At 12-years-old Chantelle Bartsch had four gerbils that very quickly grew into around 30 gerbils. That was a bit too many for her parents to handle so Bartsch traded them in at the pet store for two turtles, Leonardo and Donatello.
From there her fascination with turtles began. She wore out the National Geographic tape at the library because she watched it so many times. “It was the whole cycle of the baby sea turtle through to adulthood,” she remembered.
By age 13 Bartsch knew everything she could possibly know about sea turtles and she swore to herself that when she was old enough she would go and contribute to their guardianship.
This year, 26 years later, will be her tenth year travelling to Mexico to work with CONANP and save the sea turtles.
While she is down there she will handle around 10,000 baby sea turtles that might not have made it back to the ocean without her help. Of those 10,000 she said maybe 10 of them will make it to adulthood.
Despite those arduous odds, Bartsch runs on the belief that because of her hard work there might be 10 more sea turtles in the ocean each year.
While volunteering, Bartsch does many of the jobs that the full-time biologists do. She stands watch over the beaches, hoping to keep eggs, hatchlings, and mothers coming ashore from being poached. She walks the beaches, collecting eggs and newly hatched turtles and bringing them back to the hatchery where they can mature in peace and safety before crawling to the ocean. At times she will even pick up a mother turtle, turn her around and send her back to the ocean to hold onto her eggs for a few more days until the conditions are safer. She also does a lot of record keeping for the organization.
Though she loves the work, Bartsch said at times it can be draining. The last time she was sitting on the beach feeling spent, a mother turtle came right up to her looking exhausted. Bartsch said she made eye contact with this beautiful creature, listened to it’s sigh of relief as it settled into the sand and remembered why she was dedicated to the cause.
Bartsch said that some people, even family members, have trouble coming to terms with how she can put so much energy and money into conservation yet still be such an avid hunter. “‘Where do you draw the line,’” she said they have asked her. “‘Which animals are worth saving?’” For Bartsch, the answer is simple.
Sea turtles are endangered, they are protected. When Bartsch hunts she hunts legally and ethically. The tags she buys, the hunting license she is required to have, she said it all goes towards funding research and conservation efforts. Those who hunt out of season, out of zone, the wrong animals or with illegal equipment are poachers.
“If it is legal to hunt…to take a turtles life, if it was legal and that individual that chose to kill that turtle was doing it legally, with a legal tag decided on by biologists and…by our government…if it is legal than do it if you are going to eat it,” she said.
For Bartsch, hunting is a way of life. Instead of buying meat from a store that has come from far away and passed through many different hands, she chooses to feed herself organically, harvesting, butchering and cooking her own meat. She takes pride in knowing her meat hasn’t been sitting on a floor somewhere and that it is chemical and hormone free.
“I am not eating garbage,” she said. When Bartsch brings home a kill she uses as much of it as she can from the rack and the meat to the skin and the hooves. She has even saved the fat from a bear so that a friend could turn it into lard and use it to make pie. Bartsch received her first bow from her husband, Adam, as a Valentine’s Day gift. “After shooting about a half a dozen arrows, him and his best friend complimented me and said ‘Okay, you’ve got a natural talent, you should carry on with this,’” she recalled with a smile.
A few months later, while on a hunt with her husband in Manitoba, she brought down her first animal, a black bear. She said it wasn’t a very big bear, maybe 200 lbs. and he had almost no fur on his body. Though he wasn’t pretty, Bartsch still thinks of that hunt as one of her greatest trophies. “Some of my biggest trophies are because of the hunt, who I was with, what I was doing,” she said. “If you are measuring the success of hunting based on what animals you bring home, you are totally doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Bartsch is all about the challenge. In 2008 she competed in a televised hunting competition in Nevada. For the final event she hunted a wild turkey while in a cast and on crutches because she wasn’t ready to give up despite having a broken leg. That extreme dedication showed through again this past summer when Bartsch competed as a finalist on the Extreme Huntress web series.
The competition took place at the 777 Ranch in Texas. Over a week the competitors completed skill testing tasks and lessons from experts in front of a camera crew. Bartsch said the experience was thrilling and she would go back in a heart beat.
“It’s not just about hunting, this is a hunting and skills competition, this is real life,” she said. “It is about setting yourself up for success, putting in the effort, believing in yourself and making it happen.” In September, a friend of Bartsch’s got a tag for an elk. She and her husband were out in the bush every day for weeks before the hunt scouting for the perfect animal. Not only did they explore the area and locate nearby streams, they also researched topographical charts as well as what plants are edible during that time of year, all the better to locate and harvest the perfect animal.
“As an ethical hunter I am not just going to pick up my bow and just put a couple of arrows into a target,” she said. “Off season, a true hunter is thinking about when the next opening day is. You are training your body, you are training your brain, you are planning, you are focusing and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.”
After each kill, Bartsch performs a ritual called “The Last Bite.” She brushes grass over the wound and places it into the animals mouth, thanking it for its sacrifice so that she may continue to live. Though she learned the ritual from her husband, Bartsch has seen it in practice many times since. It is a show of respect to the animal, and that is important to her. If she had any message for hunters she said she wishes they would show more respect for the animals.
“It disgusts me when people shoot an animal and they sit on it,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to the animal.” As well as locating and tracking the perfect animal to harvest, Bartsch uses her knowledge of animals, as well as her ability to imitate almost every call of every large mammal in North America, to get up close and personal and observe animals in their natural environment. She said she gets a thrill from being a ninja and almost becoming a part of the natural environment, so much so that she can be only a few metres away from an animal and they don’t even know she is there.
“I’m going to take 1000 pictures of animals before I harvest that one,” she said.
She also uses her unique animal call abilities to help fawns who are in trouble. Mother deer will often leave their babies unattended while they wander off to feed and in most cases humans should stay well away from the babies. After seeing one right in the middle of the highway on the way back to Campbell River from Mt. Washington, Bartsch got out of the car to help. After removing the fawn from traffic, Bartsch did her best imitation of a fawn bleat, and the mother came running back to find her baby.
Other times however, the mother isn’t so lucky. Bartsch ended up taking one new born fawn to an animal rescue centre after finding it’s mother’s carcass on the side of the highway near where the fawn had been running around.
“I don’t wish death on something,” she said. “I don’t hunt because I see enjoyment in something dying. I hunt because it is my way of life. I am a survivalist.”
Despite what she does being 100 per cent legal, Bartsch gets a lot of people criticizing and being hateful towards her for choosing to hunt.
She said that she does her best to educate people and she is perfectly willing to listen to rational, educated anti-hunting opinions but some arguments you just can’t win. Bartsch said she won’t apologize for her choices. She is putting healthy food in the bodies, and freezers, of her friends and family.
“What I am doing has been done since the beginning of time,” she said. Though hunting is the lifestyle she has chosen, it costs her around $3,000 to bring home 50 lbs. of meat so she needs a day job. Luckily, she loves it.
Bartsch knew she was going to be a tattoo artist since before she graduated from high school. When she walked the stage however, she kept that fun fact to herself. When Bartsch told her mother, her response was ‘Not on my life.’ Despite her mother’s doubts, everything just fell into place.
Bartsch remembers spending a lot of time drawing while at her dad’s soccer games. From tracing to colouring to drawing on his teammates arms, she had a knack for tattooing since the beginning. Though it was a battle to succeed as a female tattoo artist, Bartsch gets up every day excited to go to work.
She did dabble with other businesses, at one point working as a personal trainer, a taxidermist, and a landscape designer before refocusing on tattooing. “If I couldn’t make any money for the rest of my life and it came down to a barter system…[tattooing] is what I need to do to make myself happy and have the biggest impact, biggest result, on others,” she said.
Though the art itself comes easily to Bartsch, it isn’t just a passing anecdote that tattoo artists double as therapists. Bartsch has met people who have gone through some incredible things. She has covered horrible scars and has created many many many memorial tattoos. She feels that in some cases her art has the power to forever change someone’s attitude or perception of themselves or a life event. However, hearing these stories takes a lot of emotional strength on her part. She said she has had breakdowns after tattoo sessions because of a story she heard.
“You become very close with your clients,” she said. “It is an energy transfer.” At the moment Bartsch does 50 per cent of her tattoos custom and the other 50 per cent people bring in their own ideas asking for only limited alterations. When she turns 40 in November of 2017 she hopes to be doing only her own designs.
“Not that it is trying to prove anything, just where I am at in my life and my career, I just want to spend my final years doing completely custom pieces,” she said. If Bartsch had to choose between tattooing and hunting, she wouldn’t be able to. Luckily, she won’t ever have to.