Women Reflect on First-Time Hunting Experiences at Antelope Hunt
Annual event teaches hunting skills, promotes friendship
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Oct 21, 2023
Leah Longiduce, guide in training, hunter Dolores Vallejos and guide Mike Longbottom stop to watch the eclipse during the Wyoming Women's Antelope Hunt on Oct. 14. (Photo by Steven Girt)
By Carrie Haderlie
Special to the Wyoming Truth
A photo caption has been corrected to reflect the hunter pictured as of October 23, 2023 at 9 a.m. Mountain.
“One shot, Holly. One shot,” Holly Butler, a 50-year-old retired combat veteran and first-time hunter, told herself when she had an antelope in her sights.
Butler was prepared. In the past few months, she had secured a scholarship to the annual Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, hosted by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation on Oct. 12 to 15. She’d taken a hunter’s education course through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. She’d traveled from Lander to the Ranch at Ucross, where 45 hunters from across the country convened for a weekend of skill building, camaraderie and celebration.
So last Friday, after an adventure with a broken-down truck, an ATV, her hunting guide Eric Wilhelm of Ucross Outfitting, LLC, and hunting partner Maria Bakic, Butler was ready to take the shot.
“The only thing that was going on in my mind at that time was that this had to be an ethical, clean shot,” Butler told the Wyoming Truth after the hunt. “He was beautiful; he was majestic looking. I do not want him to suffer.”
Butler cleared her mind, took a breath and squeezed the trigger. The antelope took three steps and went down.
“It was a rush of emotion,” she recalled. “All the adrenaline, the relief and the celebration, but a little bit sad because I’d just killed an animal, something so beautiful. But [something] that is going on the table for my family.”
Butler, who retired to the Lander area in 2015 with her husband and three sons, owns land on the Wind River Reservation, has a hemp growing license and hopes to develop a farmstead. The hunt and the chance to learn the associated skills, she said, came at the perfect time.
“Some people see [hunting] as a sport, but for me, personally, this is a way of life,” said Butler, who wants to become self-sufficient and self-sustaining, while respecting the land. “My husband and I both have seen war. After this hunt, I feel like I am healing, mentally, and in my heart and my soul. I needed this.”
A hunt for women, by women
Bekah Smith Hazelton, director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, said 33 of the 45 participants harvested an antelope during the 11th annual event. All hunters procured Type One antelope licenses good for any antelope, but due to an historic winter kill last year, they were encouraged to only take bucks to allow females to repopulate.
The hunt is designed to foster a love for hunting and the outdoors, while also raising funds for the Foundation to promote economic self-sufficiency for women and create opportunities for girls. Participants received training on shooting, harvesting and processing from mentors and guides.
“We want each hunter to have a really quality, personalized experience,” Hazelton said, adding that women are paired with roommates and hunt partners who may share their life experiences. “We’re trying to be matchmakers, to set up potential ongoing relationships that don’t stop at the end of the hunt weekend.”
Women, Hazelton said, can be intimidated to hunt, or maybe haven’t been invited to hunt. The event is designed to be inclusive and supportive: the recognition banquet doesn’t focus on the biggest antelope or the first antelope taken. Instead, it recognizes women who get closest to the antelope before taking the harvest.
“It is not pressuring people into being really fast or only taking a trophy,” Hazelton said. “It is more about really finding a good shot, taking your time … that also reinforces a more supportive environment.”
Dolores Vallejos, 28, a first-time hunter from Cheyenne, won a spot at the event through her employer HF Sinclair. Because of an impending winter storm, she drove from Cheyenne to Buffalo a day early.
“I just started crying the second I saw the scenery and the views,” Vallejos said of the Bighorns. “It was just a realization that I really needed this, the view and the beauty and the limited amount of people there. It was amazing.”
Last Friday, she left the safety on her gun when an antelope was within her sights. The gun failed, the antelope ran off and Vallejos’s group called it a day. Last Saturday, Vallejos, who is Cherokee and Navajo, heard ringing in her ears.
“There’s a [Native American] story that when you hear ringing in your ears, it’s because someone is trying to talk to you. I remember sitting, thinking, ‘OK, I’m listening,’” Vallejos said.
Coming upon a group of about 20 does and two or three bucks on a u-bend hillside, Vallejos set up her firearm. Her guide said she had less than five seconds before the animal would run, so she took her shot.
“At this point he runs past us. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I missed that shot’,” Vallejos recalled.
Because of the landscape, it only looked as though the antelope had run off.
“I had thought that I hadn’t hit him at all. Both of the guides thought I had missed him. But I finally realized that I had just taken a life,” Vallejos said. “As we were stalking up the hill to this kill, I kept hearing ringing in my ears. As we kept getting closer, the ringing kept getting more vibrant. But the second I took a shot, the ringing stopped.”
Though Vallejos had hunted with family friends in the past, she had never shot a firearm herself.
“The patience it took [the guides] to teach someone who had never shot a gun before … you can start from the bare minimum, and they are there to support you,” she said. “I can’t say it enough, how grateful I am.”
No antelope, but so much more
Jean Baum, 66, a retired dental hygienist from Buffalo, also was a first-time hunter. She said the hunt helped her gain confidence in using the firearms she once feared and taught her to hunt in a safe environment.
Baum came within 61 yards of an antelope on her assigned hunt day. But her guides told her not to shoot: A doe stood behind the buck.
Baum took a breath and both antelope ran—the only ones the group saw that day. Essentially, she had chosen not to shoot to allow the females to repopulate after a harsh winter.
“I had to say to myself, ‘Are you going to be OK taking an animal while the numbers are down?’’ Baum said, who felt empowered by her decision. “Our permits were for any animals, but learning about conservation … it was helpful for me to understand that perspective.”
Nonetheless, working with a rifle and hitting targets during practice sessions was a transformational experience for Baum.
“I had been looking for a safe environment [to learn to hunt], so knowing I was going to be OK with these people [was] life changing,” Baum said. “… So I didn’t harvest an animal, but I came out of there with so much more.”