Women still only make up a small percentage of all hunters, but that number has increased significantly in recent years. Now, organizations like the Wyoming Women’s Foundation want to encourage more growth through mentorship. The group says hunting is an important way to teach self-sufficiency and economic independence. Wyoming Public Radio's Irina Zhorov tagged along on the state's inaugural Women's Antelope Hunt and filed this report.
IRINA ZHOROV: The time of departure for each team of hunters was set for 5:30am. But a snow storm hit overnight and at 6 the electricity was still out, snow and wind howled outside, and antsy women in camouflage ate their eggs by candlelight. This was unusual October weather even for Wyoming.
Marilyn Kite was one of the people who came up with the idea for the Women’s Antelope Hunt.
MARILYN KITE: Unfortunately, there are not very many women that actively hunt.
ZHOROV: In Wyoming, about 16 percent of hunters are women. Nationwide, that number is closer to 11 percent. But from 2006 to 2011 the number of women hunting in the US increased by a quarter, and that’s a trend Kite wants to encourage.
KITE: We’ve found it to be just great recreation, lots of fun, and the camaraderie of it is why you do it really. But we also really like the meat.
ZHOROV: The meat is kind of the clincher here. The event is sponsored by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, whose mission is to help women reach self-sufficiency.
KITE: There’s a lot of young women who are single mothers who are trying to provide for their families and that’s certainly one way to do it
ZHOROV: Crystal Mayfield is a single mom from Laramie who was sponsored to come on the hunt. She’s harvested elk before and hopes an all-women’s hunt will take some of the intimidation out of the sport for others.
CRYSTAL MAYFIELD: I know a lot of people still have the mindset that hunting is a man’s sport.
ZHOROV: She was partnered with Tara Heaton, of Gillette, who’s a Navy veteran. Their guide was Fred Williams. Williams says women often make good hunters because they’re often more focused and patient than men, but there was very little patience that morning.
They finally set off to the private ranch where they’d planned to hunt around 10 am.
FRED WILLIAMS: We’ve got about 29 degrees right now…
ZHOROV: Just to show how outnumbered women are in hunting, most of the guides on this women’s hunt were men and both Mayfield and Heaton almost exclusively hunt with their dads. Heaton says the female camaraderie is a welcome change.
TARA HEATON: It’s different than going with my dad and brother, a lot more giggling I think.
ZHOROV: As they drive, they take turns sliding down their mud and snow streaked windows to look for antelope and Williams quizzes Mayfield on her skill level.
MAYFIELD: I was doing 200 yards yesterday.
WILLIAMS: You were hitting 200 yards?
WILLIAMS: Really? Good for you. You’re like Annie Oakley.
ZHOROV: When they spot some antelope in the distance, they park and start stalking them on foot.
Williams has Mayfield load a bullet in the chamber and they proceed quietly through a field strewn with cottonwoods and cows, and covered in a lot of wet snow. When they reach a little rise that looks over the grazing antelope, Williams takes Mayfield up to prepare for her shot and Heaton stays behind to wait.
HEATON: My legs are falling asleep.
ZHOROV: Finally Mayfield takes aim.
HEATON: Here goes.
ZHOROV: And shoots. [Gunshot]
She misses that buck. In fact, both women miss their shots that day. The 35 mile an hour winds don’t make it easy to shoot. On the drive back to the ranch, Mayfield says she’s not upset, but adds that missing is easier in the company of women.
MAYFIELD: When I missed that shot I didn’t feel like a loser when I told her that I missed it. Like I didn’t feel like she was going to be like, oh, you’re a huge loser. So that was nice, too.
ZHOROV: Is that what your dad would have told you?
MAYFIELD: My dad wouldn’t have but my brother would have easily been like, oh, I can’t believe you missed that. You’re stupid.
ZHOROV: As is typical in Wyoming weather, the next day is sunny, there’s no wind, and it’s beautiful. Both Heaton and Mayfield get their antelope in one shot and receive the Annie Oakley award for it. In fact, 32 of the 34 women on the hunt fill their tags. One first-time hunter who got a buck says she can’t wait to teach her son how to hunt. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Irina Zhorov.