Roughing It: Camping in Alaska

by Christine Cunningham
Staff Writer, Alaska
Fish-focused Alaskans are...on fire from the earliest moment of the 24-hour day, and blaze on without sleep. In Alaska, June through August is the equivalent of a single wild day that takes the winter to sleep off.
What’s your idea of a successful hunt?

Hunting around the country for television shows is a job many wouldn’t mind having. I will be the first one to admit there are worse ways to make a living than toting my Mathews bow from town to town in pursuit of the next trophy. I am truly a blessed woman! It goes without saying that I spend a lot of travel time contemplating how the next hunt will go. Most of my thoughts run the lines of the hunt not whether I will survive the trip.

Questions swirl around my head… Will I fill my tag? How well will it be captured on tape? Will it rain or snow? What about the hunters and guides at camp? What will the accommodations be like? Are there any really big trophies in the area? Then the biggest question of all….. Will I come home with a trophy? My imagination can soar for hours.

It’s easy to see how one gets wrapped up in the thrill of the hunt. No doubt just the thought of bringing down a monster buck is enough to elevate blood pressure to a highly dangerous level but what happens if we don’t fill our tag?  Is the hunt a success or failure?

To answer this you have to go back to what you feel is important in life. Occasionally there are times when we are forced to examine these things, normally occurring when you least expect it. That moment came for me on a trip to Legends Ranch in Bitely, Michigan. Shortly after being picked up for church by my cordial guide, Gary Weaver, the roads became super slick. The combination of freezing rain and snow sent the truck we were riding in slipping and sliding sideways, then flipping end over end into the steep ditch finally coming to a rest on its roof.

Being involved in a wreck like this not only gives “Grip and Grin” a whole new meaning. It turned this veteran hunter's idea of a successful hunt up side down.
It’s amazing what goes through your mind while dangling upside down from a seat belt. Suddenly things more important than trophy bucks or capturing great video come to the forefront of thought (although I do wish I had the whole thing on tape!) As I unbuckled my seatbelt and crumbled to the roof of the truck, it wasn’t the monarchs that wander Legends Ranch that I thought of, but the fact that we never know when we will experience our last day, our last hunting trip or hug our loved ones for the last time.

Miraculously, Gary and I emerged totally unscathed. Praise God for seatbelts! I believe everything happens for a reason. I also believe God has full control of every situation. In life, sometimes we find ourselves in a storm and may think that God has forgotten us because of the tough times we may be going through. I’m here to tell you that there are times God protects you from the storm and times God protects you in the storm. If you have trusted Him with control of your life, He is there all the time regardless of your present circumstance. I was protected in the storm this time maybe so I could bring you this message today. With all the articles written about trophy hunts, it is easy to think that the kill should be our main focus during the hunt but nothing could be farther from the truth.

This might be a good time for you to evaluate, what is your interpretation of a successful hunt? Is it whether you pose for a “grip and grin” shot with a monster buck in the end of the day or is the real meaning of success deeper?

I’ve found the real “trophies” are the people you come into contact with throughout the course of the hunt. Sharing the experience of a camp with family, friends or even people you don’t know is where the real trophy lies. It’s the dinner table jesting, early morning coffee and campfire stories that you will remember most. What you may ultimately tag is just icing on the cake. There will always be big bucks to chase but the memories of relationships surrounding the hunt will only come once. Cherish them like gold, place them in order of importance before the kill and you will go home with the trophy every time.
Tammy and daughter, Brittany enjoy a hunt together at Forest of Antlers in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Placing relationships above the kill make times like these all the sweeter.

To learn more about Tammy Koenig go to For an unforgettable whitetail hunt go to or call 231-745-8000.


A look back and down

It started years ago, following my Granny Erickson around observing her as she would vigilantly scan the ground then bend over and precisely pick up a small rock. She would hold it eye level and after careful consideration say, “Oh, isn’t this one pretty?” Each individual treasure would then join a collection deep inside her pocket. PLINK! I would hear as it fell among a dozen others huddled within. I still remember the swish, swish, swish sound of rocks in her pockets as she walked and how proudly she displayed them here and there around her home.

As my life unfolded it could hardly go unnoticed that my Mother, Shirley, and Aunt Antoinette passed time in the same way. It was not unusual to find them poking around in the driveway turning over  prospective “pocket pets” themselves. Before long I found myself nosing about the ground picking up interesting rocks and tucking them away for a tasks unknown.

There is something so captivating about a little rock that it will harness your concentration at the same time that bigger things clammer for your attention.
You can imagine how many rocks a person can end up with over a period of time. Just so many can make their way to windowsills and inside plant pots. Still more can fill glass jars and spill over into flower gardens. Soon they just must go somewhere else. Over the past two and a half years, I chose to give mine to my Mom who was fighting breast and pancreatic cancer. She didn’t get out into the wilds as much where the rocks live since her treatments so I wanted to bring the outdoors to her.

Over the two and a half years she battled cancer several hundred pounds of rocks sifted through my hands. Not all of them made the trek home however. Like the pocket full of rocks left on a Montana mountain after climbing straight up three hours (you see A LOT of rocks at eye level!) and having to lighten my load in order to chase an elk. Although we never did find the elk, somehow I found myself hovering over my castaway rock pile later that same day pocketing a lighter, more exportable load. 

Still more beauties lay scattered across a hillside in Idaho where buckets of black shiny rocks jumped into my pockets. So many that I was having trouble keeping my pants up. Since it is very hard to stalk Mule deer with the bow in one hand and holding your pants up with the other, most of my “pocket pets” had to be freed; allowing me to carry only a chosen few.

While bear hunting in Grand Marias, Minnesota, I wrestled with a rock that dug in its heels just out of reach on the shore of Lake Superior. As the waves crashed in and out it would appear and disappear. It was sparkling in the sun so beautifully that I knew my Mom would love how it looked after the rain in her flower garden. A carefully planned strategy had me chasing out a wave, tugging on the rock and trying to extract it like a tooth from its wet, sandy haven before the return of the next wave.

Shirley Dirks, at their 50 wedding anniversary March 1st 2008.

Twenty-five minutes later, soaked head to toe, the lake finally won. Defeated, I headed back to the truck but not before my eye caught the twinkle of yet another rock not quite as big or out of reach.

Chasing the waves, latching onto the rock, pulling with all my might, it broke free from the lake's grip. Soon it took its place in the back of my pickup along side my 400-pound bear. Later it would come to rest in my Moms flower garden where it is today among other rocks, each from a different place with its own tale of significance.

Look closer in my Mom’s collection and you may even find a piece of petrified wood or odd chunk of tree. Where there were no rocks on my journeys a field, there were other interesting treasures. Elk hunting in Colorado didn’t only generate my first bow bull elk. It produced an interesting piece of wood from a very old tree located high in a mountaintop. A piece of garbage to most, to me it was beautiful and I knew my Mom would like it. My horse gave me an strange look as I wrestled it into my saddlebag. Unfortunately, it grossly offset my saddles balance for the long haul five-hour haul back to camp but it was worth it when I saw my Mother’s eyes light up and heard her say “Now isn’t THAT a pretty piece of wood?”

I have learned that it’s not the monetary value of the gifts you share with others that is important. It’s the thought behind it. Yesterday I buried my Mother. It wasn’t until now that I realize the value of the lessons she taught me. Including the one buried in collecting rocks: it’s not how many you collect that count; it’s the beauty you enjoy and the dear ones you share it with that make a difference.

Shortly before she passed away, my Mother cut out a poem she especially could relate to and shared it with me. In her memory, I would like to share it with you:

Collecting Rocks

I think that there shall never be an ignoramus just like me
Who roams the hills throughout the day
To pick up rocks that do not pay,
For there’s one thing I’ve been told
I take the rocks and leave the gold

O’er deserts wild or mountains blue
I search for rocks of varied hue.
A hundred pounds or more I pack,
With blistered feet and aching back.
And after this is said and done
I cannot name a single one.

I pick up rocks where ‘ere I go
The reasons why, I do not know
For rocks are found by fools like me
Where God intended them to be.
~Author Unknown

With heavy heart and empty pockets. I will miss you more than you know...


Every person around me knows my passion for hunting.  Many of my friends or people that I meet constantly ask me “Why?  Why do you hunt?  How can you do something like that?  Isn’t that more of a man’s thing?”  I always have a few answers planned and ready to fire back with, but until recently, I never really stopped and thought about exactly what it was about hunting that I enjoyed so much.

On my last deer hunting trip, I had lots of time to think about that.  Most of you know how those trips are….nothing but squirrels and birds.  I suddenly realized that even though I hadn’t seen a single deer that day, I was perfectly content with that.  The reason for that, I realized, boils down to one single word...sanctuary.
Webster’s dictionary defines the word sanctuary as “a place where sacred objects are kept” and “a shelter from danger or hardship.”  Can’t hunting be just that?  I think it can.

Think about it.  When you are hunting, you have a chance to see something sacred no matter which way you turn.  You’re out in the beautiful world that God created for us.  You see all of the vegetation that provides oxygen and nutrition for us and the animals.  You see the creatures that God put on the earth.  You may not be standing in a church, but isn’t the world that God gave us just as sacred?  I feel so privileged to be able to see that every time I get out in the woods.  There are so many people that live in big cities that never get that opportunity.

Hunting can also be a shelter from danger or hardship.  I lead a very stressful life, as most women do.  We have to work full time and be full-time moms and wives all at the same time.  It’s a proven fact that stress is dangerous to your health.  It’s no wonder that so many people are on anti-depressants.  Hunting is my anti-depressant.  You get out there and take in a deep breath of that fresh, cool air.  You have that quiet time to yourself to think about things that may be bothering you and get your thoughts in order.  Beautiful scenery and fresh air can do wonders for a person’s state-of-mind.  I even like to take walks in the woods by myself and find little waterfalls or streams.  The sound of the running water is so peaceful.  Every time I leave the woods, I am at total peace with myself and my life.  It’s a truly amazing thing.

Of course, there are the times when your adrenaline has your heart racing as soon as you see that deer step out into a clearing or hear that turkey gobble.  I love that feeling, too.  You get so excited that you get shaky and weak in the knees.  You can hardly breathe and feel like you could hyperventilate.  One time, I had a big buck walk out, and I had the hardest time getting my scope on him, because I just couldn’t breathe.  I finally had to just put my gun down and close my eyes and breathe for a second, and then I was finally calm enough to take aim.  It’s so funny that it can have that effect on you.  Sometimes, I don’t know how I ever get out of my tree stand, because my legs are so weak and shaky from getting so worked up.

I can’t really think of any one single place or sport that you get these benefits from.  You get to see the beautiful world around you; you get stress relief; you get excitement and even a little exercise…all in one!  If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a good, steroid-free meal out of the deal!  Now, I know exactly why I am a hunter.  Now, I just have one thing to say when someone asks me why I hunt:  It’s my sanctuary!


I finally just had to close my eyes in order to focus.

There are times when many distractions obfuscate reality.   The obvious could be right under our noses but other things blur or block it.

It was a perfect early fall morning, Minnesota deer archery opener.  I was so excited to be back archery hunting whitetails.   I woke without my alarm at 4:30am, made coffee, geared up, and was quickly and quietly in my tree stand without incident.  The path in was damp from the evening tule fog so the trek was silent, as was the ascent to my stand.  As the sky began to lighten, the fog gradually condensed on the forest canopy, creating the effect of light sporadic rain.  The morning thermals and light wind became variable at 5 mph, swirling in all directions.    My eyes were searching hard for movement and the whitetails I was almost certain I heard.   Acorns were abundantly falling and with the wet ground, their plopping sounded like .22 rifle shot.  My ears were perked for any noise out of the ordinary.  My bow was at the ready in the event that a deer appeared suddenly.  The woods were relatively quiet, but the impossible low decibel din of dripping leaves, falling acorns and wind tossing the treetops, made seeing or hearing any sign of deer a virtually impossibility.  So, I closed my eyes and listened.  Within several minutes my subconscious was able to filter out the ambient noises and focus on the cadence of deer walking in the distance.   They did not come under my tree, but I could finally discern them.

So it is with the voice of God.  Life is rife with distractions.  Sometimes they are unpleasant, like illness, stress, strife or anxiety.  Sometimes they are good like vacations, family, schedules or planning.  Sometimes they are just “doing life” like chores, work, deadlines or activities.  Sometimes they are addictions, like substance abuse, gambling, internet or hobby addictions.  No matter what the distraction, the urgencies, busy-ness and margin robbers of our existence can block out the truths that our Creator God wants us to know.  Sometimes in the chaos of life, we cannot discern what God wants for us.  There comes a time or times when we must stop, retreat, cleanse, relax, be quiet, pray, stop hurrying, take time away or time off, and allow God’s still small voice to be heard.  We need to close off the distractions that drown Him out.   God wants to lay on us the balm to our souls that refreshes our spirits.   But we cannot receive Him if we cannot see, hear or feel the reality of God's voice.  In our humanness we have limited ability to focus on the important when we are immersed in distraction.

Revelation 3:20 says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  So extract yourself, listen and open the door.  The God of the Universe wants fellowship with you.  Close your eyes.  Let the voice of God in, and then bask in His message to you.