Bighorn Basin Hunting Program Focuses On Kids And Women

Sep 27, 2019

In the last decade, hunting has decreased in popularity nationally. While the downward trend is not as drastic in Wyoming, the Game and Fish Department is still worried about the future. That's because hunting and fishing license fees and federal excise taxes make up about 75 percent of the commission's budget. But a First Hunt program in the Bighorn Basin hopes to stabilize that revenue.

On a hot morning on a private ranch just south west of Meeteetse two people are crouched down in tall grass.

"Don't take the shot unless I say there's your shot opportunity," Fred Williams whispered to Isaac Stensing.

Williams mentored 13-year old Isaac for his first hunt. Isaac wore bright orange hat and vest. He lifted his rifle up to his face. After a couple of minutes, he shoots.

Once Williams gave his mom, Katie and me a thumbs up, we walked towards the hunters.

"So I think Isaac made a good shot but we just need to assume that there's a follow up shot needed so we're going to walk up," said Williams.

Fred Williams, Isaac and Katie Stensing stalk a white-tailed doe.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

As we approached the white tailed doe, Williams observed the animal.

Katie whispered to Isaac, "You did it, huh?" He replied in affirmative, softly.

"Awesome shot," said Williams. "The deer died instantly."

Isaac had a huge smile on his face, but he didn't say much.

"How did you feel when you shot?" asked Katie. "I don't know," replied Isaac. "I didn't really feel anything."

But the hunt isn't over. The gory part is about to start.

"What we're going to ultimately do is take the meat off the bones and put the meat in the game bag and put it in your cooler," explained Williams as he rummaged around his pack for his knife.

A little while after, Katie took a turn and harvests her own deer.

This is the First Hunt program in the Bighorn Basin. Katie and Isaac are two of the dozen first-time hunters that will be taught and mentored. Participants will hopefully harvest their first animal like Katie and Isaac did.

"The First Hunt program was a perfect storm of access to appropriate hunting opportunities and mentors that wanted to help people learn how to hunt," said Kathryn Boswell, the hunter and angler participation coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

"We're developing a program to teach people how to be mentors with the hope that they will go home and develop a mentoring program that really fits the needs for their community," said Boswell. "In one part of Wyoming that might be turkeys, in another it might be antelope or pronghorn. It might be deer. It might pheasants."

Only children aged 12 to 17 and adult women can apply. Boswell said there's a reason for this.

"We are gaining many more hunters in our old age class, 65 and up, then we are gaining in our younger age class 12 to 17," she said. "And when we compare those numbers, we are losing about 300 hunters a year and as those Baby Boomers age we need to replace those hunters."

Fred Williams takes a photo of Isaac and Katie with Isaac's doe.
Credit Kamila Kudelska

This is important because every hunting and angler license goes to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission's budget. So losing hunters could mean not enough money to fund the department. Boswell said in the last decade the number of men that have bought a hunting license has decreased while the number women have bought has surged.

"Moms are great new hunters in that they decide what goes on the table, how weekends are spent, and often time how the budget is spent, so when we reach out to moms we know that we can bring some hunters along and more than just the mom," Boswell said.

Back at the private ranch, Isaac finished field dressing and harvesting the meat of his white tailed doe. As we relaxed in the cool warehouse, Katie talked about growing up in Minnesota. Nobody in her immediate family hunted. But then she got married and her in-laws were really into hunting. And after a while her husband even picked it up.

"I always say I'm very Snow White about it just because it's easy to see it as injuring, killing animals. Obviously, I wouldn't be here doing this if that was my mindset," said Katie. "For me it's providing for my family."

Providing food for the table is a huge hook for new hunters. Nationally, there's a movement to eat more locally and to know where your food is coming from. Katie said that's a huge part of why she thought she should try hunting. But it's also about something else.

"It's super fun to do this with my son. I'm super proud of him getting his first doe, and I'm honored to be there to watch it and be part of it."

Isaac agreed, "That's why I took my hunter safety course so I could hunt with the dad, my grandpa and my mom."

And it puts food on the table because after it's all said and done, Katie and Isaac to home to his two younger brothers and dad with a lot of meat.

"What are you going to cook?," I asked Isaac. "Probably burgers," he replied.

And just like that Katie and Isaac are two new hunters in Wyoming. Game and Fish hopes they'll pass the tradition down.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.