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Hunting is a male dominated sport, but in recent years, women are increasingly getting involved. Now, organizations like the Wyoming Women's Foundation are trying to encourage that 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.
IRINA ZHOROV, BYLINE: The time of departure for each team of hunters was set for 5:30 a.m. But a snowstorm hit overnight, and at 6:00, the electricity is still out, snow and wind howl outside, and antsy women in camouflage eat their eggs by candlelight. Among them is Marilyn Kite. She's Wyoming's first woman to serve as State Supreme Court justice, and she's one of the people who came up with the idea for the Wyoming Women's Antelope Hunt.
MARILYN 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: Kite says the meat is kind of the clincher here.
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: Just to show how outnumbered women 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.
FRED WILLIAMS: 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.
ZHOROV: Williams guides two women on the hunt. By 10 a.m., they set off to a private ranch looking for antelope.
WILLIAMS: It's about 29 degrees right now.
ZHOROV: Tara Heaton, a Navy veteran, already has some experience hunting. But she says this is different.
TARA HEATON: Just meeting different women from around Wyoming and more hunters because a lot of my friends growing up weren't hunters.
ZHOROV: She's partnered with Crystal Mayfield, a single mom. Prior to today, both Heaton and Mayfield almost exclusively hunted with their dads and brothers. As they drive, guide Fred Williams quizzes Mayfield on her shooting skills.
CRYSTAL MAYFIELD: I was doing 200 yards yesterday.
WILLIAMS: You were hitting in the (unintelligible) 200 yards?
WILLIAMS: Really? Good for you. You're like Annie Oakley.
MAYFIELD: There's two bucks to the right. Right. And the other one's a skinhead.
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 and wait.
HEATON: My legs are falling asleep.
ZHOROV: Finally, Mayfield takes aim.
MAYFIELD: Here goes.
ZHOROV: And shoots.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)
ZHOROV: She misses that buck. In fact, both women miss their shots this day. The 35-mile-an-hour winds don't help. 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 went and told Tara that, oh, I missed it. Like, I didn't feel like she was going to be, like, oh, you're a huge loser.
ZHOROV: Is that what your dad would have told you?
MAYFIELD: Oh, my dad wouldn't have, but my brother would have easily been like, oh, I can't believe you missed that. Like, you're stupid.
ZHOROV: As is typical in Wyoming weather, the next day is sunny, there is no wind, and it's beautiful. Both Heaton and Mayfield get their antelope. All but two of the women on this hunt walk away with a kill. One first-time hunter can't wait to teach her son how to hunt. For NPR news, I'm Irina Zhorov in Laramie.
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