SHERIDAN — Samantha Eliason embodies the sharp contrasts many would assume go along with living the life a modern Wyoming teenage girl. She enjoys shopping, but revels in watching the sun rise while waiting to take down her next buck. She routinely has her nails pampered, but knows how to field dress an antelope.
The 14-year-old Sheridan Junior High School student has been hunting for years. One of her first kills came when she was 10, hunting in Kansas.
“I remember, we were in a blind, about 20 minutes before sunset…and I saw this huge doe,” Eliason said. “I shot it. One shot. It dropped and I ran over with the biggest smile.”
Eliason’s preparation began long before that first hunt and included a path much longer than the 14-hour car ride to Kansas. The teen has been tagging along with her dad, Pete, since she was a toddler. As she grew, she began practicing shooting — often at a family ranch near Banner — and later at the Sheridan County Sportsmen’s Association. She also spent time hiking, getting her legs used to the treks required of hunting.
In an era full of distractions, though, Eliason said she enjoys hunting for a number of reasons.
“You can like go out — me and my dad are really close — so we’d go out, see the sunrise and it’s just peaceful, instead of being on my phone or waking up and watching TV,” Eliason said. “I can actually go enjoy nature.”
While Eliason has always been close with her dad, the sport has brought them closer. Her mother, Collette, also hunts and Eliason’s younger sister has also started tagging along.
Hunting and hiking — the quiet serenity and waiting — lend themselves to deeper, meaningful conversations that help strengthen relationships.
In addition to spending time with her family, Eliason said hunting helps keep her away from some of the normal teenage drama. Her family has a rule, the only time they are on their phones while hunting is to take pictures. They aren’t allowed to use social media on their treks.
According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, between 2008 and 2016, female resident hunters went from 11,189 to 14,770. Male resident hunters during the same period dropped slightly from 64,649 to 64,371. But at the national level, statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2016, just 10 percent of hunters were women. And of the total U.S. population ages 16 and older, only 1 percent of females hunted in 2016.
Eliason said sometimes hunting can be intimidating and she feels like she has to “step it up,” which could be keeping more women and girls from learning the sport. Eliason’s mother also noted that it can be a little scary if you feel unprepared.
“That’s why you shoot so much, and myself when I get into it, you want to really practice a lot because you don’t want to just injure the animal,” Collette Eliason said. “You want a clean shot to kill it so it’s not hurting. …Our conscious is our guide and it’s scary to go out and make sure it’s in the right setting.”
But Samantha Eliason — who often competes with her family and friends during hunting season — said she hopes more people, especially women and girls, take an interest in hunting. Other organizations have similar hopes and have helped boost the number of female hunters in the state.
Earlier this year, Kathy Lundberg — the assistant women’s activities director for the Sheridan County Sportsmen’s Association — helped the organization earn an $8,000 grant from the National Rifle Association for a women’s shooting sports program. She has since organized classes for women in Sheridan County, including one set for today.
In addition, the Wyoming Women’s Foundation started the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt in 2013 as a way to increase awareness about issues impacting economic self-sufficiency for women in Wyoming and to raise funds for the nonprofit’s mission.
Eliason — who has hunted in a number of states for a number of different species — emphasized the joy in overcoming the challenges of of the sport and how proud she is to know she’s so capable. She hopes her enthusiasm will set an example for others. She even has a business plan in the works with her dad to highlight her adventures.
She hopes to show that anybody is capable of anything.
“I don’t care if it’s hunting or just the adventure outdoors,” Eliason said. “But if a 14-year-old girl can get up at five in the morning before school with homework and sports and everything, anyone can do anything.”
As hunting season gets into full swing this weekend, Eliason will balance the teenage urge to sleep in with the reward she knows awaits in the field.