Christine Cunningham describes a hunting journal project that she and a group of Alaskan hunters (all women) have participating in recently, where they share their hunts through words, illustrations and other ways.
My first field journal was a notebook with waterproof writing paper that promised to survive the rigors of the field. Unlike my regular journals that captured ideas, conversations, photos and sketches, my field journal captured weather, location, terrain and anything with a number.
Sometimes, I used it to press leaves. As my outdoor life took over my indoor life, the field journal prevailed and has been of great value. The exhaustive notations help me better understand and relive parts of the hunt or life otherwise forgotten in details. Journaling is also an opportunity to cast my journey in a combination of intrigue, report and art.
Last fall, a group of Alaska women hunters shared a journal project that started with the idea of a “cartridge box.” The idea was to pass a cartridge box from person to person for 2-week stints between August and December. Each participant took it along with her on a hunt and, at the end of the hunt, added a cartridge (spent or unspent) to the box. Included with the box was a journal in which participants recorded their experiences with notes, photos, or in any form imaginable.
We planned a schedule and shared our contact information before the start of the season. The hunts included everything from remote caribou, moose and mountain goat hunts to all-female fly fishing and upland bird hunting adventures. We did not plan what to include in the journal (e.g. name, type of hunt, dates and times, firearm, weather or gear list). The accounts could vary in the same way each of our stories do. For each hunter, the meaning of a hunt is developed over time and is a confluence of how we’ve lived and grown and the place we finally find ourselves.
Although electronic or “mobile hunting journals” are gaining in popularity and are a useful tool in researching and planning hunts, many of our hunts happened in locations that would not allow the technology. Our shared journal included 2 parts – an archival quality book with binding that allowed it to lay flat and a smaller all-weather journal for taking in the field or on portions of the hunt where weight was a consideration. The choice to utilize a paper journal is one that I didn’t give much thought to until the end of the season — when I realized how much I enjoyed reading the hand-written notes and knowing the journal had been carried by each of the hunters.
Courtney Hill, owner of Hunter Hills Journal, creates handmade leather journals for hunters. “The main thing I tell people about journals is, a journal isn’t just for you, it’s for the next generation, and even the generation after that,” said Courtney. She added, “A handwritten journal is personal. It is history, your history. When you hold a journal in your hands that is a 100-years old, you can feel the heritage. For those of us who hunt and fish, it’s so important to tell our kids and grandkids our stories from the field doing what we love.”
Many of the women who participated agreed there was a value in the hand-written version. “I like it better than keeping a digital file,” said Kerribeth Bahr. “It’s real and tangible. I think writing is therapeutic. I like that I could flip the same pages that had been on other hunting trips before me.”
I agreed that her words on the page held a special significance as I read them in her hand: “Weather is good so far but a storm is blowing in from the Bering Sea…”
It was one thing to know she was going on her first solo hunt or had succeeded; it was entirely different to see her hand-written words from the field. It put me there with her.
Maggie Lawson has kept more than 40 years of hunting journals. “One day I won’t be able to rappel down hills, run across the tundra, wade rivers and streams, or hike distances with a loaded pack. When that happens I can re-live my memories on those pages,” said Maggie. She also wants for her son to know “his crazy mom had fun in this world.” She acknowledges that there are probably advantages to apps, but there is something “romantic” to her in “personally penning one’s thoughts and experiences.” She also admits that she destroys phones.
Angela Iveson-Schilesser said she is “a sucker for dying art,” and believes a handwritten journal will last longer. Ruth Cusack believes both electronic and handwritten journals have value but does not always have the option. Most of her hunts are in the remote wilderness. Instead of heading off to a ground blind, Ruth’s journey often includes a plane flight followed by portaging or packing gear in some of the wildest country on earth, a hundred miles from civilization. “Usually we do not have access to any electricity and software would be a challenge, but it would be cool to be able to do an entry and then a real-time photo,” said Ruth.
For me, a journal is something that captures those things in my life that will someday be rare and so therefore valuable. Those things will have come and gone, but a journal remains. Like the paintings found on cave walls, journaling is something hunters have always done. We can do it via rock, paper or technology. We can do it in a guest book left in the deer stand or blind, we can pass it amongst each other, we can do it through technology that offers instant share-ability, or we can keep it to ourselves for reference or to tuck away for future years. Whatever the method, it is a worthwhile investment in what we love. I recommend it.
Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters. View all posts by Christine Cunningham