For most of her life, British-born Anne Kania had what she called a typical aversion to guns—typical among opera-singing, liberal-minded Englishwomen, anyway.
She thought that guns were a barbaric throwback and that hunting was only for rednecks.
When she first visited Montana to see Bruce Kania, the man she would eventually marry, her views began to change.
Bruce lives near Shepherd, home to his business, Floating Islands International, which creates and sells man-made wetlands that remove pollutants from bodies of water. She learned that he was a hunter, an avid hunter of birds and big game.
“I was appalled, and yet—curious is not the right word—but I was very curious about hunting,” she said. “I had to reconcile my prejudices with his reality.”
There was more to her curiosity than that, though. She had long felt guilty about being a meat eater who allowed others to provide her with meat, guilty about being so unconnected with the process of taking another life.
“That was the pivot point for me to get involved in hunting,” she said. “That and Bruce handing me a shotgun one day.”
She did some shooting during that first visit, then went out with Bruce when he hunted pheasants later that same year. Even after she learned how to shoot, she said, “I didn’t know at that point whether I had it in me to kill something.”
It turns out she did, as she discovered when she made her first kill, on a return visit to Bruce’s place in 2006. It was a deer, killed at close range because she was using a shotgun loaded with buckshot.
Immediately, she said, she felt two warring emotions—exhilaration and guilt. She still feels them, every time.
“It’s like a guilt, or a sadness, or a shock at what I’ve done, and then the excitement kicks in, the thrill and the pride and the gratitude,” she said.
Since marrying Bruce in 2007, hunting and fishing have been a big part of their lives together. Their honeymoon was a fishing trip to Alaska, and during the bird-hunting season they go out almost every day on their 340-acre property, which they have managed to make possibly the most productive pheasant habitat in Montana.
“Sometimes at lunch we’ll jump some ducks, or after work we’ll just walk around the property,” shotguns at the ready, she said. It’s a great way of keeping an eye on the property, of getting exercise, of spending time together.
Her passion for hunting is now so strong that Anne is making it another aspect of their business on the land near Shepherd. This winter she founded Joy of Hunting, which will involve women teaching other women to hunt.
As much as she loves to hunt with her husband, she said, she discovered that learning how to hunt from him was not entirely a pleasant experience. It’s hard to be equal partners when one is the rookie and the other is the expert teacher.
It didn’t help, she said, that Bruce has to be “very intense” at whatever he is doing. “I learned by trial and error and being yelled at,” she said.
“I thought, God, there’s got to be a better way to learn to hunt.”
She elaborates on that point on the Joy of Hunting website: “Up until now, pretty much the only option was to learn from the guy who maybe taught you to drive, or to ski or. … Remember? Or at an evening class, where you get told what to do but there’s no chance to practice. If you were lucky, your partner would thrust a gun in your hands and tell you to ‘shoot this’—but it was so uncomfortable you quickly gave up. If you weren’t so lucky you simply got left behind while ‘he’ had all the fun. Or maybe you had no one to teach you.”
She also wanted to share with other women her own particular approach to hunting, a deliberate, reverent approach.
She still doesn’t care for trophy hunting and she never enjoys taking a life, not even the life of an insect, but if you eat what you kill, and kill cleanly and respectfully, she said, it can be very satisfying.
“I just think it’s made me more conscious of life, of the value of life,” she said.
With bird hunting, everything happens so quickly that you barely have time to think before you shoot. The time of respect comes when one of her dogs—she and Bruce have three yellow labs—delivers the bird to her hand.
Even when she kills a diminutive snipe, she said, she always pauses to think about the animal, or especially in the case of pheasants, to admire their great beauty.
“I always try to look at it with a great reverence in mind,” she said. “You need to develop a ritual to stop it becoming mundane and blasé.”
The experience is more intense with big game, not only because of the size of the animal but because of the nature of the hunt.
Hunting big game, she said, “you’re just watching and listening, watching and listening, being very still and just part of the landscape.”
And when you do see a deer, for instance, you take a long, hard look at it to determine what kind of deer it is, whether it is male or female, whether you’ve got an opportunity for a clear, clean shot.
“You’ve got a lot more time to study it, to think about it,” she said. “You build up more of a relationship with it,” deepening the sense of reverence. As she says on her website: “This is how it is, for me: life-and-death, unadulterated realness that goes beyond justification or criticism. It is elemental.”
Part of what she hopes to teach women interested in hunting is the value of the “paleo diet,” which she and Bruce both follow. That means eating fresh, wild game and vegetables from your own garden, and generally avoiding anything that you couldn’t eat raw if you had to.
At 61, Anne knows she’s getting to her second career as a hunting teacher a bit later than most people take up a calling. But she waited a good long while to get around to her first career, too.
Born in Sunderland on the northeast coast of England, she learned to play the recorder as a child and later performed with a Baroque music group. She became interested in singing as a result of playing with that group, and when she was in her early 30s she took her first vocal lessons.
Her teacher once told her she was a good natural singer, adding, “you could have had a professional career if you’d started 10 years ago.” But she stuck with it, becoming a professional singer in 1995 and moving to New Zealand, where she was a contralto soloist who performed across the country with choirs and orchestras.
“I got enough work to be happy,” she said.
She met Bruce in 2003 at a “More to Life” course put on near Atlanta. The life-training course helped people with their social, psychological and spiritual development. Two years later, Bruce invited Anne out to Shepherd, where she began her initiation into the world of hunting.
She plans to offer her first hunting programs—multi-day sessions during which attendees will live at Floating Islands International—during the bird-hunting season this fall.
As part of the course she will give instruction in land and water stewardship, drawing on the work they have done to restore and develop wetlands and waterways on their property. Part of their work has been the development of pheasant habitat.
Through the refinement of planting and harvesting strategies, the proper use of pesticides and predator control, Bruce says his property might harbor more pheasants per acre than any other place in Montana.
Anne said they have been documenting rooster kills on their property for the past seven years. In the first year there 17. By the seventh, that number had risen to 207. The land also attracts lots of geese, fair numbers of ducks and also snipes and doves.
Their house sits on a bluff overlooking a big bend in the Yellowstone River. At the edge of their lawn they have an automated clay-target thrower. Anne thinks it must be one of the most picturesque clay-shooting spots anywhere.
She will be getting some teaching help from a hunting partner of hers, Andrea Mahorney, who lives in Idaho. They are both going to Bismarck, N.D., this weekend to take a shooting course that will allow them to qualify as certified coaches.
Their own courses, she promises, will involve “women teaching women the way women want to be taught.”
Anne said she was recently speaking to an acquaintance who expressed interest in taking her classes. The woman said her husband didn’t want to teach her how to hunt because he was afraid she’d shoot their dog.
Anne said she responded, “Yup! You’re exactly the right client for me.”