Wyoming Women’s Foundation Delivers Hope for the Future

This inspiring event is all about education, conservation and all-American values.

by posted on December 29, 2022
WYW 1334
From left: the author, guide Fred Williams and hunt participant Carol Bethea

Last February I got to know Susan and Doug Samuelson of Wyoming through Hayden Outdoors Real Estate when my husband, Phil, and I sold them a Texas ranch. As is often the case, one thing leads to another with new friends, and before I knew it, Susan was inviting me to learn more about the Wyoming Women’s Foundation (WYWF) and be part of her team at its 10th Annual Women’s Antelope Hunt near Buffalo, Wyo., Oct. 6-9. I assumed the event was the counterpart to the state’s decades-old annual men’s One-Shot Antelope Hunt, but Susan said it was even better. While it also involved team competition, the focus was on recruiting, mentoring and empowering new hunters and investing in the economic self-sufficiency of women and girls throughout the Cowboy State. Count me in.

As one of five members on Samuelson’s Warren Ranch Team, I joined of 45 other hunters to register at the host facility, The Ranch at Ucross, situated in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. I liked how we were issued Mardi Gras-style necklaces—red beads for the experienced hunter, blue for a first-time hunter and pink for a past WYWF hunt participant, or a “sister of the sage”—partly to aid newcomers in knowing who they could go to with questions. As WYWF and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) staff welcomed us, WYWF Director Bekah Hazelton shared how the hunt specifically promoted hunter safety, hunting, land ethics and conservation, sharing that its success was thanks to WYWF members who so wanted to share their love of hunting that they asked themselves where they could get enough leftover hunting licenses to host a group of women all in one spot.

The Warren Ranch team flanked by team sponsors Doug Samuelson (far left) and Susan Samuelson (far right), who have sponsored the event as well as a team since the antelope hunt's inception. Along with First Lady Jennie Gordon and Gov. Mark Gordon, they are the only ones to sponsor the event all 10 years.

Instead of pairing up with teammates, seasoned hunters were paired with new or less-experienced hunters. My hunting partner, Carol Bethea, who represented platinum sponsor Magpul, took her first game animal at the 2021 event. As our small world goes, we were assigned to volunteer guide Fred Williams, Wyoming director for the First Hunt Foundation. I had become acquainted with Fred when the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF) presented his group with a grant for its work in creating first hunts for youth across America. Fred asked Phil to join us and help spot … and help drag or field-dress a buck if needed. There were many ways to invest in the hunt.

The next morning, Fred reviewed shooting fundamentals with Carol over a quick dry-fire session. I said she’d be up first, enjoying watching her self-confidence grow alongside Fred. Mentoring was what the event was all about, so any shot opportunity for me would be a bonus. After Carol’s first stalk fell through, she took a nice antelope midday at 200 yards, then watched me stalk a buck with my Nosler in the last hour of shooting light.

This was some community event as we pulled into the ranch’s parking lot watching residents funnel into the tent for the annual Friday Night Auction supporting the WYWF mission. Successful hunters stopped at the ranch gate to check in their bucks and pose for a souvenir photo. Like Carol and many others, I’d donated an auction item and enjoyed bidding during the live auction, though outbidding tablemates Susan and Doug Samuelson for a good cause was no easy feat. Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon and Gov. Mark Gordon, who did their fair share of bidding, went on stage amid rounds of applause to recognize all involved and proclaim the weekend “Wyoming’s Commitment to Conservation and Equality Days” in honor of the event. 

For those who were tagged out, the next day offered more ways to build skills and foster an understanding of why we hunt and what drives us to the outdoor life. Activities included archery, trap shooting, DIY game processing workshops and a wild game cooking demo. But with The Ranch beautifully situated along the river, I chose to broaden my spinner-fishing horizons at a flyfishing clinic run by Joey Puettman of Joey’s Flyfishing Foundation in Sheridan, which for 15 years has helped youth find confidence and empowerment through fishing. Activities carried on that family reunion atmosphere as bonds were renewed in anticipation of what came next. Goodwill was an intangible asset, but you could reach out and touch it here.

At Saturday’s awards banquet, every hunter, guide, landowner, sponsor and volunteer were recognized. Signifying the event’s importance, volunteers outnumbered the hunters. The Goddess of the Hunt award recognized new hunters who took their first game animal; the Annie Oakley award commended those who fired only one shot; and the Super Stalker award championed the stealth woman who fired the closest shot. A major highlight was the presentation of the Founder’s Cup. Recognizing hunter prowess and ethics, it went to the team that best closed the distance to its quarry—not easy when you’re up against the continent’s fastest animal that also had the best eyesight. The top team is determined by averaging the shooting distances of the two members per team who fired the closest shots. The winner: our Warren Ranch team, thanks to teammates JoAnn Skeim-True and Roxy Garaventa, whose shots averaged just over 100 yards. It was the first time Warren Ranch won, but while I’d like to think this first-timer brought the luck, it wasn’t me who fired one of the shots. But both Roxy and I won guns in the raffle.

Camaraderie was bolstered over opportunities to talk with WYWF members who were also community leaders, including: the Honorable Marilyn Kite, one of the event’s “founding mothers,” who in 2000 was the first woman appointed to Wyoming’s Supreme Court, later serving as Chief Justice; First Lady Jennie Gordon, who previously managed operations at Merlin Ranch, the Gordon family’s cow-calf and heifer development operation; and State Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Dist. 8), co-chair of the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus.

Covering every imaginable base, the WYWF also offers scholarships to attend each year. The 11 recipients for 2022 included a single mom, a military veteran and a young hunter with a life-threatening illness. This is thanks to WYWF women like the late Shelley Simonton, who served on the WYWF Advisory Board until passing away from melanoma in 2017. Shelley’s Fund ensures single mothers and women of diverse incomes are included. This generosity is also seen in Keith Geis, who launched the Ride the Range bike ride challenge to support WYWF’s Women Veterans Empowerment Fund.

Fittingly, the evening finished off with Hazelton and Alex Shannon, WYWF Communication and Event Coordinator, thanking everyone a final time and sharing their personal journeys into hunting. Cementing that atmosphere of sisterhood was a reminder of how we all needed a mentor to get here. Newcomers were happy over fulfilling their potential as hunters, while event supporters found joy in giving back.

As for the women of the WYWF, they gave credit to those around them—to the landowners, to the outfitter Ucross Outfitting, the guides, volunteers and sponsors. Landowners like the Gordons and Samuelsons, the two ranches that have participated in the program all 10 years, gave credit to other landowners, the guides and volunteers. The outfitters and guides gave credit to the WYWF and the landowners. As a testament to the cumulative effort of this event, no single individual or group took credit. In the meantime, the hunt continues to reduce barriers to entry into hunting, providing mentorship opportunities and raising funds for the WYWF, which leverages funding through an endowment to give it all back. It’s because, as Susan Samuelson said, “A person has a life-changing experience, whether she harvests or not, because one seemingly little snippet will change someone’s life.”

Yes, sometimes we all need a sage sister—a mentor on a hunt or in life. As for returning hunters who were now sisters of the sage, First Lady Jennie was on Susan’s team that first year and was so inspired that she decided to sponsor a team in addition to sharing her land. When the First Lady and Kite were recognized for being the two hunters who had hunted all 10 years, Kite said, “It’s because it’s more than the hunt. It’s the friendships you develop when someone takes a step to encourage—and it’s a very Wyoming way to put food on the table.” And there’s nothing like it in the country.

According to WYWF Communications and Event Coordinator Alex Shannon, the event drew a record 46 hunters from 13 states, 16 of whom hunted for the first time, with 41 hunters taking an antelope. And of those 41 antelope, 19 were harvested with a single shot and 17 were donated to Wyoming’s Food from the Field program, a partnership between First Lady Gordon’s noted Wyoming Hunger Initiative to “stomp out hunger” and game processors, the WGFD and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to facilitate game meat donations to food pantries. I’m proud to say that the NRA, through the NRA HLF, supports the Wyoming program and Hunters for the Hungry programs in all 50 states with an annual grant. As for the “stomp out hunger” scarf many women wore at the weekend banquets, it created by First Lady Gordon as a fundraising item. None were for sale there so Susan took off hers and put it around my neck. Generosity comes in many forms with this group.

Hunt participant Carol Bethea

The level of happiness and enthusiasm I witnessed was all thanks to the WYWF, the guides, landowners, volunteers and sponsors who share a passion for something so meaningful that they want to offer it on a silver platter to the rest of us. It’s why one young hunter told me, “I can’t thank my parents enough for bringing me.” No wonder everyone leaves making plans for next year. And no wonder both the Gordons and the Samuelsons shared that other states want to use the event as a model to launch similar programs.

As my hunting partner Carol said, it’s because underneath it all, “we’re all red, white and blue—and camo.” This event is all about education, conservation and all-American values. And then there is First Lady Jennie Gordon and Gov. Gordon. I’ve met a handful of dignitaries through the years, but few were as genuine and welcoming to the point they inspired me to want to move to their state.

For more information on the WYWF, which has been going strong since 1999, or participating in its annual hunt as a hunter, volunteer, landowner, donor or sponsor, contact the WYWF’s Alex Shannon at [email protected]  These women act with great expectations as they donate their time and energy to make a difference. What they all have in common is a humble heart and concern over the welfare of others. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?



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