One of four daughters born to a hunting enthusiast, Angie Tennison grew up chasing game in the Cabinet Mountains near Libby, trekking into the woods behind her family’s home with her older sister, Mickey.
“We’d grab our guns as soon as we got home from school and head up the mountain,” she said. “We knew there were critters in there, and the hope of finding them was just so exciting. It’s that drive of the unknown. There is nothing like it.”
She took down her first buck at age 12, and harvested a black bear that same season. The buck mount, a diminutive three-point mule deer dwarfed by the numerous other colossal heads and hides hanging in her home, is on proud display in Tennison’s garage, despite her husband’s teasing about its size.
The sport has defined her existence ever since, and today the spindly tines of another trophy flanks her own, harvested by her 12-year-old daughter, Quin, who has added some robust specimens since her inaugural hunt, including four bucks, an elk and an antelope. Tennison’s 10-year-old son, Trent, has joined in on the fun, and hopes to contribute a buck to the collection this season, even as his father insists that elk takes priority during the opener.
For Tennison, the autumn bounty of hunting that’s been filling her freezers since childhood has only grown fuller as her children join in the pursuit, deepening a family tradition that has united generations.
That desire to shape future generations and instill an interest in the culture and tradition of hunting has led Tennison to achieve some lofty goals on continents far from her upbringing in the Cabinets, even as she continues to do the majority of her hunting with family in the familiar stomping grounds of Northwest Montana.
Still, she’s easy to recognize in hunting circles.
Tennison, an MRI technician in Kalispell, gained national recognition for her hunting prowess in 2011, when she earned the status of “Extreme Huntress” in a contest designed to showcase positive female role models in the hunting industry. When the contest debuted in 2010, it drew hundreds of applicants from around the world, while online voters winnowed contestants down to the last woman standing — Tennison.
The accolades earned Tennison a fully outfitted red stag hunt in New Zealand, which was featured on the “Primal Adventures” television show, and boosted her confidence that women can and should adopt a stronger role in promoting and preserving the sport.
“It’s a male-dominated sport, and when I realized that men pegged me as some girl who depended on them to take me out, it became something I wanted to prove,” she said.
Today, she’s back in the mix in a head-to-head contest with other former winners of the show, all of them vying for “ultimate extreme” status in a new twist.
Developed by Flathead Valley residents Tom and Olivia Opre, the international Ultimate Extreme Huntress Contest drew from a decade of winners and pared them down to a slate of four women, who were filmed on locations in Texas and on a hunt in Zimbabwe, Africa, through the Save Valley Conservancy.
The contestants of Ultimate Extreme Huntress undergo skills challenges as well as online voting and a judge’s score. Long-time hosts, Olivia Opre and Larry Weishuhn, will judge the competition.
In addition to Tennison, the finalists hail from Colorado, Idaho and Sweden, where the 2019 winner lives, and online voting is live through Jan. 2.
This year’s winner will be recognized during the Dallas Safari Club’s annual awards event in January 2020. Beyond recognition, the winner will also receive the prestigious Extreme Huntress Award, a bronze designed by famed artist Mark James.
While DesFountain Safaris is the “title” sponsor, additional sponsor partners include FTW Ranch; Ruger; Trijicon; Choice Ammunition; Coppersmith Global Logistics; NRA Women’s Leadership Forum; and Dallas Safari Club.
The winner of the competition is determined by a combination of her score in the outdoors skill competition, a separate score from the judges in the hunting competition and their total online votes received after the episodes air online.
Full details of the scoring are available at www.extremehuntress.com.
Competitive by nature — she and her husband, Travis, keep a running tally of who bags the biggest game — Tennison said her mission to promote the values of hunting for future generations aligns with the production’s vision.
“Women are the fastest growing segment in hunting and the shooting sports,” according to Tom Opre. “After 10 years, we felt we needed to honor the past winners, all of whom have become great role models and spokespeople for the hunting community by promoting sound wildlife conservation practices.”
For Tennison, whose family was packing up for general deer and elk hunting season during a recent interview with the Beacon at their Kalispell home along the Flathead River, the opportunity to educate her children and a fellowship of female hunters has been the highest honor as a contestant.
“I’ve hiked and hunted with my kids since they were born,” she said, noting that the sport’s male-dominated culture often meant leaving women and children at home. “Women who hunt will take their children hunting. It’s never been an option for them not to hunt in my family.”
Tennison still counts her blessings that she grew up in a hunting-centric family, but recognizes that not everyone is so fortunate, and a stigma still lingers around hunting even as the field-to-table movement galvanizes the hunting tradition’s strong conservation ethic.
“I try to teach people that hunting isn’t about the kill. The kill is where the work begins, but it’s not what hunting is all about,” she said. “When I started high school, I was surprised to learn that not everybody hunted or understood what hunting is all about. Everybody goes to school. Everybody goes to church. I just assumed everybody hunted.”
It was a harsh truth to learn that not everybody hunted. Even harsher was the knowledge that, of those who do, few are women. Fewer still hunt with the level of success that Tennison has demonstrated through the years, and then even fewer are engaging in helping inform the decisions that regulate the sport and the public resources available on the landscape.
To narrow that gap, Tennison has added her voice to the conversation by joining Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 1 Citizen Advisory Committee, which seeks to gather broad input on issues at a regional level. By providing the agency with information, ideas, emerging trends, and initiatives from the public, Tennison represents diverse stakeholders.
“Serving on the advisory committee has opened my eyes, and it’s allowed me to bring a lot of information about what happens in the background to other hunters in the field,” she said.
As Tennison and her family prepared for the hunting season ahead, she had to temper her son’s outsized expectations about bagging a big buck on his debut as a deer hunter.
There’s more to hunting than wall mounts and meat in the freezer, Tennison said, and greater involvement in hunting as a sport and a pastime means quality time with family as well as a boon to conservation, wildlife and land management.
And for Tennison, who’s been hunting for more than three decades, it’s still fun.
“If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “I can go all season and not take an animal and it can still be the greatest season ever because we’re out there pursuing what we love.”