Tara Heaton (left) and Crystal Mayfield with guide Fred Williams at a women’s antelope hunt in Wyoming. Before the event, both women had hunted almost exclusively with male relatives, not other women. Irina Zhorov/Wyoming Public Media
The departure time for Wyoming’s inaugural Women’s Antelope Hunt was set for 5:30 a.m. — but that was before a snowstorm hit. By 6 a.m., the electricity is still out, wind and snow are howling and antsy women in camouflage are eating eggs by candlelight.
Marilyn Kite, Wyoming’s first female state Supreme Court justice and one of the people who dreamed up the hunt, is among them.
“We’ve found it to be just great recreation, lots of fun, and the camaraderie of it is why you do it, really,” Kite says. “But we also really like the meat.”
Women still make up only 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 — and taking meat home is a part of that, Kite says. “There’s a lot of young women who are single mothers, who are trying to provide for their families,” she says. “And [hunting is] certainly one way to do it.”
Just to show how outnumbered women currently are in hunting, most of the guides on this women’s hunt are men. One of them, Fred Williams, says women who try hunting usually do really well with the sport.
“I think women tend to be actually better hunters because they tend to be a bit more patient, and oftentimes are a much better shot, because they tend to be a bit more focused,” Williams says.
By 10 a.m., conditions outside have improved and the hunt is on. Williams and his team of two set off for a private ranch to look for antelopes.
Tara Heaton, a Navy veteran, already has some experience hunting, but she says this is different. It gives her an opportunity to meet “different women from around Wyoming, and more hunters, because a lot of my friends growing up weren’t hunters,” she says.
Heaton is partnered with Crystal Mayfield, a single mother. Before today, both women hunted almost exclusively with their fathers and brothers.
As the three drive through the snow, they spot some antelopes 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 snow-covered field strewn with cottonwoods and cows. When they reach a rise overlooking the grazing antelopes, Williams preps Mayfield for her shot. She takes aim, shoots — and misses.
In fact, both women miss their shots today. The 35 mph winds don’t help. But on the drive back to the ranch, Mayfield says she’s not upset. Even missing is easier in the company of women, she says.
“When I missed that shot, I didn’t feel like a loser when I went and told [Heaton] that, ‘Oh, I missed it,’ ” she says. “I didn’t feel like she was going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re a huge loser.’ … My brother easily would have been like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you missed that. You’re stupid.’ “
As is typical in Wyoming, the next day is sunny, wind-free and beautiful. Both Heaton and Mayfield get their antelopes, and all but two of the 34 participating women come away with a kill.
One first-time hunter says she can’t wait to teach her son how to hunt