A report from the field by Women’s Outdoor News photographer Stacey Huston, on the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, 2014.
Friday afternoon, 1 p.m.
Deep breath. I exhale slowly as I try to calm my nerves and move my rifle into position. I can feel the steady pounding of my heartbeat where a clump of prairie grass bites into my stomach. I can only hope the antelope can’t hear or feel it, as I am certain the echo can be heard across the prairie and felt in the ground where they lie. I look through the scope and search the sage-covered valley below for golden brown and white fur.
Doe … doe … doe …
I continue to scan to the right and bring the crosshairs of my scope to a stop on a hollow-haired pronghorn buck with tall black horns that is bedded among the sage below. I take another deep breath and pull the butt of the Kimber, chambered in .308 WIN, into my shoulder and wince at the slight pain as rifle butt comes in contact with my bruised shoulder – a temporary reminder of sighting in at the range last night.
I think back to how I got here.
Thursday, 12:30 P.M.
I came to the Ucross Ranch, along with 32 other female hunters who have gathered in central Wyoming for a fun-filled weekend. A weekend of hunting, learning, camaraderie, opportunities to challenge ourselves, mentorship, and maybe even a little rest and relaxation. At check-in, the staff and volunteers of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation welcomed us to the second annual annual Wyoming Women’s Antelope hunt.
Members of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department kicked off the event with a presentation on safety and by reviewing hunting regulations and ethics. We then went to the gun range, to sight in our rifles. Federal Premium Ammunition graciously supplied me with plenty of its Fusion ammo for sighting in and hunting with my Kimber Montana rifle.
Throughout the day I got to know some of the other lady hunters. I was honored to meet 16-year-old Christina Wildcat, a high school cheerleader, here with her parents. This was homecoming weekend at her school, and she was there with her family on her first antelope hunt (A girl after my own heart!). I spent time with Heather, who works across the highway from me back at home. We have briefly met a few times, but we had never had the chance to get to know one another or find out how much we have in common. Anne Stebner-Steele attended with her mother, Kari Stebner, and her aunt, Marilyn Kite (Wyoming Supreme Court Justice) — one of the ladies responsible for founding this hunt. Debra Padden, of Andover, N.Y., made this inaugural trip to Wyoming for this hunt, and like most of us natives, she has fallen in love with our beautiful scenery and wide-open spaces. Maria Anselmi, of Jackson, Wy., attended because her mother was here as a hunter last year. Other attendees includes the Garaventa sisters, Ashlee Lunvall (Ms. Wheelchair USA) and others. At the end of the hunt, 30 of those 32 women filled their tags.
We met our hunting partners at dinner the first night. We also met our guides and generous land owners who would be allowing us access to their lands for this hunt.
Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
The plastic card with the magnetic strip slides in the room lock. I swing open the door and step into what will be my home for the weekend. … Wow! This isn’t like any hunting camp I have ever stayed in. I walk across the room and my hand brushes the down comforter that covers the inviting bed. I think, “I might be able to get used to this.” After putting my things away and calling home to check in, I set my clothes out for the morning hunt and crawl into bed.
Friday, 4:30 a.m.
I wake before my alarm goes off. I shower quickly (Hey, hot showers — another thing that I don’t normally find in hunting camp). I slip into my Próis Hunting and Field Apparel camo and check and recheck that I have everything I will need for the day: Gun, bullets, camera, hunting license, pen, knives, etc. At 5 a.m., a bell rings outside announcing that breakfast is ready. I grab my things and head down to meet my hunting partner, Shelley Simonton, Vice President of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, along with our guide, Josh.
A few hours later we pull off the Interstate onto a dirt road. I watch out the window as the sun rises above long prairie grass. There are antelope scattered amongst the sage and a Swainson’s hawk soars above in search of its morning meal.
We chat idly and get to know each other as we head to our hunting area. Out the window I notice the “No Trespassing” signs and I am struck, again, with gratitude for the various landowners who have allowed us to access their lands for this hunt. Without them, this event would not be possible. It doesn’t take long before the first opportunity to chase antelope presents itself. I quietly step from the truck. I am here for the hunt, but I also thoroughly enjoy just going along with others and have elected to leave my gun in its case and take my camera until Shelley has filled her tag.
Friday, 8:08 a.m.
Shelley and Josh are stooped low as they circle down the valley, sneaking closer to her intended prey. They crawl to the top of the ridge and all but disappear in the deep grass.
I cannot see, but can picture in my mind what they see in the valley on the other side of the hill. I all but hold my breath as I wait to hear the shot. Time ticks by and I find myself distracted by a stray feather that has been caught on a sage as it dances and sways in the wind.
Three times I watch as Shelly and Josh move from one location to the next in search of the perfect shot that doesn’t come. They return grinning, and just enjoying the moment. Farther down the valley we spot a lone buck feeding on a ridge. Josh and Shelley sneak in to 140 yards. One quick clean shot to the lungs and her hunt has come to a close.
I watch as she fills out her tag and Josh patiently walks her through her first experience at field dressing her animal. She does a great job and the commentary that goes along with the experience made for great memories on this hunt. A couple of fun stalks, 1 clean shot and Shelley’s animal is cleaned, loaded in the truck, and we are headed back toward camp by 10 a.m.
Friday, 1:38 p.m.
The hunt continues … I am lying on a rocky outcropping that looks over the valley. The herd of antelope are scattered on both sides below. Josh and I belly-crawled out here at least half an hour ago. Josh shifts beside me and points to the yearling antelope that have fed up the draw on our right and can now see our location. They haven’t detected us, yet, but it is only a matter of time. I look through the scope again at the buck that is still lying in the bottom of the draw on the left. He is showing no sign of getting up any time soon. Josh whispers that he’s spotted another buck closer to us in the draw to our right.
Under the watchful eyes of the yearlings, we carefully switch places. Our movement has made the young antelope very nervous. As I attempt to locate this new buck in the scope, I hear the telltale snort, and know that we are busted. In a flash the entire herd is up and on the move. I admire their speed and grace as we watch them disappear down the valley and across the county road in the distance. I have a huge grin on my face. Even though I didn’t have a shot opportunity, It was still a good stalk. We get up and head back to where Shelley is waiting.
Stacey Huston is an outdoor wildlife photographer from Wyoming. Part 2 will be published on Wed., Nov. 12.
A special thanks to Federal Premium Ammo, for supplying Stacey with top-notch ammo for the hunt.
Learn more about the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt.
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