Each year, hunters across Wyoming wait for results from their big game license applications. Depending on the species and area, a hunter’s chance of drawing his or her desired license could be 100 percent or as low as 1 or 2 percent.
But some licenses, even the most prized, are a guarantee. Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioners each receive eight to donate to a worthy nonprofit of their choosing. Licenses are also given to hunters with disabilities and the National Bow Hunt. And 80 are apportioned each year to the Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt, a male-only shoot in Lander said to be the longest-running invitational hunt in the country.
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Some Equality State sportsmen are beginning to question how complimentary licenses are distributed, saying a public resource such as antelope licenses shouldn’t be given to groups that cater to only one gender, race or other defining factor.
Lander One Shot organizers, on the other hand, say their hunt is steeped in decades of tradition and the proceeds go to local and regional conservation work.
And it’s those licenses – the ones given to groups and mandated by law – that Wyoming legislators will discuss Monday in Greybull at the upcoming Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee meeting.
“We want an update on who gets them, what they do with them, what the value is of them to the state,” said Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander. “Maybe there will be a bill drafted, maybe not.”
The Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt started in 1939 outside Lander as a way to honor the Shoshone tradition of shooting an antelope with one arrow, said Carl Asbell, board member and former president of the One Shot Club.
Since then, it’s grown to host dozens of well-connected male participants, including governors from about 30 states, actors such as Roy Rogers and Peter Fonda and almost 20 astronauts. Wyoming’s past 15 governors have also participated, including Gov. Matt Mead.
The bulk of the proceeds raised at the hunt go to Water for Wildlife, which builds water tanks for animals in Wyoming and 11 other states and South Africa. Money also goes to projects in Lander including the new Lander Community Center and restoration of the Middle fork of the Popo Agie River.
Generally, eight teams of three shoot in the contest, and the other 56 licenses are given to past shooters who come to the event.
Some of the licenses, such as the resident and nonresident ones in area 65, have extremely low drawing odds for the general public. The chance of a nonresident hunter drawing a tag in area 65, for example, is between 2 and 4 percent. It’s because of the low odds that the Legislature voted to set aside licenses in 1979.
Jason Hunter, Lander wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the tags are extras, and if the hunt didn’t receive them, they wouldn’t necessarily go into the pool of available licenses.
And without the tags, Asbell said, the hunt couldn’t happen.
“That would be the end of all three organizations, including Water for Wildlife,” he said.
Groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers aren’t opposed to events like the Lander One Shot — they just want to see parity in complimentary licenses, said Jessi Johnson, board member for the Wyoming chapter of the sportsmen’s group.
“Wyoming Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ask that if organizations receive and utilize complimentary licenses that we do so in a manner that is inclusive, holds with fair chase concepts and promotes good sportsmanship and wildlife stewardship to all levels of hunters regardless of tradition, be it men, women, or youth,” Johnson said.
It is tradition that prevents women from participating in the Lander One Shot competition, Asbell said. Historically, members of the Shoshone tribe who participated in the hunt’s ceremonies required the hunt itself be only for men. Those participants have since changed over to new ones, and while Asbell isn’t sure if the new tribal members still require only men hunt, the tradition of male tribal members hunting for food remains.
It’s so strict, in fact, that if Wyoming elects another female governor, she would be asked to choose a man to shoot in her place, Asbell said. She would still be asked to co-host, however, and join the festivities surrounding the hunt.
“There are a lot of women volunteers that are in our organization that help support our hunt and put the hunt festivities together,” he said. “Our executive director is a woman.”
Allen, the Lander legislator, is also chairman of the Travel and Recreation Legislature committee that plans to discuss complimentary licenses. The committee will talk about the One Shot, he said, and also the other licenses offered.
But in terms of whether another group should receive licenses, Allen said: “If somebody comes to us with an idea for a bill, there’s a lot of filters I run through: Is it constitutional? Is it good for the constituents? What is the public benefit? The One Shot in my mind checked all those boxes.”
Allen did not support legislation this year that would have given the women’s antelope hunt 80 tags because the area near Ucross where the hunt takes place has a 100 percent success rate for licenses, he told the Star-Tribune in March.
Gov. Matt Mead’s spokesman, David Bush, said in an emailed statement that the governor supports both the One Shot and the Women’s Hunt and will be following the legislative committee’s discussion.
For sportsmen like Johnson, it’s not about the state giving licenses to two hunts — it’s about not excluding any one group from a public resource like hunting licenses.
“This is neither a women- or men- or organization-specific stance,” she said. “If you get state issued licenses, it should be fair and equal.”