Montana Outfitter Places in Contest

Last month we reported on Donna McDonald, an Alder-area outfitter and guide who was running for the title, “Extreme Huntress,” in a contest sponsored by Tahoe Films, a company that produces adventure films for television.

When on-line voting concluded on New Year’s Day, Ms. McDonald came in at fourth place. The winner of the contest was Rebecca Francis, who started hunting as a child and tells of celebrating her honeymoon in a tiny two-person tent in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska while bow-hunting for mountain sheep. In later years she put each of her babies in a backpack while she hiked into the mountains in search of elk and deer. After telling, “I have even gone so far as to bare my white butt in order to mimic a bighorn sheep, so that I could sneak up to 28 yards for my successful bow shot,” I’ll accept her concluding statement in her essay, “I am proud to be the most hardcore WOMAN huntress around! “

While she didn’t win, Donna McDonald has no regrets at entering the contest, though she had to overcome some initial reluctance. “I debated even entering the contest,” she said in a phone interview. After entering the contest, she reports that it turned out to be a positive experience, adding, “I wouldn’t care if I came in last. It gave me a chance to share the Montana experience.”

Highlights of entering the contest include getting messages from people around the country, many of them past or current clients of Donna’s and her husband Jake’s outfitting business, Upper Canyon Outfitters. “I also had some people contact me about booking hunts,” she adds.

Perhaps the best part of entering the contest, in Donna’s mind, is that her essay gave her another opportunity to promote something that’s near and dear to her heart, Big Hearts Under the Big Sky, a program under the auspices of the Montana Outfitters & Guides Association. The program works with several other organizations, including Catch a Dream and Hunt of a Lifetime, which offer outdoor experiences, such as hunting and fishing, to children and youth with life-threatening illnesses, Casting for Recovery, which offers retreats and outdoor programs for breast cancer survivors, and Honored American Veterans Afield, which helps disabled veterans rebuild their lives by helping them re-connect with the outdoors.

The Montana Outfitters & Guides Association formally launched the Big Hearts program in 2008, though many outfitters had been participating in hosting trips through these organizations in prior years, as well.

Donna speaks warmly of her personal experiences with people who have taken hunting trips through the Big Hearts program, quoting from a letter she received from a teenager with cancer who reported, that while on a sponsored hunt, “This was the first time I didn’t have any pain.”

This coming August, Donna and Jake are closing their guest ranch facilities on the upper Ruby River for a weekend in order to host a Casting for Recovery retreat for a number of breast cancer survivors along with their support teams of doctors, nurses and caregivers. The Casting for Recovery program is built around the principle that flycasting is an excellent form of rehabilitation for women who have had breast cancer surgery. “We have a pond next to our lodge stocked with trout and I hope all the participants catch some fish.”

For more information about Big Hearts Under the Big Sky, go to The website also offers a link to the Big Hearts Under the Big Sky program though that website is still under construction.

Changing topics, last week a friend asked, “What do you think of this new game; bowling for sheep?” He was referring, of course, to the recent incident where a motorist traveling west of Anaconda, Montana plowed into a band of bighorn sheep on the highway, killing eight sheep, including two trophy rams. In other areas of Montana there have been further die-offs of wild sheep due to pneumonia — something which has happened repeatedly over the years.

To me, it’s so immensely sad — and ironic — that wild sheep, that icon of wild country, are so vulnerable. It’s tragic.