at the will of Mother Nature and it depends on what she feels like doing. And you really just can’t plan for a lot of it. The beauty up there is something that I can’t describe. I wish that everybody could get up there and see with their own eyes and smell it with their own noses. You can’t imagine it until you see it for yourself.
When you’re in Alaska, there’s so much going on around you. You definitely don’t have to be a hunter to like it.
CC Do you plan to or want to go back and hunt in Alaska again?
ES I don’t have anything scheduled but I definitely want to. My husband has never been to Alaska and he’s a big hunter, but in the next few years we would love to get up there. Hopefully we’ll go hunting for moose or bear. I’ve always wanted to go to Kodiak Island and I’ve heard so wonderful things about it. There’s so many things that we want to do, so we’re going to have to make sure that one happens.
CC You and Tim spent some time in Russia (when he played in the country’s Kontinental Hockey League). Did you get to hunt there, and considering how much Russia is in the news these days, what was that experience like?
ES I never got to hunt there. My dad’s hunted there a couple times while we lived there, but I was so busy and had a similar travel schedule. I would have liked to hunt there, but it was pretty cold and I kept thinking if really wanted to bear those elements [laughs]. (Living there) was an experience that we would never take back. I wouldn’t say we loved living there, per se, because it was so different from anything we were used to. But we loved the appreciation for what we have and how spoiled we are here in North America [Eva, Tim and Leni now live in North Carolina]. The Russian lifestyle is a lot different, but it really makes you stop and appreciate each other. (Eva and Tim) were inside a lot and at first we were dating and then we were engaged. I said we were either going to get married after this or not be a couple, but it was an incredible thing for us to do as far as Tim’s job. It’s something that set us up for the future. We met a lot of cool people and we probably never would have done it after we had Leni.
CC OK, I have to know about successfully hunting that moose in the Yukon Territory and serving it at yours and Tim’s wedding.
ES It’s funny, because a lot of people have assumed and told us that our wedding must have had all hunters and it must have been really redneck/country. But the truth is, Tim and I both love hunting and my dad, obviously, loves hunting. But my husband’s family doesn’t hunt and he started hunting in his 20s. And I would say 90 percent of the people we grew up with are not hunters. So we only had one little table at our wedding of people who were hunters. We had a really small wedding and kept it to our close family and friends. So everyone else at our wedding had never eaten wild game, and for some it was a little bizarre and they were just kind of OK with eating moose I hunted at our wedding. Even my now mother-in-law said, “I don’t know about this.” But it ended up being incredible. The caterer has a hunting show in England that’s field to table, so it’s incredible that we found him. The amount of appreciation that you feel for that animal, an animal that we worked so hard for and it was so much beyond just that we went hunting for it. You look at it and say how much that I appreciated this moose to feed all these people at my wedding. And because moose are so huge we were able to eat it for the whole year. It really makes you thankful for being a hunter. It meant a lot to us. ASJ