AH: What is your most rewarding experience as a guide so far?
Ahtila: I have been blessed to have a job where you get to help someone achieve his or her goal; be it harvest success and/or outdoor experience. One hunt that sits at the top of my books happened last spring during black bear season. I was filming with Fred Lackie on Vancouver Island for Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures, and on that particular hunt, 11-year-old Kaylen shot her first black bear with a crossbow at 23 yards. She stalked with the skill of any seasoned hunter, and bore more excitement than any I have seen. The way she and her stepdad interacted was one of the most heartwarming experiences to witness. Hearing her questions, and engaging in her excitement on this new experience was rejuvenating. Getting to share in that moment was humbling; it is a memory I will always cherish.
AH: Any advice for women who plan to hunt with men for the first time?
Ahtila: Go with someone who is patient and pick someone who is knowledgeable that you feel comfortable with. So often I get emails from women that truly want to get outdoors and go hunting, but become jaded because their spouse or male companion sometimes get impatient with beginner’s questions. If it is a big game hunt, where there is travel and small hunting parties involved, do your research and talk to your outfitter to see what the environment will be like. If it is your first big-game hunt and you are going to be backpacking, something as simple as bringing your own tent, or requesting a veteran guide might make all the difference to your experience.
AH: What significant mistake(s) did you make when you began to hunt/shoot?
Ahtila: Being totally frank, I was scared of guns before I started up at the hunting lodge. I realized my fear was largely due to not understanding how they worked. Getting the right instructor to expand your knowledge of them and practicing safe handling will boost your confidence, and abolish any fear. Remember to not ever be shy about asking to get a demonstration on an unfamiliar firearm. Even today, when I am handed a firearm, I watch the handler deem it safe, and then ask a million questions, while getting acquainted with it.
AH: If you could blink your eyes to make one significant change for women hunters, what would it be?
Ahtila: I would change the way women are viewed in the industry. I was told I would never be taken seriously as a product representative, nor have my experience matter to that of a male counterpart. I would hate to think that some women would not pursue their dreams in the field because they think their gender might hold them back, or intimidate others. Trust me, I have been there. I have found that you don’t want those people around anyway; find the right support team, and they will be there cheering you on as you practice at the shooting range, or take your first animal. Don’t ever downplay who you are, or what you are capable of.
AH: What do you think of the trend toward fashionable women’s hunting gear and colored firearms?
Ahtila: If it is helping to bridge the gap and entice more females to get out and hunt, I am all for it. At the end of the day, they are tools to help us enjoy the outdoors. Color doesn’t matter; it is how well you know your weapon, and how comfortable you are using it. Women should not have to sacrifice their femininity just to enjoy the outdoors. The problem I run into is that sometimes the fashionable looking gear isn’t always the toughest. When it comes to the extreme hunts where you are out on the trail for months on end, I need gear that can keep up with me, and keep me alive. I believe the women’s gear will get there, and I hope to be a driving force in making it happen.
AH: What is your favorite hunting firearm?
Ahtila: I recently acquired a Tikka T3 7 mm Remington Mag with Huskemaw Optics Blue Diamond 5-20 Rifle Scope with custom turrets. I absolutely love the system. For the type of hunting we have up north, it is an all around caliber that will get the job done and I feel confident using.