Guide Fred Williams, left, and hunter Heather Beers look for antelope last weekend in Ucross. This is the first year participants of the Women’s Antelope Hunt have donated their game meat to first lady Jennie Gordon’s charity Food from the Field initiative, which gave the meat to local food pantries. Kelly Reisdorf/courtesy

CHEYENNE – Trista Ostrom has been hunting her entire life, learning gun safety from her grandpa and shooting her first antelope at the ripe age of 12.

Given her experience, it was a natural attraction when Ostrom learned of the Women’s Antelope Hunt, a statewide event put on by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation that promotes mentorship, leadership and self-sufficiency for women.

“When I heard about the Women’s Antelope Hunt four or five years ago, I thought, ‘Wow, what a cool thing to do,’ because I was raised by a single dad, and so all the time, I was always hunting with him,” Ostrom said. “There’s always this discussion about how men are a little bit less patient (with hunting), and so the women’s hunt seems super exciting to me.”

Until last year, the antelope hunt had just been a dream for Ostrom. Previously working for a nonprofit, she knew her employer wouldn’t be able to sponsor her participation in the event, but when she became the chief of staff for first lady Jennie Gordon, the situation was much different, as the first lady has a team each year.

When the pair was going over the details for the hunting weekend last year, Gordon was listing off her team to Ostrom when she added “and you” as the last member.

“It was very emotional, and I was just so excited,” Ostrom said.

Marking her second year, Ostrom participated in the 2020 Women’s Antelope Hunt last weekend, though the hunt was different from years past for those in the first lady’s office.

Earlier this year, Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative – which aims to end childhood hunger in the Cowboy State – partnered with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies to start the Food from the Field initiative, which offers hunters the ability to donate their game meat to benefit Wyoming’s food pantries.

While Women’s Antelope Hunt participants previously had the option to donate their game meat, it was more on an individual basis, and each person had to pay their own processing fees. This year marked the first where hunters in the Women’s Antelope Hunt had a check box option to donate their hauls, and they showed up big-time.

According to Wyoming Women’s Foundation Director Rebekah Smith, 12 women, including Ostrom, donated between 400 and 500 pounds of game meat from the event that will go directly toward the state’s food banks. Smith said this year saw the highest number of donations since the hunt’s inception in 2013.

Gordon said, “Food from the Field and other Wyoming Hunger Initiative programs offer a Wyoming solution to a Wyoming challenge. … We have an abundance of wildlife in our beautiful state, and we always take care of our neighbors. It was a perfect fit.”

Last year, Women’s Antelope Hunt participants trudged through the snow in Ucross, looking for game. But according to Ostrom, this year’s event was so warm she didn’t even know what to wear.

“I had all these long layers of clothing, and I was going through my bag like, ‘I don’t even have a T-shirt for this,” Ostrom said.

It was 82 degrees and sunny when Ostrom harvested her antelope, which she donated to the Food from the Field initiative.

From there, two processors on board with Food from the Field – Star Valley Meat Block & Cold Storage in Thayne and Dan’s Meat Processing in Evansville – then processed the meat, tested it for disease and stored it on refrigerated trucks until it can be distributed to those in need.

Like many other service initiatives in Wyoming, Food from the Field’s success at the hunt was made possible through collaboration and the generosity of the community.

In talking with the processors, Ostrom said their main problem was not having room to store the meat.

“They said, ‘When an animal comes in, we process it and get it right out the door. We don’t have room to hold it.’ And so we said, ‘OK, how can we solve that?’”

That’s where the Wyoming Trucking Association stepped in and asked for help from its members. The outreach led to the donation of refrigerated trucks from Admiral Beverage in Worland and the donation of fuel for said trucks from Kellerstrass Oil Company.

“That’s what I love about the Wyoming Hunger Initiative – you might be a rancher, you might be a hunter, you might be a gas company, but this is a solution that people can be a part of, whatever their fields of progression,” Ostrom said.

For the food banks of Wyoming, the partnership couldn’t have come at a better time. The arrival of COVID-19 in the Equality State greatly increased the demand for services across the board, as unemployment rates skyrocketed, employees’ hours were cut, and businesses were forced to close their doors for health and safety reasons.

“Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies has had an increase of 300% for food assistance during COVID-19. Many families who had never accessed a pantry or food bank before are turning to them for help during this uncertain time,” Gordon said.

At the same time, the food banks themselves had to shift operations with an eye toward social distancing and health precautions. Many moved to a drive-thru format to better meet the needs of the community, but the dramatically increased demand for food remained.

Even considering those factors, the food pantries still aimed to provide nutritious, well-rounded meals to the people they serve throughout the pandemic. So one of the problems that Food from the Field hopes to address is that “protein is expensive and so important for good nutrition,” Gordon said.

Many times, food banks will have to buy their sources of protein from other states that have lower costs, even though they also have lower levels of protein. With the fresh donations from the Women’s Antelope Hunt, the meat is both high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol.

“Providing protein is so expensive, and it’s so hard to come by in a food bank, based on what they can afford to buy. We already have it here, so it’s utilizing a Wyoming resource to take care of a challenge that we have,” Ostrom said.

For the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, the goal is to improve self-sufficiency for women across the state. At the Women’s Antelope Hunt, women learn to find their prey, hunt it and prepare it to eat. But Director Rebekah Smith said supporting food banks plays a role in the self-sufficiency of women in the state, as well.

“Food security is a very big part of self-sufficiency,” Smith said. “(Game meat) is really an amazing protein that people are providing to these food banks, and so we really are proud that we can be a part of the Food from the Field program.”

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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