Women shoot it up north of Craig

Unique hunting party catches the attention of ESPN2

A group of hunters arrives back at the cabin for lunch after a long morning of pursuing wild game.

"I got one!" one of the hunters exclaims to the other group of hunters returning from a morning hunt.

What follows is a flurry of congratulations and big hugs from the other hunters.

That's right, hugs.

As the joyous scene unfolds outside of the cabin, a cameraman gets all of the emotion on tape.

"They get pretty excited," an on-looking guide says with a grin.

Hugging a fellow hunter after a successful outing might not be a common practice for many hunters, but it is for a group of women who have gathered at Elkhorn Outfitters north of Craig this week.

Two women from Wisconsin, two from South Dakota, one from Michigan and one from Craig are spending the week decked out in blaze orange and stomping through the backcountry of Northwest Colorado looking for elk.

Dick Dodds, owner of Elkhorn Outfitters, came up with the idea for an all-women hunting expedition with his friend Betsy Wandtke of Wisconsin, who is one of the six women on this week's trip.

"We talked about a year ago about getting an all-women's hunt," he said.

The sport of hunting continues to grow among women and an all-women hunt would prove uncommon, Dodds said.

Wandtke, who works for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to improve elk habitats, has been on many hunting trips in her life, but said an all-women hunting trip is unique.

"Women are really supportive of each other," she said. "It's a whole different atmosphere."

The situation was unique enough to catch the interest of Mike Cashman of Ron Schara Enterprises.

The company Cashman works for makes the ESPN2 television show "Backroads with Ron and Raven."

Cashman has been to Elkhorn Outfitters several times in the past to film shows, and said it has always been a good experience.

The good hunting in Northwest Colorado and the unusual hunting party drew him back to the area this year, he said.

"We've been here a couple of times and liked it," he said. "I decided it would be a different angle. So many hunting and fishing shows are men oriented. This seemed like something different."

Cashman, who has recently filmed episodes in Argentina, Chile and the Florida Keys, and is going to the Amazon in February, said Dodds and Wandtke's idea played into the television program's emphasis.

"We're more focused on the story telling," he said. "We prefer doing a story on the people involved and their journey than the actual kill. It's a little different than your typical outdoor show. So far it's worked out really well. It's been a lot of fun."

Tanya Yaeger from Wisconsin sat on the front porch of the cabin beaming Tuesday afternoon after killing her first Colorado elk that morning.

She retold the steps of her successful hunt with such detail one might have thought she had been watching one of Cashman's tapes.

But Yaeger is no novice hunter, and knows a thing or two about the sport.

Yaeger began hunting with her husband about 10 years ago, but said her experience in Northwest Colorado has been a memorable one.

"I love this area," she said. "To be able to sit up there and see all the elk and mule deer is just awesome."

While most of the women in the group were experienced hunters, Jan Golliher of South Dakota was on her first trip.

"It's my first hunt but I'm really enjoying it," she said. "When it's your first time, you don't know what to expect."

Considering she was not familiar with the sport, Golliher said she was not sure if going on an elk hunting trip was the best way to start when her friend approached her with the idea.

Although she shot and missed Tuesday, Golliher said she was confident of her chances.

As of Tuesday night, 50 percent of the group had successful hunts.

Wandtke was one of those three who had killed a deer, but said,

unlike what occurs on many men's hunting expeditions, she will not sit in the cabin while her hunting partners go out during the rest of the

week.

"We all go along to support one another," she said. "Everyone's so supportive."

As for being followed by a camera everywhere she goes, Wandtke said it is not that bad.

"Mike makes us feel at ease," she said. "It's a little weird because you have to concentrate on being yourself and not playing to the camera."

But when the show airs sometime in July, Wandtke said it would definitely be worth it.

Dodds said his guides have enjoyed the women hunters this week.

"They don't have preconceived notions about getting a six-point elk like some hunters," he said. "They're just here for the experience."

Dodds said he likes seeing the excitement of this week's group.

"It reminds you of what you started it for," he said of the business he has run for almost 20 years.

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