Jill Ekar and Al Barney have sought adventure at every turn in their lives, and after finding RMEF in their 60’s, they’ve applied their legendary go-getter attitude to do more for wildlife.
By Gentry Hale
In 2009, at age 64, Jill Ekar decided she wanted to try hunting. She’d long enjoyed tagging along with her husband, Al Barney, on his hunts. But instead of carrying a gun, she would hike, observe animals and hunt for mushrooms along the way.
Taking on hunting herself later in life seemed like the natural thing to do, she says. From an early age she has sought out adventure and feels like new endeavors come easily. “I’ve always been one to do something different. I try things that I’ve never done before, and I just go for it. That’s who I am.”
Jill’s first hunt that fall was seamless. With an antlerless deer tag in her pocket, she and Al went to a familiar area in eastern Washington and hiked 20 minutes up a game trail before hearing a rustle. There, atop a plateau, they spotted a mule deer doe stand up out of the forage.
“It didn’t take long for Annie Oakley to take care of her one shot, ” Al says.
As they waited for friends to help them pack the deer out, Jill knelt by it and cried. She thanked the animal for letting her harvest it. “I sat there and talked to her and talked to God and was very thankful for the whole thing,” Jill says.
The year before that, while attending a sportsman’s show in Monroe, they’d come across an RMEF booth. Intrigued, Jill and Al signed up as members and immediately started volunteering for their local chapter by joining the committee and helping with banquet ticket sales, which they had previous experience with as long-time members of the Northwest Enological Society, a nonprofit dedicated to wine.
Al now chairs RMEF’s North Puget Sound Chapter based near their home in Everett. He says it’s a lot of work, but he savors the challenge.
Al was born and raised in Seattle and grew up hunting with his father, who taught him how to be aware in the woods, what to look for and how to be patient.
Al received his bachelor’s degree in education at University of Washington followed by a master’s in school administration at Seattle University.
Jill grew up in Aberdeen, Washington. She got her teaching degree from Seattle University followed by a master’s from City University.
That led her to a job teaching middle school because she loved watching the development of the children through those years. Jill’s favorite saying is “I don’t ever want to get bored,” and she says she never has. While teaching, she spend multiple summers in Africa exploring, studying archeology and learning from legendary paleoanthropologists Mary and Richard Leakey. She even held the skull of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old fossilized hominid.
Al and Jill met when they were both assigned to curriculum projects within the same school district for a few summers in the late 70’s. But it wasn’t until Al transferred to work at Jill’s school in 1983 that they really got to know one another. For many years they team-taught over 60 students in middle school English and social studies classes. They started dating in 1985 and were married in 1987.
“Some people say they can’t work with their spouse,” Al says. “We found that the advantages to that greatly offset any disadvantages.”
After 30 years of teaching in the Edmonds School District, they both retired and transitioned to working as business agents for self-distributed wineries for the next 20 years. “I got him into wine, he got me into hunting,” says Jill, adding that both those things have enriched their lives.
Hunting together also game them a deeper appreciation for the cause and helped inspire them to become members of RMEF’s Habitat Council, which recognizes donors who have cumulatively donated $10,000 or more. The Habitat Council engages dedicated conservationists with yearly meetings to learn about and provide input on RMEF’s goals and mission.
Al and Jill are also members of the Trails Society, meaning they have chosen to include RMEF as a beneficiary in their estate planning, creating a lasting legacy for elk and conservation.
At 78, Jill aims to take up bowhunting as her next endeavor-and has elk in her crosshairs as well. In 2022, she and Al attended the RMEF Mountain Festival in Park City, Utah where she participated in the Shoot Like A Girl event. That gave Jill a taste of what it would be like to bowhunt, the hook driving deeper with every arrow that hits its mark. And Al’s nickname of “One-Shot Jill” proved true as ever.
No matter what comes next, they don’t plan to slow down anytime soon. RMEF is lucky to have them as they keep the wind at their backs as volunteers.
“Our local chapter has always been there for us,” Al says. “One of the things that really binds us to RMEF is the feel of family. I know a lot of people say that same thing in some way or another, but it’s that cohesiveness that keeps us here.”