Sunset Prairie, British Columbia
Living your passion on truly wild terrain sounds like a far-off dream, but for Rachel Ahtila, that’s just another day at the office. At age 11 she started going to the mountains of northern British Columbia and by 19, she was already leading horseback hunts, so no one blinked an eye when she turned it into a career. Today, Rachel is a full-time hunting guide in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories helping clients harvest their first Dall Sheep, Moose, or Caribou. But her passions extend beyond the roots of the hunting sphere. She’s also deeply committed to protecting the land she roams, supporting several conservation groups including the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, the Wild Sheep Foundation, the Boone & Crockett Club, and more. Rachel is as gritty and rugged as the products that she carries with her, and certainly embodies the YETI spirit.
What goes through your head when you first wake up in the morning before you hunt?
When I am in the mountains guiding, it’s “Please dear God let the horses behave for the wrangler.” Followed closely by fantasising about the smell of good ol’ fashioned coffee. I do love a good cup of coffee.
Where is your favourite place to hunt?
The Northwest Territories are one of my favourite places to guide so far. The land is unbelievably rugged, the mountains stand tall like monuments, and the game is unbelievable.
Tell us a favourite story from a day out hunting.
When I was just a punk kid who wanted to wrangle, legendary guide John Devries first took me on. Raising a house full of daughters, John was the perfect mentor for a young enthusiast. He had taken me to a spot that was rich in history, a place where I had epic horse runaways as I was learning our string. And more importantly, which horse not to unhobble first, how not to cook pancakes over a scorching flame, and that Tabasco Sauce really does work wonders on a horse that likes to chew his lead rope. It was years later, on a fateful day that John and I were riding back to this same spot, reminiscing on the first spike camp we made, that we ran into a group of rams and he kicked me loose to guide my very first Stones’ Sheep. We had an Italian client, Giancarlo Boitani, of whom trusted me and John to take him on his adventure at Scoop Lake Outfitters. After chasing this ram down and caping him on the side of a mountain, I will never forget the feeling of walking off the ridge, and spying John below searching for us with his spotting scope. I head the rams head skyline, turning it slowly right and then to the left. From the valley below, I could hear a big ol' victory cry from the darkening valley below. I still don’t remember how I picked my way down the mountain, all I remember was floating my way to our makeshift spike camp. At that moment, I was absolutely hooked.
How do you up your game year after year?
I truly believe you never stop learning. Becoming complacent can be a dangerous spot to find yourself in. I have made mistakes along the way, but each of them came when I could have tried harder. This is a mantra I live by. You have to keep up your thirst for knowledge.
If you could do anything better what would it be?
Lord knows he made a stubborn girl, so I feel like there isn’t a single thing I couldn’t do better at.
Who are your heroes? Who do you look up to?
There are a lot of badass hunters who have walked the mountains not only in today’s time, but in yesteryear. But lately I find myself in awe of my friends that are women, who have cut their teeth guiding and working in the back country and are now raising beautiful families. There is nothing more awe-inspiring that the folks who are able to do their job, live their passion, and share it with others, but also be great family-orientated role models. Jessie James Coy, Glenda Groat Robinson, Rena Ponath, Esther McGee, Mary Grinde Faehmel, are among some of the ladies I aspire to be more like.
What haven’t you accomplished that you aspire to do in your lifetime?
I had this wild idea that I was going to finish my Foundation for North American Wild Sheep Slam by the time I was 30. I also had decided this before I left high school and didn’t have a worldly concept of money. All jokes aside, as a devoted sheep hunter, I would love to finish this quest. When you are always guiding, it does make hunting the big four Northern American Sheep Species a little tough.
What part of you, or what you do, reflects a spirit of restlessness?
In a nutshell, the western culture was settled on the back of a horse. Nowadays with modern transportation, silver birds in the sky and high-speed locomotives — we are removed from the pastoral pace of our four-legged companions. I am blessed to be able to cut my teeth as a horseback hunting guide, riding through the endless wilderness of Canada’s Northwest. That in its very essence embodies and fuels my restless spirit. The thought of working a 9-5 in a concrete jungle suffocates my soul.
If there is any love-hate relationship with any aspect of what you do, can you describe what that is?
This job isn’t always as glamorous as the polaroid tidbits we share on social media. We work in a terrain that is unforgiving and wild, use animals that outweigh us tenfold and have minds of their own, and work alongside individuals from all walks of life. You can love to hate the small parts of your job when it seems like there are days when the weather craps out, the game animals seem to be in hiding and the horses decide to trail themselves to another camp, and you might have a personality clash with your camping partners. But at the end of the day, an off day in the mountains is better than a good day in town.