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Reviews: 'Thrill of the Chase' and 'Grizzly Man'

'The Thrill of the Chase'
By Kathy Etling and Susan Campbell Reneau

A number of the mythic gods of the hunt are women, such as Artemis, Diana and Sedna. But historically, in most hunting and gathering societies, women have not been very involved in hunting; and the same has been true for modern societies, until recently.

When I was growing up, one seldom saw women hunting. Those women who bought licenses, often were doing so for their husband to fill their deer tag.

Osa Johnson was the exception to the rule. She and her husband, Martin, made eight very popular feature films about hunting in east and central Africa, Borneo and the South Pacific Islands, and other wild places, including "Simba"(1928) and "Baboona" (1935).

Martin was a photographer and Osa was actually the more ardent hunter of the two. As a result of her exploits as an adventurer, Osa became a widely heralded pioneer in women's equal rights, like Amelia Earhart, Babe Zaharias and Ann Marston — the 1960 Miss Michigan, whose talent in the Miss America Pageant was archery.

Today, more than 6 million women hunt and shoot, thanks in part to programs like Becoming An Outdoorswoman, Safari Club's Sables, the Nation Rifle Association's Women On Target and the National Wild Turkey Federation's Women In the Outdoors.

The growth in women hunters is very important for the future of hunting. In single-parent families, women skilled in outdoor sports can assume the role of teacher for their kids, a role that once was almost always the domain of the man in the family.

The hunting story is a universal cultural mechanism for entertainment and education, and has been for thousands of years. All hunters feel moved to recount their experiences of the hunt, and that includes women.

Kathy Etling and Susan Campbell Reneau assembled 31 inspiring tales of modern women hunters for their 2004 book, "The Thrill of the Chase: Women and Their North American Big Game Trophies" (Safari Press; $29.95).

These gals are committed, gutsy, unafraid of going after big or dangerous game, good shots, and passionate about hunting and conservation, as well as great storytellers.

Few are pro hunters. Instead they count among them musicians, students, a TV editor, jewelry makers, artists, writers, a soccer mom, a nurse, an engineer, a coach, a flight attendant, a lodge owner, a banker, a TV personality, an interior designer and a corporate executive.

Such a diversity of backgrounds makes this 243-page book especially compelling reading for any woman who is considering becoming a hunter, or feeling like she is a lone wolf without support.

These ladies are role models for women and men, and their stories make for compelling reading.

'Grizzly Man'
By Werner Herzog

It's award season for TV and films. When the Oscar for "Best Documentary" was given out, my choice among those nominated was "Murderball," a fantastic story about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs. OK, "March of the Penguins" won, and it had interesting moments and some great cinematography.

But to be honest, the best documentary of 2005 was not nominated.

"Grizzly Man," by the legendary director Werner Herzog, in my opinion should have won, easily.

"Grizzly Man" is about an animal activist, Timothy Treadwell, who makes himself an amateur grizzly-bear expert and creates a career out of
spending summers with grizzlies in Alaska, "protecting them." Alas, he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, eventually get killed and eaten by a
bear.

It's a tragic story, to be sure, but it also is a much-deeper study of the fantasy and reality of what is appropriate behavior toward wild animals.

To prove that I am certainly not alone, "Grizzly Man," to date, has won a swarm of
documentary awards
, from the Chicago Film Critics Association and Los Angeles Film Critics Association to the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Alfred P. Sloan Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Why it did not get an Oscar nomination is a mystery.

Following a drug overdose that nearly killed him, Treadwell, a former actor with a John Denver-like look, journeyed to Alaska's Katmai National Park for 13 summers, to live, unarmed and often alone, among wild grizzlies.

During this time, Treadwell gathered hundreds of hours of himself on video, interacting with wild bears as if they were tame and using his experiences to found a grass-roots bear protection group dubbed Grizzly People.

Herzog has taken Treadwell's footage and woven it into a masterful story of fact and fantasy that deserves to be seen and discussed as widely as possible. For while this is a tragic story of two people being killed by bears, it also is a graphic account of fanciful denial about the reality of life in the wild, where flesh eats flesh is the law of the land.

Treadwell's story is filled with contradictions. He befriends wild bears, unarmed, approaching them closely, calling them endearing names and personifying them, like pet dogs and cats. Mind you, these are 1,000-pound wild grizzlies, feeding, with cubs, and defending territories.

He claims he is "protecting" the bears, and yet no hunting is allowed in the area and we learn from rangers that there are few problems with poachers.

Instead of protecting the animals, Treadwell actually was habituating them to people, making them more vulnerable to poachers and unafraid of people, who might understandably shoot them in self-defense.

Herzog masterfully edits the film to show how Treadwell had an on-camera persona in the fashion of the nutty Australian animal fanatic Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter.

But after the shot for the public, Treadwell left the camera on and would rant on and on about personal issues of insecurity, swearing and carrying on in such a manner that one wonders why he really was spending time with dangerous wild bears that were doing quite well on their own.

This is a sad story, but the most tragic thing is that the bear that ate Treadwell and Huguenard was killed, as if it had done something wrong.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.