UCROSS — Becky Rodriguez, administrative assistant at Johnson County Healthcare Center, is hunting big game for the first time at the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt in Ucross this weekend.
Rodriguez grew up in a family of hunters, but left the hunting up to the boys for the most part. She has hunted small game in the past, but never antelope or anything bigger.
Her husband, Kevin, has been a guide for the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt since its inception in 2013, and Rodriquez has attended the dinners and award ceremonies with him. This is the first time that she has had the opportunity to participate as a hunter.
Rodriguez has been invited to participate as part of the Merlin Ranch team. Jennie Gordon, owner of the Merlin Ranch, is mentoring this year rather than hunting, so she had Rodriguez take her place in the hunt.
In preparation for the hunt, Rodriguez sighted in her rifle, collected all of the gear she would need and prepared for a lot of hiking. She will not be hunting with her husband during the antelope hunt, nor either of her two brothers-in-law, who are also guides for the hunt.
“I am not going to get a Rodriguez for a guide,” Rodriguez said. “It’s probably a good thing, because going with any of them would be like any other day and would be too easy. Having a different guide will add a new mix to the experience. My family prefers the ‘drive up to the bottom of the hill, walk to the top and see what’s there’ method. The other guides at the hunt stalk and crawl over hills and through hayfields, which requires more effort.”
Rodriguez’s favorite part of hunting is the challenge of tracking and finding the animals and actually getting to shoot, especially the really big ones. She currently hunts with a rifle, but expects that she will take the bow up soon. Her husband and son have both gotten into bowhunting, so she is sure they will peer-pressure her into it.
“My 9-year-old is already pressuring me to get an elk,” Rodriguez said. “I told him that I need to shoot an antelope first and see how that goes before we start looking at anything bigger. He can’t get a license until he’s 12, but he is so excited and loves going with his dad.”
Rodriguez has met several people from previous years and is looking forward to seeing them again. The hunt brings in an interesting mix of people whom she looks forward to meeting. She wants to get an antelope, but that is not a guarantee. Having a good time is.
“I am anxious and really excited,” Rodriguez exclaimed. “I’m ready to get there and get started, get into the flow of things. Waiting is nerve-racking.”
According to the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt was founded to promote camaraderie and mentorship through hunting while raising awareness and funds for the foundation. It is the first event of its kind for women.
The idea originated when retired Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kite was hunting antelope with her sister-in-law, Karey Stebner. Kite said that the idea of an all-women’s antelope hunt was Stebner’s idea, and that she has worked to make it the success that it has become. Kite and Stebner shared the idea with friends, who approached the Wyoming Women’s Foundation to organize and host the event.
According to the general manager of the Ranch at Ucross, Eric Wilhelm, the Wyoming Women’s Foundation contacted hunt-booking agents Carl and CJ Brown of Outdoor Adventures Worldwide, looking for an outfitter who could put on a hunting event. The Browns approached Wilhelm and he started looking at the logistics of doing the event.
“We had some leftover tags in our area, which they don’t have in a lot of other parts of the state, which made it more feasible for it to take place here,” Wilhelm said. “Also, we have accommodations for the hunters. I don’t know what other areas they looked at throughout the state, but we were fortunate enough to get it.”
The Ranch at Ucross has been used as a base camp for the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt since the inaugural hunt in 2013.
“It gives us an opportunity to give back to the state through the (Wyoming Women’s) Foundation,” chief financial officer of Blair Hotels of Wyoming Tim O’Leary said.
The Wyoming Women’s Foundation makes grants to organizations that help Wyoming women and girls attain economic self-sufficiency; creates statewide awareness of the barriers to economic self-sufficiency; and supports systems change to eliminate those barriers.
The foundation celebrates hunting as part of Wyoming’s heritage — a tradition that is passed on from one generation to the next.
Hunters of all experience levels participate in the hunt, with emphasis on safe and responsible hunting. The event develops new hunters by offering scholarships and hunter education to women who otherwise may not get the opportunity to hunt. Teaching women to hunt can help them feed their families nutritious food, which fulfills the foundation’s mission.
The hunters are paired with conservation-minded guides and experienced women hunting partners, providing an opportunity for women to mentor or to be mentored while enjoying the thrill of the hunt with others. It gives women of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to network and develop new relationships.