By CHRISTINE PETERSON | Casper Star-Tribune
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Betsy Peterson shot her first mule deer outside of Casper with her husband and 5-month old daughter. It didn't seem strange, bringing the infant into the field. Peterson had a mule deer tag and mouths to feed.
“She was quiet. I think it was chilly, and we had her bundled up and she slept,” she said. “My husband covered her ears when I shot.”
Some other hunters drove by on the family's way back to their car and commented on the baby in tow.
“That's the way to do it,” they said.
Hunting was natural for Peterson, 37. She grew up chasing pheasants in Minnesota with her dad, uncle, brothers, sister and cousins. The family hunted deer every year, but Peterson didn't find one until 2005, shortly after she moved to Wyoming.
Like most women, she'd generally hunted with other men. That was until this fall. Peterson and four other Casper women went on an all-ladies hunt into the Snowy Range with two bull elk tags and a cow moose license between them.
The female trip was so remarkable to an elderly mutual friend, the 85-year-old woman insisted the ladies receive some publicity.
While women are certainly still the minority carrying guns in the field, their numbers are climbing, according to recent statistics.
Women applying for hunting licenses in Wyoming increased 12.65 percent between 2008 and 2013, from 11,202 to 12,620. The number of male hunters actually decreased by 2.46 percent during the same time period from 64,750 to 63,157.
“Across the state we are seeing more women take hunter education to become eligible to get a hunting license,” said Tristanna Bickford, conservation education coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “What we hear is that women feel that hunting is a great way to spend time as a family and an important means to feed their families.”
Peterson and her friends did field some questions from men and women skeptical of their hunt. Some wondered about the women alone in the woods, others worried about how they would handle an elk or moose once it was killed. She also thought considered the difficulty in heaving one of the animals onto a truck trailer.
Even though she's hunted for years, her family still sees it as unique.
“When I talk to my dad and uncle, they look forward to hearing about when I get something and they are more impressed if I get something than my husband,” Peterson told the Casper Star-Tribune.
She likes to be able to put meat in the freezer to help feed their four kids, and enjoys any chance to be outside, she said.
Cindy Phegley agrees. The 58-year-old runs a daycare in Casper and has hunted for the last 18 years. She went to Jackson earlier on a hunt, but didn't look for anything herself. Her late husband then reintroduced herto the sport.
Since then she's shot two moose and pronghorn.
She thinks more women would hunt if they had the confidence to start.
Programs are popping up around the state to help women begin hunting who may not have a husband, father or uncle to guide them. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a program called Forever Wild Families that encourages and enables families to hunt together.
“A significant aspect of our work is to offer social support for women and families that are interested in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. We hope by building this community folks will see others like them doing these activities and feel comfortable engaging at various levels,” said Tasha Sorensen, hunter and angler recruitment, retention and reactivation coordinator.
The Wyoming Women's Foundation, a part of the Wyoming Community Foundation, runs an antelope hunt each year near Ucross in northern Wyoming only for women. It started in 2013, and continues to draw first time hunters.
Riverton hunter Christie Wildcat, 16, was the youngest participant at the women's hunt this year. She killed her buck pronghorn with one shot on the first day.
Her whole family hunts, even her mom, she said. Most of her friends also hunt.
“I was one of the only ones who never really hunted,” she said. “They said try it at least once and tell us if you like it.”
She does. And hopes to try for a mule deer this year before the season closes.
It's just not that strange for women to hunt anymore, she said.
“The doors are opening a lot more and a lot more women are getting in there and participating in hunting,” Wildcat said. “The Wyoming Women's Antelope Hunt is a good way to start out.”