Published November 24th, 2023 at 6:00 AM4 minute read
In the urban Chicago neighborhood where Antonette Coffee grew up, guns spelled nothing but trouble.
She still has vivid memories of the day she witnessed a young man get shot during a gang war. She also remembers comforting a friend who got shot and telling him to hold on until help came.
“He passed away before the ambulance could get there,” she said.
So, it’s little wonder that she was a little apprehensive about stepping outside of her comfort zone and taking part in her first rifle hunt.
“I had seen guns involved in a lot of bad things,” said Coffee, 54, who lives in Topeka and works as an information technology administrator at the Kansas Statehouse.
But once Coffee moved to Kansas and met the man who would become her husband, some of that fear eased.
Don Coffee served in the military and is an avid hunter and angler. He even has his own YouTube show, “Don the Outdoorsman.” He talks continuously about the “good side of guns,” as Antonette put it, and the excitement of hunting in Kansas.
Antonette finally decided she wanted to share that passion with her husband. Though she never had fired a rifle, she heard about a special hunt for women in Wyoming and decided to apply.
“I figured I would be more comfortable learning around other women,” she said.
To her surprise, the essay she wrote impressed the judges and she received a scholarship to take part in the hunt — an honor, considering there were almost 300 applicants.
So she embarked on the trip of a lifetime with many reservations still swirling around in her mind.
As the only Black woman, would she be accepted?
With two bad knees, one of them requiring knee-replacement surgery in early December, would she be up to the task physically?
Would she be able to complete the long drive from Kansas to Wyoming on her own?
Would she learn how to handle a rifle and shoot an antelope, a species that often requires a long-range shot?
In mid-October, she found out.
Coffee made the 14-hour drive to northeastern Wyoming and joined other women from 11 states for the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt.
Founded in 2013, the annual hunt is hosted by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation with the goal of empowering women, encouraging self-sufficiency, establishing camaraderie and showing them that they have a place in hunting.
Some of the 45 women who took part his year had never hunted before. Others had hunted for years and took the beginners under their wing.
Teams of two women, one experienced and one a beginner, went out with a guide, often a male landowner in the Wyoming region famous for pronghorn antelope.
They explored sage-brush country, walking and even crawling for long distances in the open country to get close enough to make a good shot.
But that was only part of Antelope Hunting 101. They also received instruction on hunter safety and ethics, target practice, and how to field-dress, butcher and cook the antelope they shoot. Women also learned how to tie flies and use them to catch trout in nearby waters.
“One of the really cool things about this event is that we get some women who either didn’t grow up in a hunting family or in a big city, where they were never exposed to hunting,” said Alex Shannon, who is an event coordinator for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
The hunt was the brainchild of Marilyn Kite, the first woman to serve on the Wyoming Supreme Court and to later become chief justice.
She and her sister-in-law Karey Stebner were long-time hunting partners and loved to chase pronghorn antelopes. On one hunt, they daydreamed about competing in the famous Lander, Wyoming, One-Shot Antelope Hunt, which has been around since 1940.
But that event always has been dominated by men. So Kite, Stebner and others set out to establish an event for women.
Today, the hunt is so popular that it attracts women from across the nation.
Coffee admits it. She was intimidated when she set out on her first hunt.
“I was out of my element,” she said.
But her hunting partner, Kathryn Boswell, and guide and landowner, Mike Ellenwood, were reassuring.
When Coffee shot and missed, they encouraged her not to give up. There would be other chances.
And there were. Coffee watched closely as Boswell set an example, shooting an antelope buck. She tried to duplicate what she learned when she got her second chance.
She put the crosshairs on a distant antelope, squeezed the trigger and hit her target. Then she prayed over her harvest.
“I thanked that animal for providing food for my family and I thanked Jesus for putting me in that situation,” she said.
The hunters returned to camp and were greeted by cheers from other women hunters.
Coffee field-dressed her kill.
“That was gross, but I was proud,” she said.
She then cut up the meat and prepared her harvest for the taxidermist.
Upon returning to Kansas, she ate a steak and burgers from the meat.
“It was delicious,” she said.
Now she is preparing for other hunts in Kansas. She wants to hunt pheasants with Don so she can see the bird dogs work. And she hopes she will be able to hunt deer during the Kansas gun season.
“I hope I can be an inspiration to others — to women of color, to young girls, to women who haven’t hunted before,” she said. “If I can do it, they can, too.”
Brent Frazee is an award-winning writer and photographer from Parkville, Mo. He was outdoors editor for The Kansas City Star for 36 years before retiring in 2016. He continues to freelance for magazines, newspapers and websites.