As mornings and evenings deliver dipping temperatures, the first leaves begin to acquire a golden hue, and the peaks boast their first dustings of snow, Wyomingites know it means one thing: hunting season is near. Hunting has long been core to our state’s heritage; not only does it feed countless families across the state, but also empowers community members to connect to the landscape, develop their own sense of confidence and self-reliance, and form life-changing relationships with those who they hunt alongside.
The First Hunt Foundation, an organization that offers programming across the West, has a Wyoming chapter that is dedicated to fostering deeper understanding of and enthusiasm for hunting, especially among young people and women across the state.
“Our mission at the First Hunt Foundation is to save hunting as part of our heritage,” explains Fred Williams, the Wyoming State Director for the nonprofit. “But with that mission, it does a number of things similar to a Big Brother/Big Sister program. The whole idea is to develop a relationship between the mentor and the participant, so that they have long-term support, and they develop confidence and self-sufficiency in the outdoors. It’s not just about harvesting animals; it’s about experiencing the outdoors and loving it for what it is.”
Through mentoring and educational programming, First Hunt Foundation empowers people who may not have otherwise had an entry point into hunting. In addition to many young participants, the foundation empowers a significant number of women to access the sport. “We have organic mentoring where people know others that want to get into the outdoors and they just don't have that opportunity. They know these people through their church, or social networks, or such. Then we do structured education programs, which go from the beginning, teaching basic skills. Then we do simulated activities, and then we do the actual hunting or fishing. Ideally, we go all the way to the table on how to prepare the meat for feeding the family,” explains Fred.
“The idea there, again, is self sufficiency; if you enjoy eating the game, you're more likely going to do it. There's a number of our participants that come from some pretty tough situations, and the hunting and the fishing actually is a means to provide food for the table and help supply them.”
The Hughes Charitable Foundation is proud to support the First Hunt Foundation and all of the positive ways that it supports and empowers individuals and families across the state. Alongside other innovative and impactful programs that work to abolish hunger and instill strength and resilience in women and young people, the First Hunt Foundation invests in people in ways that can be truly life-changing.
“Giving young people, families, and mentors — many of whom are veterans — this chance to forge meaningful and supportive connections is wonderful,” says Molly Hughes, Executive Director of the Hughes Charitable Foundation. “The impact of this programming is only amplified by the fact that it invites people to connect to hunting and the landscape as a key piece of our Wyoming heritage, and also helps to alleviate food insecurity at the same time.”
“It was so much fun catching a fish and learning to tie flies,” says Brady, a young man who participated in the First Hunt Foundation with his mother, Stacy. “I set up a fly tying station and have made quite a few. I have learned so much with my fishing and hunting mentors and can't wait to fish again and for our hunt."
Stacy agrees: "I am so grateful for all the opportunities and guidance the foundation has provided. I have had one-on-one mentoring, hands-on experiences, and quality time with my son. I appreciate all the individuals and resources that put their blood, sweat, tears and financial support into ensuring that I learn how to provide food for my family and to enjoy our beautiful outdoors."
“Over the last several generations, people have become more and more isolated from the outdoors and we've lost those family traditions,” Fred observes. “We've actually seen an uptick in the last several years of women in particular wanting that self-sufficiency because they don't have that role model to lean on or learn from. I've got adult women that started off with the First Hunt Foundation that had never hunted before and now are avid hunters.”
Among the ranks of the organization’s mentors are plenty of passionate women, too. “I mentor to share my love for the outdoors and to empower others to accomplish a feat that might initially seem overwhelming or impossible,” says Jessica Huckins. “I especially enjoy mentoring other women, from all walks of life.”
“The ongoing support of the Hughes Charitable Foundation is enabling the First Hunt Foundation to build capacity in the state of Wyoming, and to grow. For example, we were able to take a portion of the funding and present a proposal to the education arm of the NRA. We’re hoping to hear that the Hunter Leadership Forum has approved to develop a mentor training curriculum that's online. That changes the game because currently there's no standard on what it takes to be a good mentor and coach in the outdoors, what the goals are, and how you develop that self sufficiency and confidence of an individual. This new training will raise the quality of our mentor base and enable it to become that much more effective.”
The First Hunt Foundation is also an integral partner in the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt — an event that is focused on getting women into the field, developing their hunting skills, and forming strong and resilient relationships among Wyoming women. First Hunt Foundation will be offering a scholarship to a participant from Laramie in the 2022 hunt: yet another way that the group actively seeks to connect local residents to the bounty of the landscape around us.
“We’re looking forward to this year’s Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt very much,” agrees Molly Hughes. “It’s a highlight of the season for me, and always inspiring to see the lives that are forever changed by developing skills to stay safe, harvest an animal in the wild, and be assured that you can care for your family.”