A bill that would give 80 antelope licenses to a women’s hunt in northeast Wyoming is moving through the Legislature after a brief controversy surrounding the same number of licenses for an exclusive men’s hunt.
The Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt started in 2013 as a way to bring more women into hunting with an emphasis on mentoriship and raise money for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. The fall hunt near Ucross pairs dozens of new female hunters with veterans of the sport.
Each hunter applies for and draws a tag similar to other resident and nonresident hunters in the state. But last year, the women’s hunt organizers asked lawmakers to set aside 80 licenses to guarantee their hunt into the future.
“It would provide sustainability and certainty for us in being able to provide the event,” said Rebekah Smith, director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation. “Since it’s a coordinated event for 50 hunters, it’s hard for us to be nimble for where we offer the hunt. If we were to get the licenses it would allow us to be sure we could host the event each year.”
Another hunt, the Lander One Shot, already receives 80 licenses from the state each year. Only men are allowed on the teams, but women could be allowed to hunt with the past shooters, Carl Asbell, former president of the One Shot Club, told the Star-Tribune in April.
When the Women’s Foundation first asked for 80 tags in the 2016 legislative session, the bill failed.
It was raised again this year, and under the title Senate File 3, it passed through into the House.
But as the bill sat in a House committee, Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, amended it to say that instead of 80 tags for each hunt, the state should split the number, giving 40 to the men’s hunt and 40 to the women’s.
MacGuire questioned how much support a bill would have that gave 80 tags to an exclusive men’s hunt today, and he also wondered if it was fair to other resident and nonresident hunters when licenses are set aside for a specific event.
Smith, the women’s foundation director, said as their hunt grows, it will become more important for licenses to be set aside. Money from the hunt goes to the Women’s Foundation, which is a part of the Wyoming Community Foundation. The Community Foundation has given away more than $7 million to wildlife and conservation over the last five years.
“The reason for 80 is because current statute sets aside 80 for the Lander One Shot and it provides parity for the men’s hunt and women’s hunt,” Smith said. “We’re growing each year a bit, and we’re up to 50 hunters this year but we would like the flexibility to make sure we can grow with what we are able to get so we don’t have to come back and re-legislate.”
While the One Shot uses 24 licenses for its teams, the other 56 tags go to past shooters who attend the event.
Some of the tags are in hard-to-draw areas, which is why the Legislature voted to set aside the licenses in 1979, Asbell said.
Without the 80 tags, the hunt couldn’t happen, he added. The bulk of the proceeds from the hunt go to Water for Wildlife, a conservation group under the Lander One Shot that builds water tanks for wildlife in Wyoming and other states.
The exclusivity of the One Shot in areas that are hard to draw licenses has created controversy in the past, including during this year’s legislative session.
But many legislators defended giving the women’s hunt the requested 80 licenses and leaving the One Shot as it stands.
Some defended the One Shot and the money the hunt gives back to helping wildlife. Others said Wyoming has plenty of antelope.
The Senate added an amendment to specify that the licenses would be offered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department only if the numbers were sustainable by the herds.
MacGuire’s amendment to split the number of licenses ultimately failed, but the original bill, to give the women’s hunt 80 tags, passed on first and second reading. It will go before the House this week on final reading and if it passes, head to the governor for a signature.
“We’ve been grateful for the support we’ve had,” Smith said. “It could certainly be a great thing for the women’s antelope hunt, and what we hope will be a longstanding tradition for antelope and women here.”