Danielle Bergen of Saskatchewan in Extreme Huntress semifinal
Competition culminates in televised hunting challenges among 6 finalists
At just five-foot-three, hunter Danielle Bergen takes down black bears with a bow and arrow and lives by the motto: "I may be small, but I hunt big."
Bergen, 20, from Saskatchewan, is one of 20 female hunters from around the world — including two other Canadians — who have made it to the semifinals of an American competition called Extreme Huntress. The final round pits the women against each other in televised hunting challenges.
"It's an adrenaline rush and joy that is hard to describe," Bergen said, in describing the thrill of the hunt.
The pixie-like blonde started hunting with her father, Al Bergen, when she could barely walk. She took her first shots with her father's .243 Winchester rifle, but soon yearned for a greater challenge and closer contact with the animals. At 13, she killed her first black bear using a bow and arrow.
"I had to get up close to it, to kill it," Bergen recalled in a recent interview with CBC News on her parents' farm near Drake, Sask.
Today, she hunts black bears, white tail deer, mule deer, moose, elk, antelope and wild boar.
Other Extreme Huntress competitors looking to follow in the footsteps of the last winner, Amanda Lowrey of Idaho, are from South Africa, Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic, the United States and elsewhere.
On the competition's website, the women wrote about their accomplishments and included pictures of their conquests. Some boast about taking down the so-called Dangerous Seven of African big game: elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, cape buffalo, lion, hippo and crocodile.
But Bergen says hunting isn't about collecting trophies. It's about dedication, pursuit and integrity.
"The point of hunting, for me, is not just the kill. It's not just a picture or an animal hanging on the wall," she said, adding her father taught her to value the animals and their sacrifice. "He taught me how to take an animal from the arrow to the table. He taught me how to gut, to skin, to de-bone, to take care of the meat so none of the animal is wasted. We use everything from the animal.
"And that's one reason that I practise, and I practise, and I practise, because when I take that animal, I want to know it will die, it will not suffer," said Bergen.
Bergen's hunting philosophy is shared by her fellow Canadian competitors.
Hunting for meat
"Ultimately, I like to know where my food comes from," said Jeanette Hall, 39, another Extreme Huntress contender.
Hall has dedicated her life to hunting and taxidermy. She stuffs and mounts animals at her shop, the Game Preserve Taxidermy, near Wildwood, Alta., west of Edmonton.
Cougar is fantastic. Tastes just like pork.- Jeanette Hall, Extreme Huntress semifinalist
She says she became truly passionate about sourcing her own meat after being diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumour.
"I grow all my food," Hall said. "I have my own garden. I hunt all my food. So I know where my food comes from. There's no chemicals, there's nothing injected in my food. It's all real."
She kills and eats white tail deer, moose, mule deer, elk, bear, and cougars.
"Cougar is fantastic," Hall noted. "Tastes just like pork."
Nikita Dalke, from Cranbrook, B.C., was reluctant to enter the competition because she wasn't sure she would be considered an "extreme" hunter. The stay-at-home mother often treks through grizzly bear territory in the mountains of southeastern B.C., evading cougars, wolves and black bears, in pursuit of her prey.
She does it as a lifestyle, often with her husband and two young children. She teachers her daughter and son about conservation, just as she was taught by her 74-year-old grandmother, who still hunts.
The Extreme Huntress competition says its goal is to create positive role models for female hunters.
"With 50 per cent divorce rates and kids becoming invested in sports at a younger and younger age, we feel if mom goes hunting, so will her children," reads the mission statement on the competition website.
Having made it to the semifinals, the B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan contenders are hoping for enough votes on the Extreme Huntress website to make it to the final. Voting closes June 1.