When I was contacted in 2014 to participate in the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt (WWAH). I knew it would be a weekend of firsts: my first time hunting antelope; my first time hunting with a group of all women hunters; and my first time hunting and being a guest speaker at the same event. It was such an amazing experience that I have returned every year as a volunteer. I always bring home amazing memories and personal growth, and this year was no different.
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There is something magical about The Ranch at Ucross, the base of operations for the hunt weekend. When I turn my SUV down its winding driveway and spot the massive white event tent set up in the sunshine, I can’t stop the grin that spreads across my face. I know that this will be a time for women to learn about themselves, to teach other hunters, and to become a part of a sisterhood that will continue long after the weekend has come to a close. I love meeting the new hunters and catching up with old friends. 2017 marked the fifth year of the hunt, and some of the returning hunters and volunteers have not missed a year since its inception in 2013.
Just outside the tent is a smaller camp tent; it’s staked down next to the meat pole. A horizontal pole suspended 10 feet off the ground, the meat pole can accommodate several antelope carcasses at a time. This has become my happy place for the weekend. We see off the pairs of women hunters every morning and then anticipate their return. As I sit in my track chair with my computer nestled on my lap, my eyes stalk the highway, willing passing pickup trucks to slow and turn down the drive, bringing home triumphant huntresses.
This is what it’s all about. Some of the women have never hunted before; some left that morning full of apprehension and even fear. But when they tumble out of the truck with bloodstained fingernails and tear streaks down their faces, sweaty ponytails shoved under camo hats, they’ve been transformed. Gone are the uneasiness and nerves; they have been replaced with a glowing grin, a newfound confidence and a deep emotional connection to this time-honored tradition. They’ve pushed themselves physically and mentally beyond what they thought themselves capable of, and they have a new respect for the animals they’ve pursued.
Some of the pairs come back with a double harvest; other hunters are excited to hang their antelope on the meat pole and head back out to encourage their partner’s hunt. A few ladies battle the elements and blown stalks all weekend to end up with an empty cooler but a heart full of camaraderie and lessons learned. These women are all warriors, and it’s an honor to be a part of their ranks.
I love to hear their stories, as they animatedly share the vivid details of their hunt. My job is to gather the regulatory information on each antelope—age, gender, where they were harvested, etc. I also talk to the women about their processing and taxidermy options. This always takes longer than it should, as each question spurs a new memory about their adventure. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Amid the excitement, this year’s hunt held a certain somberness as well. In May, one of our hunters, Shelly Simonton, passed away after a battle with melanoma. This weekend, and this group of women, meant so much to Shelley that a month before she died, she generously established an endowment that will make grants to the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, helping to make sure that the hunters attending always include single mothers and women of different income levels. Shelley’s Fund is a beautiful example of the legacy of this weekend and the sisterhood that continues to grow each year.
Whether you are a new hunter or one with more experience, consider joining us next year at the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. I can promise you a weekend you will never forget. And whether you harvest or not, you will be joining a group of amazing ladies that go out and make a difference in the world. I’d love the chance to meet you at the meat pole!