Kenai resident Christine Cunningham was still unable to process the announcement that she was the 2014 winner of the Prois Award hours after receiving the news Monday.
The Prois Award celebrates female hunters who are passionate about hunting and dedicated to their community, conservation and the betterment of hunting in the future, according to the Prois website. Cunningham will receive Prois hunting apparel, boots, game bags, packs and spend a five-day, two-species hunt in Namibia, Africa with Mogwadiri Safaris.
Longtime hunting partner and close friend Steve Meyer said when he introduced Cunningham to the sport in 2006, she immediately showed some natural skill.
“It was like creating a monster,” Meyer said. “She just fell in love with it.”
Cunningham submitted an essay and photograph detailing her passion and dedication to hunting. When she made it into the list of six finalists, she created a video summarizing the critical importance of conservation in relation to the future of hunting and sustainable living.
“When we think of the most serious threats to hunting today, the most critical issue is loss of habitat,” Cunningham said in the video. “There’s more people using public lands than ever before. The government agencies managing those lands have ideologies that are increasingly counter to what hunting is and what it means.”
Meyer said Cunningham may be the key to keeping the subsistence lifestyle a possibility. Her ability to open up the pastime to new enthusiasts and focus on preserving the environment that supports the wildlife they hunt makes Cunningham the perfect ambassador for the sport, he said.
Cunningham takes it all in stride, Meyer said. She has written for Alaska Magazine, Hunter Safety Instructor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Hunter Education Program, according to her submission essay. Cunningham spends free time hiking and kayaking, but the outdoors took on a whole new dimension when she began hunting. It is a whole different way to show appreciation and make a connection with the wilderness, she said.
“We want to be adding something to the outdoors, not taking something away,” Cunningham said. “For each animal we take out, we want to put two back in.”
Meyer and Cunningham ice fish in the winter, have spent time together on the trap line and hunt big game. Their favorite animal to track is waterfowl, he said. On the heels of their eight English setters and three chocolate Labradors, they have spent time sifting the state for different bird hunting spots.
One Friday evening Meyer and Cunningham drove north of Fairbanks to hunt for only a few hours, then turned right around, Meyer said.
“Christine is such a great ambassador for the lifestyle that we all love so much,” Meyer said.
The female demographic is the only area in hunting that is growing, Meyer said. Hunters need the support of non-hunters to keep the lands open for use, he said.
“I found each woman who hunts has an incredible potential to recruit other hunters,” Cunningham said in her submission essay. “It is one of the reasons I believe women are the future of hunting.”
Women like Cunningham are building a new image and changing public perception of the sport, Meyer said.
“Some of my best friends are hunting dogs, my best memories are in the field,” Cunningham said. “After a day of hunting, I have the best sleep of my life.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.