in Wasilla, Alaska
SARAH PALIN learned to call the shots at an early age — she got to grips with a gun at eight and made her first kill at ten.
The moose-hunting mum-of-five from Alaska grew up shooting animals and skinning them on the spot before hauling the meat home for the family freezer.
Sarah’s dad Chuck Heath shot a grizzly bear three years ago and its skin adorns a sofa in Sarah’s office. Now she is in the political bear pit after accepting the Republican Vice-Presidential nomination.
Chuck told The Sun: “Sarah was always very determined. Whatever she lacked in skill she always made up in determination. She always tried her hardest to be the best at everything she did.
“She was also very stubborn. I wasn’t mean to her but I taught her discipline. But I could seldom bend her if she’d made her mind up on something.
“She started shooting a gun when she was eight and shot her first animal when she was ten. It was something small, possibly a rabbit.
“She is a really good shot. I taught her to shoot a moose and dress it, to fish and hunt for game.
“We raised our family to be able to support ourselves — 90 per cent of our meat and fish we get ourselves.”
He admitted he was in a “dreamland” when Palin accepted the offer to run with Preidential hopeful John McCain.
Mr Heath, who retired from teaching science and now works for the Federal Wildlife Services Program, continued: “I would tell those boys in Washington, ‘Don’t underestimate her.’
“She’s a hard worker and a determined lady. The Democrats won’t break her.”
Palin served two terms as mayor of her home town of Wasilla, then in 2006 became Alaska’s youngest and first female governor.
Now, at 44, the former beauty queen aims to become the USA’s first female Vice-President.
I headed to Wasilla in moose-hunting season to experience for myself how the Republicans’ “pitbull in lipstick” grew up.
Wasilla — whose population of 7,000 has been mocked by her Democrat rivals — is a colourful mix of prosperous oil workers, hunters and hard-grafting families 50 miles north east of Anchorage.
The main street is lined timber yards, the ramshackle Mug-Shot Saloon — where prospectors once paid for beer with gold nuggets — and charmingly named shops, including Big Shot Taxidermy, Bunny Boots and Happy Hooker Tows.
Here Sarah is like a rock star.
She lives in a sprawling house on the banks of a lake and her handsome, part-Inuit, snowmobile champ husband Todd — the “first dude” — has his sea plane moored at the end of a pontoon.
Jessica Steele, the creator of Sarah’s much admired hairdo, lives here too. She said Alaska’s governor could easily mix politics, children and highlights.
Jessica, owner of the Beehive Beauty Shop in Wasilla, said: “We would talk about pedicures and manicures and moose and politics, all while Sarah was having foils in her hair and holding my baby on her lap. We worked on putting her hair up in a move to TONE DOWN her sexy image and make her seem taller.
“We would talk a lot about how if she looked too pretty or too sexy, people wouldn’t listen to her.”
Until Sarah was named as McCain’s running mate, her neighbours could walk right up to her front door.
Now they have to get past a wall of state troopers and an army of secret service agents, dressed noticeably in black and whispering into radios. Just to be extra safe, two gunboats from the Alaska coastguard are on the fishing lake.
In Wasilla, it’s all about firepower. Alaska’s gun laws say that anyone aged 18 can buy a rifle, or a handgun if you are over 21. In the Walmart supermarket the gun section is just a short stroll from the beauty section and the Hannah Montana make-up range, right next to the mobile phone chargers.
Over at Wasilla’s specialist Chimo guns, business is brisk.
Prices start at just 219 dollars (£110) for a three-inch handgun.
Hunting here is a serious business. You can’t help tripping over stuffed 12ft bears, caribou heads and the odd walrus tusk.
One local store even has a giraffe head or an entire stuffed lion eating a zebra for the more cosmopolitan hunting fan.
Locals say a good moose kill could feed a family for the whole winter — served up as burgers, stew, chops and sausages — and if you can kill a good moose you are a local hero.
In Alaska, hunter Palin has an approval rating somewhere north of 80 per cent — something akin to the Holy Grail in politics.
The Wasilla, locals explain it is for reasons including “she’s a darn good shot and doesn’t take any nonsense from nobody” to “she’s the best goddamn-looking governor in the country.”
At a town rally for Palin on Friday night, her dad and mum Sally were swamped by well-wishers.
Sally said: “We are extremely excited for her. But we had no idea this was coming.
“We had heard she was on the long list but we only learned that John McCain had picked Sarah when a relative called us and told us to turn on the TV.
“Since then I’ve barely had the chance to speak to her, she has been so busy. I did manage to reach her on the phone today and said, ‘Hang in there’, but she said she was doing great.”
Sarah was a good basketball player — dubbed Sarah Barracuda for her toughness — but entered beauty pageants to earn money for college, winning 1984’s Miss Wasilla. After she married Todd she helped him fish commercially in a 26ft boat with no cabin — physically demanding work in often treacherous conditions.
Borough mayor Curt Maynard, a close friend of the Palin family, told The Sun: “Nothing intimidates Sarah, she is fearless.
“I have seen her out hunting or fishing and taking on her political rivals. Her political rise has been so fast she seems unstoppable.
“For McCain, she is an inspired pick — a woman who can hunt, fish and shoot as well as any man, a great mother and a politician who is not afraid to take on the established old guard.” It was Curt’s wife Linda, who is now running for the Senate, who persuaded Sarah to become a beauty queen in the Eighties.
Linda said: “Sarah was reluctant at first but I suggested she try because the prize money would help pay her college fees.
“I helped her get a dress and coached her about how to walk and answer the judges’ questions.
“The only part she didn’t like was the swimwear — she didn’t want people looking at her rear.
“But I never had any doubt that she would win — and of course that’s what happened.
“She was extremely attractive but she answered the judges’ questions in such a confident manner that I was amazed.”
Curt added: “We have all been blown away by Hurricane Sarah — now the rest of America will see what she is made of.”