Hunters would have the option to wear fluorescent pink instead of the traditional blaze orange when they head into the field if a bill proposed in the Wyoming Legislature passes.
Senate File 61 would allow hunters to substitute fluorescent pink for the currently required fluorescent orange. Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) proposed the legislation after hearing about a study in Wisconsin that showed fluorescent pink was as visible as fluorescent orange, and sometimes more so. The high visibility prompted Ellis to propose pink but not colors like green or blue, she said.
“Safety is the most important part of the bill,” she said.
The bill attempts to sustain and grow the number of people who hunt in the state, Ellis said. She doesn’t think the ability to wear a different color will make more women hunt. It just provides “a fun option” for women, who represent the fastest growing demographic of hunters in the state. Ellis said women hunters she’s spoken to are excited about the idea, but the rule would also allow men to choose which color they prefer to wear.
Wyoming is not the first state to consider such a law. Wisconsin and Colorado passed similar legislation in 2016. Michigan lawmakers recently rejected the idea after the Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and many female hunters opposed the bill.
Currently hunters in Wyoming must wear one visible blaze orange garment when big game and trophy game hunting, said Renny MacKay, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
According to Game and Fish, there were 11,189 resident women hunters in 2008 and 14,770 in 2016. Women comprise about 20 percent of hunters in the state, MacKay said.
Wyoming Game and Fish, as a state agency, doesn’t lobby for or against bills.
“Our priority is safety and also making sure more people get involved in hunting and fishing,” MacKay said.
Blaze orange is the only color that has been thoroughly tested in national studies for hunter visibility in the field, he said. He also said the agency is supportive of measures designed to encourage more women hunters, such as the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, Becoming an Outdoor Woman workshops, and a recent program that took women and their children out to learn to pheasant hunt.
Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (D-Rock Springs), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said it’s about offering more choices to those who are already hunters, while still keeping hunters safe. She said the bill had the support of hunting groups like Muley Fanatics.
Anselmi-Dalton said she received a series of orange postcards from hunters who oppose the bill and want the legislature to focus on more important issues.
“I understand this bill is not something that is a barn burner,” she said.
But she sees no harm in offering hunters more choices, so long as safety standards are met.
Phoebe Stoner, a hunter and angler in Laramie, does see the bill as harmful. She believes it promotes the stereotypes that keep women from sports like hunting.
“It’s just blatantly sexist,” she said. “I find it as a female hunter to be insulting and demeaning and all the sportswomen I’ve talked to have had the same reaction.”
For her, hunting is empowering and gives her a sense of self-sustainability. The bill statutorily reinforces stereotypes about how hunting is a masculine activity and that women are more interested in things that are pink or fashionable.
Hunters wear blaze orange because it can be seen, even by those who are color blind, she said.
Even if pink was proposed because its been studied and proven equally visible, the bill is still problematic, she said.
“You are still saying that a woman won’t participate in this sport until you change something that is strictly appearance-based,” Stoner said.
Stoner said she appreciates the bill’s intent to attract and keep women interested in hunting. But people need to reframe the question and look at why it is seen as a masculine sport and what is keeping women from it, she said.
“Hunting is intimidating and an undeniably male-dominated sport, that is indisputable,” Stoner said. “But this proposal is part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
She said she also finds it frustrating that last year the House killed a bill to set aside tags for the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt, one of the state’s strongest programs for involving women in hunting, (a similar measure is proposed this year) yet may consider a bill about wearing pink.
Jessi Johnson, a Wyoming hunter and coordinator with Artemis, a women’s sportsman’s group, is more ambivalent about the bill.
“I think it focuses on a nonissue,” she said. “I’ve never (felt), nor met a woman who felt the color of their safety vest was the reason they wouldn’t go outside and hunt.”
For Johnson, the biggest issue has long been finding clothing actually designed for women’s bodies. For years she had to wear men’s size-small clothing that never fit right when hunting. Companies recently designing gear specifically for women have made a big difference, but because of the fit, not the color. She said women are more likely to spend time outside if they are comfortable and warm.
“It’s not the color of the gear we care about,” she said. “It’s the quality of the gear. It’s the fit of the gear.”
Yet if the bill brings or keeps more women in the sport, “more power to them,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she’s more interested in other bills this legislative session, especially HB-39, which would create a license plate that would provide funding for wildlife conservation. That bill, she said, will likely have a bigger impact on wildlife conservation.