UCROSS — Jamie Tankesley has been hunting since she was a child, but hunting carries a different meaning for her today than it did then.
When Tankesley retired from military service as a Wounded Warrior veteran three years ago, she lost a sense of belonging and purpose that was connected to her 13 years, 9 months and 20 days of service — not that she’s counting.
Since then, Tankesley has rekindled a sense of unity and mission through hunting.
It’s not just about the shooting; the challenge and experience of being outside and scouting is a part of that experience, she said. Hunting was a way she found drive and purpose in her life.
Tankesley is one of 46 hunters participating in the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt Oct. 10-13 in Ucross, an annual event through the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
This is the largest group of hunters the Foundation has registered since the event started seven years ago, Rebekah Smith, director of the Foundation said.
The hunt is an opportunity for new hunters to learn from experienced mentors, Smith said.
It is an empowering event for women hunters and brings people from out of state, like Tankesley, to experience the land, people and wildlife in Wyoming. It introduces women to Wyoming through a positive, collaborative experience, Smith said.
Women can participate through sponsorship, individual participation or scholarship. Eleven hunters are participating through scholarship this year, including Tankesley.
The scholarship is a way to bring people to the hunt who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to participate, Smith said.
About 300 people are expected to attend the auction dinner Oct. 11, which raises money to support the Foundation’s work encouraging economic self-sufficiency for women, Smith said.
It’s not like running a 5K; there is a lot of logistical preparation involved, but Smith enjoys seeing confidence bloom among women who are interested in learning to hunt or sharing their skills. Some women form strong friendships from the event, she said.
Hunting tends to be a male-dominated activity and finding an atmosphere conducive to learning the sport can be challenging, Smith said. It’s important to have someone to show you the way.
Tankesley said her father taught her to hunt and her family goes out together every year before Thanksgiving.
Most hunters harvest an animal from the event, Smith said. Bringing home food from the hunt is part of a rewarding experience for newcomers and experienced hunters. It is also empowering to learn and participate in an activity alongside other women, she said.
Part of the purpose of the hunt is to “demystify” an activity in which many women may have wanted to become involved but didn’t have a way to learn or the resources to begin, she said.
There are loaner guns and camouflage available at the hunt for people who need them, Smith said.
Mentoring newcomers allows experienced women hunters to reflect on the way they hunt; being a leader and teacher can change one’s perspective, she said.
It’s important for women to learn to hunt to pass skills onto their children; so they can see both parents as capable, to carry tradition and to show independence, Tankesley said.
This will be Tankesley’s first time in Wyoming and she looks forward to discovering a new place through a familiar activity. She hopes to meet people who share the understanding that hunting can provide purpose and belonging.