Last summer, The WYldlife Fund (The Fund) established a unique partnership with Table Mountain Outfitters (TMO), a full-time guided hunting service based out of Cheyenne. The new program created opportunities for youth, women, and wounded warriors to experience hunting and the numerous steps that go into planning and executing a hunt. This initiative serves as a platform for learning essential skills and fostering a deeper connection to nature.
The roots of the TMO hunt trace back to a desire to extend hunting opportunities to those who face barriers to entry. TMO has a longstanding commitment to providing appreciation and gratitude hunts, particularly for wounded warriors, with 1-2 hunts per year. TMO has been operating since 1984, guiding hunts for deer, elk, and pronghorn in Wyoming, and black bear, mountain lion, and elk in Idaho.
The connection with The Fund was established when TMO expressed a passion for involving youth, women, and individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to experience hunting for themselves due to physical or financial barriers. “This program presented a unique opportunity for individuals who might not otherwise have access to such experiences, providing them with a chance to connect with nature and engage in a traditional outdoor activity,” said Angie and Scott Denny, owners of Table Mountain Outfitters since 1996. “By collaborating with local ranchers, the program aimed to address the issue of surplus elk populations in a mutually beneficial manner. This cooperative effort not only allowed participants to enjoy the thrill of hunting but also contributed to wildlife management by helping control elk numbers in an environmentally responsible way. Through this partnership, we fostered a sense of community engagement and conservation, and we are honored to have worked alongside The WYldlife Fund to bring this program to life.”
The surplus elk population, as well local ranchers granting access to their properties, presented an opportunity to provide these hunting experiences. The Fund was eager to bring this idea to life and provide the necessary funds, establishing the first year of what we hope will become an annual program, one that can serve as a model for others to replicate elsewhere.
The hunts took place from August 10-22, catering to various groups over three days each. The participants included 10 wounded warriors, 4 moms with 4 kids, 6 women, 6 youth aged 14-18. The kids and women were Wyoming residents while the wounded warriors hailed from all over.
Participants needed to apply, answering open-ended essay questions. The selection process was aimed at finding individuals with significant lack of opportunities to engage in hunting.
TMO and The Fund partnered with Flying V Lodge and Event Center in Newcastle, WY to provide food and lodging for the program. Larry and Twylla Napolitano, owners of Flying V, were instrumental in establishing partnerships with neighboring ranchers to allow hunting on their properties.
The program itself went beyond the hunt, focusing on imparting essential skills. Participants were walked through the range, given insights into the hunting experience, and prepared for the emotional aspects of the journey. Downtime activities included cooking, grilling, and fishing. Practical skills such as field dressing, quartering, and meat processing were also emphasized.
We spoke with Katie King, one of the program participants, to hear a bit more about her transformative time in the program and what it meant to her. She described it as a life-changing experience, adding, “Words can’t express how incredible and memorable this opportunity was…truly an unforgettable experience. I formed precious friendships, conquered fears, learned valuable skills, helped fill my freezer and provide food for my family. This program has successfully fostered a life-long passion for hunting. Nothing can quite replace the feeling of gratitude when I enjoyed my first meal with my family…knowing exactly where it came from and being intimately involved in every piece of the process.”
Other participants shared similar sentiments, describing the program as providing newfound confidence, new friendships, and lifelong memories. Kelly Upplegger, another participant, said, “Words cannot express how grateful I am for the life changing experience you gifted us. I learned so much! Not just about hunting, but about myself. I came away stronger, more confident, and with an even greater appreciation of, and gratitude for, the hunt. The bonded friendships we made are absolutely priceless, so the trip lives on!”
The obvious success of this program has set the bar high! The program stands as a beacon of inclusivity, breaking down barriers to entry in the world of hunting. With a commitment to providing transformative experiences, imparting essential skills, and fostering a deep connection to nature, TMO and The Fund have created an annual event that leaves participants with memories and skills that last a lifetime. As the program looks to the future, the goal is to make this an annual tradition, dependent on resources, potentially expanding to different locations to reach even more individuals eager to explore the great outdoors.
We are grateful to the many supporters who made this event possible, including our very own board member Greg and Loren Hill.