WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Longtime Supreme Court Justice Imparts Outdoor Expertise to Beginners
Former Chief Justice Marilyn Kite helped start a shooting sisterhood with Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Oct 11, 2023
Marilyn Kite poses with an antelope she brought down during the annual Women's Antelope Hunt. Kite is an avid hunter and a former Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming Women's Foundation)
By Elizabeth Sampson
Special to the Wyoming Truth
This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of shots participants can take at the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt on October 11, 2023 as of 1:30 p.m. MT.
You could say the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt started with a bang—the loud crack of a smooth shot by Marilyn Kite as she brought down an antelope in a single shot.
“An antelope started walking toward us, and it just kept getting closer,” Karey Stebner, Kite’s sister-in-law, recalled. “Marilyn just had a beautiful shot and dropped it.”
That evening around their campfire, Stebner told Kite that she should form a team of women hunters and enter the long-running Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt. When Kite pointed out the hunt was only for men, Stebner suggested they start one for women.
From that kernel of an idea in 2010, Kite, of Laramie, joined forces with Lynn Boomgaarden, then director of the office of State Lands and Investments, and organized the first antelope hunt for women in 2013.
The Wyoming Women’s Foundation runs the now-annual hunt, which starts tomorrow and continues through Oct. 15 at the Ranch at Ucross, in partnership with corporate sponsors and other organizations. The event pairs novices with experienced women hunters and a professional hunting guide. Participants spend two days stalking their prey and learning the art of the hunt; they are allowed as many shots as they need to get the antelope.
Kite, 76, is famous in Wyoming for being the first woman to serve on the state’s supreme court and the first woman selected to be the court’s chief justice. But for women who have been lucky enough to hunt with her, she is known as a great shot, a lively companion and a supportive ally.
There can be a lot of pressure on first-time hunters at the antelope hunt, but Kite reassures them that missing a shot is OK.
“She’s just so fun—she’s real encouraging,” said Stebner, who has been hunting with Kite since the mid-1970s. “. . . She’s always supportive if it’s a good shot, and if it’s a miss, she just dismisses it like it’s not a big deal.”
Kite remembers one year when she and two guides shared stories of their hunts with a first-time hunter.
“[The woman] said later what a great opportunity that was and how much she enjoyed it, because we laughed at all our mistakes and laughed at the shots we didn’t get,” Kite said. “It helps take the pressure off new hunters. You haven’t hunted if you haven’t missed a shot.”
A childhood outdoors
Kite’s hunting experience began during her childhood in Laramie, when she went bird hunting with her dad and two brothers. But it wasn’t until right after college that she started big game hunting for elk, deer and moose.
“I had always had the benefit of wild meat and fish from my dad and my brothers, and that became a way of feeling that you were really connected with the state and the great outdoors,” Kite said.
Family has played an important role in Kite’s hunting experience, and she has fond memories of hunting with her safety-focused father.
“He never started a hunt without a very lengthy and sometimes dramatic safety lecture,” Kite recalled. “We all would take it very seriously, and stand and listen to every word, and think about how horrible it would be to have an accident. How we would never want to endanger anybody. We still carry on that tradition long after he passed away. And we never had an accident.”
Still, Kite acknowledged hunts are never predictable. One October, her family was hunting at the top of the Sierra Madres, when, suddenly, an epic blizzard settled in. They considered leaving their tents and supplies behind, but managed to get themselves, their horses and their belongings safely out in time.
Kite’s dad hosted an annual antelope and bird hunting trip for family and friends.
“It was very much a family camping adventure that brought with it the excitement and the satisfaction and the enjoyment of the meat we would bring home,” she said.
The family often hunted in Wyoming’s Red Desert, a vast space with little to hide behind.
“It’s hard, because it’s flat, and animals can see a long ways,” Kite said. “My dad’s advice was to make sure you get out and get set up as fast as you can, because you’re going to have 10 seconds to get the shot off. That was a bit of a surprise to some of my guides at the antelope hunt, because there’s a lot more stalking of the antelope. The topography is so different in that area of Wyoming. It’s a lot more up and down and hillsides, and you can sneak up closer to the animals than you could out in the desert.”
Sporting chief justice
While Kite spent her free time in the field, her professional life played out in court. She graduated from the University of Wyoming Law School in 1974, took a job with the Wyoming Attorney General’s office, and went into private practice with Holland Hart in 1978, where she focused on natural resources law.
In 2000, when there was an opening on the state’s supreme court, friends, colleagues and family — including her brother, who was a district judge in Rawlins — urged Kite to apply. If chosen, she would be the first woman justice on Wyoming’s high court.
Former Gov. Jim Geringer selected Kite from three applicants. She served as chief justice from 2010-2014, and retired in 2015. Kite said there are some correlations to practicing law and hunting—or anything that involves competition.
“If something interests you, you’ve got to take the steps to develop the skills to be able to do it,” she said.
Depending on which licenses she obtains, Kite usually hunts two or three times a year, almost always in Wyoming. She has hunted in Texas, including a guided turkey hunt with her son, Gus, that she bought at the Women’s Antelope Hunt auction. In retirement, Kite plans to do more bird and elk hunting—and continue to soak up the life lessons that hunting teaches.
“Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t—and it’s OK,” she said. “You’re not going to ever get a shot unless you get out there and try and take the risk and do the work. Sight your gun in and make sure you practice shooting. Sometimes you gotta move kind of quickly. A lot of times you’ve got to have a lot of patience to just get set up but, you’re not going to get that opportunity if you’re not prepared.”